Our Love Affair with Royalty

We love royalty. We admire faithful service above self; the courage and grace that is a 24/7 requirement. True royal service is a lifelong burden. Happily ever after only exists in fairy tales.

We call our daughters princesses. “The King” and “The Queen” are prefixes we assign to individuals who lead their field. Despite the tarnishing tales that swirl around The House of Windsor, seventeen million of us tuned in to bid farewell to Prince Philip this weekend.

Royalty often presumes that God has given authority to govern. Kings and queens live lavish lifestyles, funded by subjects who believe in the institution. In constitutional monarchies, elected leaders still ask the sovereign for permission to form governments, consult on important matters of state and rule, “in The Queen’s name.”

The numbers reveal constitutional monarchies deliver the goods. A recent study by Wharton management professor Mauro Guillen points out that, “the so-called ‘constitutional democratic monarchies’ like those in Europe or in Japan…’tend to be very protective of property rights,’ have a better chance of reducing internal conflict, and put limits on politicians and prime ministers that want to abuse their powers.”

We are sensitive to the obligations that come with royalty. Queen Elizabeth never expected to become a monarch. Her uncle’s abdication put her in the crosshairs. By most accounts, she accepted the burden with grace and has become the gold standard for Queenly behavior. Despite tell-all tales of family dysfunction, the vast majority of her subjects love her, interpreting the Shakespeare quote ‘uneasy is the head that wears a crown’ from Henry IV Part 2 as respect for the sacrifices that come with a life of service.

Perhaps what we admire most is how a person can be surrounded by incredible wealth and adoration while remaining humbly committed to the moral imperatives of duty. They must deliver the best exposition of royalty at all times. If they don’t, they are defying the deity and putting the very existence of the country they “rule” at risk.

This, of course, doesn’t apply to the anointed Kings and Queens of popular culture. We laud them so long as they please us and are quick to discard them when human failings emerge.

The law of impermanence rules. Today’s stars end up in tomorrow’s cut-out bins. Perhaps what sets true royalty apart is an awareness that while human life is finite, the best dimensions of nationhood must endure. Or as Longfellow put it.

Sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!