The British Monarchy has always had a dark side–but in recent years a lot of the public has been willing to ignore that out of a deeply-rooted respect for Queen Elizabeth II. But now that she’s passed, there’s less shielding the series of cover-ups and disturbing stories that paint a different picture of a larger family and culture. Not only are younger Brits are feeling more comfortable speaking out against the crown or criticizing those in power, but the Queen’s death is ushering in a new era of the royal family, one that is more vulnerable to criticism. So, with their matriarch gone, how long can the rest of the family go without a scandal they can’t come back from?
The British Monarchy has always had a dark side–but in recent years the public has more often been willing to ignore that out of a deeply-rooted respect for Queen Elizabeth II. Now that she’s gone, so is her poised facade that shielded a series of cover-ups and disturbing stories.
Younger Brits are feeling more comfortable speaking out against the crown or criticizing those in power–a trend we’ve seen amongst newer generations globally–and the Queen’s death is ushering in a new era of the royal family, one that is more vulnerable to more criticism.
“Prince Andrew has failed in his bid to get a civil case which alleges that he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl dismissed by a U.S judge.”
- BBC News
From the wild and murderous history of Henry the 8th to the abdication of King Edward VIII, the monarchy is no stranger to controversy, yet even as the royal family has modernized–some of its scandals are more brutal than one would expect.
The Crown‘s recent focus on more tumultuous periods of royal drama and the royal rumble started by Harry and Meghan’s departure certainly haven’t helped uphold the once pristine image the world had of the British monarchy. Here’s our take on how a long, unsavory history got the royal family here–and how the public’s perception of royal scandals are changing drastically with the loss of their matriarch.
“My biggest concern was history repeating itself / And when I’m talking about history repeating itself, I’m talking about my mother.”
- Prince Harry
CHAPTER 1: NO MORE PAPERING OVER THE CRACKS
A major element in the royal family’s ability to avoid public scrutiny has been their relationship with the press–and that relationship has been symbiotic.
But the cracks in the once impenetrable ‘Royal media machine’ have been showing – even before the Queen’s death–and it looks like it will only get worse.
Shows like The Crown, plus a number of documentaries concerning the royal family,
have ignited new interest and brought more attention to scandals that may have once been covered more politely by the media. The newest season covers one of the family’s darkest times in recent history–the 1990s–when their public approval was at a dangerously low point
But this is far from the shadiest thing the royal family should worry about the public paying attention to.
“The Royal Family is in genuine crisis.”
- The Crown
Most notoriously in recent years, Prince Andrew–who has been linked to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, as well as racking up sexual assault allegations of his own, has been dominating royal headlines. The family has repeatedly come under fire for continuing to allow him to keep his job and royal titles despite these transgressions.
Many have alleged that the family have used their friendly relationship with the tabloids to get the British press to go soft on Andrew for years, while the same tabloids attacked Meghan Markle with openly racist headlines. In fact, Prince Charles recently hired the deputy editor of the Daily Mail as his head of communications. Yes, that’s the newspaper that Harry and Meghan sued for bullying her (and won).
That job–head of communications for the Royals–is a busy one, because so much of it involves smoke and mirrors. Just this year it was revealed that King Charles had accepted ‘bags full of 500 euro notes’ for his charities. The same week, the Palace quickly released a story about the King meeting his granddaughter, Lilibet, for the first time as an attempt at distraction.
“Now, what’s the best way to react to a partygate scandal? Apparently, according to the royal family, it’s throw a massive fucking party that’s paid for with taxpayer money”
- wavyute, Tiktok
But while in earlier generations, things like affairs may have been easier to keep a lid on, today even Prince William’s perfect-seeming marriage has been the subject of public scrutiny. It’s long been rumored that Prince William had an affair with his wife’s close friend, Rose Hanbury. When a blind item was released about the prince’s sexual proclivities, Twitter was set ablaze–something you’d think the royals can’t control like the press. Still apparently, when people would mention the affair, their tweets and articles would quickly be removed. This got shrewd members of the public once again wondering whether the royals were involved in silencing people. The Daily Beast reported that at least one British publication had been served with legal warnings after publishing details of the rumors. William and Kate have even been accused of sending the press after Meghan and Harry as a way of keeping their own names out of the papers.
