Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
The new season of the crown has recently reopened debate regarding the royal family and their place in society. Their role as royals is inextricably linked with dehumanisation. They are not allowed to be real people, with emotions and desires and views. They are forced to be robots who smile and wave and speak other people’s words that have been carefully put together, and represent a group of people’s who they will never truly understand.
They are both inordinately privileged and unprivileged. They lead lavish lives, mix in the most privileged circles and know their status will allow them entry anywhere (the common history of the relation to below-average a level grades and entry to exceptional universities is the epitome of this). Moreover, with allegations about Prince Andrew’s relations with Jeffrey Epstein, it further highlights the dangerous impact of believing yourself to be untouchable.
Yet while they are free in this sense, they are also extraordinarily limited in their choices, and particularly, as emphasised in The Crown, in terms of marriage.
Marriage has been the most important part of the royal family for centuries. This is because the royal family rules on the principle of birth right. Thus, the right partner is instrumental in order to secure the right heir. The right to choose who to marry is part of the modern human right and is intrinsic to a modern and liberal country – lack of choice in the matter is outdated and outmoded.
The royal family and marriage are rarely compatible: heightened by the fact that three out of four of the Queen’s children divorced in just one decade. Only in rare cases does it succeed, and this is usually because the partner marrying in has to “bend”, like prince Philip, like Kate Middleton, while those that do not can suffer dreadfully.
The Crown has revealed the impact that royal marriage can have. Being forced to marry the “right” person, rather than the one you love, often results in loneliness, isolation or being forced to compromise time and time again. Margaret was not allowed to marry Peter Townsend, and instead married someone who made her much more unhappy. Similarly, Charles and Diana’s marriage had devastating consequences, particularly because of Diana’s mental health, tragically depicted on the latest season of The Crown. The meddling in Charles’ marriage secured his inability to marry the one he loved, and instead effectively damaged a young girl’s life.
There has been a tradition of royals, at least in the last half-century, having to choose between happiness or “doing one’s duty”. They have had to sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of tradition and reputation, or they have chosen happiness, knowing they would lose their family, and be outcasted from their birth right. Margaret and Charles both did the former; Edward VIII and Harry did the latter. There is no easy decision, and arguably made none fully content.
I can understand people’s desire for tradition; I will not criticise that. It is only that, when weighing up pros and cons, I believe the royal family is a failure for both those inside it and for the modern world, which calls itself progressive and liberal. Royals are born into this competitive jungle, where only the alpha is allowed to succeed, and rather than being based on skill, it is decided by your birth order. It is a bizarre outdated tradition. But I do not call for it to be abolished. The royal family, no matter whether I question its values and traditions and outlooks, holds a strange place in my worldview – support for a republic remains staunchly at 18%. But I further believe in human compassion and equality, and I sometimes question why we are so intent on maintaining a family full of such dehumanised figures. They are both puppets and puppet masters: controlling other puppets and being controlled themselves. I believe they should be treated like human beings and indeed see themselves as human first, royals next, rather than the other way around. By dehumanising themselves, and the other members of the family, it can have a devastating impact.