The British Monarchy is undoubtably experiencing a crisis, one which spans family conflicts, its modern identity, and its future, all amidst vast changes to its dynamics. As it battles to avoid utter collapse, it simply cannot be claimed that all press is good press as allegations from internal fragmentation to sexual abuse emerge against the institution. Externally, the Monarchy feels less like a monument of grandeur than a ship burning while it sinks. Even so, we cannot abandon it yet.
While historically rocky, the Monarchy has been in a state of political peace for almost four hundred years. However, bar the Queen who is isolated as a figurehead, the rest of the family has progressively become more the target of tabloid news than of meaningful media engagement. So much so that incessant articles are one of the reasons for the infamous retreat of the Sussex’s from the limelight. So, with a family who feels more like dancing monkeys than royalty, how has it degraded to its current state of disrepair?
Focusing just on recent years, therefore ignoring the saga of Charles and Diana for now, Harry and Meghan have been the core focus of a frenzied media. Their swift exit from the family within two years of their marriage received harsh criticism. Since then, the couple have claimed they faced racism within the family and are being forced to stay away from the UK by strict bureaucracy.
Public opinion regarding the couple is at an all-time low, with just 34% having a positive opinion of Prince Harry, and 26% for Meghan in September. This has played out negatively in the media, with the pair being accused of trying to destroy their own family, and every act of Meghan’s being investigated. There can be no doubt that this has affected the couple, demonstrated by their fight to keep their personal lives out of the hands of the British public.
Whether deserved or not, the Royal Family and the British Media successfully sunk their teeth into the Sussexes and created one of the most visual divides between the family. Having the Cambridges posed directly opposite, and seemingly somewhat against, their brother and brother-in-law, it is easy for the public to see all the roles which Harry and Meghan now fail to fulfil. It also demonstrates the failure of the Windsor’s to be what is most fundamentally expected of them: a family.
However, the narrative surrounding the Sussexes is beginning to diverge from what we have seen so far. Court filings from the couple reveal their highly criticised absence from the UK may be due to the Government refusing to allow their private security access to the information necessary to protect them. Simultaneously, the Royal Family has made it clear that the couple will not receive publicly-funded UK security while in the country either.
The way the couple have been treated by both the institution they call family, and the public they serve, there is no doubt they have made the correct decision. In the glimpses we have of their life, the family appears to have a happiness which few associate with The Royal Family anymore. However, as they thrive, it only highlights more the darkness which surrounds those who they left behind.
The exit of the Sussexes has demonstrated the toxicity of the Monarchy to a new generation; however, it is only part of the puzzle as to the modern state of the institution.
Undoubtably, Prince Andrew has caused the most recent damage to the Royal Family, at least in the eyes of younger generations. The sexual abuse allegations made against him are serious and, thankfully, have not been completely ignored by the Monarchy.
The movement of Prince Andrew to effectively a private citizen has been long delayed since the initial allegations appeared in 2014. While Queen’s decision to extradite her ‘favourite son’ certainly helps to avoid backlash against the family itself, the saga has still caused irreparable damage to the institution. From outside, the case made by Prince Andrew feels mockable as he flounders to defend himself looking shocked that his actions have been able to catch up to him.
Media response to Andrew has been incomparable to what Harry and Meghan faced throughout their time in the UK. Factual reports on the former are overshadowed by the numerous speculative tabloid articles which the Sussexes faced. Prince Andrew has successfully made the Monarchy seem as if it believed it was untouchable, and now they must struggle to regain public trust in the institution.
With his titles now stripped, Andrew is seeking to defend himself in a trial by jury. Whether this demand will be allowed, and successful for Andrew, is yet to be seen. The idea of witnesses from Pizza Express being flown to the United States to testify makes his defence even more ridiculous in the eyes of the public. There is no telling what is going to happen next, but the damage inflicted by Prince Andrew can only get worse when the trial gets underway.
The Future of the Monarchy
What potentially faces the future of the Monarchy is equally contributing to its weaknesses. The Platinum Jubilee this summer marks seventy years of Queen Elizabeth being on the throne. Marked by a long weekend of celebrations, the Jubilee promises to highlight all the strengths of the Monarchy throughout the longest reign in history.
However, these celebrations also highlight the fragility of the Monarchy. After 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth has reach 95 years old and the changes in her health are evident to the public. She’s also experienced monumental loss in the death of Prince Phillip. All this forces us to consider the future of the Monarchy when the throne is passed on.
Prince Charles, who is first in line to the throne, is a complex public figure. His popularity varies between generations, while 6th overall, he holds just a 33% approval rating amongst millennials. This rises to a much greater 54% amongst Baby Boomers, with all these figures coming from YouGov.
The future of Charles as King will forever be marred by the memory of Princess Diana. As ‘The People’s Princess’, younger generations mourn her energy and devour more conspiracy theories surrounding her death more than other generations. Her portrayal in Netflix’s The Crown is one focused on her happiness being stifled at the hands of poor treatment, lack of love, and tradition. It is unsurprising then to see the lower approval rating of Charles, and his wife Camilla who sits at an overall 11th place and 34% approval, within younger generations.
Contrasting this, the Cambridges, William and Catherine, sit in 2nd and 3rd place respectively with approval ratings of 66% and 65%. This leaves us to wonder whether the future of the Monarch would be better secured in the hands of these two, if they are able to overcome cheating rumours which have been circulating since 2019. Succession of the throne is evidently going to be contentious for the public who are divided over what they think of their future King. Currently, it feels like the Queen is the glue holding the institution together, and we cannot predict the response when the Monarch changes.
Why we cannot give it up
With all this evidence, it may feel like the Royal Family should be retired when it comes time to crown the next Monarch. However, despite these rocky times and its uncertain future, we cannot give up on the Monarchy. Instead of turning to arguments based in economic benefits, the political and social value of the Monarchy will instead be presented.
At home, British national identity is inherently linked to the Monarchy and has been since its very conception. There is a reason we hold street parties and stand outside to see the Royals when they make appearances. Even for those less than fanatic, the Queen’s Christmas Speech still draws 9 million away from their festivities which is more than any other programme. We are connected to the Royals, and their absence would leave a gap in British cultural and social heritage.
As we negotiate abroad, we should be proud seeing the Queen standing beside a consistently rotating string of international leaders, whom she welcomes gracefully. The continuity the Monarchy provides politically presents the UK as a place of consistency and strength which is not seen elsewhere. This separation between the Head of State and Head of Government further allows for the nation to be left unscathed by the political traumas and controversies which befall individual politicians.
The Monarchy needs fixing. Perhaps Prince Charles’ plans to cut down the family have some merit. Either way, we should not give up on this institution just yet. If the public help it to survive a changeover of power, whether it be to Charles or William, there should be no doubt that the Monarchy will be around to stay.