by Shane Thomas

The Sun’s front page of a young Queen Elizabeth II appearing to make a Nazi salute, generated all the attention one would expect from the “look over there” school of journalism. However, there was another recent Royal Family-related story, which was more revealing in how Britain mediates with its monarchy.

With the Premier League returning to thrill some and irritate others in a week’s time, West Brom prepared for the new season by playing the American team, Charleston Battery. Before the match began, the British national anthem was played, and one of the West Brom players, James McClean – who is Irish – made a point of turning away from the Union flag, and solemnly bowed his head.


This slight towards, “God Save The Queen”[1] caused outrage in some quarters, and not just from the bowels of the internet. McClean’s own manager, Tony Pulis reprimanded him, while the Daily Telegraph’s Luke Edwards wrote an asinine diatribe saying McClean should leave England if their flag and anthem vexes him so[2].

What stood out from this affair wasn’t just the intersection of sport and politics, the right to protest, or eschewing fealty to a national anthem[3] (Alexander Netherton has already covered this). It’s the idea of acting with nothing less than reverence towards the Royal Family, and by extension, England. Even raising these points puts me in a minority, as the Windsors exist inside a blister of credulous support.

When I was about 13, the Caribbean steel band I played in had a gig which included a brief appearance by Prince Charles. I recall our manager being adamant that we had to be on our best behaviour. This wasn’t new – she had to deal with a lot of mischief making in the band – but never had it been made so explicit what was expected from us.

I’ve always wondered, why did she care so much? Why does the presence of the Royals beguile people – worldwide – into a state of fawning obeisance?

Is is tradition? The money they bring in? They might be factors, but there’s plenty of traditions we don’t adhere to anymore. I don’t even think the likely financial boon is what inspires such genuflection. If that was such a watertight argument, wouldn’t royal advocates ensure there was no ambiguity about the figures?

I think the key facets are the nebulous – but powerful – agents of history and heritage. Many countries have origin stories that are intended to underpin their supposed greatness. This is especially evident where imperialist nations are concerned.

Britain’s origin story is that of the small island who ruled the waves. Through wit, decorum, and derring-do, they shaped and civilised the world with their military skill and overriding sense of fair play. It matters little that Dr. Shashi Tharoor recently put that story under a piercing spotlight. Most would rather believe the lie.

The axle of this story is our monarchy, and to abolish – or privatise – them could undercut this grandiose narrative, which is an impossibility until we interrogate why they are allowed such latitude in a country that makes exhaustive spending cuts, because it’s apparently in suffocating debt.

For generations, a tacit agreement has been reached, that the Royal Family are the best of Britain. If they have an exalted position it’s because they deserve it (the same way those who live in penury ostensibly deserve it). They are the foundation wall, holding Britain’s entire class system upright.

Of course, necessary questions won’t be asked. It requires critical thinking, and a willingness to confront one’s own personal outlook, rather than wallowing in passive acquiescence. And that’s seldom seen around this topic. If you’re someone who is proud of the monarchy, exactly what is it about them you take pride in?

While the Queen’s position as head of state is more than symbolic, it’s their symbolism that’s especially potent. One wonders how deeply we’re anesthetised by individual comfort and privilege, so that we don’t dare exhibit dissent. Is it that easy to accept the atrocities committed in the name of the English/British flag for Queen/King and country were fine because they didn’t happen to you?

People are disgusted by James McClean because he went against the aforementioned agreement. He dared to imply that England’s heritage might not be unequivocally positive. To a lesser extent, these issues were raised when golfer, Rory McIlroy chose to represent Ireland – instead of Britain – at the 2016 Olympics, and when Andy Murray tweeted his support for Scottish independence last year.

This backlash is borne from an inability to comprehend why someone wouldn’t love everything about England: Look at the history; the tolerance; the values; the inherent politeness. Where could be better than here?

While McClean has previous for taking placid stands against the legacy of Britain’s past, I wouldn’t compare him to Muhummad Ali or John Carlos[4]. However, it will be interesting to see if his actions have any impact on the wider conversation around the Windsors.

Will we start to look at why consensus places the Royal Family on an untouchable pedestal? If so, would that affect our stratified class system[5]? Can the nature of people’s birth be less of a determining factor on their chances in life? And will future generations look at the Royal Family, and wonder what all the fuss was about?

[1] – Which isn’t even the best version of that song (title). As Bill Bailey once said; “Why would we invoke a non-specific deity to bail out these unelected spongers?”

[2] – Clearly, writing such tripe isn’t a hindrance to earning a decent living. Maybe it’s a prerequisite.

[3] – Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is a name that should be better known when stories of resistance are told.

[4] – Although both Ali and Carlos received intense opprobrium for political resistance on the sporting field. Revisionism now paints their conduct as always having been in sync with public opinion.

[5] – However, you can take your “it’s really all about class” arguments elsewhere.

