Prince Harry has made headlines in Britain by telling the US magazine Newsweek that no one in the Royal Family actually wants what his mother used to call ‘the top job’. If that’s really the case, should we perhaps reconsider whether we should continue with the institution of monarchy?
Even the most ardent republican would find it hard to dispute the Queen’s commitment to duty, fulfilled now for over sixty-five years as sovereign and still being fully exercised in her nineties. Many monarchs elsewhere have abdicated at a far younger age to enjoy the leisure of retirement but the Queen appears determined to honour to the letter her Coronation Oath to dedicate herself to the service of the nation for life. For her, it seems, duty comes before everything else.
So it will have surprised, perhaps even shocked, many people that her grandson should claim that none of her descendants actually wants the job. He said: “We are not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people. Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so….”
Arguments for and against the monarchy are well-rehearsed. Republicans who want the institution abolished in favour of an elected presidency argue that monarchy is undemocratic; that it embodies privilege; and that it buttresses a class system they despise and believe to be at the root of many of Britain’s problems. But Prince Harry’s remark implies a quite different objection: is it fair or even defensible for a society that claims to believe in liberty and in individuals being able to choose their own course of life according to their own free will, to deny someone those freedoms everyone else enjoys just by accident of birth? Does the hereditary system of monarchy actually entail abuse of a fundamental human right?
Those who would sympathise with the argument can point out that no others in public life suffer this abuse. Theresa May is prime minister not by accident of birth but because she chose a career in politics. When she says, as she does, that a sense of duty regarding public service was instilled in her as a child brought up in a vicarage, she is not claiming she was left with no choice but to become a politician. She could have fulfilled that duty in another way or simply have decided that public service was just not for her. She was free to choose.
But someone born into the royal family effectively has the choice taken away from them according to where they fit in the pecking order of accession to the throne. Prince Harry’s father will become the next king whether he wants to be or not. His elder brother William will succeed him he himself is likely to be spared the throne only because he now has a nephew and a niece who take precedence over him.
To this it could be countered that no member of the royal family is completely enslaved by heredity. Any one of them could simply walk away. None is exactly dependent on the job to keep the wolf from the door: they are each independently wealthy. And there is a precedent: Prince Harry’s great-great-uncle Edward VIII was forced to choose between the throne and an American divorcee. He abdicated ‘to marry the woman I love’.
Prince Harry, however, is not to be tempted by this option and implies that none of the rest of his family is either. His full remark went: “Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time.”
Still less does he believe that the monarchy should be abolished because it imposes a burden on him and his family none of them really wants. He said: “The British public and the whole world need institutions like it.”
Many people will agree with that and be grateful to the Queen and other members of ‘the Firm’, as the royal family apparently call themselves, for carrying out a duty he has revealed none of them wants. Others will radically disagree with him. They will say that neither Britain nor the world needs the institution of monarchy and that he and others should not be required to have their human rights infringed in order to keep it going.
What do you think? Should Prince Harry have said what he said? Do you believe him when he says no member of the royal family actually wants to become monarch? Do you think the hereditary principle that is part and parcel of the institution constitutes an abuse of a fundamental human right suffered by those in line to the throne? And do you think we should keep the monarchy or not?
Let us know your views.