Throughout history, kings and queens have ruled over Britain. With a national anthem of 'God Save the Queen' and the monarch-of-the-day's face emblazoned on every British pound note and coin, British heritage is steeped in this time- honored tradition of the Royal Family. However, the world--and many Britons-- periodically wonder: Has the time for royalty passed?

In a country built on so-called 'pomp and circumstance,' admittedly, the Royal Family fits in perfectly. With a cast of colorful characters that any TV soap opera would take pride in, it is no wonder that the Windsors are a favorite of international tabloid paparazzi who revel in every detail of fairy tale marriages and high-file divorces, tragic deaths and rumors about homosexuality. Every milestone and misstep by the blue-bloods has been well publicized and sold millions of newspapers.

Though, apart from sheer entertainment value and a boon to the coffers of media conglomerates, what purpose do the Royals serve, and what justification is there for Queen Elizabeth II and Co.'s continuing existence? "At a time when the United Kingdom appears increasingly disunited, the monarchy can still represent unity," Anthony Sampson, author of Who Runs This Place? - The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century told The Observer. "The Queen remains the most effective symbol of the state's impartiality, especially when she opens Parliament."

However, impartiality does come at a cost. According to a 2001 report in Sovereignty magazine, the monarchy costs taxpayers approximately 37 million pounds (almost $70 million) each year. Yet, before there are cries of "off with their heads," it's worth noting that the Queen, contrary to rumors that she is Britain's wealthiest person, was actually ranked a mere 105 on the annual Sunday Times Rich List in 2001. Sovereignty also pointed out that royal revenue-- including income from customs and the postal service, as well as net surplus from the Crown Estate--yielded a 132.9 million pound ($250 million) profit for the year ending March 31, 2000; this money was then paid to the Exchequer for the benefit of taxpayers.

Moreover, the sum provided by British Parliament to meet the official expenses of the Queen as Head of State has recently been fixed at 7.9 million pounds ($14.8 million) per annum, until 2011. "Republics show great reluctance in publishing the cost of their heads of state, but the cost of the British monarchy compares extremely favorably," concluded Sovereignty.

Of course, older generations of Britons, who served 'Queen and country,' have always shown strong support for this institution. "When I was a boy, loyalty to the Crown was a big thing. Now you don't hear so much about it," Sir William Broun of Colstoum, a 13th-generation baronet, told The Guardian. Nevertheless, more and more British people seem to feel disloyal to the Royals. A 1999 poll in The Sun found that 1 in 3 Brits (up from 1 in 4 in 1996) said they would vote to abolish the monarchy if there was a public referendum.

Meanwhile, in 1999, Australia, a commonwealth country, actually attempted to sever their 200-year-old ties with Britain and become a republic. A referendum was held and, by a narrow margin of 55 percent to 45 percent, Australia voted to maintain its links with the Crown. When the Queen visited Sydney in 2000, she said, "I have always made it clear that the future of the monarchy in Australia is an issue for you, the Australian people." Though, the future of the monarchy may also depend on the Queen's blunderous offspring who will ultimately be taking over the throne. Presently, there's little to reassure Britain and its colonies that they are capable of doing the job.

Twenty-year-old Prince Harry, who is third in line to the throne, has concerned her majesty's subjects for a while now, even prior to the Nazi costume incident in January. In December 2004, Harry scuffled with a photographer outside of a London nightspot, and back in 2002, Prince Charles sent him to a drug rehabilitation clinic after Harry admitted smoking marijuana and taking part in heavy under-age drinking sessions.

Perhaps Harry takes after his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, who has had more than his fair share of PR blunders. His most infamous gaffe was during a 1986 trip to China where he was overheard telling a group of British students, "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed."

There is a certain irony in Harry's evoking memories of German unpleasantness: That country has featured prominently in the Royal Family's past. In 1840, Queen Victoria married a German, Prince Albert, and his name--Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-- became that used by the British Royals. In 1917 George V, worried about anti- German sentiments caused by the First World War, ordered the Royals to scrap Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and adopt the name Windsor.

More German blood entered the Royal bloodline when Prince Philip, from the house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg, married Princess Elizabeth. So many of the prince's relatives had Nazi links that barely any were invited to the couple's wedding. One of Philip's brother-in-laws was Prince Christoph of Hesse, a member of the SS, and all of Philip's sisters were married to SS generals. And, supposedly due to his well-known Nazi sympathies, King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 and was sent into exile.

So, why are the Royals still treated so royally? Maybe the Brits are able to forgive and forget because they take the Royals for what they are--an eccentric, antiquated and out-of-touch family who nostalgically represents centuries of tradition. Of course, as long as the Queen is still alive and kicking, the throne will be safe from blunder-prone successors. After that, we'll just have to see.

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Posted 02-07-2005 9:12 PM by Doug Casey
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