In my rant a couple of weeks ago about the woman formerly known as Kate Middleton, I expressed a good deal of angst about whether I should be passing comment on her religious choices and motivations. In the comments, Helen called me judgemental and hypocritical.
Writing in the New Stateman, Peter Wilby offers a defence of passing judgement on the Royals and invading their privacy:
What is the point of a Royal Editor if he doesn’t hack people’s phones? Laws for the protection of privacy should not apply to the Queen and her family. The monarchy cannot be private: it is a public institution with no significant function other than to satisfy public curiosity. …
… what to everybody else would be private – family, love, procreation – becomes in royalty’s case public, because it determines the line of succession and the identity of our future head of state.
There is a logic to this. The Royals have also been referred to as the ‘National Soap Opera’ which speaks to the same idea, that we have some kind of right to know everything about them. Certainly, part of the justification for their continued existence is as role models and figureheads, for which a degree of discussion about their personal lives seems to be part of the quid pro quo (even if the royal social contract was entered into by distant ancestors, rather than the current incumbents themselves). While I am sympathetic to Wilby’s point of view, I think the Royals do need some privacy, if only to stop them going insane. The last thing we need is a paranoid recluse for a King.
Its interesting that in the 1990s the monarchy was said to be in “crisis”, when every single problem cited was related to personalities and personal infidelities. While this posed questions about their suitability as leaders of the Church of England, this in no way affected their constitutional status. And it never has. I once read that pretty much every monarch before the 20th Century had extra-marital affairs, which never seemed to weaken their status as Head of State. One of the few faithful monarchs was King Charles I, who plunged the country and the monarchy into a real crisis, by snubbing parliament and asserting his Divine Right to Rule.