The public is starting to notice and take issue with the royal control of the press–and the criticism will likely continue to mount, as Prince Charles is much less discreet than his mother.
He has already gotten on the wrong side of the British press on many occasions. Without the media on his side–especially right now when the UK is facing a cost-of-living crisis–the royals are more vulnerable to the press’s attitude: they can choose to scrutinize Charles’ wealth and how he uses it or leave the topic relatively untouched, like they did with Queen Elizabeth.
“While we’re struggling to heat our homes, we have to pay for your parade. The taxpayer pays 100 million for you, and what for?”
So, what else was glossed over by the press during The Queen’ssomewhat quiet reign?
CHAPTER 2: A HISTORY OF HARM AND NEGLECT
The royal family’s lack of interest in protecting its newest member, Meghan Markle, seemed shocking to some–but the monarchy actually has a long history of harm and neglect toward its own members–frequently valuing their image over their own flesh and blood. One of the family’s darkest personal secrets concerns the tragic tale of two of the Queen’s cousins. Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon were Elizabeth’s first cousins on her mother’s side. Both were born with learning disabilities, and in the 1940s, they were committed to a hospital, where they remained for the rest of their lives. Despite being members of the British aristocracy, Nerissa and Katherine were forced to live in squalor–in an overcrowded, unsanitary hospital with no visits from the royal family. Their mother even declared them dead in the 1960s–despite the fact that both were still alive. It’s theorized that the sisters were hidden away in case anyone attributed their severe learning disabilities to ‘bad blood’ - and undermined the Queen’s lineage as a result–which would be an incredibly ableist move from the royal family.
“Five members of our close family, locked up and neglected.
What do you expect us to do?
Behave like human beings.
Don’t be so naive.”
- The Crown
The callous attitude and emotional neglect displayed between members of the royal family reinforces that in many ways, the shiny veneer of the monarchy is deemed more important than the living people at the heart of it.
The most famous example is the case of Princess Diana. Diana and her mistreatment by the family is the focal point of the newest season of The Crown. The mistakes they made in handling the divorce and untimely death of ‘The People’s Princess’ being put on display no doubt dredge up those feelings of distrust and disapproval that echoed for the monarchy throughout the 90s. Rumors have even gone so far as to suggest that Diana’s death was intentional–coordinated by the family itself.
This lack of protection extends to women outside of the family, too. In the 1940s, Prince Philip met British actress Pat Kirkwood at a nightclub and they were photographed dancing together. She was hounded by the press for the rest of her life, after it was assumed the pair were having an affair. Kirkwood was reportedly furious that the royal family didn’t do more to protect her from the wrath.
And then, when Meghan Markle joined the family, she was met with hatred and vitriol. The royals didn’t defend her–even when the British press bombarded her with racist headlines and pinned her and her sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, against one another. In their explosive Oprah interview, the couple even claimed that Prince Harry’s own family members were bigoted and insensitive toward his new wife. Harry likened the treatment to that of his own mom–and the conversation also raised the problem of the history of racism the royal family has perpetuated for centuries.
CHAPTER 3: A LONG, RACIST PAST
It’s not possible to talk about the Royal family’s racism without discussing colonialism. The Queen’s death itself reignited conversations around the subject and took issue with the mourning of ‘a colonizer’. Her death has also inspired countries around the world with British colonial histories–that are still bound to the monarchy even symbolicly through Commonwealth–to rethink their arrangements and make concrete steps towards breaking ties.
Whether it’s on social media or in foreign government buildings, there are calls being made for the monarchy to reckon with its colonial, racist past.
“After reigning for 70 years one of the things that she never did was apologize for the atrocities of colonialism.”
