How important are the Royal Family to the idea of Britishness today? That’s one of the questions raised by a set of coins which go into circulation in the UK on March 1st 2018. The Royal Mint has launched a series of new ten pence pieces– 26 in all, created to form an A-Z of British life in the 21st century. They’re described as ‘Quintessentially British’ and two of the designs are directly linked to royalty (of course, the Queen features on the reverse of all the new coins). But what do the regal picks in this line up say about the role of royalty in modern life? And how much do the Royal Family matter to the concept of being British in 2018?
The A-Z features plenty of the things you’d expect people to say if asked to name something really British. T is for Tea, U is for Union Flag and C is for cricket. The royal mentions comes towards the middle of the alphabet where we find J for Jubilee and K for King Arthur. That, according to this bit of social history, is where royalty fits into the concept of being British in 2018.
Let’s start with J for Jubilee. We’ve had several of these celebrations in recent years, all marked with events designed to bring the country together. There’s no doubt that milestone moments for the Queen do have a unifying effect. There were huge turnouts for all her Jubilees and even an unofficial landmark, the moment she became the longest reigning monarch in British history, drew big crowds and led news programmes for the day. But do they sum up for you the idea of being British?
Moving on to K we meet King Arthur (he lost the A slot to the Angel of the North), the ruler whose tale is acknowledged by just about everyone to be more myth than man. The Tudors claimed to be descended from him while Queen Victoria had a bit of a thing for the Arthurian revival of the 19th century. But while we presume a king from years gone by must be related in some way to our own royals, there is absolutely no evidence to link Arthur to anyone who’s been king or queen since his own times. Which means the other royal nod in this countdown is a legendary king who may have inspired royals of years gone by but who is actually, most likely, nothing to do with any of them.
Which brings us back to how much our actual Royal Family and its history matter to the idea of being British today. There’s no doubt that the stories of Arthur and his court at Camelot are well known and loved but does their inclusion in this A-Z, ahead of more recent royal histories like that of the Tudors who reckoned he was their granddad, show that the actual royals aren’t as integral to our national identity as we might think?
The inclusion of jubilees might suggest otherwise and the carriage design on the J coin could be taken as a wider nod to all things royal. After all we associate it with events other than jubilees with carriage processions starring in weddings, State Visits and ceremonies like the Order of the Garter. It could be a neat way of summing up the role of monarchy in modern life although personally I would have gone for R for Royalty and left the robin who got that letter on his snowy gate alone. But ultimately, does the inclusion of one modern symbol and a ruler whose tale has been elaborated over hundreds of years really show that royalty has a big part in modern British life? Or are a few mentions all that’s needed in 2018?
I’ll leave the answers to you. Those outside the UK might well associate royalty more with the concept of being British than those living here. So how important do you think the Royal Family and their regal history is to the idea of Britain today?