While we must all be happy for Prince William and Kate Middleton on their wedding day, we must also be aware of the heavy burdens which will be thrust upon them. Prince William was born into the Royal family and had no choice; but for Kate there was a choice. She could have remained a private person; but from now on she will become public property.
Members of the Royal family do not enjoy some fundamental human rights which the rest of us take for granted:
- They have very little privacy. The rest of us have a right to private and family life. William and Kate will be pursued by photographers wherever they go. Their children will also be the subject of intense media interest. Celebrities choose to be in the public eye; Royals have no such choice.
- They have no choice of career. William’s choices are effectively limited to military service or charitable good works. Senior members of the Royal family cannot go into business. Kate has already given up her job in preparation for the wedding
- They have no freedom of speech. Prince William is not free to say what he thinks, in particular on anything remotely political. Although Kate is less restricted, she also has to be extremely careful not to be drawn into political or public controversy
- They have no freedom of religion. If Prince William or Kate were to become a Roman Catholic, he would have to step out of the line of succession and renounce any claim to the throne
- Members of the Royal family are not free to marry whom they wish. Royal marriages require the consent of the sovereign; and that consent depends upon government approval. Government approval was withheld from King Edward VIII’s proposed marriage to Wallis Simpson in 1936; and from Princess Margaret’s proposed marriage to Peter Townsend in 1955.
The burdens of monarchy were clearly brought out in the film The King’s Speech. That depicted graphically the loneliness of the position, the constant pressure to put on a good public performance, and the difficulty of finding close confidants with whom to share the burdens. To that must now be added the insatiable demands of the modern media, who will be watching their every move. We wish them well; but we should also understand what burdens they assume in our name.
Robert Hazell is Professor of British Politics and Government at UCL, and Director of the Constitution Unit.
This post originally appeared on The Constitution Unit’s Blog. (http://constitution-unit.com/)