World Royalty: Pomp and Circumspection

May 8, 1981

Report Outline
Royalty in the 20th Century
Changing Ideas of Sovereignty
Shaky Monarchies of the East
Special Focus

Royalty in the 20th Century

Windsors of Britain: The Super Monarchs

Prince Charles of Britain will marry Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, and for an afternoon at least royalty will reign supreme. Throughout much of the world on that day gloomy news of economic troubles, guerrilla wars and energy shortages will be replaced by a kind of modern fairy tale. In England, the event will be partly an indulgence in nostalgia and partly a demonstration of faith in the monarchy. In some “primitive way,” as historian Antonia Fraser described it, the marriage of Charles and Diana means the continuation of a unifying element in British society. The anticipated “magnificence” of the wedding ceremony itself, she wrote, “gives our [national] fantasies a new focus.”

The sun may have set on the British Empire, but there is little doubt that England can still put on the best show in what remains of the royal world. Indeed, pomp has always played an important role in the power and attraction of monarchies. Today, with kings and queens in short supply — and few exercising anything that approaches real authority — royalty exerts a strange, almost totemic, appeal. In nations where royal families still exist, they are reminders of a regal past, a living connection with history that people seem unwilling to give up. Elsewhere, they are the object of curiosity, deference and sometimes even hatred. Of course, this is all perfectly normal. Monarchs inevitably inspire mixed emotions.

Divided opinion about the British throne, once the cause of warfare and rebellion, has subsided in recent years to an occasional cranky speech in Parliament. In fact, of Europe's 10 royal houses, the Windsors of Britain are surely the most secure in the hearts and minds of their subjects. A 1980 poll taken by The Times of London found that 86 percent of all Britons favored retention of the monarchy, compared to only 50 percent following the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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