On May 6, the world will witness King Charles III’s coronation, a historical phenomenon occurring in Britain for the first time in 70 years. Even though the new king is famously a proponent of a “slimmed down monarchy,” with several planned ceremonial events on the itinerary, Brits have high expectations of pomp and circumstance akin to recent royal weddings and jubilee celebrations. The monarchy is Britain’s unapologetic attempt to cling to its former glory, but is it worth honoring a bloody, exploitative colonial legacy? Heralding hereditary privilege in the 21st century is both costly and absurd. The monarchy is a useless, archaic institution that perpetuates inequality and needs to be abolished.
The role of the sovereign is benign and thus impractical. Ultimately, the monarch has no executive power outside their constitutionally-outlined mandate, which includes appointing prime ministers, giving royal assent to parliamentary legislation, presiding over the opening and dissolving of Parliament, and representing the nation at home and abroad. A directly-elected president would be a tried-and-tested replacement in the symbolic role of head of state, as they are in other former monarchies like Italy or Greece. Such an institutional change would eliminate the ancient ideals of divine primogeniture that render ordinary citizens the “subjects” of a hereditary ruler and elevate a single family above everyone else.
The monarch’s privilege extends beyond what average citizens can imagine, being exempt from legal action in numerous circumstances. For example, while the public must pay 40 percent on all inheritance worth over £325,000, Charles III did not have to pay any inheritance tax on his mother’s private wealth. As of last year, over 160 laws grant legal and economic immunity to the monarch or their property. The “subjects” in question are also financially indebted to the sovereign.
Thanks to the post-pandemic return to normalcy, the family’s 2022 financial reports indicated a 17 percent increase in costs to British taxpayers from the year prior. The £102.4m went towards refurbishing palaces, maintaining an extensive staff, performing duties, and travel expenses that are (apparently) part and parcel of royal life.
What more to say about a family of about a dozen aristocrats (give or take, at least where the Sussexes are concerned) draining funds in the name of public service? The optics certainly do not look good when the rest of the country suffers from a cost of living crisis. While the average Joe tackles costly energy bills, lowering wages, growing inflation, and widespread class disparities, British taxpayers are bankrolling a £300 million renovation project for what? A man moving into his Mummy’s house?
Not to digress. One cannot reduce the centuries-worth of history that the British monarchy represents. Remembering it is essential. But to what extent must it be preserved? It is hard to ignore that for his immense wealth, Charles too is indebted to the bloodstained legacy of empire — wealth looted by his ancestors, not “gifted” or “found.” The empire’s disintegration is too recent to forget that. Several countries won independence during Elizabeth’s reign as she maintained a dignified silence, regularly donning (stolen) crown jewels to boot. Her refusal to acknowledge Britain’s imperial past was complacency. The colonial hangover persists in Britain through systemic oppression of minority groups; all the while, former colonies are perpetually trying to catch up internationally. Now, Charles is set to carry the same immoral and undignified legacy atop his head.
Nonetheless, the monarchy is not a burden worth eliminating, royalists argue. The cost of sustaining it comes with a considerable monetary value that pays itself back. Brand Finance estimates the monarchy contributes £2.5bn to the British economy each year. Public interest, especially within the media, adds to the profit. However, the Crown Estates are tourism hotspots and the source of most revenue. Britain could continue reaping returns beyond the existence of a living, breathing monarchy.
If the mass outpour of grief upon the death of Queen Elizabeth II is any indication, public support for the royals remains enormous. Polling from that month suggests that most would opt to keep the monarchy, and the British public would need a referendum before they can yell, “Off with their heads!” In times of political turbulence, such as the revolving door at №10 Downing Street around the Queen’s death, Brits appreciate the stability of a head of state that is ever-present, neutral, and above politics. Republicanism is not a dominating position in the UK, so the royals have little to fear for the foreseeable future.
The royal family’s celebrity alone earns them nothing more than socialite status. That is not enough to dismiss a history that, if properly studied, makes them unworthy of their rank. “The sun never sets on the British Empire,” but as the public prepares to start anew, perhaps the time for the sun to set is now.