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Nidhi Eoseewong: The Monarchy in The Crown

Everyone has been inviting me to watch the television series “The Crown”. Mr Pinyo Taisuriyatumma was the first person to invite me a little over two years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that I watched the first season.
Strangely, it didn’t live up to the recommendations I’ve heard for the past two years. It could be because I’ve heard so much praise I ended up expecting too much.
It’s not because I know so much about the British royal family that excited anymore. On the contrary, I didn’t know many of the details that the series presented, but they didn’t surprise me. If one were to retell the stories of any royal court and retell them honestly, the contents would be somewhat similar.
I don’t mean those unverifiable “scandals”, but rather the personal relationships between royal family members that are no different from the relationships of characters in other series. Jealousy, disdain and contempt towards other families, sacrifice, love, forgiveness, the conditions that define life, senior relatives, etc. are all the main subject matter of human life, both on and off the screen, aren’t they?
To summarise, the series tells us that, by nature, royalty are the same as us, and what is so surprising about that?
However, today’s media has made it so the personal lives of the royal family are no longer“personal” due to newspaper headlines that will sell them as rumours the next morning. Prince Phillip is one royal figure who often playfully teases both English and foreign audiences to create an intimate atmosphere. However, sometimes that teasing may go further than what is deemed appropriate, resulting in Prince Phillip making headlines and receiving criticism in the media.
It’s rather strange that when the personalities of royalties “slip out” in this manner, rather than damaging the institution, is instead beneficial in the long run. This is because it helps “reveal” the mystery of the institution in a way that is exciting and interesting. It also shows the humanity of the Royal Family and the royal institution. While they seem far away, they are really just like everyone else.
The second thing is the mystique. Anything that is “private” attracts people’s interest, just like the public fascination with the personal lives of celebrities. Anyone who has watched The Crown would want to know if the Queen had watched this or not, if she liked it, which part did she like, why did she like it, etc. That is, they are curious about the humanity of the queen, just like how they are curious about the humanity of celebrities.
The royal family will “let slip” information that is not too personal when a rumour comes out. Sometimes the palace stays quiet, or sometimes they hold a press conference to state that the rumour is not true.
Therefore, even though the media in this world has eyes everywhere, the royal palace is still able to protect this fascinating mystery. However, it’s not a mystery that is black and dark, but one that comes and goes quickly; exciting and interesting.
I think The Crown revealed this mystery but in a way that makes painting the queen in a sympathetic light the main focus of the show. Of course, all of this is one interpretation – they could have interpreted it in a way that was less sympathetic, but the show chose otherwise.
This interpretation is based on one principle. That is that the queen as a monarch must adhere to strict constitutionally dictated customs. It sounds easy, but it’s not. Doing so causes conflicts between the royal family, politicians in both the governing and opposition parties or even with the people. And in these times, they must stand for what is constitutionally “correct” with the hope that in the long run, those that didn’t get what they want will understand.
Royal duties according to English law must be done fairly but precisely since they are a delicate matter. For example, what exactly is the appropriate balance between the institution’s mystique and its publicity? For instance, England has the ability to broadcast the coronation ceremony live in the church. Will they allow the people to watch it or not? Just how much should they be allowed to see?
I think this is the part that most impressed my fellow Thai friends who recommended the show. The monarch’s difficult role in a democracy under the constitution requires so much awareness and patience to be accepted by the people, politicians on all sides, senior royal family members, even sometimes their husband and younger sister.
I’ve only watched one season, and I can already guess that the next season most likely won’t be able to shy away from this principal subject matter.
However, will the difficult role of England’s monarch become a model for monarchs all over the world or not? I doubt it. Out of all the European monarchs, only England’s is especially sensitive to the reactions of the people of Great Britain’s(except for possibly the Irish). Acharn Ben Anderson pointed out in a speech at an academic conference on Democracy and Crisis in Thailand something that we always forget: that England has almost never had an English monarch. These past thousand years the country was ruled by kings who were Norman, Welsh, Scottish, Dutch and German.
These rulers of different nationalities and languages had to compromise with the noblemen and landowners of England to maintain their power. For this reason, there is a tendency for them to accept the various rules and agreements they made with the nobles and landowners/feudal lords. In other words, the English royal institution is used to acting according to the “constitution” to ensure their own power for a long time.
This is not the case for Germany, Russia or France. That could be the reason why after World War I the only major European power to still have a royal institution was Great Britain, resulting in some people’s belief that the most stable and lasting royal institution is the English one.
I also wonder that if The Crown were not about the English royal institution, it might not be as popular as it is currently. This is because every time we speak of the royal institution, most people in the world think of England (although the English monarch has a particular trait like no other, as I have said before).
If we combine all the countries with royal institutions (according to Acharn Ben’s speech it would only equal 2.5 million square miles – smaller than Brazil – with only a population of 500 million people – not even half of India), the royal institution that could be called the “capital city” of this land would be the English royal institution.
This didn’t happen because the general public thinks that England has a stronger economy and military than other monarchies. Acharn Ben said that it was because, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars it was England that established the royal institutions in various lands across the world, starting in Europe. England was behind the establishment of the royal institution in the Netherlands (which never had a royal institution before). When Belgium separated from the Netherlands, they also established the Belgian royal institution, as well as Norway’s. All of this was for the safety of England’s monarchy; that is, to have more monarchies on the European continent, protecting England from other powers in Europe.
England’s policy of establishing royal institutions was also used in colonies or semi-colonial territories. England is a small country, how were they to protect their interests in the colonies and territories? England chose to erect monarchies in various countries if they were confident that the royal institutions they created would obey and promote England’s gains, from West Asia to Southeast Asia (e.g. the sultans of Melayu and Brunei) and from east Africa to central and southern Africa.
Nevertheless, England will find reasons to abolish any royal institutions that show hostility towards England. Here I will use Myanmar as an example.
Both Mindon Min and Thibaw Min, the last king of the Konbaung Dynasty, tried to appeal to other great European powers to counterbalance England. That is why England found a reason to wage war against Myanmar. They arrested Myanmar’s king and sent him to India. And even though they had Mindon’s son in their custody, England did not revive the Myanmar throne.
This policy of establishing monarchies for the protection of Imperialism’s was also implemented by France. France revived Annam for political purposes, installing Phrachao Krung Luang Phra Bang as the king of “Laos”, a country that had not existed prior France established it along with the “Lao” royal institution. The Cambodian king came to power in the same way (except Phrachao Sihanu used the opportunity that France gave him to promote nationalism instead of supporting the policies of the French Associated States). But as we already know, in the end, France wasn’t able to hold onto Indochina.
First published at Matichon