Heritage

The Magic of the Monarchy: How Can Something So Archaic Be So Popular and Influential?

Royal families continue to thrive and this may not be such a bad thing.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ kongehuset.dk
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In this digital age when technology reigns supreme, and the majority of the world’s nations call for democracy, does a concept as archaic as a monarchy—even a constitutional monarchy at that—remain relevant to the times?

The idea that a single bloodline can hold so much power and influence, regardless of an heir’s credibility or character seems irrational for the modern thinker. But as the world changes, the monarchy evolves along with it. Economist and journalist Walter Bagehot’s assessment of monarchy during the prolific reign of Queen Victoria continues to ring through today—“The best reason why Monarchy is a strong government is that it is an intelligible government. The mass of mankind understand it, and they hardly anywhere in the world understand any other.”

History has been unkind and unforgiving to now-defunct royalties. The French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille eventually made way for France’s First Republic. When World War I came to an end, so did the monarchies of Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Turkey. But for the 44 countries where a monarchy is very much alive and recognized, this form of government thrives. The monarchy’s role has transcended mere rulership of kings, queens, and frivolous palaces, and has transformed into a people-centric body with the goal to inspire. Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, recognized the separation of state and powers basically back in the 19th century so he sought to carve out a new authority for the royal family, which still remains today—one of moral distinction. Retaining influence, the monarchy proceeded to become the picture of a model family, whom people wanted to follow. Through a balance of consistency and change, the monarchy keeps on.

The idea that a single bloodline would hold much power and influence, regardless of an heir’s credibility or character seems irrational for the modern thinker. But as the world changes, the monarchy evolves along with it.

Resurgence of public trust and social satisfaction

Professors Andreas Bergh and Christian Bjørnskov found that social trust records are higher in monarchies, which contribute to a generally lower crime rate and lower corruption. Steady statistics have reflected on the number of people in favor of the monarchy in Britain. United Kingdom’s NatCen Social Research measures the average Briton’s attitude toward the royal family, having a samples size of 1,000 to 2,000 respondents rank the importance of the monarchy on a six-point scale, from ‘very important’ to ‘don’t know.’ Since 1983, a majority of the respondents have filed the monarchy under ‘Very Important,’ while only an average of eight percent throughout the 32-year study have called for the monarchy to be abolished. The support for the British monarchy reached an all-time high in 2012, when 46 percent of the public said it was ‘very important’ to have a monarchy. More women than men gave a higher ranking of importance to the monarchy, although both men and women were equally likely to rate the monarchy as “quite important.”

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Unsurprisingly, the royal family’s milestones coincide with the surge in satisfaction. The year the monarchy scored over 30 percent in the very important category was the same year that Prince William married Kate Middleton, while the following year was when Queen Elizabeth celebrated her Diamond Jubilee and released a video alongside James Bond actor Daniel Craig and her beloved corgis to open the London 2012 Olympics. The study ends with equally strong satisfaction digits in 2015, which was the birth year of Princess Charlotte and the year Queen Elizabeth was named the longest-reigning British monarch.

The British royal family's strength lies in knowing when to break tradition in favor of something more apt with the times.

The bottom line is that monarchy is deeply tied to the satisfaction of its people. So as long as the institution maintains the trust of its public, then there is little to contest it with. Constitutional monarchies are primarily run by the cabinet and a prime minister, with the exception of a few countries that have retained their monarchy’s governing power. The royal families in Japan, Monaco, and even the U.K., have become the country’s symbols instead of its leading powers. And as human endorsements of a nation’s traditions, culture, and virtue of hope, this type of monarchy delivers full and well.

Adapting to the times

When Prince William wed Kate Middleton in 2011, media coverage was said to have reached a population of two billion people in more than 180 countries. This phenomenal figure beats the 28.4 million viewers of Prince Charles and Diana’s 1981 wedding by a landslide. Undoubtedly, the royal families have adapted to the modern medium of dissemination and continue to disrupt everyday lives by way of Facebook post or Tweet. What was once a news report of the royal tour has become an instant update. The general public is made fully aware of each royal’s whereabouts to their daily meals and the brands they wear.

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Of the more recent trend in royal headlines is reporting a royal family’s break with tradition. To survive, the royals must tweak their old ways and make them seem new. The British royal family's strength lies in knowing when to break tradition in favor of something more apt with the times. Many have credited this change to the late Diana, once Princess of Wales, who was named the People’s Princess for a number of reasons. She took off her gloves to ensure meaningful contact with people and was the first mother to send a British heir to public school. Her demeanor was endearing and she had a personable charm about her that people loved.

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Arguably, the British royal family has taken a page from her handbook and has quickened the pace of modernization. Prince Charles envisions a much more practical royal family, cutting corners by limiting royal duties and appearances to his immediate family, and transforming Buckingham Palace from a royal residence and into a commercial and cultural hub.

Undoubtedly, the royal families have adapted to the modern medium of dissemination and continue to disrupt everyday lives by way of Facebook post or Tweet.

