God save the king… I guess


Petr David Josek | Associated Press

Britain’s King Charles III and Queen Camilla wave to the crowds from the balcony of Buckingham Palace after their coronation ceremony, in London, Saturday, May 6, 2023.

Royalty has always fascinated me. I cannot recall a time when I was not aware of the life, impact and legacy of Princess Diana, the long reign of Queen Elizabeth, or the fiery red hair that has slowly receded from Prince Harry’s head.

The British Monarchy surged into the world’s consciousness first with the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September and now with the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla on May 6, the first coronation of a British Monarch since 1953.

After viewing dozens of documentaries on the British Royal family and religiously watching Netflix’s “The Crown,” much to the dismay of my Irish patriot grandfather, instead of feeling more informed, I ended up feeling lost, confused and a bit torn.

Amid the pageantry, crowns, jewels and newly air-conditioned horse-drawn coach present at last week’s coronation ceremony, I find myself wondering why, if at all, the monarchy is necessary.

As Americans, this does not seem like a pressing issue. Nevertheless, it is an important reminder of our roots as agitators of the British colonial system and yet the remarkable endurance of the monarchy, despite pushback and scandal every decade since.

The British monarchy — really any monarchy — that exists today, relies on tradition and clings to the importance of their charitable works, national pride and public image.

Queen Elizabeth II was famously praised for her sense of duty and quintessentially British “keep calm and carry on” mentality.

I sometimes wonder, though, what a monarch’s duty really entails. Smiling and waving from a balcony, sitting on gilded thrones and meeting with prime ministers? Though this is an enticing lifestyle, it should not be supported on the grounds of tradition alone.

The United Kingdom’s official royal website states, “As Head of State, The Monarch undertakes constitutional and representational duties which have developed over 1,000 years of history. … The Sovereign acts as a focus for national identity, unity and pride; gives a sense of stability and continuity; officially recognizes success and excellence; and supports the ideal of voluntary service.”

Amid seismic scandals, death and the shrinking of Britain’s colonial empire, the monarchy has sustained its role as the mascot — and often punching bag — for Britain. Most recent among royal scandals are that of Prince Harry’s tell-all novel and Netflix documentary, Harry and Megan Markle’s 2021 interview with Oprah and Prince Andrew, and Queen Elizabeth’s second son being accused of rape and linked with known pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. 

Anti-monarchists who protested in London on coronation day see the monarchy as frivolous and archaic, not to mention a drain of tax dollars during a financial crisis in Britain. Those who oppose the monarchy also tend to dislike the very idea of a royal family, who lives lavishly and seemingly gives little in return. 

Time Magazine explains that if Britain were to abolish the monarchy, they would need to appoint a new head of state to satisfy their parliamentary structure.

“This would most likely be in the form of a president, a role that already exists in parliamentary systems such as Germany and Italy,” said Yasmeen Serhan, a staff writer for TIME. “This person would have most of the existing responsibilities of the monarch, such as certifying laws, going on state visits, and speaking to the nation in times of national crisis.”

 Polling among the British public suggests an all-time low approval rating for the monarchy — due in part to lasting controversy with the new monarchs Charles and Camilla. Despite three in 10 Britons who still think the monarchy is “very important,” I think the monarchy faces a very slow demise, one that I believe will come well after Prince William — one of the most popular royals — assumes the throne. 

If the monarchy has lasted this long, it can certainly sustain the reign of Charles III. Plus, the public adores Prince William, his wife Princess Catherine and their three young children. When the young monarchs-in-waiting seem unproblematic, then the monarchy is safe.  

To this token, I question what approval or disapproval of the Royal family is even based on. Their style? Their perceived friendliness? The charities they support? Whatever it may be, approval among loyal subjects has remained through changing times and does not seem to be going away yet, despite increasing pushback.

In a way, the monarchy is a source of entertainment for the whole world. You are reading about it right now! Continued public interest can be traced to the tradition of respecting and reveling in the assumed glory of royalty. I argue that how the greater public views royalty has not substantially changed over the years but has instead evolved to suit modern sensibilities. 

The royals now have social media and more active public relations, as do the tabloids and newspapers that cover them. Every royal move is photographed, reported on, often hyper-analyzed and then consumed by a captive audience of monarchists and anti-monarchists alike. 

It is important to remember that people who are born into royal structures are just people and do not deserve the incessant attention that has worked both towards and against their decline in popularity.

The spectacular coronation event itself suggests that the monarchy, even if not unanimously popular, is relevant and fascinating to the thousands upon thousands of Britons who waved Union Jacks’ and cheered for their new “rulers.”

All of this seems to demonstrate that King Charles III and Queen Camilla will not likely lose their jobs — or birthright, depending on how you approach it — anytime soon, despite many Princess Diana devotees who despise the very thought of a “Queen Camilla.”

If the monarchy can teach us anything, it is that tradition is powerful, even if it is expensive and impractical.