Monarchy is the oldest form of
Government in the United Kingdom. “In a Monarchy, a king or queen is Head of State. The British Monarchy
is known as a constitutional monarchy, meaning that while the Sovereign is Head
of State, the ability to make and pass legislation resides with an elected
It has been said that although the Sovereign does not hold as much power as
they once did, the Monarch “acts
as a focus for national identity, unity, and pride; they give a sense of
stability and continuity2”.
This essay will consider the role of the Monarch is contemporary British
society and whether the Monarchy can be considered relevant and influential in
a modern environment. In order to contemplate this issue, I will explore the
definitions of ‘relevant’ and ‘influential’ to explore how the Monarch could
represent these definitions in a modern society. Following this, I will discuss
both the levels of support and levels of criticism of the Monarchy in order to
determine whether the Monarchy could still be considered relevant and
influential in contemporary British society.
The term ‘relevant’ is defined by the
Oxford English Dictionary as something that is “appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstance
and is of contemporary interest3”.
One of the main reasons the British Monarchy may not be considered relevant in
today’s society is due to the various traditions the Royal Family still uphold
which could be seen as outdated and not “of contemporary interest”. Unlike most
brands and products, the Royals do not seem to be adapting to the modernisation
of a changing society, this leaves them exposed to the potential of being seen
as irrelevant. An example of one of these potentially irrelevant and outdated traditions
is the State Opening of Parliament. The State Opening of Parliament is stated
to date back to the 16th century and marks the formal start of the
Parliamentary year and is perhaps the perfect
demonstration of the seemingly irrelevant and unnecessary traditions. For
example, due to the gunpowder plot of
1605, before every State Opening of Parliament since, the cellars are searched
by the Yeomen of the Guard who are rewarded with a small glass of wine for
their services. This could be considered irrelevant not because of the outcome
of the ceremony (to open Parliament) but because of the seemingly useless
traditions that take up citizens time and money, in 2013, the UK taxpayers paid
almost £158,000 on the State Opening4.
This amount of money being spent on the monarchical traditions prompts the
questions: couldn’t that have been spent on something better? Perhaps something
that benefits the country? This allows me to suggest that the monarchy isn’t relevant
in a modern British society as Michael White stated in his article about the
Queens speech at the beginning of the opening of Parliament: “If people don’t
understand the meaning behind the symbolism that justifies the feathers and
ermine, the gold and the pomp, they will soon cease to tolerate it as an
occasional irritant that holds up the traffic in central London. And the
symbolism has been steadily hollowed out for decades5”.
It seems that what the article is saying is if the Monarchy is not considered
relevant by the public, then they will consider the monarchy to be irrelevant
due to its inability to be “appropriate
to the current time and period”.
Despite this criticism, these
traditions are considered a part of British culture and are seen by the rest of
the world as something that makes us unique. Britain remains one of the last
countries to partake in such lavish and traditional events. This could make the
monarchy seem relevant in a modern society as they continue to uphold the
values of our country. One of the most
popular reasons for the support of the monarchy seems to be the number of tourists the Royal Family draw. Evan
Davies has asserted that “10%
of all tourists visit the United Kingdom because of their interest in the Royal
Family. Despite costing taxpayers around 40 million pounds each year, the Royal
Family has consistently forfeited the profits garnered from land they own,
revenue that amounts to about 200 million pounds every year and gains around 7 million pounds in annual revenue
Meaning that the irrelevant ceremonies and traditions actually help the country
with regard to earning money, allowing the monarchy to be considered “of
Although the monarchy might not be considered relevant for a
modern society, meaning “appropriate to the current time and period and of
contemporary interest”, the next part of this essay will consider to what
extent the monarchy can be considered “influential”. The term ‘influential’ is
defined as “someone or something that has an impact on, or shapes how people
act or how things occur”. One can initially disagree with the idea that the
monarchy is in any way influential in modern society due to the Sovereigns
continually declining level of power. The British Monarchy’s power is a
fraction of what it once was, an example of this lack of power is Royal Assent,
which is states to be the Queen’s “right and responsibility to grant assent to bills from Parliament,
signing them into law and although she could decide to refuse assent, the last
Monarch to do this was Queen Anne in 17087”.
This proves that even though the Monarch does have some power, these powers are
not utilised meaning the Monarch cannot
have an influence or be influential in today’s society.
However, just because the Queen does not wield any of her
powers does not mean she is not influential. For example, some say it is her permanence
that has given the British people some essential self-assurance they needed
during her reign8.
For example, Queen Elisabeth ascended the throne in 1952, not long after the
second world war, she has out-lasted 12 Prime Ministers and had to rule the
country through difficult times like the conflict over the Suez Canal, the
death of Princess Diana, the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, 9/11 to name a few
and so to have an unchanging Monarch, a figurehead to seek comfort in. This
could be why the Queen is viewed as having a strong influence on the country,
the Royal family is the only British institution that has not changed with the
times and therefore it can be seen to be relied upon. Nevertheless, in order to
decide whether the Monarchy is still influential in a contemporary society
would depend on whether the society still feels the need for a constant
Sovereign in the future. Dr Anna Whitelock suggested that the current “support for the monarchy in
modern society is linked to the Queen and not the institution itself9”,
stating that “questions about the relevance of the monarchy in modern society
have been constrained out of respect for Elizabeth’s long reign”. This
suggests that the people in today’s society are not questioning how relevant or
influential the monarchy is due to the Queens longevity. This suggests that
once the Queen has died and Britain has a new monarch, the relevancy and
influence of the new King will be questioned in a way the Elizabeth’s never
It is difficult to determine to what extent the Monarchy is
still relevant and influential in contemporary British society. On one hand,
the monarchy could be considered influential due to her long reign and
stability during some of Britain’s most demanding moments however, the lack of
power held by a Monarch means they have no influence on any decisions and
cannot (or will not) make any decisions. The king or queen of Britain seem to
do nothing but act as a tourist attraction. In terms of to what extent the
Monarchy can be considered relevant, the various Royal traditions such as
‘paying the rent’ and the State Opening of Parliament seem slightly pointless
and a waste of taxpayer money. However, these ceremonies seem to contribute to
an increase in tourism resulting in around 7 million pounds in annual revenue
suggesting that the monarchy could be considered as relevant when it come to
earning the country money. In my opinion, the monarchy is a British institution
and it’s the tradition and history of it all that makes Britain unique. For
some it makes them feel assured knowing that in an ever-changing world, the
tradition of the monarchy will remain the same.
The Royal Family. The Role of the Monarchy. (https://www.royal.uk/role-monarchy)
The Royal Family. The Role of the Monarchy.
Definition of relevant in English by Oxford Dictionaries.
Parliament. (n.d.). State Opening of Parliament (2013).
M. (2015). Queen’s Speech: how long can this feathered flummery continue?
K. “Does The Queen Of England Have Any Real Power?”
Posts. What are the Queen’s Powers?. Royal Central
A. (2012). Opinion | Why the Queen Matters.
Independent. (2016). Monarchy ‘could be eradicated in 14 years’.