The news of the passing of Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has resulted in an outpouring of sympathy. It has also highlighted an obsession that many Americans seem to feel toward monarchy. We see this in our interest in all things related to foreign nobility and in our outlandish treatment of visiting royals, not only as foreign government officials or celebrities, but as people to whom we owe some kind of allegiance or honor. This strange attraction to royalty reveals our inner need for a king.
I am not here talking about monarchial government. I believe in republican or democratic forms of government. History repeatedly demonstrates the evils that result when a single person or party holds too much power, whether king, dictator, president, or politburo. The colonialist attitude of Queen Elizabeth, even though it occurred early in her reign, continues to draw criticism from many commentators. Instead, most Americans believe we reach our potential when given the motivation and liberty to be successful while being protected from tyranny. Likewise, neither is there a desire to establish permanent classes of aristocracy or wealth. Most people are unimpressed by wealth and class, especially when they become involved in politics. In other words, when I talk about attraction to royalty, I don’t mean a desire to establish a monarchy or aristocracy. In any case, even though the British monarchy is the titular head of their government, it has been many generations since kings and queens held any real power or even political influence.
Neither am I speaking just about interest in the history of the monarchy, although this certainly contributes to the attraction for some people. I have long been an Anglophile and a Medievalist. I like British comedy, science fiction, literature, and history. I loved studying British history when in college, especially the Middle Ages, and I continue reading about it when I can. Other than the brief Interregnum after the execution of King Charles I, the history of the British monarchy has remained a constant factor in the history of Britain, from the dominance of the kings of Wessex over local competing kings until today. This kind of longevity has no precedent in the U.S., where anything over two hundred years is old. There is a sense that here is something established, ancient, and traditional. Others seem to like the modern monarchy with all its drama, personality conflicts, and family history – it’s like a real-life Downton Abbey or soap opera. This is why so many seem to follow the travails of Prince Harry and Meghan despite their personal unpopularity. You can’t look away. While this is not something that interests me, I appreciate certain aspects of more modern royal history, which reiterates appreciation for this ancient institution.
It is difficult to put one’s finger on what attracts most people to royalty. The sense of history is part of it. The monarchy is old and highly traditional, giving a feeling of archaism and quaintness. Much like the Catholic Church, there is an air of symbolism that reminds us of something we once forgot, that touch our spirits directly. Kings and queens are unfamiliar to those in the states, and this leads to a feeling of otherworldliness. Many democrats act like royals are somehow above them because they understand that there are dominions that are above our tawdry politics. We yearn for a person or cause to rally behind, a figure who can rise above our institutions and unite us. We desire someone who is part of a true nobility, of heart and duty. We want a chivalrous knight to save the day. In short, we all want a king, someone who rules benevolently to help us become better than we are, whose benefice provides for us, whose power and might protects us, whose majesty awes us. Some people might not put it precisely this way. They would stress that they want the freedom to not be ruled over by a tyrant, even when they are looking toward government to do the same things. They thus prove that, deep down, we all have a desire for help in our current situation to restore order, justice, decency, and mercy.
I need not point out that the royals of Britain, or of any other country, are ultimately not going to fulfill this need for a king. They are too damaged, too corrupt, too spoiled, and too unreliable, as all people are. There is only one kingdom that will fulfill our need, and it exists in a spiritual domain. There is only one king who can help us, and that is God. Whenever we recognize that strange obsession with royalty in ourselves, it is to this king that we should turn, for only He can fulfill our desires.
© 2022 J.D. Manders