A universal throne

How monarchies cross religious and political boundaries

All you have to do is glance at the guest list for the British royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton on 29 April.

45 different members of foreign royal families were invited; from 25 different countries. There were representatives from absolute monarchies (Swaziland, Saudi Arabia), constitutional monarchies (Sweden, Spain) and excommunicated monarchies (Yugoslavia, Romania). Different European Christian denominations were on show: Lutheran (Queen Margrethe II of Denmark) and Eastern Orthodox (King Simeon II of Bulgaria). From Africa, there were Muslim (Moroccan Princess Lalla Salma) and Christian (Prince Seeiso of Lesotho) royals. And as for Asia, there were the Muslims from absolutist nations (Emir of Qatar) and Muslims from democracies (the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Raja Permaisuri Agong of Malaysia), along with the Buddhist Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand and Christian King of Tonga.

Far more countries have scrapped their palaces, tiaras and curtseys. But what can we learn from the ones who haven’t?

They span a broad politico-cultural spectrum, showing us that the monarchical system can be applied to differing extents across separate countries (think of the differences between Malaysia’s take on Islam and the Sunni teachings of Saudi Arabia: both Muslim monarchies, but with very different political agendas).

Monarchies can be a stabilising force for good in restive nations but this stability needs to be tempered by a willingness not to tamper with a country’s politics. Despite this, at times they can be wonderful mediators – think of the steady hand Spain’s King Juan Carlos provided during the rocky transition to democracy following the death of Franco in 1975. But sometimes the stability can become an overriding control and this is where the absolutist regimes suffer to maintain international credibility.

More trustworthiness is vested in those families which have taken a constitutional step-back. One area where they generally succeed is on the global stage. They act as patriotic symbols of their nation and can negotiate interests, discuss deals, or, seeing as many countries are more than ready to don rose-tinted glasses and think back to a former age, simply try to whip up attention for the oft-lampooned idea of a monarchy.

European monarchies have survived in more recent times by branching out from their inter-regal and cross-crown breeding. Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby, a single mother, met Norwegian Prince Haako at a rock concert before marrying him in 2001. In 2004 Australian Mary Donaldson married Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik. And last week’s British royal wedding continued a tradition kicked-off in style by Grace Kelly’s marriage to Monaco’s Prince Rainier III in 1956.

Royal families have shown they can cross international political and religious boundaries. They also seem to have realised that they truly need to modernise and to understand and break down the remaining boundaries that still exist at home.

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4 thoughts on “A universal throne

  1. Interesting story that – very refreshing to hear about something other than Kate’s dress, or how fit her sister is, or the shocked voice of an ignorant BBC reporter revealing that Kate’s ancestors were miners.

    What I’d like to know is, has a royal ever espoused someone of a different religion, or colour, to their own? Or of the same sex?

    I’d like to think that in our day and age of equal rights, multiculturalism, open-mindedness, and Obama’s yes-we-canism, that this might be possible. Love is blind, afterall, and it’s not up to the public to judge or decide who we fall for.

    Maybe I’m being overly romantic?

  2. #1 I think that the possibility of that happening to the British monarchy at least in the short term is relatively remote, particularly a royal directly in line to the throne marrying someone of a different religion – but that is purely because of the British monarch’s status as head of the Church of England. You obviously cannot have a leader of a church who does not belong to that church, and many religions dictate that the children of their members have to be raised in that religion.

    As for marrying someone of a different race or the same sex, again I think we may have to wait a while before that happens, but I suppose the laws of probability would say that at some point a gay royal will be born – whether or not they spend their life in the closet will be indicative of how far our society has truly come at that time. Here’s hoping that it can happen without scandal.

  3. Pingback: Birthday celebrations « Ross Cullen

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