The Firm

Feb 6, 2017 · 4 min read

One of the harder things to get used to when living in the UK as an American is having a monarchy. Although it doesn’t measurably affect your life, it is a mental obstacle that you find yourself occasionally grappling with, uncertain if amusement or bemusement is the order of the day.

The main problem is that it’s difficult to take seriously. Come on, royalty? Those of us who grew up on Schoolhouse Rock will remember how the song goes after the Pilgrims hit Plymouth Rock. Queens just don’t compute.

“What other pictures of me do these Getty people have?”

Yet when I became a British citizen (you’re able to keep your US citizenship as well), I had to solemnly promise to… well, to do something, I forget now, but I’m sure it involved pledging fealty to the Queen and her heirs. Fortunately they don’t check if you’ve got your fingers crossed while you’re saying it.

It doesn’t help that homegrown Brits don’t seem to know quite how seriously to take her, either.

By and large she is revered by the generation that grew up with her from the 50s, and more than once I’ve heard how a monarch is to be preferred over the undignified popularity contest that is the Yank presidency.

Yet there has also long been a strand of republicanism (here that means “No more kings” rather than elephants in office) to counter the monarchists, and at times an exuberant disdain for the institution. Begging the pardon of Charles I, who ended his reign in 1649 shorter by the head, this was perhaps most outrageously expressed in the 70s by the punk band the Sex Pistols, who sang — if singing is quite the right word for it — “God Save The Queen.”

They’re singing “Just kidding, ma’am” when you play it backwards

This is not to be confused with the standard version of that song, long in the charts and hearts of traditionalists and of course suitably altered when HRH is His Royal Highness instead. While even the patriotic don’t pledge allegiance to their flag, they have been known to get teary-eyed lingering over the chorus of their national anthem.

Americans will recognise the melody, as it’s the same as “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” I guess it’s pretty catchy, as Liechtenstein caught it too: their anthem “Oben Am Jungen Rhein” (“High on the young Rhine”) uses that tune.

Canadians (“High above Lake Erie”?) claim Elizabeth as their constitutional monarch as well, though I think it’s mostly out of habit now. At one point she had dozens of countries under her sash, a number now reduced to the teens, which is still impressive. She remains a worldwide institution, with many still content to be counted as subjects — a legal term now largely discontinued, by the way. We’re just citizens. Commoners, but citizens.

“Those are commoners. No need to capitalise them.”

This institution can also be something of a popularity contest, though Liz can’t be voted off the island. For example, after the extremely popular “People’s Princess” Diana died, the lady with the crown was criticised for showing an insufficient display of public mourning. This was a charge led by the tabloids, which veer wildly between reverence and gleeful deconstruction of every foible of what the Queen’s husband The Duke of Edinburgh calls ‘The Firm’.

Charles, who’ll be taking the name Charles the Magnificent (I’m making that up, but it’s got a nice ring to it) when it’s his turn, is far less popular than his son William. Some even want to skip a generation. But that’s not how the game of thrones is played.

Legend has it that George Washington turned down an offer to be a King of his newly won country. While there’s no evidence for this, even today it’s sometimes said that America could use a royal presence above the fray as a unifying force who would, to further earn his or her keep, take over the ceremonial roles now largely relegated to the vice president. The Constitution would need a bit of a rewrite, for a start.

Fun fact:
We tend to think of the Queen has having just the one name, like Madonna, but she has three: Elizabeth Alexandra Mary. Plus her family name, Windsor, as in the house of. However, she signed her first tweet in 2014 “Elizabeth R.” R stands for Regina, which is Latin for queen.

I seriously doubt she’s become a twitter addict; she’s got people for that. If you want to follow her, she’s @RoyalFamily.

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