Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Markéta Šonková

Public Image and Perception of Current British Royal Family

Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: prof. Mgr. Milada Franková, CSc., M.A.


I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.


Markéta Šonková

I would like to thank Professor Mgr. Milada Franková, CSc., M.A. for her kind guidance, enormous patience and priceless help throughout the whole process of researching and writing this thesis. I would also like to thank Dr. Diarmuid Scully from University College Cork who kindly provided me with materials regarding the Anglo-Irish relationship during my time at Cork, as well as to Dr. Lydia Martens from Keele University who provided me with insightful and helpful observations concerning the media part of my research. My thanks also belong to Dr. Emma Head, also from Keele University, whom I consulted in connection to the sociological part of my research.

Table of Contents

1Introduction 5

2Evolution of the Institution: British Monarchy in the Course of History 10

3Official Role of the Monarch and the Royal Family in Today’s World: Politics, Democracy and Other State-Related Functions 26

4Mediated Monarchy: Media and Social Perspective 32

4.1Mediated Monarchy: The Media Perspective 32

4.1.1British Monarchy and British Media: Evolution of the Relationship 32

4.1.2Press and the Royals during the Reign of Elizabeth II: Flagship Events and the Royal Scandals 37

4.1.3Other Media: Photography, Internet and Films 39

4.1.4New Ways of Portraying the Royals: Humour and the Royal Parody 40

4.2Mediated Monarchy: The Social Perspective 43

4.2.1The Royal Celebrities and the Many Ways of the Royal Representation 43 and Public: Image of Images 45 Reverential Celebrities 46 People Just Like Us? 48

4.2.2Mediated Monarchy: The (New) Forms of Representation 51 Kings, Fashion Queens 51 Defenders of the Faith(s) 52 Contact: Money, Stamps, Places and Memorabilia 54

5The Royals and the Social Role of the Family 57

5.1Family Unit and British Society in the Second Half of the 20th Century 57

5.2The Royal Family as a Family Unit 59

6The Royal Brand: The Royal Family in the Context of Economics 65

6.1Branding and Advertising Theory 66

6.2Royal Family as a Brand: Costs and Revenues 68

7Conclusion 75

8Appendices 79

8.1Royal Paintings and Photography 79

8.2Elizabeth II: Pop Art, Strange Art, Punk 80

8.3Royals on the Internet: Mockery and Humour 81

8.4Examples of Similarities between Diana’s and Catherine’s Fashion Choices 82

9Bibliography 83

10Resumé 97

11Summary 98


British monarchy is one of the longest surviving monarchies in the Western world. The reasons for such a long “survival” are numerous; however, the Royal Family (RF) did not make it without changing or having to change some of their attitudes and habits. There are two possible ways of classifying these changes: there were changes which were performed voluntarily, and there were also changes which were rather a result of the natural development of the society which the RF did or had to accommodate to. In the light of the aforementioned changes, this thesis shall attempt to illustrate how the public image and perception of the monarchy and the RF in Britain shifted from the monarch “who was chosen by God” to a special kind of “celebrity” and what caused that this shift has happened. I shall examine the current British RF from historical, political, economic, sociological and psycho-social perspective as well as from the point of view of the media. By examining the way the RF functions within the context of the above mentioned disciplines, I shall reach the conclusion of what the public image of the current RF is, how is it created, and how the royals are actually perceived by the general public. Given the limited scope of the thesis, I shall examine the RF and their public image and perception primarily within the borders of the United Kingdom (UK), not within the whole area of the Commonwealth of Nations where the Queen still is an official head of the state.

A lot has been written about the RF in various contexts, however, there is a lack of comprehensive contemporary studies in the field of academia dealing with the phenomenon of the RF in the 21st century, namely in the post-engagement and post-Diamond Jubilee period. Blain and O’Donnell in their book Monarchy, Media and Power (7) raise the same concern and quote that one of the last serious attempts to study the RF comprehensively was in 1988 by Tom Nairn in his The Enchanted Glass, and then four years later by Michael Billing in his Talking of the Royal Family. The situation of the RF has changed significantly in the 1970s as well as in the second half of the 1990s and then again in the 2010s, and even though there have been numerous sectional more and less serious studies, the aforementioned comprehensive studies ended their scope before the period of the 21st century. My aim, therefore, is to attempt to assess the RF from various perspectives in order to illustrate how have their status, functions, and namely the public image and perception changed recently.

