Harry and Meghan Harry and Meghan. Photo: Northern Ireland Office / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The latest revelations about the toxic royal family will add to the growing feeling that it’s time to be rid of the monarchy, argues Terina Hine

It is impossible to ignore the latest spat in the royal household. Whatever side you pick, it is undeniable that Harry and Meghan have provided a timely sequel to Netflix’s drama The Crown, and the public are lapping it up.

The Harry debacle has stollen headlines all week, topping the ratings of all major news websites. His memoir Spare has become the fastest-selling non-fiction book ever, recording 400,000 sales on the first day alone, taking the No.1 spot on Amazon UK’s bestseller chart before it was even released. With sales like this, the book is set to remain a top-ten bestseller throughout year.

Apparently, the public has taken sides in the house of Windsor vs the house of Montecito. Twitter and the gutter press have risen to the challenge and are predictably full of vindictive racism and sexist tropes. Jeremy Clarkson’s vile contribution was offered up in a pre-Christmas special for The Sun.

Those with more humanity find themselves sympathising with the exiled royals. The painful story of rejection and grief, and the family’s icy response to childhood trauma resonates widely, and disgust with the racism received by Meghan at the hands of both family and media is widespread. This royal ‘unconscious bias’ was reinforced by Lady Susan Hussey’s ‘deeply regrettable comments’ in November. Clearly the House of Windsor is full of racists and bigots.

But then came the Afghan kill count. At first sight, this was a shockingly crass and deeply unpleasant boast, and if the context shows he has some doubts in retrospect, it still reveals the troubling attitudes into which he was born. Along with the description of his ‘blood facial’ where he plunged his head into the carcass of a deer following his first kill on the Balmoral estate, Harry leaves us in no doubt he is true to his blood line after all.

Timing his broadside perfectly, as the crown transitions between monarchs, Harry began his campaign with an Oprah interview, moved on to a Netflix docuseries, and now has gone in for the kill with his well-trailed book.

Since the Queen’s rehabilitation, following the crisis over the death of Diana, the former monarch had managed to hold this anachronistic show together. She was rewarded for the longevity of her reign by a level of popularity and respect unlikely to be replicated by her heir. Charles is far less popular than his mother, and the institution of the monarchy has less support among the younger generation than the old. Harry’s intervention will hardly help.

The enforced mourning and pomp of the funeral, the overhyped Queue and the endless personal anecdotes broadcast over state media, were intended to shore up the institution for the next generation. But thanks to the $100 million Netflix deal and $20m book deal, Charles’ reign has begun with a rather inauspicious start.

A rotten institution

Let us be honest, little if any of Harry’s revelations are new. The details may be graphic but the knowledge that the royal family and those who serve it are selfish, nasty and cruel is hardly news. The family has history after all.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Albert, heir to the throne after his father, the future Edward VII, was the subject of salacious gossip. In her private correspondence even his grandmother, Queen Victoria, referred to his lifestyle as debauched. But Albert died in 1892, so the crown eventually passed to his more sober younger brother, George V. The next major scandal came when the Nazi loving Edward VIII (the late Queen’s uncle) abdicated and was exiled, then protected by both state and family from accusations of treason. Then there was Diana, the bitter divorce, her death and the badly handled funeral. More recently there’s been Andrew, the Queen’s favourite son, with his predilection for Pizza Express and teenage girls.

Now we are witnessing a further royal drama, another exiled Windsor washing the family linen in public. But does it matter, or is this just part of the fairy tale? A wealthy, celebrity family, providing the public with stories of feuding princes, wicked stepmothers and scheming courtiers?

As each successive generation of the Windsors is rocked by scandal, a small chink is knocked from the royal armour. This chipping away at the mystique of monarchy may feel a slow process for eager republicans, but as the vestiges of deference fade and the divine right of a king reigning over us sounds increasingly ludicrous, the republican cause advances.

And advance it must. Don’t be fooled by those who claim the monarchy is benign, providing the public with escapism, a celebrity a soap opera, and a lucrative tourist attraction. The monarch has huge wealth, the family are major landholders with status, power and authority that transcends its affluence. The scope of the monarch’s influence has been well rehearsed by John Rees and Chris Bambery, but suffice it to say it permeates all aspects of the British state: the military, the political, the economic and the cultural.

The ruling class invest great importance in the monarchy. It is an institution which more than any other gives cover to our deeply unequal, class-based society. The absurdity of its rules and arcane behaviour has been laid bare and now it really is time for this hereditary system to end. With any luck this latest tirade by the fifth in line to the throne will be more than a personally lucrative public counselling session, it will also help dig the grave of an institution whose death knell is long overdue.

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