Recently, senior royals Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their intention to step down from their roles, and work to become financially independent. This shock announcement highlighted the cracks in the British Monarchy, evidencing some of the ways in which it has failed to evolve in a manner that accomodates modern paradigms. Whilst it’s origin has it’s roots in the need for stability, the monarch’s role as a symbol of power and peace has become questionable.
The British monarchy emerged as a Heptarchy (a state consisting of seven autonomous regions) around 410AD, shortly after the end of Roman rule. It consisted of the Kingdoms of Northumbria, Wessex, Mercia, East-Anglia, Essex, Kent and Sussex. This manner of governance continued for an estimated 400 years, until William the Conquerer was declared King of England, thus dispelling all English Kingdoms, creating the one we know today.
However, Æthelstan, King of the West Saxons, had ruled over the English kingdoms prior to William the Conquerer’s reign, hence setting the precedent for a monarchial style government.
From this it becomes evident that the need to solidify the various English bodies into one monarch came from the recognition that standardising political and diplomatic matters across all seven regions made for an easier means of management, with Æthelstan setting the precedent, and William the Conquerer formalising it.
However, this is precisely where my first question enters: if the political and administrative ease of a monarchy was observed at a time when the King/Queen was the only decision maker on behalf of the people, would we still observe these same benefits in the modern age, where people are their own political agents? Not really.
To combat this, Britain converted to a constitutional monarchy: a form of government in which a non-elected Monarch (Queen Elizabeth II, in this case) shares power with an organised government, such as the British parliament. The Monarch thus functions within the limits prescribed in the constitution, but is allotted a royal prerogative (certain privileges, rights and immunities). However, these can only be exercised by advice from the Prime Minister, and whilst the Monarch and Prime Minister hold council every week, it can not be argued that Monarchs give valuable advice simply by being Monarchs. By their virtue of being non-elected political agents, their right to bestow advice comes from lineage, not necessarily from being qualified to deliver certain remarks. As best said in the movie Ford v Ferrari ‘You’re not Henry Ford. You’re Henry Ford the second.’ Arguments of qualification by lineage do not stand in the age of democracy.
The royal website states that the Monarch no longer has any political or executive roles, but continues to form an important part of national life by being the focus of national identify, unity and pride, whilst also encouraging stability and continuity, and recognising excellence and success.
Which is where I have another question: do British taxpayers really need to have parts of their taxes taken to support the Monarchy just so that they can be symbols of culture? If one observes the United States, for instance, a strong sense of patriotism and unity prevails without the presense of a vestigial head of state. The role of maintaining stability and providing a sense of unity is performed by the president and in some instances, Vice President, where there has been no cry for an additional leader particularly for these roles.
Furthermore, we need to question exactly what kind of identity is being reinforced here. With Brexit, it became evident that Britons do not have a sense of shared identity with the rest of Europe, instead choosing to isolate themselves in an increasingly interconnected world. This is not to say that the Queen is suddenly liable for the people’s vote, but it is to evidence that despite the presense of a Monarch, the British people still felt that their identity and way of life was under attack, evidencing that the mere presence of a Monarch did not preserve the identity of the British people in the face of changes in legislative and political changes.
This calls into question the adaptability of her role in unions such as the EU (European Union). Is the Monarch an anchor of national identity, or is she a symbol of stasis in a fast-paced world? From the above it is clear that the presence of a Monarch does not solidify the kind of national identity of the new world: a world in which alliances are forged, and people have the means to seemless shapeshift between citizenships.
Furthermore, if Britons have the political agency to make their discomfort known through this and other such votes, do they really need the Queen there as a symbol of identity when they know exactly how they feel?
But this argument falls flat when one considers that in countries such as South Africa, there is a president, a parliament, and kings of various South African tribes, such as King Goodwill Zwelethini (King of Zulu Kingdom). So if the presense of Monarchs can be justified in one place of the world for the sake of culture, why not in the other?
Well, for starters, African systems and Western systems don’t necessarily behave in similar ways, as I outlined in a previous article:
Amongst Africans, there seems to exist a strange dichotomy, inclusive of two parallel systems. The one is western, and the other is African. 30km away from an area where one would receive land from a chief, you call an estate agent and ask to view a 4 bedroom house, and you take a mortgage from the state-owned Swazi Bank.
As far as I am aware, this clash does not exist to such a great extent in Britain. There is no gaping chasm between the way Parliament and the some of the public function, and the way Monarch and other parts of the public function.
So as far as culture is concerned, is there a need to keep a figure-head who makes speeches and wears jewels that were often times taken from other countries?
SO WHERE DO MEGHAN AND HARRY FIT IN?
It’s not necessarily an aphorism, but it is being whispered silently. Could it be possible that Meghan’s skin colour did not allow her to fit in to the royal photo? Was she a stain?
We don’t know. We’re speculating. But what we do know is that BBC radio host Danny Baker was fired for comparing their child, Archie, to a chimp. Added to this, royal commentator Kristen Meinzer commented,
“Meghan is subjected to double standards that are blatant in their intent to frame her as an ignorant, uncouth, and unfit for the aristocracy, much less the royal family,”
And so, whether it is because of Meghan’s skin colour or her celebrity background before resuming the role of being a Duchess, it’s clear that she was not welcomed in the royal family. Despite many commentators praising her various acts, such as starting dialogues about women in various parts of Britain (something which should be done by prominent ‘political’ figures: confronting what they percieve to be societal barriers to progress), it’s speculated that she still did not make the cut.
Whilst one could argue that this is largely due to public outcry, and the comments written by journalists and radio hosts, it’s clear that even the public conceptualises their identity, as reflected in the Monarch, in a very peculiar and nationalist manner.
If this Monarchial body is conceptualised in this manner, and has failed to evolve to the point that it has been speculated that it’s static nature is responsible for the Sussex departure, is there really a reason to keep it if the only thing it does is suck Britain into the past?
Perhaps it’s not all that bad to have a Monarch for ceremonial reasons, but recent events have me convinced that the Monarchial structure will start battling for relevance. Even if the Monarch is to be called on in times of war, is there a need to preserve this role if it can be transferred to a prime minister or president who, by virtue of public scrutiny, is most likely to be better qualified for the calling (in most cases) and represent the interests of the public?
After all- we all remember Winston Churchill(prime minister) from World War II, but who exactly was the Monarch at the time?
And so, if I were to describe to you an official body of state that only made press appearances, spoke words that were more non-polarising than they were honest and well thought out suggestions, that recieved attention from heads of state from around the world whilst being held at the mercy of the Parliament and the Prime Minister, and that failed to encapsulate the values of a new age for the sake of historical accuracy, what would come to mind first:
Monarchy or marketing department?