Illustration by Hannah Robinson
In Britain, both monarchist and republican attitudes to the Royal Family are beginning to align. Whenever there is breaking news from the Windsors, it is greeted by hysteria from both sides, almost as though our toxic royal culture releases the same sense of excitement within each camp. I can now, probably, count myself as part of the maelstrom, as a Republican writing his second article on the state of Britain’s relationship with the royals.
Nearly two years ago, just before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married, I wrote about how egregious the press treatment of Markle and her father had already become. It seems that nothing has changed. This week, Windsor and Markle wrote that they “intend to step back as senior members of the Royal Family” in order to raise their son with a modicum of privacy, most likely in Canada.
One of the many journalists to completely lose it over Windsor and Markle’s decision was Sarah Vine, who asked in her Daily Mail column: “Whatever happened to the enchanting that we all fell in love with?” Well, Sarah, we never fell in love with them in the first place.
The monarchy is not a dangerous institution. There are, of course, colossal abuses of power – one only needs to look at Prince Andrew – but they realistically have very little influence, in political terms. It is no longer the autocratic vessel for inciting sectarian wars or colonial massacres. It is now a gross sociological experiment, in which we trap people from birth in a panopticon of judgement and breaches of privacy. We justify this because we pay for it, much like a Netflix account. Unlike a Netflix account, however, the characters in this saga are human and our obsession with them and their family comes at a cost.
Imagine asking a man who had to follow his own mother’s coffin through Central London why he wants to take his own son to a different country, away from a place whose constant public attention hounded the same woman to her death. There is a difference between loving something and being obsessed with it.
There is often a whining outrage from celebrities about breach of privacy when they appear to have invited those breaches onto themselves. The Royal Family are born into these circumstances with no opt-out clause. Much of the ridicule pointed at Windsor and Markle since they expressed their wish to “become financially independent” in their statement points out the fact that their security detail costs millions of pounds a year. It is partly because of the faux-fawning obsession of columnists like Sarah Vine that they need that security.
We should not be paying for this and we should not be paying to put people through this. Even if you ignore the horrendous sexism that female members of ‘The Firm’ go through, and the racism that Markle has had to endure, there is a distinct lack of social contract here. If you are a politician you choose to work for the people in the hope of re-election. If you are a member of the Royal Family there is no such contract because there is no choice. Do not kid yourself that our treatment of the royals is somehow scrutiny or ‘in the public interest’ because while you do that, the Duchy of Lancaster is using the taxpayer to fund renovations of private royal homes, and Prince Andrew has been getting away with alleged sexual abuse for years. The gossip pages do not hold these people to account.
There is that cliché that if you love someone you should let them go. Well, if you claim to love the Royal Family, let Archie Windsor grow up in peace and give his parents an opportunity to enjoy his comparatively normal childhood. In fact, if you claim to love the Royal Family, pay no attention to them at all, and then abolish the institution that has tortured them for the whole of their lives.