By an Ulster Loyalist
There are around thirty monarchies today reigning over forty-five countries. So, there is no argument that they very much exist today but that does not necessarily mean that they are still relevant. My focus in this article is on the British monarchy, though we should start with a bit of history of how and why monarchies in general came about.
During the Stone Age extended family groups evolved into tribes who were frequently at war with their neighbours over hunting grounds, fishing rights and women. When they were still family groups, the family head, almost always a man, was either the eldest or the strongest. When they united with other family groups, the “united family” leader was the best hunter or fighter who showed he had political and leadership traits as well. As tribes expanded the members grew more remote from their leaders, and the leaders themselves needed an entourage of loyal and strong subjects to protect them. These were the first aristocrats, who in turn also had loyal and strong followers and so on as a hierarchy developed leading to early forms of Feudalism.
As the tribal members became remote from their leadership, a common vision was needed to hold them together. Hence the emergence of the nation state in Sumeria around 2750 BC and Egypt in 3100 BC. In addition to language, the common value system that acted as a glue to hold people together was superstition-based religion: pomp and ceremony from the people’s rulers to show their power, mixed with the additional fear of God or gods to make the people subservient.
Coming now to Britain; by the 7th Century AD the Anglo-Saxon kings of England claimed to rule by Divine Right: to disobey them was to disobey God. James I of England (James VI of Scotland) said a thousand years later “the State of Monarchy is the Supremest thing upon the Earth, for Kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon Earth and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself they are called Gods”. But since Magna Carta in 1215 some limitations had been placed on the English monarch’s absolute power. Today that power has eroded into rubber-stamping legislation voted by the freely-elected Parliament of the United Kingdom. The British (no longer just English) monarchy has become a constitutional one. This restricts the power of the Monarch to advise and consult with her Prime Minister on a weekly basis. However, the Monarch is the head of the Church of England, which gives an implied spiritual context to the institution in line with the current Monarch’s alleged belief that she is on the throne “because of the will of God”. Think of that moment in the Coronation ceremony on 2 June 1953 when Princess Elizabeth truly became Queen, when hidden from view the Archbishop of Canterbury anointed her on hands, breast and head with holy oil.
There is no doubt that, sixty-eight years later, the U.K. Monarchy has been sustained through thick and thin by the exemplary performance of Queen Elizabeth II. A very tough act to follow! But is the Monarchy still relevant in the 21st Century? As head of the Church of England the Queen is head of a Church to which, in 2018, only 12% of the population of Great Britain said they belonged. Surveys show that as few as 1% of 18- to 24-year-olds now identify as Anglican. 52% of British people today say they have no religion.
If the Monarchy has minimal recognition as a spiritual head, and has no legislative nor political powers, how does it continue to be relevant and claim a right to exist? Perhaps it would seem to be more relevant if it adjusted its way of life and standard of living, little changed today from the reign of Queen Victoria, to be more in line with normal British mortals.
You may think me unfair to say that the Monarchy is still living in the past. Well, in a recent French television programme an ex valet to Prince Charles, heir to the UK throne, explained that the prince has two valets to dress him. They run his bath and squeeze toothpaste onto his toothbrush. For his breakfast he can choose between eggs that have already been cooked in five different ways - fried, scrambled, poached, boiled, omelette. I do hope whatever is rejected is not thrown away. The cost of the Monarchy to the public purse was £32.4 million in 2012, £47.4 million in 2018, and £69.4 million in 2020 - way ahead of inflation. Much of this doubling in cost in eight years can be attributed to the high cost of repairing Buckingham Palace (a building that no-one other than perhaps Donald Trump wants to stay in). The Queen herself is calculated to have around £400 million in personal assets and Buckingham Palace employs around 1,200 people. The holding company of the Royal assets (not to be confused with personal assets), the Crown Estate, is valued by Forbes magazine at $28 billion. It employs 450 people to manage these assets. It is no wonder that the Royal Family have called themselves “the Firm”, but unlike normal firms it is impossible to accurately value its total assets, although Forbes estimates them at around $88 billion. Let us imagine then that the Monarchy really is a company called The Firm. To emblazon The Firm’s brand, it employs an extensive communications team reporting to the Queen’s Private Secretary: Director of Royal Communications, media secretaries, deputy secretaries. The Private Secretary himself is the principal advisor to the Queen and ensures that the many rigid protocols regarding Royal behaviour, many inherited from Victorian times (and even earlier), are adhered to. Like all firms, The Firm has a product portfolio (hence the need for a strong marketing team). It is therefore appropriate to use the Boston Consulting Group product matrix to analyse the overall strength of the portfolio. Well-established and profitable products are described as “Cash Cows”; new products which are fast growing and have the potential to grow much more are “Rising Stars”; products which are disappointing in terms of growth and profitability but might be turned around are “Question Marks”; products that are unprofitable, have no hope of being turned around and should be dropped are called “Dogs”. By applying this simple formula we can identify The Firm’s winners and losers.
With apologies to those royalists who will undoubtedly find the term offensive, the “Cash Cow” is clearly the Queen and, to a lesser extent, Anne. “Rising Stars” are William and Kate, “Question Marks” Charles and Edward, and “Dogs”? Well, I think these are easily identifiable as Andrew, Meghan and Harry, the latter having now switched from the Rising Star category (at least in the eyes of Her Majesty’s older subjects).* So when the “Cash Cow” runs dry what will happen to the Monarchy? Will Charles hack it? The future chairman currently has a 40% approval rating, with 29% who feel negative about him, and 28% who couldn’t care less. This compares with the 72% approval rating of the future chairman’s presumed successor, William. The biggest internal challenge The Firm faces is to make it a happy institution to work for. An unhappy work force is not conducive to recruiting fresh blood that is essential to its long-term existence. The record is not great: Harry & Meghan, Saint Di, toe-licking Fergie, Anne divorced, Charles divorced, alcoholic Margaret, Philip’s mutinies early on as Prince Consort. So is the product portfolio sustainable without further R&D and process re-engineering in the long-term? Can they continue to obtain enough positive PR through marketing events such as Royal weddings, Royal funerals, Jubilees, and births to maintain ratings momentum? Does their packaging need to be brought up to date? Are feather hats buckle shoes, coronets, tiaras and the chest-heavy load of unearned medals and decorations still impressing sufficient citizens? How can they learn from the best practices of their fellow Monarchs elsewhere in Europe, the Arab World and Asia (Japan maybe; Saudi Arabia and Thailand certainly not)? Do they have to continue to role-play like performing seals or monkeys caged in a zoo? Surely, it is simply unrealistic and inhuman to expect that from anyone when you add the absence of a private life because of the unbridled activities of the popular press, the paparazzi, and the denizens of social media. Despite all these difficulties and thanks largely to the “Cash Cow”, they have succeeded in creating today an EIIR brand every bit as good as Trump, LVMH, Apple, Coca Cola, Google and Amazon in terms of loyalty and following. Meghan perceived this and the enormous financial potential of Harry and she starting their own Sussex Royal brand. As this would have diluted the power of the EIIR brand, this project was squashed by the Queen.
All these issues leave us to question what will happen when the Queen reaches the end of her product life-cycle. If these festering issues continue to be ignored, will it be, in the words of the most famous of French monarchs, “Après moi, la deluge”?
*There have long been rumours that Harry’s mother, Saint Di, made a secret distribution deal with a Major Hewitt, hence explaining the lack of resemblance to other products produced by The Firm’s design team, which has steadfastly refused to issue a Certificate of Origin for the Harry product.