The British royal family has experienced a resurgence in public interest in recent years. During the same period, global inequalities have expanded, leaving huge chasms of wealth inequality between ‘the elites’ and ‘the rest’. Yet, the monarchy is mostly absent from conversations about contemporary inequalities, dismissed as an archaic and irrelevant institution. This is the only book to argue that we cannot talk about inequalities in Britain today without talking about the monarchy. Running the Family Firm is about the contemporary British monarchy (1953 to present). It argues that media representations (of, for example, royal ceremonies or royal babies) are the ‘frontstage’ of monarchy: this is what we usually see. Meanwhile, ‘backstage’, there are a host of political-economic infrastructures that reproduce the institution: this is what we don’t typically see. This book pulls back the stage curtain of monarchy and exposes what is usually hidden: how it looks versus how it makes its money and power. Drawing on case studies of key royal figures – the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince Harry, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle – the book argues that media representations of the royal family are carefully stage-managed to ‘produce consent’ for monarchy in the public imagination. That is, the corporate power of monarchy (the Firm) is disguised through media representations of the royal family (the Family Firm). In so doing, the book probes conventional understandings of monarchy, and offers a unique and radical answer to the question ‘why does monarchy matter?’
The introduction sets out how the book approaches its study of monarchy as the Firm: a capitalist corporation oriented towards, and historically entrenched in, processes of capital accumulation, profit extraction and forms of exploitation. It opens with an account of the monarchy’s imbrication in the ‘Paradise Papers’ scandal in November 2017, a case study which raises questions and themes fundamental to this book: the interrelations between ‘old’ wealth and ‘new’ wealth’; how the monarchy is a key player in financial capitalism; and how the media culture of monarchy seeks to disguise and ‘produce consent for’ its wealth and power through representations of the royal family. The chapter demonstrates the urgency of studying monarchy today by outlining the contemporary context of widening global inequalities, the rising wealth and power of ‘the elites’ and the persistence of hereditary, aristocratic forms of wealth. It reflects on the similarities between the Firm and global corporations to make the case that the monarchy is a deeply political institution which ensures the social, political, cultural and economic order. Finally, the chapter introduces the frameworks and methodologies used in this book to interrogate monarchy: figurative methodology, and the work of British Cultural Studies, particularly Stuart Hall. This demonstrates how ideas of monarchy as a royal family are reproduced in media culture, the role of media culture in shaping practices of state and society, and how media culture is one ‘mechanism of consent’ for securing (royal) power.
This chapter outlines the conceptual framework of this book, which describes the monarchy as a corporation: the Firm. Drawing together a large and varied amount of material, it maps out the mechanics, technologies and industries involved in the reproduction of the Firm. It describes the actors involved in reproducing the Firm, and outlines the infrastructure of staff and key individuals to expose the labour undertaken ‘backstage’ in order to represent the ‘frontstage’ of monarchy. It also describes a web of capital relations: the exploitation of low-paid workers through ideologies of class subservience; the ‘revolving door’ between the Royal Household and corporations, the military, broadcasters and the civil service; the murky rules of royal financing; the secrecy of royal wealth; the networks of contacts; the relationships to post/colonialism; the exploitation of political relationships for profit; and the abuse of political privileges. Alongside exposing these corporate relations, this chapter outlines my distinction between the institution of monarchy and our emotional investments in the royal family and its ‘individual’ members. I use ideas of ‘the Family Firm’ to consider how the contemporary monarchy’s performance of Victorian-inspired, middle-class, ‘family values’ is a strategic project to distance the Firm from capitalist vulgarity. If this book argues that the very invisibility of the Firm’s social and economic power is its power, this chapter aims to make these relations visible. In sum, it pulls back the stage curtain of monarchy to understand what the Firm is today.
This chapter focuses on the ‘frontstage’ of monarchy and regimes of visibility in media culture. The royal image has always been mediated, and royal history is a history of representations in different forms. Queen Elizabeth II has reigned over rapid technological expansion and socio-political change. From the emergence of television, through tabloid newspapers and paparazzi, to social media and citizen journalism (processes related to democratisation), the Firm has consistently faced new challenges in public engagement with monarchy. We now, arguably, have more access to monarchy than ever before. This chapter is interested in the effects of this access. The chapter maps representations of monarchy from the Queen’s coronation in 1953, through other notable media/monarchy moments, including the Royal Family documentary (1969), It’s a Royal Knockout (1987), Princess Margaret’s and Princess Diana’s engagement with paparazzi cultures, the Netflix drama The Crown (2016–) and the development of royal social media accounts. What differences do particular media forms make to the (re)production of monarchy? And what challenges might these new media forms pose to royal representation? For example, how does royal representation play out when new media cultures offer increasing ‘intimacy’ with royalty, from live television to direct, public contact on social media? The chapter argues that the visibility of royal representations is carefully balanced with a paradoxical but co-dependent invisibility. The Firm cannot be too visible to public scrutiny, or it loses its mystique and its operations are unmasked. Therefore, visibility has to be tightly stage-managed and controlled.