The monarchy is no exception to the patriarchal society. The line of succession usually favors a male heir but this has seen some developments, as well. In 2013, the year of Prince George’s birth, the Succession of the Crown Act was amended to allow female heirs to take equal precedence over the throne. This means that Princess Charlotte remains a notch higher in the line of succession than future male offsprings her parents might have. Still, the Brits were behind when it came to passing the Gender-Equal Succession Law. Other European monarchies beat them to it. Sweden allowed equal succession as early as the 1980s, while the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark followed in 1983, 1981, and 2009, respectively. A handful of countries—Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan included—still do not allow female heirs.

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Meanwhile, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia promises a more moderate Islam, which he claims has been in an “ultra-conservative” state for the past 30 years due to its outdated leadership styles and rigid doctrines. The aftermath of the Iranian revolution left many of its surrounding states confused, he shares. “After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries, one of them is Saudi Arabia. We didn’t know how to deal with it. And the problem spread all over the world. Now is the time to get rid of it,” he tells The Guardian. Last month, the kingdom took one step closer to abolishing its oppression of women by finally allowing them to drive.

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An economic kind of magic

From an economic standpoint, the magic of royalty lies in the numbers it brings in. As a portion of the annual royal allowance comes from the people’s pockets, this gives them the right to know whether they get more than they give. There are public sectors, such as foreign affairs, tourism, and patronages that greatly benefit from the presence of a monarchy, while private businesses such as retailers, local brands, warrants and charities find success in a royal's Midas touch.

Brand Finance calculated the British monarchy’s contribution to the economy in 2016, which was estimated to be £1.1 billion. In one example, Kelkoo projected that Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding, said to be one of the most expensive weddings of all time with a price tag of $34 million, would garner a £515.5 million increase in the sales of retailers, with over six million people expected to have celebrated in some way. The party didn’t end there. Wedding-related merchandise, such as mugs, commemorative coins, and jewelry generated an estimated £223.3 million. Six years later, the wedding still continues to bring in money, with slices of William and Kate’s wedding cake selling at auction for a steep £800-£1200. The transactions were not purely local, as the number of tourists increased by the hundreds of thousands the following summer, which added to retail sales.

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That’s not to say all monarchies are a bargain. In many countries, monarchies are costly and regarded as frivolous. In one grand farewell to a revered King, the Thai monarchy shelled out a hefty three billion baht (roughly $900 million) for a five-day affair. The monarchy was far from low in finances. Bhumibol Adulyadej’s passing left the multi-billion-dollar institution, which includes an empire of property, construction, and banks, to his son, Rama X.

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The fate of the monarchy is left in the hands of the next generation of kings and queens.

For both the Thai and British monarchies, the economic value of time was on their side. Monarchs who have served their nations longer than an elected head of state provides the stability that businesses and investors may trust. Researchers have in fact found that societies where monarchies represent more than symbolic power, such as in Thailand, have a higher tendency to bestow benefits to partnering firms. The study Monarchies and the Performance of Business Groups suggests monarchy-affiliated firms are more highly valued than all other firms. Since the late King was revered almost as a deity, his influence over economic holdings created “a unique network of exchange within Thailand.” The findings do not affirm that crown affiliated-businesses make more money, but it does contribute to its success in the stock market due to its chances of outperforming.

The monarchy moving forward

The fate of the monarchy is left in the hands of the next generation of kings and queens. The past couple of years have seen a shift in power and the introduction of new names and faces. King Rama X of Thailand recently reached a one-year mark as his father’s successor. While public scrutiny is limited—due to a royal defamation law that forbids any insult on the monarchy—the new ruler has yet to earn the affection his father accumulated throughout a 70-year reign. So far he’s taken a very hands-on approach to leadership, assuming direct control of several bodies that oversee palace affairs and gaining the power to appoint members of the Crown Property Bureau, which runs the monarchy’s wealthy estate, reports Today.

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The economic impact of the royal children grows with them.

Other monarchies have a more frugal future ahead of them. In Denmark, the Danish royal family is to limit the number of royal grandchildren who are to receive a salary from the state. In 2015, the royal family reportedly spent more than what they had earned. Records reveal that this might be linked to the Queen’s 75th birthday celebration. With eight grandchildren, Queen Margrethe’s descendants will multiply quickly. Politicians had announced that “simple mathematics” requires a downsizing in the number of royals eligible for state funding. The Crown Prince Frederik and his son are among those who will continue to receive a state-funded salary, while his three other children and the children of his younger brother, Prince Joachim, may lose this benefit.


The Danish royal family

The question of whether more offspring helps or hurts the monarchy has always been a tricky one to answer. While economists claim that royal babies are good for business—bringing in more opportunities for retailers and manufacturers—citizens are concerned about their taxes going to the child’s private education, excessive travels, and expensive security costs. Brand Finance CEO, David Haigh, issued statements on the coming of Britain’s third royal baby, saying, “The economic impact of the royal children grows with them.” He explains that the prince or princess will have a similar effect on local businesses as Prince George and Princess Charlotte’s. Likewise, the attention will also attract visitors and generate public interest among international media. Brand Finance reported that in 2015, Prince George’s annual contribution to the British economy was at £76 million, while Princess Charlotte gave the economy £101 million. It may not be the same for everyone but the British monarchy is far from being abolished.

It’s a case-by-case basis in measuring the certainty of each monarchy but so long as it works for a society, who are we to say the concept is outdated?

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About The Author
Hannah Lazatin
Senior Staff Writer
Hannah is a communications graduate from Ateneo de Manila University. She’s originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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