Over a millennium’s worth of influence

Screenshot of Twinings English Breakfast tea, one of my go-to brands, on Amazon, with a close-up view of the Royal Warrant

The British monarchy just can’t seem to stay out of the news lately, between tell-all books, rumours about Prince William’s sexual preferences and elaborate ‘cabinet’ shuffling.

For 70 years, Queen Elizabeth II epitomized the power and subtle glamour of an institution that’s been around for about 1200 years. The entire system was founded on the idea that a certain person was chosen by God to rule. That affirmation from the figure who held the highest clout possible, over the universe itself, invested kings and queens with a mystical authority that was extraordinarily powerful in the minds of their subjects. And even though monarchs have been great and awful, fought amongst each other, been deposed and beheaded, the mystique still holds to this day. How many foreign heads of state have stated how awed and intimidated they’d been to meet QE II?

Her death in September was a major quake in global history, and she left enormous shoes to fill for her children and grandchildren. Whether they’ll be able to without collapsing the institution remains to be seen.

Although there have been regular calls for a dissolution of the British monarchy, a decision to do so would create profound ripples through not only the fabric of Britain but around the world. And it would be much easier said than done. The British government would have to call for a referendum among the British public, and assuming the public endorsed eliminating the monarchy (which polls from several months ago suggest won’t be happening any time soon), Parliament would then have to pass legislation. After that, Britain would need to designate a new head of state, which is not the Prime Minister (at least not in the current split system).

Beyond that, the economy would take quite a hit. Royal events have brought enormous profits to all kinds of businesses. Hubby and I were in London briefly in February 2011, just a couple of months before the wedding of William and Kate, and commemorative items were already in shop windows all over the city. The Queen’s Jubilees were celebrated both in England and abroad, by fans who held their own parties and bought the supplies to do so. Thousands of people travelled to England just for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral.

The influence of the British monarchy is pervasive, from the little crowns topping signposts in parks to the many officially-approved official suppliers to the royal household. And those aren’t just in Britain itself – companies like Heinz, Quaker, Kellogg’s and Bacardi have also been royal favourites.

All in all, 686 businesses held Royal Warrants, i.e. brands officially endorsed by Her Majesty. With her death, all of those have become obsolete. So now what?

It turns out that all of those businesses, from small shops to massive corporations, have to reapply for their warrants. They’ll be allowed to use the Royal Arms in their marketing for up to two years, but if they don’t have a successful bid to get new warrants, all that enormous free publicity from the royal seal of approval will disappear. It’s been estimated that, in total, the British monarchy provided a £193.3 million annual boost to the economy in the UK alone, including the granting of royal warrants, and that small companies might experience as much as a 5% increase in sales just for having such an endorsement. That would be some serious cash to lose, and I imagine that all of the warrant holders are scrambling to get their applications in.

Our culture tends to look for approval by others before we make purchases, from product and service reviews (on sites like Trip Advisor), to the number of stars a potential recipe has received, to reviews on a book we might want to download from Amazon), to opinions of friends and family to consumer reports. We want some advance assurance that we’re not wasting our hard-earned money. And that assurance of quality is exactly what the Royal Warrants have been providing.

I’m not an avid Royal fan, but I’ve always been fascinated by the complexity, tradition and pomp that have accompanied monarchies throughout the centuries. When they’ve been deposed in the past, it’s often been with fervour and drama – the fall of despotic Roman Emperor Nero; the horrific French Revolution; the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie; the forced abdication of Puyi, the last emperor of China.

As a writer, there’s a lot of material throughout history of different kinds of rulers – their foibles, styles, relationships, and panoply – to pull from when I’m creating characters for my novels. In Book 2 of my Chaos Roads trilogy, still in the hands of my beta readers, there’s a tyrannical empress named Hepira who terrorizes her subjects in inventive ways. I make a lot of notes from history, current events, the famous and the everyday. Most of them doesn’t appear literally in my writing, but their influence is there nonetheless. And that allows me to feel that I’ve brought authenticity to the stories I tell to you.

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