The ’21st Century’ Royals

This morning, the BBC announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their third child.

Last week the country re-opened old wounds in mourning the death of Lady Diana Spencer, former Princess of Wales, as the 31st August marked the 20th Anniversary of her death.

A couple of weeks ago, the Queen confirmed what most people suspected – that she will not abdicate in favour of Prince Charles acceding the throne, but will rule until her death or illness prevents her from doing so.

Going back even further, last month the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, announced his retirement from public duties.

The Royal Family is often in the news, and frequently photographed and discussed throughout the country. But why? Does this obsession not seem a bit medieval? To some people, it does, and there are many who see the monarchy as too old-fashioned for our modern ideas of liberalism and equality.

What’s the Story?

If you type ‘British Royal Family’ into Google, you get over 9,330,000 results in 0.49 seconds. There is an official website, a BBC article on the line of succession and, of course, a wikipedia page. But not that far down is the ‘news’ section, and this also has thousands of entries, the majority of which refer to the last week. Perhaps the interesting thing to note is that they are not all British. The Americans seem to have a fascination in the British Royal Family that is equal to, if not greater than, the British. This is a phenomena that affects no other country with a monarchy…so why is this the case for us?

There are 28 countries in the world at the moment who would classify themselves as monarchies – they have a Monarch who is at the head of the country, in a position higher than that of the Prime Minister or President. 10 of these countries are in Europe, and most of us would be hard pressed to name even a couple of their monarchs.

But, and it is quite a large but, the other monarchies did not have Diana, Princess of Wales, the ‘People’s Princess’, the ‘Modern Royal’. Perhaps a less sensational point – they also did not have the largest empire in the world for a large majority of history. Monarchs whose names we recognise tend to be those who held the most power over the world, such as Louis XIV.

But back to Diana – despite The Independent’s claim that ‘Princess Diana’s death didn’t change the nature of the monarchy’, (Source: Independent) most of the British public will associate Diana and her death with a softening of the Royal Family, a sort of humanisation that, for the first time, made people realise that the Royal Family were in fact human beings, and not some sort of unfeeling robots. After the tragic death of Diana, the Queen made her first ever live address to the country.

Mary Dejevsky, a journalist at the time, remembers the reaction in Washington the morning after the news broke in the US:

“From mid-morning on the Sunday, whole families were arriving by car to pay their respects at the British Embassy. Many were not the affluent, white, families who lived in nearby districts, but black and Hispanic families, who might never have been anywhere near the ethereal embassy district before.” (Source: Independent).

This perfectly describes the spark that ignited the interest in the Royal Family that we still see burning today. Diana wasn’t just watched and talked about – she was loved by people all across the world, because she was fun, loving, and normal, doing things like taking the young Princes William and Harry to Alton Towers, and shaking hands with an AIDS victim. People reacted positively to her compassion and sense of humour, and it opened up a whole new aspect of Britain – interest and genuine investment in the Royal Family. The tragedy of the two princes being left without a mother warmed the nations hearts, and the lives of the two princes have been followed closely – whether it is Prince Harry’s military career or the marriage of Prince William to ‘commoner’ Catherine Middleton, which drew over a million people to London itself, and approximately two billion watched the event on TV (Source: Telegraph). 

Many people would have had a little smile or moment of happiness when they heard the news that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their third child. But there are also many, perhaps only just a minority, who would not have been happy.

In June this year, it was revealed that Her Majesty the Queen’s income rose to £82 million, to cover the costs of the renovation of Buckingham Palace. On the same occasion, the royal accounts revealed that Prince Philip spent £18,690 on a trip to Plymouth. (Source: The Guardian)

It is not only the Queen that costs each person in the UK 62p a year (Source: Telegraph), but also Prince Charles, whose trip to Romania, Italy and Austria with the Duchesss of Cornwall last year cost £154,000. Not even the young royals are exempt – with Prince William and Katherine’s trip to India in 2016 costing £97,703 in flights alone (Source: Telegraph). 

MPs voted 464 for and 56 against the increase in the Queen’s income to fund the works at Buckingham Palace, demonstrating political support for the monarchy. However, campaigns such as Republic, who call for the abolition of the monarchy, highlight figures such as £18.5 million – the cost of each ‘working royal’ to the taxpayer – and £334 million – the overall cost of the monarchy to the taxpayer. (Source: Republic). Chief Executive Graham Smith suggests that “There isn’t any evidence to suggest there is any economic benefit to the royal family” (Source: Independent), and factually and financially he may be half right – but there is something special and unique about the royal family that people just don’t want to lose, and that you cannot put a price on.

What you can put a price on is the economic value to Britain of the ‘image’ of the Royal Family – in 2015, Brand Finance examined the crowns finances, and attributed £152 million in income to the “Kate Effect”, which is described as an “uplift to fashion and other brands worn, used or otherwise endorsed”. Similarly £101 million is attributed to the “Charlotte Effect” and £76 million to the “George Effect,” (Source: Brand Finance). Not bad for a four and two year old.

Why is this interesting?

You may not personally be interested in the royal family at all, but if you are interested in the reputation, economy and future of Britain then you should be. Although the Queen is seen by many as a figurehead, any change to our country affects the royal family, and likewise any change to the royal family affects our country.

Of course some of these changes would be trivial – without the royal family we would have famous figures from history on our coins instead of the Queen, the national anthem would probably be something awful performed by One Direction. Sandringham and Balmoral would become hotels and people would stop associating the name Beatrice with a ridiculous pretzel/loo seat hat.

On a larger scale, the duties and powers of the monarch would pass to someone else – these include the power to wage war, sign treaties and dissolve parliament. Who would that person be? Similarly, people often don’t think about the countries besides the United Kingdom that are under the domain of a British monarch. There are in fact 16 other nations who share the Queen as their monarch, which include all manner of countries, ranging from Canada and Australia to Belize, Jamaica and the Solomon Islands. Many of these countries, like Britain, would have to undergo big changes to reform how their government works.

These changes are not necessarily seen as negative, however. For many, the abolition of the monarchy would mean a fairly elected democratic leader – not somebody who has inherited the position by birth, but someone who is elected by their public. Inheritance is seen by many as a distinctively ‘dodgy mechanism’ for choosing a head of state, and there is a strong belief that Britain would be stronger if this position were elected (Source: Economist).

On the other hand, many believe that the monarchy is now stronger than ever, with its young representatives Princes William and Harry having a wide following all over the world. Some have compared the Duchess of Cambridge to Diana herself in her kindness and ‘common’ status, and therefore normalcy. (I would just like to take this opportunity to point out the slight flaw in saying that Diana was ‘normal’ and a ‘commoner’ when she married Prince Charles. Although many people say it, I’m not sure where they get their definition of ‘common’ from, as if Lady Diana Spencer was a normal commoner, then the rest of us must be complete savages.) In the same way that the young princes captured the hearts of so many, Princess Charlotte and Prince George are already well on the way to being household names.

Final Thoughts

So, do we need these ’21st Century’ royals? Would things really be that different without them? Are we taking advantage of people who could otherwise be having a normal life in order to raise the tourist economy of our country? Or is the monarchy a good thing that should be kept going for as long as it functions beneficially? After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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