The People’s Pregnancy

Christmas came early for the royal couple whose surprise announcement of the Duchess’ pregnancy was met with celebrations and congratulations by the nation and international community. Interestingly, the proposed change in British succession laws means that regardless of the child’s gender their position as first born (even if the Duchess is carrying twins) means they will become third in line to the throne. Although this signifies a move into the twenty-first century, and a triumph for feminists and egalitarians everywhere, it does mark a move away from monarchical traditions. The move towards modernisation has profound effects upon the Royal family.

Image courtesy of Carfax2, © 2012, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of Carfax2, © 2012, some rights reserved.

The Succession to The Crown Bill, agreed by all realms of the Commonwealth will be introduced into the House of Commons as soon as possible. It will make amendments to some of Britain’s key constitutional documents, such as the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England, the 1701 Act of Settlement and as far back as the Bill of Rights and Coronation Oath Act of 1688. The new act will end the hugely outdated principle of male primogeniture as well as ending the ban on anyone in the line of succession marrying a Roman Catholic. It is thus far unclear on how the bill will comment on marriage to member of the other faiths. Charles and Camilla set a new precedent in that there was not a repeat of the Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson debacle. It appears that heirs in line to the throne may now divorce and remarry without having to abdicate.

Whilst reflecting the changing times, formal monarchical reform has been historically problematic, seen it its most extreme in the French regicide of 1793. The present dangers however is not an impeding cry for regicide but that the danger of how the monarchy responds to the ‘media age’, an increasingly sceptical public and the emerging idea of a ‘public service’ monarchy.

The idea of a British ‘public service’ monarchy is hugely important in order for the monarchy to evolve and also so that the royal family may remain relevant to the twenty first century British State. The idea of a Head of State whose has a role in Commonwealth trade and representing Britain abroad is important, however the public interaction with the royals; in ceremonies such as Remembrance Day at the cenotaph, trooping the colour, OBE, MBE and CBE awards and more recently royal weddings; is the key to the survival of the Windsor’s.  Nevertheless there is a sense in the X and Y generations of, at best, the monarchy being a slightly sweet representation of an age belonging to their grandparents. At worst they can be seen as an archaic, anachronistic and a slightly odd, debauched bunch whose role is increasingly to provide tabloid fodder.

The ‘Wills and Kate’ phenomenon and the Diamond Jubilee celebrations have been instrumental in resurrecting a general national fervour for the royal family. Although the Queen has been a relatively constant national treasure (excluding the mismanagement of public relations in the days following Princess Diana’s death) the actions of her family have put the royal family under a scrutiny never quite seen before. The high profile divorce of Charles and Diana, including sensational portrayals of Diana in Andrew Morton’s biography, was publically played out in the media. The divorce of Andrew Duke of York and Sarah ‘Fergie’ Ferguson was subject to further ridicule when she appeared topless in the tabloid press having her toes sucked. Peter Philips marriage to Autumn Kelly was covered (and some say sponsored) exclusively by ‘Hello’ magazine.  Prince Harry’s catalogue of public relations catastrophes includes the infamous and highly insensitive Nazi themed fancy dress and recent naked photos from a ‘lads on tour’ trip to Las Vegas. The public becomes wearisome, disinterested or downright annoyed.

The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins has acerbically commented that this is the ‘people’s pregnancy’. It will be the first heir to be born in the age of instant media and the intrigue surrounding the announcement of the Duchess’ pregnancy already is vast. Princess Diana had enough to deal with unflattering pictures of her pregnant in an array of tent dresses. Kate must deal with (to date five) twitter accounts masquerading as her unborn child (@royalfoetus being one of my favourites) and constant media attention. David Cameron and Ed Milliband tweeted the royal couple congratulations. There have already been articles speculating what pram the royal couple will use. I can only imagine the media frenzy if there is a babyshower and hope that pictures of the baby scans are not leaked to tumblr. However this is increasingly how the public engage.

The constant scrutiny of the royal family must be hugely wearing on the couple and individuals. However, in a utilitarian age of a ‘public service monarchy’ and the idea of the celebrity, the British and even the world’s public feel they are hugely involved. Furthermore, the British public feel they have a right to know. Their taxes help foot the vast monarchical expenses and thus the commodification of the royal family and the sense of ownership that the public feel over the Royals as a ‘public institution’ is a challenge that the royals must face in the coming decades.

Although the public interest in the pregnancy is a positive indicator in the popularity of the monarchy, challenges still remain and the monarchy must attempt to keep traditions whilst adapting to the present to ensure its own survival. I wish the Duke and Duchess all the best in what appears to be an already difficult pregnancy. And I’m sure my grandmother will be stocking up on the commemorative mugs. I not sure I can say the same of my peers. Although if @royalfoetus is half as good as Elizabeth Windsor’s @Queen_UK, I may be tempted to follow.