While we are waiting for the news of Charles III’s coronation to take the news cycle over from AI for mass consumption, it may be a good time to take stock of our never-ending fascination with the royals. We are, after all, right in the middle of a flurry of royal events: the queen is dead, long live the king, the prodigal prince spills the beans, and the king is going to officially be crowned at an age Lear de-crowned himself. Very few stories get the royal treatment like this: books, movies, tv series, reality shows, and the news cycle. Even fewer have a seemingly infinite potential for such treatments, time after time, through decades. In this respect, the British royals will always be royals, the perpetual antithesis of the refrain from Lorde’s Grammy-winning song about those who would never be. Why? Because we will continue treating them so. Am I using the word ‘royal’ too much? Yes, I am, to simulate the annoying perpetual return of the royals in our sphere of attention.
Let’s reflect for a moment on the last piece of excitement from the royal brand: Harry’s book and his life and his personality. Think of all the things that have already been said and are still being said. Harry has been declared as having done the right thing, the bloody thing, having delivered his material with Shakespearean flourish , and having spoken too soon. The last variation, represented by Patti Davis’s advice on the value of strategic silence, takes a long view, and that is the approach—of a long view—is something we can all use.
Our veneration of, interest in, or respectful silence on the royals say much more about us than about the royals. Let us use the occasion of Harry’s book to scrutinize the unique everlasting relevance that we have given the British royals across history, throughout the world. Elizabeths I and II, Henry Tudor, Victoria, Diana, and even Mary of Scots are popular cultural figures, thanks to our enthusiastic consumption of the periodic productions and reproductions of their lives on paper and screen. But why? Do we not ever change? Of course, we do.
We are not the people we were thirty years ago. More than ever, we are questioning racism, sexism, heteronormativity, and entrenched cultural traditions. #MeToo and #BLM and the 1619 project are but small sampling of the enormous tides of change that have rocked our world. We are ready to bring down statues of misconstrued heroes of the past, be they confederate or imperial. But no matter how strong the winds of change blow, the global mourning for Elizabeth II proved that the royals are not going to be canceled. The stardom of the royals is a thing that belongs to a class of its own; it seems to have a life of its own, a life that shows no signs of waning, which raises certain questions about the nature of our fascination with them.
Why do we keep consuming everything about the British royals, when we would be hard-pressed to remember more than a couple names from each of the other royal families? The British royals are achievers and survivors extraordinaire, maybe that’s why. They went everywhere when it was fashionable to do so, conquered more than anyone else, and then hunkered down when the fashion changed, hoping to be forgiven and be loved forever.
The British empire did not just stretch across continents; it destroyed and restructured millions of lives and so doing enriched England until the time when keeping the colonies was not viable anymore. Just by virtue of being part of the Allied forces during the WWII, the British miraculously emerged as a force for the good, a benign power that makes the paradox of parliamentary monarchy seem natural. But the ghosts of empire are still alive and will be so forever. Every one of us—in every inhabited piece of land—can trace our family’s history to something that the English did, at some point. Considering the Virginia Company, the East India Company, and the marriage between capitalism and colonialism, you would not even need six degrees of connection between yourself and the British empire, one or two will do.
I am writing this article in English because I am a descendant of the class of people Indian in blood and color but English in taste, opinion, and morals that was socially engineered by the British in India. Your story, though different, will have an equally straightforward connection. While the imperishability of the English language is an intuitive historical truth to grasp, the lasting power of the royals simply defies common sense.
The question we must ask ourselves is: what exactly does our veneration of a power that has survived enlightenment, revolutions, and wars say about us? Are we blind to the forces of history when it comes to the royals? We are not a forgiving species, per se. We do not marvel at Genghis or Napoleon. Why can’t we let these royals go? Are we so nostalgic for a piece of the dark past that we are glad some of its living mementoes stuck around? Let us put them in perspective. The royals are not benign cuddly pandas who need our attention to survive as a species. They do not or would not care about you, something you can deduct from their treatment of Diana and Megan, and you should return the favor. It is time to move on. Because if you don’t, they will always be royals. At some point, that will be as annoying to everyone as reading the word ‘royals,’ repeatedly, in the same paragraph.