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The modern-day relevance of the British monarchy

Prince Harry, sixth in line to the throne, will marry American actress Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle next weekend. As the wedding approaches, royal commentators say it marks a moment to consider the monarchy’s relationship to the British public in the present day. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    At Buckingham Palace this young couple are tapping into the air of romance undoubtedly sweeping Britain, as Prince Harry prepares to marry American actress Meghan Markle.

    Constitutionally this wedding has no significance, as Harry is now sixth in line to the throne after the birth of three children to his brother William and his wife Kate.

    But royal commentators see the ceremony at Windsor as a reaffirmation of Britain's abiding commitment to the institution of monarchy.

  • PETER HUNT:

    I think if you look at William and Harry, I think you can't overestimate the strength of the link the people feel they have to them because of their mother, because of Diana.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Peter Hunt spent many years covering the royals for the BBC and understands why Harry is the most popular member of the family, after the Queen.

  • PETER HUNT, FORMER BBC ROYAL CORRESPONDENT:

    I think there is a searing moment in the sort of British psyche with the funeral of Diana when we witnessed those two then-young boys, 14 and 12, walking behind their mother's coffin. And those words, or that word, on the wreath on top of the coffin "Mummy" written by Harry. I think that is deep within people's psyche.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    The polling firm YouGov has occasionally tested public opinion to determine whether Britain's loyalty to royalty is a myth or not. And political director Tanya Abraham says the numbers are consistently strong.

  • TANYA ABRAHAM, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, YOUGOV:

    Around 7 in 10 have a positive opinion of Princes William and Harry and also Kate. What we can see from this is the impact of the younger royals is having some of kind of resonation with the public. And this can be seen through their charitable work. The way they're with the public when they're interacting.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    But those numbers tell a different story to historian Anna Whitelock who suspects the tide may be about to turn.

  • DR. ANNA WHITELOCK, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON:

    This is an institution that is essentially anachronistic. It belongs to a bygone age. And at a time when the big institutions are being questioned you know but have seemed to promote merit over privilege and birth. The monarchy seems to be very much at odds with that. But I think out of an enduring sort of reverence and respect for the Queen those big debates have yet to be had.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, WINDSOR CASTLE:

    There's no doubt that Meghan Markle has some sprinkled some Star-Spangled glamour on the ancient royal house. But the courtiers and advisers who tries to make sure that the monarchy remains relevant in an ever-changing world are hoping that the glister of Hollywood matures into something more substantial.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Harry and Meghan's marital home will be a sumptuous 21-room apartment in Kensington Palace where Princess Diana once lived.

    And this is Richard Kay who was Diana's confidante before her death in Paris in 1997. He thinks Meghan's entry to the royal family is a positive development.

  • RICHARD KAY, DIANA BIOGRAPHER:

    I think it'll be a good thing as long as they've worked it out, as long as she can adjust and live by the rules of the monarchy. I mean Harry's mother was not an American, but she couldn't cope with the pressures of being a Princess and the marriage didn't last. We all hope that this one works out.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    But in Brixton, South London,residents are more consumed by what's known as the Windrush scandal, a political storm that has just consumed Britain and made many people of colour concerned that immigrants are no longer welcome. The Windrush was a ship that brought West Indians from the Caribbean to London in 1948.But some people whose parents arrived on the ship have been deported as illegal immigrants because their documentation was destroyed.

  • IESHA NELSON:

    There's a photo of him.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Iesha Nelson feels totally alienated, The scandal has affected her personally.

  • IESHA NELSON, BRIXTON RESIDENT:

    The monarchy, the wedding. Lovely. It's nice for him but right now, there's a lot going on out here, apart from this wedding, which is, I would like to get married but they removed my partner two years ago. And I've been left with four children to take care of, lost my job. He hasn't met his last child, which is now one and half, and everyone wants you to think about this wedding when our lives are being crushed. It's disgusting.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Such hostility is not shared by Trevor Watson who works in a government ministry handling welfare benefits and pensions.

  • TREVOR WATSON, CIVIL SERVANT:

    I'm in favor of the monarchy. I'm not a Royalist, but I'm in favor of the monarchy. And it works. I'm a socialist by nature. Um, I'd like to see things more equaled out.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Enjoying the spring sunshine not far from Buckingham Palace, Tom Irving takes a slightly different view .

  • TOM IRVING, TECH STAFF RECRUITER:

    I believe that the monarchy can be a unifying force that transcends religion, race, gender etcetera throughout British society. However, at the same time, I think it should only act as a figurehead, and nothing more. Political influence and financial gain from the British people are things that are completely outdated.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    It is inevitable that one day in the not too distant future, the standard flying over Buckingham Palace will be lowered to half staff for Queen Elizabeth II, who is 92 years old.

  • DR. ANNA WHITELOCK:

    In an age of modern media, social movements can get a head of steam very very quickly, and I can imagine you know there can be a push on social media that suddenly says 'you know, do we want Charles to be crowned? I mean we see how these social movements move, and that's why I think we just don't know what's going to happen, in 5, 10, 15 years when the Queen is no longer with us.

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