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TWOWEEKSNOTICE “Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing. Pop culture to sport, and back again

A mixed-race film graduate, Shane comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

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14 thoughts on “Why Do We Show Such Loyalty To Royalty?

  1. “For generations, a tacit agreement has been reached, that the Royal Family are the best of Britain. If they have an exalted position it’s because they deserve it…”

    Nah, that idea went out in 1688 – we had a revolution over precisely that point. The Constitutional Monarchy is a hard political mechanism, for better or worse. Personally I’m in favour, it’s a beautiful little balance of power. Funny thing is how the right-wing press ostensibly support the Monarchy but never make any better arguments than “tourism” and “history”, all the while working very hard to destroy their reputation. Almost as if the Monarchy gets in the way of their ongoing attempts to take absolute power.

    But I get what you mean about the undue deference and stuff. There’s too much bs about the role of the Monarchy, and not enough understanding of what role they play in our democracy.


    1. Even with that revolution, it’s incorrect to say they have no influence over public policy, even if they don’t run the country the way the government do. For clarity’s sake, I don’t have personal animosity towards them, but I object to thinking them automatically worthy of nothing but praise, which relates to what you say about deference.

      I linked to it in the piece, but ICYMI, check this BBC video of vox pops just before the Diamond Jubilee. This illustrates your point about deference –


  2. Not sure about other people, but for me and my family it’s always been a matter of respect, which is also embedded in Christianity, because the Bible says we have respect the superior authorities and also give respect to those asking for it. In a land that 70 years ago still believed the queen was here by divine right it isn’t hard to imagine how this showing respect is culturally embedded, whether people realise it or not. There’s also the honour attached to what a privilege it would be to meet the queen or attend a humble tea party, or the tremendous honour attached to receiving a medal, an OBE, knighthood etc. She also has her head on our stamps and coins. She also endorses many products and public services. She’s also a bastion of tradition and integrity. Quietly stable, strong and secure. What’s not to respect?


    1. But the Royal Family aren’t superior. That’s my point. There’s no good reason why they should be viewed like this. I agree with all your points about it being culturally embedded, and many thinking it’s a privilege to be on the Queen’s honours list. But I’m yet to hear a good reason why this is common consensus. The country treats them like they were born better. Well, they’re not.


      1. I see what you mean. Accident of birth. I see it as part of a system of wider authority in general. Superior just meaning those we agree to listen to as part and parcel of state and infrastructure. It could just as easily be a president, a despotic dictator or a council or senate. It just so happens that as a result of history we have monarchy.


        1. And if they were accountable, I’d have no problem with that. After all, every nation needs to be governed by someone. But that’s not the case. To give one example, they’re largely immune from criminal prosecution. And we hardly treat them as people who have responsibility for shaping the country to benefit all of its citizens.

          If we put them under the same scrutiny that we do politicians, then that’s fine. But that seldom happens. They’re perceived more like a sweet, avuncular grandparent. When in actuality, they’re a group given extreme social & cultural capital, funded by the public, and appear to have done little to warrant any of it.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I think history and culture have changed British society a lot in the last 70 years, while this is one part of our legacy that is still a vestige of that bygone era. Perhaps the nature of the monarchy will change? In the meantime I think from a commercial point of view they are a big attraction at the very least. I wonder if anyone has ever done a cost benefits analysis on the economics of a with or without scenario. Would we be better off or not?


            1. When researching the piece, I tried to find some clear info on if they bring in £, and I was unable to alight on anything definitive. Although most of what I found seems to indicate that in terms of straight pounds & pence, they do bring in a profit. What I would question, however, is where does this money go? Does it find its way to people who need it most? For example, if the money brought in by the Royals went to things like social housing, or funding local councils, I’d be in favour of them a lot more.

              And much of my critique isn’t financial. It’s the intangible effect of having a select group of people given an exalted position because they were lucky to be born into the right bloodline. What does it do to a body politic to say these people are important without there being any justification for it? I mean, at least politicians can justify their power by saying they were elected. I may not like David Cameron being PM, but I can’t argue with how he got that position at the last election.


              1. Yes I’d be in favour of financial transparency of benefits brought to the UK financially via the monarchy too. I’m sure HMRC publish on that, don’t they?
                I think your thoughts on the justification for birthright privileges would be interestingly analysed through a referendum. I wonder if the same majority whose votes allowed Cameron to win might also swing towards the crown?


                1. I suspect they do. I think it’s a key plank of our class system. We’re predisposed to think certain accents, education, and even attire is a sign of superiority. If such a referendum occurred, I would expect it to skew heavily in favour of the monarchy.

                  Not entirely sure whether HMRC have that financial information, but you may be right.


  3. yes, I often ponder the obsession with the royal family, and feel it is a questions of history and national pride, but I personally feel it is a antiquated system that has no place in modern life. I applaud the guy for making a statement!

    Liked by 1 person

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