National identities, sovereignty and the body politic
This chapter explores the relationship between the monarch and national identities. On 20 September 2014, in the wake of the Scottish Independence Referendum, the British broadsheet the Daily Telegraph’s front page was dominated by a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II in the grounds of her Balmoral estate in the Scottish Highlands, under the headline ‘Queen’s pledge to help reunite the Kingdom’. The photograph, entitled Queen of Scots, Sovereign of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle and the Chief of Chiefs, was taken as an official portrait of the monarch by Julian Calder. This chapter analyses the Daily Telegraph’s use of this image to explore how the Queen’s body becomes a site of symbolic struggle over particular discourses of national identities and citizenship during the Scottish Independence Referendum, embodying complex interrelations of ‘Britishness’, ‘Englishness’ and ‘Scottishness’. The historical context of the photograph is unpacked to consider the union of Scotland and England, the concept of the body politic, the figure of Leviathan and the relationship between the monarchy and the Highlands, in order to expose the meaning this gives to its specific use in the Daily Telegraph, and what this reveals about the infrastructures and systems of monarchy. This chapter presents the use of Queen of Scots by the Daily Telegraph as a moment when British hegemony is temporarily fractured by the independence vote, and representations of the Queen shift from banal to purposeful, regulated symbols of authority and historical legitimacy.
This chapter focuses on an ethnographic analysis of Poundbury, a 400-acre urban extension to the town of Dorchester in Dorset, England, built on Duchy of Cornwall land using the architectural principles set out by Prince Charles in his book A Vision of Britain (1989). Charles’s vision fundamentally rejects modernism, and Poundbury regenerates conservative, pastoral and neoclassical architectural styles. However, the chapter argues that Charles’s interest in town planning is distinctly politicised, and he brazenly links architectural trends to social and cultural figurations. Indeed, his vision of Britain seems to be concerned not only with the technicalities of architecture but also with the management of the citizens populating it. The chapter title, a play on Marie Antoinette’s (in)famous saying ‘let them eat cake’, illustrates the ways in which Poundbury (re)creates Charles’s version of a fantasy past mired by privilege. Using ethnographic data from my visit to Poundbury in July 2017, this chapter argues that the town stages a conservative, nostalgic understanding of monarchy based on relations of feudalism, imperialism, colonialism, pastoralism, pre-industrialisation, anti-urbanisation and classed, raced and gendered hierarchies. Simultaneously, Poundbury demonstrates how the Firm engages with capitalist wealth creation, as the Duchy of Cornwall is described in terms associated with corporate capital, particularly rentier capitalism. Charles and Poundbury can be interpreted as a microcosm of the Firm as described in this book: an anachronistic institution utilising contemporary media technologies, socio-political shifts and forms of capital accumulation; yet not willing to forgo historical privileges.
Masculinities, ‘philanthrocapitalism’ and the military-industrial complex
This chapter analyses representations of Prince Harry to consider the Firm’s relation to global military capital and ‘philanthrocapitalism’ (Littler, 2015). After returning from his second tour of duty with the Armed Forces in Afghanistan, in March 2014 Prince Harry launched the Invictus Games: an annual, international, multi-sport event featuring wounded armed services veterans. Invictus encourages veterans to ‘rise above’ injury, in an individualistic framing which configures the rehabilitation process as a solo sporting pursuit of ‘mind over body’. This self-determining ethos reflects not only the abdication of state responsibility for injured soldiers but also the neoliberalisation and financialisation of warfare in recent ‘corporate wars’ in the Middle East. The chapter demonstrates how Invictus, largely anchored to representations of Harry’s philanthropic, affable and liberal persona (modelled on his mother, Princess Diana) condenses and disguises contradictions around recent global conflicts, ambiguities in ideas around state responsibility and accountability, the role of corporate capital in these wars, and ideologies of ‘royal work’. I argue that as a royal figure symbolic of national identity, representations of Harry hold the possibility of reorienting the corporate war through discourses of national identity, and redeeming the ‘good soldier’ from a ‘bad war’ in producing consent for the ‘War on Terror’. Furthermore, the redemptive transformation of Harry, from ‘playboy prince’ to ‘philanthropic prince’ via ‘soldier prince’, maps on to the development of the military-industrial complex, shifting contemporary masculinities, and the role of royal philanthropy and ideologies of royal ‘work’ in representing monarchy as socially responsible and productive.
