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Royal History: What Price Kings? Justifying the Cost of Monarchy

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Toronto, 1939. Source: Wikimedia Commons

February 10, 1951 - World War II has long been over, but it seems the British Royal Family is still reeling behind its penny-pinching days. DeWitt Mackenzie, AP Foreign Affairs analyst, can reveal that King George VI is really finding it difficult to make ends it, at least by royal standards. The King's financial situations have really gone so bad that the government "has had to boost his allowance a bit."

The King receives L410,000 a year. During the war years, that would have been worth a little over $2 mn. However, the economic depression nearly halved its value. Likewise, the King has to pay for the upkeep of other members of the Royal Family. While that may sound quite a big income, keeping up the king’s palaces and castles "and all the other trappings that go with the monarchy, including golden coaches with prancing white horses" may prove too much for his coffers to bear.

Thus, Mackenzie raised these questions: "What price royalty? What is the value of a monarch superimposed on a government headed by a prime minister who is the real chief of state?"

The Monarch symbolizes the ties that bind the far-flung domains of the British Commonwealth. It's not the government or the Union Jack that glue all these countries together, but the throne. Mackenzie further explains there is more to the King than sitting as a mere ceremonial figure head. To his people, the King stands "as the symbol of British ideals and way of life." And to think that he himself is not immune to financial difficulties makes his subjects feel that he is indeed one of them.

While prime ministers and cabinets do come and go, the King remains on his throne until the end of his life. When he dies, the home secretary will have to salute his successor with the centuries-old words: "The King is dead, long live the King."

"As a constitutional monarch, the king has no authority to interfere with government," writes Mackenzie. But that does not make him powerless or lacking influence. His Majesty remains the fount of wisdom and more often than not, his prime ministers and Cabinet would seek his words over sensitive issues which they have to tackle. Credit is due to the rigorous training an heir undergoes, which includes an intensive study "of the different branches of the Commonwealth and their peoples."

But should a sovereign ever interfere in the affairs of his government?

It was a common occurrence in the past. In fact Queen Victoria would always make her ideas known to her ministers. Edward VII and George V also did the same. In fact, King George had his own way of thinking. In fact, during the violent days of the General Strike in 1926, the first of its kind in England, warned his home secretary to go easy. In blunt words, he said: "I will not have my people manhandled," in reference to the government's tough actions against the strike. Although this action was considered above the king's constitutional duties, the government took heed of his words.


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