Retaining the Royalty: a tradition worth keeping?

Doyita Basu

Retaining the Royalty

An institution which has spent the past few centuries receiving every inch of the limelight miraculously rode into the 21st century atop a tidal wave of British tradition. Every time the Queen appears wearing a diamond encrusted crown, walks through the Parliament to celebrate the deal between the Commons and the Crown or when we catch glimpses of members of the Royalty in tinsel outfits we are reminded of a nation’s love affair with the past.

Although we see the Royals play pranks on the Obamas or partake in James Bond charades at the Olympic Games, we must remember that at its heart, this institution is connected to the sentimental image of England as the aggressive, thrusting nation in an Imperialist world. After the beheading of Charles I in 1649, the United Kingdom has witnessed an uncanny immunity to lasting revolution even in era where alternatives to the Monarchical systems exist.

Retaining the Royalty
The Royal Family is on of UK’s oldest and most valued traditions which began with the consolidation of monarchies under William the Conqueror. Hundreds of years later, when the Tudors came to power, monarch became the truly sovereign ruler of England, Wales and Ireland. With the royal lineage continuing down the Stuart, Hanover and eventually the Windsor line, Britain’s history with the Monarchy is a lengthy one. However, the country’s history is the concrete proof that tradition has not always been a guiding factor in politics.

Over the long chain of events that have curbed the Monarchy and paved the way for a more responsible and representative government in Britain, King John’s sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215 which required the King to rule only under law, was historic. This was indeed an age when there was very little alternative to the hereditary principle and even Oliver Cromwell while publicly refusing the King’s role tried to arrange his own descendants in succession. However we cannot ignore the precedent set by the Magna Carta which provided a space for the bishop John Aylmer to write that England governed by a ‘rule mixte’ of prince, peers and people – assuaging fears of a female monarch (Queen Elizabeth I) with the assurance that she did not in any case rule autonomously.

Further down the years, during the Glorious Revolution the country’s ruling class could decide that the unpopular and Catholic King James should be replaced by his daughter Mary; and when it was clear not only Mary but her sister Anne would die without a living child, it was parliament’s voice that invited Anne’s third cousin, the Elector of Hanover, to become George I, ignoring a host of heirs closer in blood. The philosopher John Locke, even argued in support of this move towards so-called human freedom, human rights, and equality in his seminal work ‘Two Treatises of Government’.

Thus we see that once again, tradition was abandoned and a ‘constitutional monarchy’ was adopted under the restrictions of laws such as the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement. In continental Europe, the French Revolution paved the way for the initial downfall of the monarchy system and thus trend continued over decades, despite G.W.F. Hegel’s passionate defence of the institution in light of the Protestant Christian view of Natural Law.

Today constitutional monarchies are mostly associated with Western European countries such as the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Luxembourg, Monaco, Liechtenstein, and Sweden. However, the two most populous constitutional monarchies in the world are in Asia: Japan and Thailand. However keeping its trademark blend of change and consistency, the dawn of the 20th century led to the emergence of the popularity contest played by the Royal Family. From televised weddings, to payment of taxes to a reduction in the Civil List, it is only a part of the readiness to effectively play the popularity contest.

Decades of clever gamesmanship has even ensured the Monarchy’s popularity with the Queen herself raking in millions in revenue and generating a global buzz with every royal wedding. Especially in times of political turmoil such as Brexit, a widely held perception of the monarchy’s impartial functioning as the ‘light above politics’ continues to maintain its popularity in a contemporary society. What we cannot however ignore is the irrelevance of the institution in a parliamentary democracy.

Retaining the Royalty
With Prince Andrew’s banishment and his connections to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the criticism against the Duchess of Sussx targeting her American birth and biracial heritage as well as Prince Harry’s decision to relinquish his role as a senior member of the Royal Family, the country should be provoked into thinking about the possibility of an elected Head of State in order to responsible represent a divided country.

Retaining the Royalty
Rich, expensive and out of touch – especially during the post-Diana period; the Monarchy has been repeatedly justified on the grounds of “value to the economy”. This crafted tool to ensure the safety of an institution from crisis does nothing but camouflage the fact that the monarch is the most expensive non-political head of State in Europe. Furthermore, the real spike from events like royal weddings is so brief that it does not provide substantial prosperity to the British government.

Over decades we have witnessed how even the most immovable of traditions within the Monarchy have been susceptible to change. While the process is slow, current events have led the Monarchy into choppy waters and thus as a country, Britain must decide whether the family still maintains relevance in an era democracy.