Kate Middleton, ‘middle-classness’ and family values
This chapter uses representations of Kate Middleton and the Cambridge family to consider how the Firm is reproduced through patriarchal, nuclear, conservative, heteronormative family values. Using the official Kensington Palace Instagram account as a key case study, this chapter argues that the Cambridges appeal particularly to (traditional) middle-class family values, drawing on representations of Kate’s supposed ‘middle-class’ background. This chapter suggests that the foregrounding of Kate’s ‘middle classness’ is a strategic move for the Firm to mask its hereditary privilege and distance itself from associations with greed, profligacy and moral ‘lack’, by appearing to open aristocratic cultures to the middle classes through a performance of accessibility and ‘ordinariness’. However, I argue that this openness is merely a gesture. In fact, representations of Kate and the Cambridges illustrate how the Firm is becoming even more remote through Kate’s indeterminate persona, staged photoshoots and complex relations between the Firm and the tabloid press. The Cambridges’ performance of ‘family values’ is particularly notable during a period of authoritarian neoliberalism, rising anti-gender movements, dynastic wealth and patrimonial forms of capitalism, which facilitate more conservative gender roles. Whilst this book argues that the Firm is reproduced through media culture, this chapter extends this to consider how the Firm is also dependent upon the biological reproduction of an heir. Kate is a contemporary configuration of the long-standing centrality of nostalgic heteronormativity and traditional gender roles to the reproduction of monarchical power, and indeed heterosexual reproduction is key to its ‘frontstage’: this is the heteromonarchy.
This chapter focuses on Meghan Markle’s introduction into the Firm in 2016, through to her and Prince Harry’s ‘resignation’ in 2020. Media and public commentary of Harry and Meghan’s wedding in 2018 seemed to position it as a feminist, post-racial, meritocratic utopia, as Meghan’s identity as a biracial, divorced, self-identified feminist American actor with a working-class background was seen to diversify the monarchy and illustrate its progressive values. If, as this book argues, royal figures serve particular purposes to reproduce the institution, this chapter reads representations of Meghan as a form of ‘diversity capital’, extending and diversifying the Firm’s markets. It discusses Meghan in terms of the ‘post-racial’, and how Meghan’s racialised identity is absorbed into ideologies about both localised progress within the Firm and inter/national multiculturalism. I expose these narratives as false, due to the Firm’s own histories of inequality and oppression, the current global context, and because Meghan’s initial absorption into the Firm was dependent upon her fitting white, upper-/middle-class norms of respectability. Using the colloquial reference to Harry and Meghan’s resignation as ‘Megxit’, a play on ‘Brexit’, I argue that public and media responses to Meghan are entangled in wider socio-political debates about race, nation, imperialism and nostalgia. Representations of Meghan confront the Firm with longer, complex, intersectional histories of racism, (post-)colonialism, voice(lessness), servitude, media and celebrity, genealogy, gender, feminism, capital accumulation, social injustice and inequalities. Rather than resolving royal histories through ‘progressive values’, representations of Meghan seem to have merely pulled these inequalities into view.
This chapter draws together the various themes in this book. It does so by exploring Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s emerging roles as ‘post-royals’, and how representations of the couple’s ‘post-royal life’ reveal ongoing tensions in the Firm. From the interrelations with commercialisation and corporate capital; the complexities of the media–monarchy relationship; associations with ‘the elites’; and notions of ‘value’, the chapter argues that Harry and Meghan’s exit from the Firm makes temporarily (and partly) visible the infrastructures, systems and processes through which monarchy is reproduced. That is, their exit disturbs the careful balance between visibility and invisibility in royal representations, and in so doing it threatens to rupture the ideologies that the monarchy relies upon. This moment of their exit holds the potential of being able to throw a more critical spotlight on relations that are usually kept masked. The postscript then reviews the book as a whole by arguing that the case studies explored have shown how the British monarchy invites us to think about wider issues of class, power, inequality, media culture, wealth, capital(ism), ideology, democracy, warfare, national identity, citizenship, belonging, land, gender, race, (post)colonialism and (post)imperialism. It concludes by arguing that monarchy matters because we cannot talk about inequalities in Britain, historically and in the present, without talking about the monarchy.