Modern Monarchy

I became interested in the idea of ‘Modern Monarchy’ through teaching and researching constitutional law. I found myself surprised at how often I made reference to the Queen, or to terms such as ‘the Crown’, ‘the royal prerogative’, ‘royal assent’. This is due to the continuing importance of the monarchy (or perhaps the language of monarchy) within the British constitution. This is despite a rolling process of constitutional change over the past twenty years.

This has led to a desire to discover more about the monarchy, so I devoured the biographies of the Queen and works of royal historians. While undoubtedly engaging, authoritative and comprehensive, I found them lacking a forward-looking perspective. I felt that they did not quite capture the role of the monarchy and the broader Royal Family today, or address the potential challenges that the monarchy is likely to face in the future. Of course, a historical perspective is needed, but my research focuses on contemporary issues and seeks to place the monarchy within the existing political and constitutional context. As shown by Brexit and current political developments, this context itself is rapidly changing.

My approach is to focus on the past twenty-five years, and look at the role of the monarchy today through the three “heads” of the British monarch: State, Nation and Commonwealth. These three functions are interdependent: It is through the monarch’s position as Head of State that their positions as Head of Nation and Head of the Commonwealth are justified. These three functions are also mutually supportive: if one is removed, the two could be called into question. The question of a republic could loom large in British politics should the British monarch no longer be also the Head of State of Australia or Canada. Finally, I will seek to consider the state of the republican movement in the UK. One lesson from Brexit is that the public are not frightened of fundamental constitutional change, and a movement willing to play the long game, taking advantage of events as they arise can cause public opinion to shift markedly.