On the bearable lightness of the modern monarchy…

Okay, this is a bit of an experiment. I’ve recorded (very roughly) some thoughts on the allure of the Monarchy in otherwise fully democratic countries from a small ‘r’ republican point of view. You can also probably hear a heavy breathing Spaniel in the background:


I should also point out something not properly covered in the piece, ie that the British monarchy is in fact largely covered by the income from the Crown Estates (£210.7 in the year ending in April) to HM Treasury. So, my point on the expense of monarchy is an indirect one.

I’d welcome two ways of responding. One is the usual, via the comment zone below. The other is to have a crack at making an audioboo yourself (just treat it like a kind of extended ‘phone-in’ response). Just go to audioboo.fm, register and if you have an iphone or even just a microphone on your Mac or PC just give us your own views?

  • Cynic2

    The great thing about Monarchy is that it is NOT elected and we therefore dont have to put up with those we put into office only to slowly destroy over the next term of whatever parliament it is.

    We have no responsibility. Its all down to God or genetic diversity. That can be a great comfort

  • Its a question of comparisons. The UK has a monarchy but they could have had a president, and that president could have been a Thatcher, a Blair, a Brown, or currently a Cameron. I think from my nice safe not that bothered distance, the queen is by far the best head of state. However I expect that to change if the prince with the odd (downright strange) reincarnation ambition ever gets to the throne. If he does I expect those odd reincarnation ambitions to be thoroughly reincarnated.

  • As some folks will know I dabble in genealogy as well as in politics and in history. Looking back through several branches of the family tree I’ve very few ancestors who were born more than ten miles from where I live; looking horizontally I’ve got kith and kin in many parts of the world.

    When I look at some of these kith and kin their roots are very diverse and some of them come here to tap into that sense of rootedness which I have. Perhaps the Royal family symbolises continuity and rootedness in a way that a presidency doesn’t and this may explain part of its attraction.

  • John Ó Néill

    As far as I can see most of the European monarchies are pretty much as unchallenging as they come and, in many of the states, do provide a strong element of identity and continuity (particularly where their constitutional role is purely as a prop).

    A lot of us will always have an issue with coupling unearned/inherited privilege and designating commoner/subject status on citizens of a modern democractic state. At the same time, I admit that you can equally make a case that societies model these monarchies in their own image (and require them to act this out on the public stage) – which means it isn’t an issue to be solely directed at the monarchies themselves.

  • JoeBryce

    I think Mick’s recent posts are too conservative as to the scale of the reconfiguration of relationships in these islands that may be on the cards. Scottish autonomy is a momentous development for most northern unionists, for most of them – us? – identify very closely with Scotland. There is not going to be a United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Also I detect a growing degree of trust in the rest of Ireland, brought about by the secularisation of the 26 and the generosity of the DFM in the north.

    But the monarchy, well, yes, that is a sticking point. My sense is that for republicans the problem is less that it is a monarchy than that it is a protestant monarchy. What scope might there be for fudging this issue in a renegotiated Ireland?

  • While I take the point that the words “President Thatcher” send a shudder down the spine….hereditary (and it cant be seperated from the Acts of Settlement & Succession baggage) seems a very bad way of determining a Head of State.
    After all if Englands 1966 football team was their best ever…why not select their sons and grandchildren.

    The interesting thing about the English monarchy (even President Obama refers to Eilis as the Queen of “England” ) is that most monarchists would not regard it as a monarchy at all.
    It is the Whig compromise where effectively in exchange for being very very rich, the Queen and her family play a role constitutionally.
    Allegedly apolitical, it is hard to imagine the tweedy cousinage of the extended “royal family” and their courtiers as being anything other than a soap opera.
    Indeed the similarities with “Coronation Street” are there for all to see.
    Take Ken Barlow. A lefty ex-teacher with a social conscience. He was actually jailed for a week in the early 1960s for a CND Protest. And the role of “Ken Barlow” is played by William Roache (surely a knighthood awaits) who is a leading supporter of the Conservative Party in the Cheshire stockbroker belt.
    Take the “Queens Consort” The role of the kilt wearing Duke of Edinburgh shooting small mammals in a Balmoral grouse moor is actually played by an impoverished member of a minor European “royal house” .
    “Prince Charles” the guy who does all that inner-city Trust stuff is actually played by Charles Windsor, the lovable fox hunter.

    The English Monarchy has been …lucky. It survived revolutionas and World War One, where others didnt and were further curtailed.
    Not being English or British, I dont really give a tinkers curse whether it survives or dies. Its tabloid escapades delight any philosophical “republican”.

    (incidently I cant actually listen to the audio thingy…..speakers have died) but certainly this audioboo thingy seems interesting. I recently was gifted a swivel chair for my birthday and have become more wise and judgemental as a result. A man with a swivel chair NEEDS audioboo. 😉

  • fjh

    Completely agree as long as the monarch is one of three, take your pick between Hurst, Moore and Peters. Note the completely impartial alphabetical order, although Peters did do a runner soon after the world cup. I would not want that defection to influence anyone…

  • Indeed. West Ham might be still in the Premiership if they had the children and grandchildren of Moore, Hurst & Peters playing for them instead of the mediocre lot they have.

  • Henry94


    But the monarchy, well, yes, that is a sticking point. My sense is that for republicans the problem is less that it is a monarchy than that it is a protestant monarchy. What scope might there be for fudging this issue in a renegotiated Ireland?

