What Is It About The British Royals That Appeals To Americans?

Maybe because we don’t have royals of our own, we focus our attention on the British Royal Family... or celebrities who tend to be poor substitutes. Image  @ CelebrityNetWorth

Maybe because we don’t have royals of our own, we focus our attention on the British Royal Family… or celebrities who tend to be poor substitutes. Image @ CelebrityNetWorth

Despite being the constant focus of media attention, it is every few years that the British monarchy finds their way into an absolute media frenzy, be it with a royal wedding, the birth of a child, or a scandal. The world watches in fascination, albeit for different reasons. Some watch in fascination of the pomp and circumstance that reflect a centuries-old tradition. Some watch fascinated by the fascination, astounded at how one family can attract so much attention. Some watch in fascination of what they feel is the ridiculousness of a family whose time has long passed by.

But what does the Royal Family actually do? Is the British monarchy still relevant? It depends on your perspective.

For some, the British monarchy hasn’t been relevant since the seventeenth century, when it was stripped of its rights to impose taxes upon the people without consent from Parliament. For others, including over 70 percent of Brits, the monarchy is still a very relevant and needed part of British life. They are a symbol of national pride, of tradition, and a modern representation of the deep and storied history of their beloved kingdom.

While the British monarchy is still largely embraced as a symbol of national identity, their role in governance is nearly non-existent, with only the declaration of war, upon advice from Parliament, remaining her/his right alone. The Queen (or King) has a duty to be non-partisan, and as a result, she, along with the rest of the Royal Family, has to abstain from voting in order to ensure that the people choose their own government without undue influence from the monarch.

Occasionally, there may come a time when it is necessary to appoint a Prime Minister. In this rare event, the monarch still has little choice as to whom they may appoint. Their choice must carry, for the most part, the support of Parliament and the people, with the monarch’s personal politics and preferences playing (supposedly) little to no role in the decision.

That leaves the monarchy in a largely indirect role in governance, mostly a leader in charity and social issues. Long ago, the monarchy gave up ownership of all the properties and artifacts of royalty in exchange for keeping the right to reside and utilize them. Artifacts such as the Crown Jewels, along with the royal properties of the Crown Estate, are held in trust, unable to be sold by the monarch as they are not owned by them. Any revenue generated by the trusts, which are valued in the billions of British pounds, is turned over to the British Treasury and used to fund official royal travel and other official royal expenses such as staff. Often, the amount surrendered by the estate is more than the amount spent on the monarchy each year. The Queen has paid taxes on personal income since 1993.

So there it is. The British monarchy is more a symbol of pride and identity to the British people than anything resembling the royal rulers of centuries ago. That tells us why the Royals are still important to the British people. By why on earth are Americans so obsessed with them?

As a social scientist, this is one of those questions that could have me sitting still in a chair for hours, just pondering the many theories. Maybe it’s a bit of anglophilia at play, with the British Royals simply seen as a manifestation of what it means to be British (could you imagine the frenzy among anglophiles if Prince Harry was seen in public wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt?). Or perhaps it has to do with an interest in tradition and history, because, despite our independence, our nation’s history is inextricably tied with Britain. Maybe it’s because we don’t have royals of our own and, for reasons beyond our understanding, focus our attention on celebrities who tend to be poor substitutes.

But my favorite theory, the theory I feel may just be most likely, is the Disney Theory. It goes back to the tradition of telling our young girls that some day their prince will come, and our young boys that they should be knights in shining armor. We grow up watching Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and scores of other movies and stories that tell us that the best thing that could possibly happen to a girl is to marry a prince. Think about America’s obsession, along with the rest of the world, with Princess Diana. She was the quintessential good, humble girl who got her prince. She was Cinderella, she was Snow White, and many females who grew up with those stories lived their fairy tale come true through her. Now, a whole new generation of girls is doing the same with Kate.

After all, even Americans aren’t immune to fairy tales.