The Advantages and Disadvantages of the British Monarchy in 21st Century Great Britain

Essay 2013 6 Pages

Didactics - English - Applied Geography



While she was working on the switchboard at the King Edward VII Hospital in London, where the nurses were taking care of Kate Middleton – the Wife of Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge – Jacintha Saldanha, a 46-year-old nurse, became the victim of a hoax call done by two Australian radio DJs in the early days of December 2012. The radio DJs were passing themselves off as the Queen and Prince Charles being worried about the condition of the future King of England’s wife. Saldanha put their call through to the duty nurse who therefore provided information about Kate Middleton’s condition live on air. Probably as a dramatic result of that call Jacintha Saldanha was found dead two days later[1]. Particularly in such negative situations involving at least one member of the royal family, as happened to Prince Harry very often during the last years[2], one can question the purpose of having a monarchy even if this form of government has become rare in a world which is dominated by the existence of democratic political systems. On the other hand, is not the British monarchy one of the most important and most characteristic features of Great Britain and especially England until today? This essay is not going to discuss the possibilities of abolishing the monarchy as a political institution but it is rather going to list the advantages and disadvantages one can examine – or which are already being examined respectively – when analysing the British monarchy in terms of its influence(s) and importance for the British society.

Advantages: Traditional, Participating, Unifying

The English monarchy is a political institution having a long history and therefore a long tradition as well. In 495[3] this long lasting tradition has already begun. The first king who called himself the “King of the English” was Aethelstan who was crowned in 925[4]. Although the monarchy had to get through partly very difficult centuries – including the rise of the Republicans and therefore critical movements especially from the 19th century onwards[5] – there was not a single point in time at which the monarch was not in charge anymore.

Of course, some laws like for example the Reform Act of 1832[6] have curtailed the political power of the monarchy but never aimed at its complete abolition[7]. Hence, there was always a monarch as the head of government and therefore the English society has somehow got used to this form of government. It has become popular to watch the crowning of a new king, to join his or her funeral and to celebrate a royal wedding like that of Charles and Diana in 1981[8] or that of William and Kate in 2011[9]. Because of the permanent existence of a monarch combined with a non-existence of fundamental critique against the monarchy, this kind of political institution has become a fixed part not only in the political system but also in English society. As has been mentioned above, the political power of nowadays English monarchs is very limited. They can be summarised in the following way:

[The] king or queen is Head of State. The British monarchy is known as a constitutional monarchy. This means that, while The Sovereign is Head of State, the ability to make and pass legislation resides with an elected Parliament. Although the British Sovereign no longer has a political or executive role, he or she continues to play an important part in the life of the nation. As Head of State, The Monarch undertakes constitutional and representational duties [and] has a less formal role as 'Head of Nation’.[10]

Although the monarch does not have a lot of political power, the opposite is presented in public particularly by the media. An example of this is that the monarch opens the Parliament in a very colourful ceremony that is even broadcasted on television every year[11]. This so-called State Opening is a ‘symbolic reminder of the unity of Parliament's three parts: the Sovereign; the House of Lords; and the House of Commons’[12]. When the monarch visits another state[13] or welcomes a foreign minister or ambassador, the English society can participate via internet or television or gets at least informed about it by newspapers. Thus, the English monarch is presented while performing official political acts from time to time and therefore the English society’s belief in the political importance of the king or queen gets supported.

As shown above, the English monarchy has a traditional significance in English society. Furthermore, in my opinion the fact of having a common queen or king stabilises the society as a whole. Because the English monarch is not elected and therefore his or her being the Head of State cannot be supported or prevented by the English people, they are more likely to identify with their queen or king. To put it differently, the monarchy can function as a common ground for the English people because the English monarch does neither represent a specific – or better radical – political aim nor a specific part of society but rather the English – even immigrants – as a whole. This potential stability for the society cannot be reached by another official person be it a political, economical or famous one.


[1] http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/article3624316.ece (accessed 08.06.2013).

[2] See for example http://www.tmz.com/2012/08/21/prince-harry-naked-photos-nude-vegas-hotel-party/ and http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2005/jan/13/royalsandthemedia.pressandpublishing (both accessed 09.06. 2013).

[3] Kenneth J. Panton, Historical Dictionary of the British Monarchy (Plymouth: Scarecrow Press, 2011), p. xiii.

[4] Panton, p. xiv.

[5] H. C. G. Matthew, ‘The Liberal Age (1851-1914)’, in The Oxford History of Britain, ed. by Kenneth O. Morgan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 518-581 (page 552).

[6] Matthew, pp. 518-581 (p. 552).

[7] http://www.royal.gov.uk/HistoryoftheMonarchy/KingsandQueensoftheUnitedKingdom/TheHanoverians/ WilliamIV.aspx (accessed 09.06.2013).

[8] See for example http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/29/newsid_2494000/2494949.stm (acces-sed 09.06.2013).

[9] See for example http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/royal-wedding (accessed 09.06.2013).

[10] http://www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchUK/HowtheMonarchyworks/HowtheMonarchyworks.aspx (accessed 06.06. 2013).

[11] See an official video of the opening of Parliament in 2009: http://www.royal.gov.uk/ImagesandBroad-casts/ViewFilms/VideoGalleries/Eventsandceremoniesvideogallery.aspx (accessed 09.06.2013).

[12] http://www.parliament.uk/about/faqs/house-of-lords-faqs/lords-stateopening/ (accessed 09.06.2013).

[13] He or she is allowed to do that because of the monarch’s role as a Head o State. See http://www.royal.gov.uk/ MonarchUK/HowtheMonarchyworks/HowtheMonarchyworks.aspx (accessed 09.06.2013).


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Title: The Advantages and Disadvantages of the British Monarchy in 21st Century Great Britain