The year 2012 is an exceptionally prolific year for Great Britain. Besides hosting the Olympics, the people of Britain are celebrating the Diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth, the second longest reigning monarch in the history of the United Kingdom. The present Queen’s great great- grandmother remains the longest reigning monarch, spending more than 63 years on the throne. This is an event that has seen the whole of the country stand up to applaud and celebrate the life and rule of a Queen who has managed to head the royal family with a consistent record. It is a family that has survived the Dark Age, unrest and unpopularity and managed to find a strong foothold in a highly modern, technologically- advanced and a ruthless world that doesn’t really see the concept of family as the benchmark for happiness and bliss at least going by public perceptions and the lives of its common citizens. Then what is it that has kept the family together and at the heart of British life? And a source of fascination and intrigue to the entire world?
The British monarchy, now known by the name of House of Windsor traces its origins from the Kings of the Angles and the early Scottish Kings. By the year 1000, the kingdoms of England and Scotland had developed from the petty kingdoms of early medieval Britain. Through the years, it has changed from one family to another, either by marriage, by invasion or simply the issue of heirs. Believe it or not, but the survival of the monarchy depends on the very crucial aspect of giving birth to an heir and a spare, preferably males. This policy seems to have, on the surface at least, changed to include the females. The issue of heirs has led to many disasters and disillusionment. The monarch most famous for this is King Henry VIII, who had no less than six wives for the sake of a male heir. The marriage(s) of convenient need indeed!
Britain is ruled by what is called a constitutional monarchy where the monarch’s governmental powers are curtailed. The monarch acts within the constraints of convention and precedent, only exercising prerogative on the advice of ministers responsible to Parliament, often through the Prime Minister. This has, in no way, diminished the power and aura that the Royal family exudes.
However, the popularity that the Royal family enjoys was not always so stark in its presence. There came times when the family had to resort to damage control, extreme measures and diplomatic excellence in order to make sure it was not toppled over like the royal houses of Russia, Germany and Austria amid the rise of socialism and communism. George V, very smartly, changed the name of the family from the German Saxe Coburg Gotha (a German royal house from where both his grandparents-Queen Victoria and Prince Albert descended) to the name Windsor. The war with Germany led him to effectively bury his German roots. More recently the reigning Queen Elizabeth went into damage control in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death and the ensuing national displeasure with the royal family for not paying the respect, they believed, the dead princess deserved.
What is remarkable about the English royal family and its survival in modern times is its ability to envision change and adapt itself and its ways accordingly. It does all this without letting go of the core traditions that it holds dear and which, in turn, makes it so fascinating to the common man. For some it might sound very frivolous but most are inspired by the resilience that this family has shown and continues to do so.
Author – Shabha Hadi