To be able to talk about the public image of the RF, it is important to define what a public image in this thesis is understood as and how this thesis defines the RF as such. The RF in this thesis is understood as the sovereign and his or her close family members who are related to the monarch either by blood, or by marriage. For the understanding of the public image, following dictionary definition was used: “the ideas and opinions that the public has about a person or an organization that may not be what they are really like” (Macmillan Dictionary). The fact that the public image does not necessarily have to reflect the true reception is why I opted for the title of the thesis to contain both the terms public image as well as perception, since the public image might as well be more or less only a result of activities of the PR agencies or the subject itself whose “strategic goal is to project a favourable public image . . . and to persuade [the public] that the reality must correspond with the desired image” (Encyclopædia Britannica), or of the media that can manipulate facts in order to fit their goals.

When talking about the content and the research approach, the first chapter of this thesis shall discuss the RF from the historical point of view. It examines, unlike the rest of the thesis that concentrates primarily on the current RF, the royals more deeply in their historical context, however, only the dynasties after the Norman Conquest are taken into account. It discusses what changes the royals had to face in the past in order to secure continuity of their lineage and to what extent these changes were voluntary and to what extent they were rather a result of external circumstances they had only little control over. The outcome of this chapter shall be how these changes influenced and changed the way the RF works in contemporary Britain and what caused that the monarch is no longer being thought of as a God-appointed ruler.

The next chapter shall pick up the threads of the previous one and set the current RF in the context of the situation that resulted from the changes that were described previously. This chapter shall discuss the role of the monarch and the RF in the context of current politics – what powers the royals and the Queen still have and mainly if monarchy as such, given the monarch is not elected by the general public but he or she still has power to influence the public life and well-being, is democratic. Therefore this chapter shall also deal with the discussion of the pro and anti-monarchy voices in the context of the current political debate. The outcome of this chapter shall be what the monarch and the RF mean in the contemporary political arena and if it is in accordance with the current idea of democratic principles to have a monarch as a head of the state.

Yet, the power of the RF does not necessarily have to be directly connected to politics; in fact the power of the British RF in the contemporary world lies elsewhere. Therefore, from the third chapter onwards, there shall be a special emphasis put on the media discussion in connection to the RF. This chapter shall put the RF directly in the context of the media discourse and describe this special relationship. It shall discuss when the royals started experiencing an increased interest of the media and how this relationship evolved and developed and what the main results of this media activity and their relationship with the RF are. The media discussion is also closely connected with the topic of celebrities and with various roles the RF holds: they can be understood as role models, as people setting up fashion standards, and as idols the public might like to identify with or imitate. The various ways of the royal representations are thus also discussed in order to show the comprehensive nature of the public representation of the royals.

Further on, as the label itself indicates, the RF, above all, still is a family. The last but one chapter shall therefore discuss the RF in the sociological context of family and its development in the second half of the 20th century, which is also the period roughly corresponding with the era of Elizabeth II. In that respect, examining the changes that the concept of the family has undergone in British society ever since WWII and the way the RF has balanced adapting to the general trends but keeping the expected standards at the same time, might serve as an example to illustrate the way society has been changing and how the royals have been responding to such changes.

Last but not least, besides fulfilling all the above mentioned functions, the RF also works as a brand and therefore as an economic actor. They attract attention, and aspects related to their lives can boost British economy. The last chapter thus examines the RF as an economic factor, discusses the RF in the context of advertising and branding and how they influence the economy of the country. The aspects that are covered are how branding works in the world of advertising and how this is connected to the RF as well as it assesses the possibility of the job-related nature of this institution. Terms such as trade, tourism, “Kate Effect” and “Prince George Effect” are discussed in order to define the RF as an active economic actor.

This Bachelor’s diploma thesis attempts to discuss the current British RF in the context of today’s society. It is not a goal of this thesis to cover all the functions the RF represents and it is equally not possible, due to the limited scope of this work, to cover all the points of view and all possible approaches, so this thesis might be to some extent considered as a “snapshot” 1 into the life of the RF with emphasis on their activities in the 21st century. The main goal of the thesis is to examine what the public image and perception of the current British RF is and how it is exhibited and experienced in various spheres of the life in Britain. This thesis aims neither to favour the monarchy nor to criticize it: it shall discuss the monarchy and the RF in different areas of their influence by implementing ideas and arguments from both “camps” – the pro-monarchy one as well as the anti-monarchy one. I am equally aware that many of the discussed situations need to be assessed from multiple perspectives and that it is necessary to understand the socio-cultural and political context, too, in order to draw conclusions, because it is not possible to analyze the RF in a “vacuum”. Therefore some of the topics shall be recurrent throughout the thesis, since they shall be put in more than one context, in order to provide as accurate conclusions as possible.

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