    What about this. In the event of a united Ireland it would be agreed that we would elect Prince Harry as the first President. He could two or three seven year terms as a guarantor of Britain’s commitment to its continuing links with and concern for the unionist population.

  • JoeBryce

    I think Henry that once, to coin Alex Salmond’s phrase, the National Conversation kicks off – and I think in a quiet way it has done so already – there may be no end to the number of intelligent sensible accommodations that may be capable of being made, across the Islands.

  • wee buns

    I too want an audioboo….

    The fascination with monarchy IS strange. I was genuinely taken aback to be hit by TV pictures of queenie, wearing a clatter of diamonds on her bap, here. The ostentatious display, not purely of wealth, (not like driving past one of the many ten bed roomed mansions perched on an otherwise lovely skyline), but of that flashy instrument of empire perched on her head, it struck me as being so wildly out of context, almost a wee bit..…rude. Perhaps it is because I spend not enough time in shops and cinemas and too much time in yer akshal hills.

  • The queen is not allowed to voice opinions so her opinions have to be found in gesture.

    Far from being rude the point of the diamonds was to honour Ireland. If she had turned up in jeans (at eighty five??) it would have been, perhaps only in the mind of an octogenarian, disrespectful. The queen clearly wanted to pay her respects to Ireland. It was in every outfit she wore, including the diamonds, even the dress was covered in crystal shamrocks!

    I spend a fair amount of time in the mountains myself, but the only feeling I had was jealousy not of the tiara, or the necklace, but did anyone else notice that bracelet? I can see myself walking the dogs in the mountains, in a seven carat tennis bracelet,,.

  • pippakin, Angela Kelly will have been one of the Queen’s key advisers. Imagine having all that money to spend on a few outfits!!

  • Framer

    The virtue of monarchy, as opposed to dictatorship, is that the succession is generally clear and known in advance.

    Most communist and other dictatorships now appear to be dynastic to get round this e.g. North Korea, Cuba, Syria.

    In democracies, dynasties are inevitable and ubiquitous.

    All Irish Taoisigh since independence have been the sons, son-in-law, brothers, or fathers of Dail TDs or former Taoisigh.

  • apollo293867

    As an Englishman I am always depressed by the lack of conversation around the nature of Monarchy. The deference and all the rest of the servile nonsense sit badly with me. The Act of Settlement/primogeniteur also need to be stirred into this pot and its no wonder that England is backward facing and reactionary. I wrote recently that every time we have a Labour Government, there is a collective bout of fear and the body politic returns to thge tories to be given a spank and sent to bed for being naughty. I feel this is a result of adherence to this servility and medieaval nonsense of royalty. Sadly I know I’m in a minority and the likelihood of any national conversation is remote.

  • wee buns

    Despite a taste of non routine historical debate incurred by the royal visit there was zero tolerance by the meeja towards those who disagreed with monarchy, peaceful dissent included. Verbally they were mutilated, exposing a deficit in the maturity department of the meeja (surprise surprise).
    Even more acutely a reality for republicans in Britain who dared to be disgruntled during the wedding so I believe. The perfect counterpoint to that saccharine flim flam was that picture of a child bridesmaid on the balcony during the (unbelievably meager) kiss, holding her hands over her ears with a facial expression of one who finds herself trapped in hell.
    The majority seem to be susceptible to spectacle, romance, soap opra, Disney, royalty: strangely they give themselves over to aristocracy regardless of its origins or ethics.

  • apollo293867

    I decided to varnish the garden furniture

  • PaulT

    Was I the only one who winced seeing the Obamas’ meeting and chatting with Wills and Kate? is this the correct representation for the UK?

    I mean no disrespect to Kate, but she was present purely because she had married Wills, who was present due to a birthright.

    That ain’t no democracy

  • John Ó Néill

    After much messing, I finally got the phone to cough up a response (see here).

  • wee buns

    Just caught up with your audioboo

    You speak of monarchy as a ‘difficult concept to keep transforming’.
    A glimpse of that struggle was during the wedding royal with yon vintage Aston Martin, a tentative step which aspired to say ‘cool’. Indeed that’s the contradiction of monarchy: how to balance elite with the ‘common’ people, and how telling that even to a Disney saturated 3+yr old, the princess simply didn’t cut the mustard. Yikes.

    My observations: some younger citizen s of Donegal (25+ but under 40) seemed to embrace the whole wedding/visit in an fervent way (like deprived beings); most probably a bounce from what they felt to be an anti British vibe from their parents/grandparents. One girlfriend (28) threw a royal wedding party where everyone dressed up in 80’s garb (huh?) and rolled a video of said wedding throughout. She made buns with union jack icing…BUT… (in order not to offend visitors from the B’fast,she explained) they were iced in green/white/gold.
    Ok. Grand.
    So if the yoof of the 26 have no direct experience of citizenship V subject, at least a modicum of awareness exists.

  • Neil Welton

    I agree with Wee Buns. For an inexplicable reason, the vast majority of people still seem quite susceptible to the idea of Monarchy. Willingly giving themselves over (and also their children and their grandchildren) to the idea of aristocratic rule in the 21st Century. I was particularly surprised by the reaction of my own age group, those aged between twenty-five and forty, to The Royal Wedding. For I kind of expected my generation to be different. That we would rebel. That we would all fight against it. And turn the whole system on its head. Instead, we have turned out to be just as fervently Royalist and loyalist as our forefathers before us. And all it took was a smile and a wave from a Prince on his Wedding day.