Why Even Anti-Royalists Have Reason to Celebrate Will and Kate

  • Share
  • Read Later
Joe Klamar / AFP / Getty Images

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh travel in a Semi-State Landau carriage along the Processional Route to Buckingham Palace, after the wedding service, in London, on April 29, 2011.

Technically, it was an act of treason. Britain's Treason Felony Act of 1848 forbids subjects of the queen from calling for the abolition of the monarchy. The law is no longer enforced, which is good news for the several dozen Brits in central London on Friday who placed a Queen Elizabeth II impersonator in the gallows with a sign on her head saying "Best Before: Circa 1700."

The mock imprisonment was part of the "Not the Royal Wedding Street Party" hosted by Republic, a campaign group that wishes to replace the monarchy with an elected head of state. The 14,000-strong group wants to strip the Queen of her remaining "prerogative powers," such as the requirement that parliamentary bills have her formal assent before they become law, and her ability to disband the British Parliament and the legislatures of several Commonwealth countries (which her acting Governor General in Australia did in 1975 after the prime minister refused to call a general election). And it's seen the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton as an opportunity to push its agenda forward.

Talk of revolution and mock gallows aside, the Republican street party was hardly a Cromwellian affair. Unlike the army of Oliver Cromwell, which briefly overthrew the monarchy in the 17th century in two bloody civil wars, these rebels were a jovial, good-humored bunch. Cucumber sandwiches were served, a face-painting artist made the rounds, and a band jammed in the middle of the street.

"Republicanism today is a slow-moving movement," said Silvia Carter, 65, a stage director in London. "We aren't radicals. We understand that the abolition of the monarchy might take 40 or 50 years, but it will inevitably happen."

If turn-out is any indication of interest, however, the movement may have to wait longer than that. Hundreds of thousands of Britons took to the streets around Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey to cheer the royal couple on Friday. Republic's rival fete attracted only around a thousand people, according to the group. But far from sulking like the losing side of a nationwide popularity contest, many at the party claimed that the massive royal wedding would paradoxically boost their cause by exposing the absurdity of Britain's antiquated political system.

"The more scrutiny we can place on the royal family the better," said David James, 27, who pointed to references in the British press of Kate Middleton as a "commoner" because she does not come from a royal lineage. "The whole idea of noble blood — of a class of people intrinsically superior to the rest — is antithetical to a democracy, and this wedding will help expose that."

Republic was not the only outfit enjoying some irreverent anti-monarchy protesting on the royal family's big day. The liberal British newspaper The Guardian allowed digital readers to join the rebel cause by signing up to send the couple one of three gifts: a home-assembly guillotine kit, keys to an exile's apartment in Elba (the Mediterranean island to where Napoleon was exiled) and a biography of Charles I (the monarch beheaded by Cromwell).

And the sentiment stretches beyond Britain. Republic was joined at its street party on Friday by representatives of anti-monarchy movements in Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. On Saturday, this Alliance of European Republican Movements — as the group calls itself — will hold a conference on how to mobilize European populations against the vestiges of absolute rule in what is now the world's most democratic continent. "We had a similar situation in Sweden when our royal married a non-blue-blood," says David Hesslefors of the Swedish Republican Association, referring to the marriage last year of Princess Victoria of Sweden to her personal trainer. "But such distinctions can only help expose the absurdity of a situation of having a hereditary head of state."

Hesslefors says William and Kate's large following among Brits will draw attention to the monarchy, which he believes cannot survive under continued scrutiny. "British Republicans are lucky that William and Kate are so popular," he adds, before pausing. "Or at least that's the theory."