As a Brit with a traditionally hyper-aware consciousness of the class system, I tend to view Americans’ excitement with our Royal Family with complicated emotions. I entirely understand the fascination and I often indulge in it myself (Go Fug Yourself are mostly to blame here), yet I remain steadfast in my belief that the entire establishment should be gotten rid of and replaced with something more representative and democratic.
Oddly, I hold this opinion while still browsing Tatler with horrid fascination and reading basically every royal romance that comes my way. I’ve seen The Prince and Me at least 12 times. I even hunted down the gloriously trashy William & Kate TV movie Lifetime made, which gave me new levels of delight, mostly for the ways the crew tried to pass off Los Angeles as St Andrews. If a romance contains a girl, a guy who’s actually a prince and lots of angst over royal duties, the chances are I’ve read it, am currently reading it or waiting for enough cash flow to justify buying it from my Amazon wish-list.
So what is it about the entire trope that’s so appealing, particularly to someone who would happily see the entire concept of royalty done away with? Many of the alluring elements are present in other romance genres, yet do nothing for me in those contexts. For example, I usually find myself intensely uncomfortable with billionaire romances, or stories where the hero displays obscene levels of wealth. When these heroes display angst over the burden of expectations that accompany their fortunes, I tend to respond with mocking more than sympathy. Yet I wholeheartedly embrace the stereotypes in the royal context.
Everyone loves a hero burdened with emotion, be they the uber-tortured alpha or a less intense yet no less appealing beta. The obligations of duty form a sizeable chunk of any great historical romance with a duke (which is a pretty big percentage of the genre) or noble Highlander (another hefty portion). Being born into this system creates what is often seen as an inescapable agony, because let’s be honest, abdication is never an option they’ll go for.
Said lifetime commitments also carry with them the allure of privilege and wealth, and the more often than not small town woman who enters this world through romance will never have experienced such things before. It’s one hell of an alluring prospect, even for committed lefties such as myself: Elegant balls, fabulous fashions, the cream of the crop, and you have an exclusive invite to it all.
One of the great appeals of the royal romance can also be found in billionaire hero stories – the promise of lifetime security. Never worry again about job hunting, paying the bills or uncertainty over your future: Marry into royal life and all of that will be taken care of you, with the fabulous addition of access to top tier diamonds.
There’s a thrill in these tales regarding the infiltration of the upper classes by the unsuspecting commoner. As someone who’s had brief glimpses into this world through various contacts, it’s a moment that elicits a web of entangled emotions: Fascination, disgust, confusion, irritation, a desire to learn more, and intense awareness of one’s own standing in the greater system. Given how much of the UK is run by this lot – particularly government, culture, justice and media – it’s not hard to find joy in stories where one of our own makes it to the top and tells all.
While the central romance in royal stories has its own appeal, I tend to be more invested in how the relationship itself effects the wider world and the people closest to the lovers. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, which is essentially really well executed AU William and Kate fanfiction, offers a sturdy, impeccably researched and entirely believable glimpse into the ramifications of a commoner dating a royal, particularly for her family: The mother is mocked for perceived social climbing, the sister adored by press but quickly turned on and smeared as a waster, and all of them interrogated for what is seen as their invasion of a world they don’t fit into.
Overall, I’m not sure my republicanism and love of royal romances can entirely be explained. Perhaps it’s just hypocrisy, or maybe it’s a way for me to explore my own class anxieties in a safe, sweet and comforting context. While writing this article, I saw pictures of William and Kate with their kids on a ski trip and had the typical grumble about wastes of taxpayers’ money and their irrelevance beyond photo-opportunities and filling column inches. In another tab, I had Amazon open on The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne. Hypocrisy it is!