why does the British royal family fascinate so many French people?

why does the British royal family fascinate so many French people?

It fascinates on both sides of the Channel. If the British rushed to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, France is not left out. The general French media, and not only the people press, give wide coverage to the death of the sovereign. How to explain this enthusiasm? Why does the British royal family fascinate the French more than the Spanish, Belgian or Monegasque monarchies?

Franceinfo interviewed Philippe Chassaigne, a historian specializing in the United Kingdom and the royal family, to decipher this phenomenon.

Franceinfo: Are the French as fascinated as they say by the British crown or are the French media doing too much?

Philippe Chassaigne: There is a real interest from the French public. We see it with the audiences of the news channels. And it’s not from the last few days. Obviously, the death of a queen who has reigned for seventy years is not anecdotal.

This interest seems to be linked to the fact that we have a republic which, in many ways, has a monarchical aspect. Finally, we project to our British neighbors this fascination for a different political system, which highlights questions of pageantry and ceremonial. The President of the Republic, in the message he sent to the British, said: “For you, she was your queen, for us, she was THE queen.” The French, when we say “queen”, think of Elizabeth II. She is a kind of archetype of the sovereign, even if there are others in Europe.

Why are the French so interested in the British royal family, much more than in other European monarchies?

Spain’s golden centuries are the 16th and 17th centuries. For Britain, it was the 19th and early 20th century. It is still closer to us historically.

“Certainly there have been moments of tension, and we are living one right now. [avec le Brexit]. But in great moments, like in 1914 or 1939, our two countries found each other.”

Philippe Chassaigne, historian

at franceinfo

Are the French affected in the same way as the British by the death of Queen Elizabeth II?

They may not be affected in the same way. But we saw that the French had rushed to London to pay their last respects to the queen. For the British, there is an attachment, an embodiment. For us, the queen was more of an archetypal image. I am sure that on Monday, the broadcast of the funeral live on all the channels will be followed a lot in France.

But precisely, why this momentum?

The other monarchies are less dreamy, they do not have the same historical depth.

“Elizabeth II reigned for seventy years. This gave her a certain diplomatic depth, she had known 15 Prime Ministers. The advantage of sovereigns is that the longer they reign, the more important moral authority they have.”

Philippe Chassaigne, historian

at franceinfo

Everything is also a matter of decorum. Since the reign of Victoria, the ceremonial is almost immutable. This may explain the fascination.

However, the craze for the royal family coincides with a certain Anglophobia in France…

It is precisely because we have clearly understood the difference between the monarch who reigns and does not govern, and the government. Relations between France and Boris Johnson were not very good. The current Prime Minister, Liz Truss, was misguided to say that it was unclear whether France was an enemy or a friend.

But in France, we know very well that prime ministers come and go and the sovereign remains.

“The monarch is not involved in day-to-day political activity. The one who bears the brunt of French hostility, if any, is therefore the prime minister, not the sovereign.”

Philippe Chassaigne, historian

at franceinfo

Since Brexit, cultural relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union have deteriorated. The French can less easily visit, study or work in the United Kingdom. Did the queen represent one of the last bridges between our two countries?

Elizabeth II has never expressed her point of view on entering or leaving the European Union. She was above all that, she continued to make official trips. One could therefore think that it spanned the geographical and diplomatic border between the United Kingdom and the European Union, regardless of political tensions.

In France, in English class, all the students hear about the British monarchy. This is what many remember about British culture. At school, when we learn a language and some elements of civilization, we will first favor unifying elements which we can assume that everyone knows them. When one is interested in a foreign country, the clichés are interesting, because they make it possible to crystallize the attention, in particular at the college or with young people. And for England, the royal family is a good way to get them interested.

“Elizabeth II was probably better known than the Beatles, she says something to everyone.”

Philippe Chassaigne, historian

at franceinfo

Can this fascination also be explained by the history of France, a country that beheaded its king? Are we nostalgic for the monarchy?

There is no nostalgia, but since the Fifth Republic, it has been said that the president is a republican monarch. There is still a whole ceremony. He does not travel in a golden carriage, but there is the Republican Guard, the President lives in a palace…

“Even in the republic, the French are used to a presidential ceremonial which is no stranger to a monarchical ceremonial.”

Philippe Chassaigne, historian

at franceinfo

Transposition can therefore be done more easily. But France remains a republic and the French are attached to it. This political culture has been rooted in our country since 1958.

Stéphane Bern asserted in the Review of two worlds : “If the British royal family is so popular in France, it is precisely because it embodies this symbolic power capable of bringing together an entire people and of which we feel orphaned.” Do we envy the UK the way the monarchy unites the people?

In France, the presidential figure is not the type to create a consensus set in stone. That’s the difference between a monarch and a president. In Great Britain, on the contrary, the crushing majority is for the maintenance of the monarchy. So yes, I think it’s a unifying element. The republican movement, opposed to the monarchy, is also minor across the Channel. At most, there have never been more than 20% of Britons who called themselves Republicans.

To last, has the royal family been renewed? Has it adapted to modern times?

When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne, it was the era of the paperweight. At her coronation in 1953, she agreed, because her husband insisted, that the ceremony be televised. Then she passed to the documentary in 1969. Then to multimedia with the opening of the royal family’s website. The monarchy is also on Twitter. Moreover, the queen’s death was first announced on Twitter, before being more formally announced with the poster posted on the gates of Buckingham Palace.

In the royal family, there are disputes, deceptions, reconciliations, scandals… but in a luxurious setting. Is it this mixture of ordinary and extraordinary that excites us?

The royal soap opera is a kind of dallas to the British. There was the unpacking of dirty laundry between Prince Charles and Diana, and then Princess Anne who divorces and marries her lover… In the next generation, there are the real or supposed estrangements between Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, or between the two brothers William and Harry. In France and the United Kingdom, the royal soap opera sells tens of thousands of copies. It boosted sales of Paris Match, Point of view, etc. It’s holy bread for the tabloid press.

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