I got asked this a while ago, but forgot about it until now <sorry>.
The British Government of Ark Royal agrees, loudly, with Douglas Adams – the job of the Royal Family, in their view, is not to wield power, but to distract attention away from it.
The King is the Head of State, but not the Head of Government (that’s the Prime Minister’s job.) His role is purely ceremonial. The King opens Parliament every year, where he is expected to make a speech, but the Prime Minister is the one who writes it. The King may be expected to sign laws into effect, but he is not allowed – officially – to register any personal feelings about it. He attends ceremonies, such as knighting … but knighthoods and other awards go to people chosen by the government …
In short, the king’s main role is to look good.
The Royal Family – at least the immediate members – grow up in a gilded cage. On one hand, they are raised in incredibly luxury; on the other hand, they have very little privacy and almost no hope of a normal life. As children, they charm the nation; as teenagers and young adults, they are expected to set a good example … they really don’t have any freedom of choice, even in the small things. (This is true of the modern-day royals too.) Marriage is almost always arranged for them, with – if they are lucky – a small selection of potential partners rather than being deprived of choice completely.
Thanks to the Troubles, the Prince of Wales – the first in line to the throne – is always the oldest male child. His brothers hold the next places, followed by any sisters they happen to have. (Right now, the firstborn child is first in line to the throne.) This is a deadly trap – the Prince of Wales is being trained for a single thankless job, but it is one he can only have when his father dies. (It must have crossed Prince Charles’s mind that he might never be king at all.) Trying to find a role outside waiting to be crowned was hard before the Troubles, but harder still now.
The British public, according to the media, has an insatiable appetite for news about the royals. They do not have the privacy protections enjoyed by the commoners, let alone the genuinely powerful aristocrats. Reporters hound them everywhere outside the palaces, with their every little mistake splashed across the datanets. The princesses, in particular, have a very rough time of it – they get hounded for putting on weight, losing weight, showing too much, showing too little … they can’t win. As in the modern world, this has produced a number of deeply flawed individuals.
In short, it’s like a real-life Truman Show.
Prince Henry was meant to go into the navy, spend some time in a largely meaningless role, gain a honorary rank and a nice uniform … and nothing else. Instead, he rebelled and demanded a place in the starfighter squadrons. (One could argue that part of him was hoping he would be killed in an accident, as this was before the war began.) His handlers were strongly opposed to anything that might put his life at risk, but they found themselves outmanoeuvred when he threatened to leave the Royal Family for good. They reluctantly agreed to let him join the training course – under an assumed name, another of his conditions – in the hopes that he would retire before he actually had to fight.
As it happened, the war did break out. Henry insisted on remaining on active service and was assigned to Ark Royal, at least in part, to give him the best possible chance of survival. (In some ways, his handlers were more annoyed that he wasn’t serving publicly, as this would have let them prove that royalty was sharing the risks.) His success during the war gave him enough clout, with the Tadpoles as well as humanity, to get the position of Ambassador … and a post for him and his family, a very long way from Earth (and the media.) It also gave him enough of a salary to maintain himself without the need for royal funds.
That was, in some ways, the crux of the problem facing Henry (and Prince Charles). If he left the monarchy, supporting himself financially would be difficult. Would he still be on the Civil List? The government would probably be unwilling to pay him for doing nothing. He certainly wouldn’t fit too well into civilian life. Getting a salary for genuine work made a very real difference.
Henry maintains that he is no longer in the line of succession and that his daughters were never born into it. The British Government is keeping its options open. On one hand, there’s no real objection to a queen; on the other, the question of who Henry’s sister marries turns nastier if she’s first in line to the throne. And on the gripping hand, there are racial question marks over Henry’s children. There is something to be said for keeping the problem quiet.
Thankfully, many of the problems facing the pre-Glorious Revolution monarchs are no longer a concern. There are few true monarchies outside Britain – Japan is the only major power with a royal family – and marrying into the royal family doesn’t bring any real power. (It does bring position, but that comes with a high cost.) The eugenics practiced by the aristocracy, where there is a push to marry talented commoners, don’t apply to the royals.
But, on the other hand, it really is nothing more than a gilded cage.