UCL News


Prince Andrew: Six lessons for modern monarchy

6 December 2019

Keeping the monarchy small and allowing minor royals the means of escape are among six key lessons for a modern monarchy, outlined by UCL’s leading constitutional experts.

Buckingham Palace gates

The conclusions are drawn from a new book The Role of Monarchy in Modern Democracies, about the constitutional monarchies of Europe, to be published next year. The research is timely given Prince Andrew’s recent withdrawal from public life and speculation that Prince Charles might reduce the number of royals when he succeeds to the throne.

Lead author Professor Robert Hazell (UCL Constitution Unit) said: “We put our royal families on a pedestal, and expect them to be models of good behaviour – something we do not seem now to expect of the politicians who are our real rulers. But one of the many paradoxes of monarchy is that this seemingly unaccountable institution, based upon heredity, in practice has proved to be quite closely accountable.”

The comparative study looked at seven other constitutional monarchies in Europe, in addition to the UK. This included Scandinavian monarchies of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the Benelux countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, Spain and the UK. 

Drawing from his upcoming book, Professor Hazell outlines his six key lessons for a modern monarchy:

Lesson one: Keep ‘The Firm’ small. 

The greater the size of the royal family, the greater the risk that one of its members may get into trouble and cause reputational damage; and the greater the risk of criticism about excessive cost and too many ‘hangers-on’. 

The UK Royal family is relatively large at 15 members, in comparison to others. The Norwegian royal family consists of just four people: the King and Queen, Crown Prince and Princess. However, the UK population is more than ten times that of Norway and needs a larger royal family to fulfil all the demands for royal patronage and visits.

Prince Charles has been reported to want to strip down the royal family to just himself, his children and their wives, and his grandchildren. If there were just six adult members available for public duties, they would have to scale back significantly the number of patronages they accept and engagements they undertake. 

Lesson two: Be wary about trade missions. 

Prince Andrew has been at the centre of controversy before over his role as trade envoy - over his close links with the rulers of Kazakhstan and with the financier David Rowland

Similar difficulties have arisen with other monarchies. The most serious consequences were in Spain, where King Juan Carlos helped the Spanish government to win a seven billion euro high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia. Continuing (but unproven) allegations that Juan Carlos received kickbacks on the deal have been very damaging to the monarchy, and were part of the reason for his decision to abdicate in 2014. 

Lesson three: Be wary about fundraising.

All royals are expected to help with fundraising for the organisations of which they are patrons and all the European heirs apparent have charitable foundations. Few have endowments sufficient to fund all their operations.

The Prince’s Trust raises at least £60 million a year to fund its work with young people, and Prince Andrew’s flagship project Pitch@Palace relies on commercial sponsors.  To raise large sums for their charitable work, the royals need to cultivate the rich and wealthy.

The royal family needs to develop guidelines for fundraising, to ensure their charitable activities are not compromised by money from dubious sources.

Lesson four: Keep tight control of royal PR.  

All royal families can suffer PR mishaps or disasters.

King Carl XVI Gustaf incurred fierce criticism back in Sweden when he made complimentary remarks about his hosts on a state visit to Brunei.  Crown Princess Máxima of the Netherlands (originally from Argentina) attracted controversy over seemingly innocuous remarks about Dutch identity – in a country where royal communications are managed not by the Palace, but by the Office of the Prime Minister.

One consequence of Prince Andrew’s BBC Newsnight interview is that all royal households are likely be subject to greater PR control - with the exception of Clarence House, where the Prince of Wales has greater autonomy.

Lesson five: Understand better the plight of the minor royals and allow them a means of escape.

Royals lead lives of great privilege, but lack fundamental freedoms such as: freedom to marry whom they like, free choice of careers, the right to privacy and family life which ordinary citizens take for granted. 

The strict rules on marriage have caused grief to a number of young monarchs including Sigvard Bernadotte, a young Swedish prince who had his title revoked for marrying a commoner. In Britain, Princess Margaret, the Queen’s younger sister, was not allowed to marry the man she loved, Group Captain Peter Townsend, because he was divorced.

There are, however, very few cases of royals deliberately opting out of the royal family in order to pursue their own career or to gain more of a private life. This might be because of their strong sense of public service but it might also be because of insufficient recognition that an alternative path is open to them. 

Lesson six: The monarchy is accountable, just like any other public institution. 

Following his Newsnight interview, Prince Andrew has withdrawn from public duties, relinquished his patronage of 230 organisations and seen his office removed from Buckingham Palace. But this is not an unusual case.

King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. The Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde of Luxembourg had to abdicate because of her conduct during the First World War – during which she became too close to the occupying German forces. King Leopold III of Belgium abdicated over his failure as commander in chief in the Second World War and refusal to follow his government into exile.

Most recently, King Juan Carlos of Spain abdicated in 2014. Opinion polls showed that two thirds of Spaniards felt he should leave the throne over corruption scandals and controversy over the King going on an elephant hunting trip while Spain was suffering austerity.

Professor Hazell concluded: “Modern monarchies are continuously held to account, in a range of different ways. Our monarchs in the UK are regulated by law, subject to public funding and the scrutiny of the media.

“The monarchy may seem the very antithesis of a democratic or accountable institution, but ultimately, continuation of the monarchy depends on the continuing support of the people.  Despite recent controversies, support for the monarchy remains high in all countries with polls regularly showing that between 60 and 80% of the people wish to retain the monarchy.”



Media contact

Natasha Downes

tel: +44 20 3108 3844

E: n.downes [at] ucl.ac.uk