Many of us have grown up with the story of a princess and a frog, dreaming of a grand fairy-tale wedding that Disney in large personifies. However, this is not just fairy-tale. In the last centuries, there have been considerable changes to what was previously a widespread phenomenon: monarchies. From absolute rulers to fairy-tale celebrities, how have monarchies been able to survive in the 21st century?
Crowns, thrones, and palaces, all in all aspects that we have associate with royalty for centuries. However, today even Queen Elizabeth the second is just a figure head, with no real political power. We often see royals standing on balconies waving, something all monarchs seem to really enjoy. Yet, what do they do? And how have they managed to survive in a new age largely characterized by democracy?
The argument of “unifying the country” seems to be a trend amongst public opinion. One only must look at the recent Covid-19 pandemic, with Queen Elizabeth the second bringing people together in her speech; “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return”.
Having to adapt to modern society and remaining impartial are additional key factors. Regarding adaptation, the rules regarding whom royals can marry has been greatly relaxed, and in nearly half the countries with ceremonial royals, the next monarch could be a queen. This lays tribute to the fact that modernizing is crucial in ensuring the survival of monarchies in contemporary society. However, the basic rule amongst every monarchy has not changed. This being that power is inherited, especially money.
Most monarchies get their money from taxpayers, and none get as much as the British royal family. Yet in large, we don’t know what they have and where they have it. What we do know is that a large share of it came from their royal subjects back when they had absolute power. The more places they conquered, the more money they could extract in order to fund more conquests. This lays tribute to the trade of slaves, where most of the world has previously been under European rule. Most prominently the case for Britain, colonialism and enslavement were integrally tied to the monarchy.
In the new era of democracy, Britain was now determined to change its behaviour and public image in order to ensure its survival. This included making the people its allies, starting one of the largest reality tv shows in history. The monarchy turned the idea of family into business. We can all relate to the image of an ordinary family. We see this every day now, having become one of the most popular tv genres, just look at keeping up with the Kardashians. Yet the royals pioneered this concept decades earlier, starting to celebrate royal weddings, funerals and births as national events. It is estimated that the wedding of prince Harry was watched by a quarter of the entire worlds’ populations, indicating the massive influence this has had.
Today, royals are hence seen more as celebrities, with the British monarchy being the longest, continually running reality show family in the world. And as commonly seen in reality shows, the drama never stops.
The real challenge of monarchy in the 21st century is about how to maintain the mystery and ambiance. If you broadcast too much, the mystery is gone, and you are no different than anyone else. With people wanting to see the magic associated with monarchies, these are hence components crucial to their survival.