In world terms, hereditary monarchies are a declining breed—variously exiled, assassinated or nicely pensioned off throughout the twentieth century. But in Britain, far from disappearing, the monarchy has never been so popular. It is therefore worth considering how a country that prides itself on its democratic institutions still retains such an obvious political anachronism and one that has secured both the affection and esteem of the British people.
The British monarchy’s popularity is frequently attested in both public surveys and personal testimony. For instance, in a detailed Gallup Poll published in December 1988, 82 per cent of adult Britons said they favoured the monarchy in its present form in preference to an elected head of state. Furthermore, 48 per cent of respondents felt the Queen should have more power to influence affairs of state, compared with 40 per cent who felt her influence was about right and only 9 per cent who felt it should be less. Asked what was their ‘strongest feeling for the Royal Family’, exactly half the sample replied ‘respect’, followed by ‘admiration’ and ‘indifference’ at 20 per cent each (Daily Telegraph, 28 December 1988).
We also know from the testimony of both everyday conversation and media stories what an important part royalty play in the lives of British citizens. Meeting any member of the Royal Family, or even being ‘in the presence’, is an event to be recalled in full detail as a life-enhancing moment. There are, of course, many currents of anti-monarchical opinion and no citizen can be unaware of ‘the case against’ in terms of wealth and inherited privilege. But what is striking about any expression of republican sentiment is that it remains at the level of moaning and takes