Right off the bat, the British royal family is a ubiquitous institution. Not a person on the planet is unfamiliar with the Queen of England or her army of relatives that have consistently come up in media over the years. From the figureheads of chess pieces or decks of cards to romanticized terms of endearment like “princess,” the influence of the monarchy is undeniable even in the smallest regions of the world. However, with most countries dominated by parliamentary law, the British royal household seems a bit out of place. Yet somehow they have managed to keep face and retain steady popularity for hundreds of years.
The social sentiments of the last decade have laid the groundwork worldwide for a cultural revolution meant to uplift the previously disadvantaged from a longstanding position of inequality. Topics of racism, colonialization and injustice — all of which heavily pepper the history of the British royal family — provide valuable points of discussion across the board. With the growing stirrings of republicanism in Britain, perhaps the monarchy and its thousands of years’ worth of traditional continuity are finally standing on their last leg.
Politically, the royal family doesn’t offer any other value except for its heavily adorned public image. While the Queen opens each session of parliament with the country’s ministers and sits with them in a large, official hall, she doesn’t do much else — she can’t change laws or contribute politically. All Queen Elizabeth represents is the sentimentalism of a sovereign head of state who is in diplomatic agreement with her elected government. In fact, it’s been this way for hundreds of years: Since 1649, the crown surrendered political control over to an elected privy council after the debaucheries of King Charles I drove the people of England into massive civil unrest. After that, crown and council have existed in “harmony” with elected ministers at the helm, but the face of the sovereign was still plastered high and mighty on all the flags.
However, while there’s an undeniable question surrounding the practicality of the royal family in the world at large, there are certainly recognizable contributions: Royalty from any nation through the centuries have long been the primary trendsetters of fashion. Communities looked to the far more glamorous (and substantially wealthier) monarchy that had access to the most forward and fine quality fashion of the time. With the benefits of social media, this hasn’t changed much — especially with the late Princess Diana, The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and The Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle all being fashion moguls and major influences on modern style, being featured in many “wedding goals” Pinterest boards.
Moreover, there is the substantial contribution of royalty’s intensely detailed family trees to the world of science and genetics: Inheritance and diseases studies rely heavily on extensive pedigrees to accurately draw conclusions and contribute to research. For example, making use of the royal pedigree proved to be a valuable resource in studying hemophilia through the lineage of Queen Victoria, and because royals only marry other royals — who are often closely related cousins — the inheritance of autosomal recessive disorders is better understood.
Furthermore, while the monarchy lacks a role in the politics of the British nation, they have a surprisingly major role in tourism, bringing in millions of dollars a year with their on-sight tours of Buckingham Palace, or by simply broadcasting their lavish weddings for the world to simultaneously swoon and raise a savvy eyebrow at. Perhaps in this way the royal family objectively makes up for the staggering £67 million they cost taxpayers, but without other substantial means of societal contribution, this amount is becoming harder to ignore or justify. Designer wedding gowns, invitations to high-end galas and constant publicity is a nice lifestyle to enjoy for doing next to nothing — something our own Western reality TV stars can attest to.
The media has also capitalized on the apparent romanticisms of royal life, with TV shows such as “The Crown” and “Reign” offering dramatized but sincere glimpses into the people behind the heavy name. As strange as some people find the existence of a popular modern-day sovereign, audiences can’t seem to get enough of their stories. Stranger yet, however, is that while these glamorous retellings do well, news covering many of the royals hasn’t exactly been sterling over the years, with outrageous scandals popping up every so often like Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s divorce and, more recently, the controversial relationship between Prince Andrew and his registered sex-offender “friend” Jeffrey Epstein.
Perhaps the most radical incidence of any public value was the announcement of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex stepping down from their royal roles to pursue financial and public independence. Despite how the most trivial tasks or appearances of any of the royals become somehow topical — be it a fashion faux pas, being a good mother and driving your children to school or simply living in your own house — the Sussex’s radical decision to leave the royal family fueled the flames of discussion surrounding the overall value of the monarchy in the world. While they’re certainly a glamorous modern-day fairy tale, do they really belong?
Ultimately, however, it doesn’t seem that the monarchy will be abolished anytime soon. When Queen Elizabeth eventually passes, Prince Charles will take her place on the throne of England and the Commonwealth countries that still recognize the crown as sovereign. We’ll continue to watch our shows centered around sensationalized interpretations of their lives and they’ll continue to wear fancy dresses and wave from the steps of private jets. For now, the ideals of a mostly bygone form of government will carry on the alluring but superfluous image of a crown looking over and after its kingdom.