British Kings and Queens | Opinion

Photo by Number 10, via Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout my life, I have been fascinated by royalty (the other kind).

A large part of my guilty reading pleasure consists of books about British, French, Spanish, Austrian or Russian royalty, written by talented women like Antonia Fraser, Joan Haslip or Nancy Goldstone. Often I will stop in my tracks to gaze at photos or videos of a royal coronation, wedding, or funeral. In this I am not alone. Much of the American media coverage of foreign affairs revolves around the families, health, homes, or scandals of royal folk. Here, as elsewhere, the media only give what the public wants.

Americans’ interest in royalty is extensive but limited. For one thing, we are only interested in British royalty. Royals in continental Europe, Asia, or Africa only gain our attention when we fight wars against them, as we did with the German Kaiser in World War I or the Japanese Emperor in World War II. An exception would be the late Princess Grace of Monaco, an American socialite and movie star. Even within the British royal family we are only interested in certain personalities, primarily royal brides who are American (the Duchess of Windsor, Meghan Markle), beautiful (Princess Diana, Kate Middleton) or controversial (Queen Camilla). The late Queen Elizabeth II was a favorite of ours, due to her long reign and her ability to stay above the fray amidst the turmoil of her sister, husband, children, and grandchildren. The fact that we fought a war to free ourselves from the rule of her ancestors did not hurt her standing “across the pond.” The popularity of the Netflix series “The Crown” only reflects this reality.

Why are British royals popular with allegedly democratic Americans? “We’re social animals,” Temple University psychologist Dr. Frank Farley reminded Time magazine. “With famous media figures, we often live some of our lives through them. The very fact that [British royalty] has continued is a curiosity for us: That’s the royal family we got rid of, in a sense.” A generation of Americans who grew up in a Disney World of princes and princesses are mesmerized by the real thing, even if they are no better and sometimes worse than the rest of us. There is no language barrier between us, as it would be with other royals. It is no wonder that a large part of the U.K. tourist industry revolves around royal monuments like castles, palaces and great cathedrals. The British royals know this, which is whey they maintain the mystique and rituals of monarchy at a time when continental royals can be seen riding a bicycle, shopping or playing pickleball. Finally, the lives of British royals are a form of entertainment; and they excite us in ways that presidential families could never do. In the words of Clare Malone, who wrote about royalty in The New Yorker, “In an era of reality-television stars, the House of Windsor [now Mountbatten-Windsor] has offered tabloid readers a frisson of glamour, wealth, and blinding fame.”

How long will American fascination with British royals continue? King Charles III will never be as popular as his mother, his sons, or his first wife; and many will never forgive him for the way he treated the sainted Diana. Public opinion has bypassed him and centered its attention on his oldest son William, Prince of Wales, his charming wife and his delightful children. I presume our fascination will last until the day that the British people, fed up with the taxes they must pay to support a bunch of titled parasites, topple their royals and send them on their way. Meanwhile, we remain dazzled by their example, however undeserving they might be.


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