Modernizing the monarchy? Reforms mooted: The royal family does not define its own position in the British nation.

August 29, 1996

MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of the story or leak or trial balloon that the British royal family is studying reforms calculated to bring it into modern life and greater favor with the British people. But none of the reported proposals is for the House of Windsor to decide. In Britain, the elected House of Commons is really sovereign. The political establishment decides the place and role of the monarchy, not vice versa.

The next election is expected to put the Labor Party back in power. While it is the repository of what republican sentiments exist, Labor has been respectful of the monarch when in power. It might want to reduce costs, and would listen sympathetically to the palace's recommendations along that line. It would not depose the queen.

The report was that a think tank within the House of Windsor presided over by Queen Elizabeth II, her husband the Duke of Edinburgh and their eldest son the Prince of Wales is considering modernizations. These could include doing away with the "civil list," a salary to royal family and retainers. That might entail restoring the revenues to the family from the crown lands, reversing a swap made in 1760. Another idea is to define the royals as a nuclear family, putting idle cousins to work.

Other ideas: End the preference for a male heir to the throne. End the monarch's titular headship of the Church of England. End the prohibition of the royal heir marrying a Catholic (no mention being made of other religions). The unstated corollary is that the church's objection to remarriage by the monarch should jTC no longer matter. Prince Charles would be free to marry his mistress and succeed to the throne.

All this may sound like getting rid of anachronistic clutter. But it could symbolically end the position of the Church of England as the established church of the realm. Britain is a pluralistic and not very church-going country, but its national history is intertwined with that of the church.

These ideas are better calculated to start than to end controversy, which may not be what the royal family has in mind.

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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