- CBS News
While many members of the family claim that the family aren’t racist. ‘We’re not a racist family,’ says Prince William. But it’s not that simple) and King Charles has apologised for Britain’s role in the slave trade, calling it an ‘atrocity’. An apology does little to change the fact that their power is inherently built on a racist history.
“I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many.”
- Prince Charles
As The Crown explores, it’s also long been minimized that the Queen’s uncle, Edward VIII (who abdicated in 1936), visited Nazi Germany in the run up to the second world war, and shared state secrets with the German and Italian side. In 2015, the UK’s Sun newspaper even released footage from the Royal family’s private archives of a young Queen Elizabeth II, performing a Nazi salute with her uncle.
While this might all sound like ancient history, the problem is that its repercussions–and remnants of the colonial attitude–have carried over into the family’s behavior in modern times. While Prince Harry is all about social justice now, back in 2005 he was photographed at a costume party wearing a Nazi uniform, and was quoted in 2009 using racist slurs when on tour in Afghanistan. The Queen’s first cousin, Princess Michael of Kent wore a brooch depicting a racist stereotype to meet Meghan Markle for the first time, and was quoted telling a group of diners in a restaurant to ‘go back to the colonies’. Prince Philip made numerous racist, ableist, and sexist comments during public engagements throughout his tenure–normalizing this sort of ‘old boy’ demeanor that even Charles seems to have somewhat adopted, despite growing up in a later generation. He’s been caught making his own, openly racist blunders, and it seems wild that such a high profile role is now held by someone who has that kind of attitude.
CHAPTER 4: THE EXCESS OF POWER
The years of colonial rule…the control over the press…the buried scandals…all of these issues–that the public is rightfully starting to raise criticism over–stem from an excess of power. The fundamental underpinning of a monarchy means that the royals are privileged beyond anyone else in Britain. But now, the future of the monarchy is in question as many wonder what purpose they serve, what they even really do that isn’t serving their own interests.
“When people look at you and Diana, they see two privileged people, who through good fortune have ended up with everything one could dream of in life.”
- The Crown
The royals are supposed to be politically impartial; they’re not even meant to vote–but the reality is that they frequently have the ear of politicians. The Crown portrays the monarch’s traditional weekly meetings with the Prime minister. And while much of this may be innocuous or well-intentioned, there are well-documented cases of the family overextending its political reach. In February 2021, the family made sure that their land in Scotland would be exempt from new green energy laws. In fact, an investigation by the Guardian found the Queen and Charles had secretly intervened in the creation of thousands of laws.
“That’s the way we do things in this country… quietly”
- The Crown
The fact that their enormous paychecks are paid by the British taxpayers makes this all the more contentious. Back in the 1970s, the family skirted a UK law to make sure sure their wealth would be exempt from scrutiny–which means we have no idea exactly how wealthy they are. From what we do know, the family is worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Despite this, in 2010, the Queen asked the government to use a poverty grant–reserved for hospitals, schools and low-income families–to heat Buckingham Palace.
And though some of the royal interests have been positive–like the fact that Charles has been campaigning for the environment for decades (long before it became a matter of public interest)–he still seems to be backtracking from his mother’s veneer of neutrality toward behaving like an old school monarch who declares it’s his way or the highway.
No family is perfect. But most families aren’t taxpayer funded, either. The United Kingdom is facing a new wave of difficulties–from political unrest and strikes to ballooning inflation–and younger members of British society are voicing their disinterest in the continuing future of the monarchy.
“If there were ever a movement to abolish the monarchy it would be now”
- dumbbirthtree, Tiktok
The royals will need to make serious changes, and work hard at proving their worth–and their humanity–now that the Queen is no longer around to shield them from their dark past. Hopefully, for their sake, King Charles can usher in a new era for the royals–one without lies, affairs, scandals or abuse–because the world is certainly watching more closely.
“For years, I’ve called for a more modern monarchy that reflects the world outside.”
- The Crown