Royal @

In a web-based monarchy, there are no bans on fox-hunting

Had tea with Her Majesty the other day. Elizabeth II loves it when company comes calling. She's just a nice down-palace type person who didn't mind a bit that I was dressed in my bathrobe and flip-flops.

Before the editors of the Brit tabloids have a group aneurysm, I should note that my encounter with the Queen of England didn't involve anything so vulgar and obsolete as actual human contact. We met like proper 21st-century ladies and gentlemen—in cyberspace. Some days it seems that all that's keeping the monarchy afloat is the House of Windsor's Web site,

The sovereign's life has not been a happy one the past few centuries, and the march of popular culture is the culprit. In Good Queen Bess' day, unwelcome publicity came from a few libelous balladeers, and she was allowed to behead them. The current Elizabeth has to cope with the National Enquirer and "Inside Edition," which may only be sued. Meanwhile, Prince Charles has taken decades of grief for a private life that would've seemed very small beer to Edward VII, let alone Charles II or Henry VIII.

But the monarchy is fighting back. On the Internet the royals still live in a world without paparazzi, divorce or bans on fox-hunting. On, the family indulges the fairy tale blend of hazy Hollywood history and Victorian rectitude its fans adore. She's not Camilla the Homewrecker here. She's the Duchess of Cornwall, and don't you forget it.

Since the dawn of time, the worst drawback to the monarch's life has been the inability to get out into the real world. Sexual hanky-panky is about the only activity kings, queens and princes ever share with the rabble. When a royal wants to go to the beach, he or she must make a state visit to Tahiti.

But now that the real world is an obsolete concept, the Windsors are on even terms with us commoners, at least on the Internet, where they can indulge that most priceless of perks—anonymity. Charles doubtless spends happy hours trolling the ten billion or so sites devoted to filthy, unsubstantiated celebrity gossip. Pop[rhymes with witch].com is bookmarked by every red-blooded Englishman eager to check up on David Beckham and Posh Spice's marriage. As for her Majesty, nothing but the Net can supply England's sovereign with the one thing she is always denied—the opportunity to express opinions.

The queen has silently suffered the company of prime ministers from Anthony Eden to Tony Blair, nine of the stiffest stiffs her nation has produced in its millennia of recorded history. How she must have longed to tell off each and every one of them. From to, there are hundreds of sites of the left, right and center where Elizabeth can assume a nom de keyboard and declare that the Blessed Isle is going to hell in a gilded carriage.

She can lose herself in games as well. The Cossacks Gold video game collection lets her reverse some of the Crown's less glorious conflicts. "Liberty: The American Revolution" doesn't have to end at Yorktown. There hasn't been a monarch since 1776 who hasn't fantasized about throwing that bigmouth Jefferson into the dankest cell in the Tower. But fantasy can only do so much. In dark moments, when life offers nothing but another relative's third marriage or front-page pix of Prince Harry wearing swastikas, the queen could seek the ultimate on-line consolation. She could click on to, study some very complex genealogy, then e-mail Franz II, duke of Bavaria and rightful head of the House of Stuart, the royal family that ruled England before progress took the fun out of the job.

Put the Bayreuth festival on hold, Britain's ruling monarch could implore Franz. Gather a few followers and invade Scotland. Go to Mapquest for directions.