Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Brushes with Royalty

August 26th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t start a major in social anthropology: I’m utterly fascinated by the tiny, perhaps insignificant intricacies of the way people live in Britain today. What interests me most is not necessarily the greater consequences of large immigrant populations or the history of the development of the city, but the subtle differences between British and American dialects of English and the life of a British school child.

After touring Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London today, I found myself wondering about the contemporary relationship between the British population and the Royal Family and nobles. From what I can gather, the main function of the Royal Family these days is to supply the tabloid newspapers with more scandals and fashion reports, and the real importance of the monarchy remains in the past. However, the fact that the monarchy doesn’t have any political role these days doesn’t keep the pomp and circumstance in check: there were millions of pounds of jewels and gold in the Tower of London which are still used today for official ceremonies. Of course, many of these jewels are from an earlier time, so it’s not as if there are thousands of British taxpayer pounds put into a Royal jewelry fund each year (I assume), though I do wonder what the average Brit thinks of all this formality that seems merely left over from an earlier time. Stereotypically, the Brits seem to have a reputation of being reserved, and the behavior I can see on the Tube, for example, confirms this. Yet the tremendous amount of money, glitz, commemoration, and ceremony put into these old traditions doesn’t seem to equate to the British stereotype. Every case in the Tower of London Jewel House sparkled and every inch of the wall and floor of Westminster Abbey was covered with inscriptions and monuments to royals, nobles, and academics passed. The British seem to like their preservation of history, which is all well and good, but I wonder about the origins of their apparent love of ceremony and honor as well, and how these traditions from ages past fit into the lives and minds of contemporary Londoners.

Tags: Chelsea · Churches and Cathedrals · Museums