Whether you love them or you loathe them, the British Royal family are a staple of the cultural and historical fabric of the United Kingdom. Throughout the vast political and social turmoil accompanying the transition into the 21st Century, the monarchy – Queen Elizabeth especially, and latterly Princes William and Harry – has provided a constant in a relentless sea of social change. While sometimes bowing to the most intense of public scrutiny, the Royal family have largely maintained their social, economic and (a)political status, and have reaffirmed their role as a symbol for modern British culture.
Anyone who has ever watched The Crown, will remember Queen Mary’s impassioned speech in which she imparted on the young Queen Elizabeth the importance of the monarchy, its ethos and its image. Monarchy, as Walter Bagehot once wrote (I stole this from The Crown again, sorry) traditionally performed the function of ‘The Dignified’. In Bagehot’s legal-political argument this meant giving legitimacy to the dirty business of politics in which our incumbent governments tend to be engaged. However, this meaning can have a far more universal and social application. The monarch as our Head of State, our international representative and the leader of the Church of England is a key component and contributor to our national culture.
While institutions of mass-socialisation, such as the Church, have undergone a significant decline in influence, the constitutional role of the monarchy, as well as its much adored fantastical media image, has only strengthened. One need only look at the popularity of the newest generation of Royals to see our continued interest with the monarchy – from the modern career-driven princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, to the dutiful future monarch Prince William, and everyone’s favourite Royal couple, Harry and Meghan.
So why am I talking about this now? We’re all really very much aware of the Royals and their influence. But oftentimes the tabloid nature of their existence in the press has, I think, desensitised us to the impact that they can really have, outside of the gossip pages of Hello! magazine. So this week, when Prince William stated at an event for the Albert Kennedy Trust, that he would be fine with any of his children – which would include the future monarch – to identify as LGBT, it was something that seemed to be somewhat of a landmark in Royal history. For any person of a liberal (or just generally decent) persuasion, an unconditional love for a child regardless of their gender or sexual identity is something that is not only to be encouraged, but is, at the very least, the minimum standard of behaviour expected of any parent, or human.
What makes Prince William’s admission so remarkable is that we often forget that, in his role as the future monarch, and as a representative of the British Royal family, he is not human. I’m not suggesting that Prince William is some kind of alien overlord that has infiltrated our ruling family (although he might be a lizard, apparently). I mean simply that the nature of the role that he occupies is one that is not overly geared towards public displays of humanity. Prince William is not just the product of a famous tabloid family. Rather this family is more akin to an institution, led and controlled by an ageing matriarch, and founded on thousands of years of tradition, protocol and legend (which have oftentimes been overwhelmingly morally conservative). In his role therefore – despite being a father, husband, and a pretty normal person as far as a Royal can be – he is to embody just that. The legend and the history. His personal feelings, political or otherwise, are irrelevant.
This is why his emotive, understanding and progressive (by Royal standards) certainty on an unprecedented topic seems so revolutionary. His words take on a particular poignance during pride month, where concerns have been raised as to a growing feeling that LGBT+ rights are once again becoming a political bargaining chip, and an easy avenue for shallow capitalist exploitation. So while protests and change from the bottom-up is important in allowing for LGBT+ identifying people to assert and explore their own identity, change from the very highest echelons of the social strata can be as equally as important.
Though we are many years away from a King William, the influence of himself, his growing family and of the new young generation of British royalty shows perhaps a glimmer of success of the long journey of LGBT+ rights and acceptance. While the act is a small one, it’s wider ramifications have the ability to change the general moral and social conscience surrounding our rights and our place in society. So, like I said, love them or loathe them, you’ve got to admit: a modern, queer (or queer-friendly) monarchy sounds pretty decent, right?