It attracted both sides of the Channel. If the British rush to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, France will not be left behind. The general French media, and not only the public press, provided extensive coverage of the death of the sovereign. How to explain this motivation? Why does the British royal family appeal to 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 find out about this event.
Franceinfo: Are the French as obsessed as they say with the British crown or is the French media overreacting?
Philippe Chassaigne: There is real interest from the French public. We see this in the audience of news channels. And it’s not from the past few days. Apparently the death of a queen who had reigned for seventy years was not anecdotal.
– France2ServicePresse (@France2_Presse) September 9, 2022
This interest seems to be linked to the fact that we have a republic that, in many ways, has a monarchical aspect. Finally, we project to our British neighbors this enthusiasm for a different political system, emphasizing questions of pageantry and ceremonial. The President of the Republic, in the message he sent to the British, said: “For you, she is your queen, for us, she is the queen.” The French, when we say “queen”, think of Elizabeth II. He is a kind of sovereign archetype, although there are others in Europe.
Why are the French so interested in the British royal family, more so than other European monarchies?
The golden centuries of Spain were the 16th and 17th centuries. For Britain, it was the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is closer to us in history.
“There will definitely be moments of tension, and we are living now. [avec le Brexit]. But in rare moments, like in 1914 or 1939, our two countries met each other.”Philippe Chassaigne, historian
Were 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 find that the French hastened to London to pay their last respects to the queen. For the British, there is an attachment, an embodiment. For us, the queen is more of an archetypal image. I am sure that on Monday, the funeral broadcast live on all channels will be followed by many in France.
But precisely, why this momentum?
Other monarchies are less dreamy, they don’t have the same depth of history.
“Elizabeth II reigned for seventy years. This gave her a diplomatic depth, she knew 15 Prime Ministers.Philippe Chassaigne, historian
Everything is also a matter of behavior. Since the reign of Victoria, the ceremonial has hardly changed. This may explain the fascination.
However, the longing for the royal family coincided with an Anglophobia in France…
This is because we clearly understand the difference between the monarch who rules and does not rule, and the government. Relations between France and Boris Johnson are not very good. The current Prime Minister, Liz Truss, was wrong to say that it was not clear 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 affairs. The one who bears the brunt of France’s anger, if any, is therefore the prime minister, not the sovereign.”Philippe Chassaigne, historian
Since Brexit, cultural relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union have deteriorated. The French are less likely to visit, study or work in the United Kingdom. Does 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. Above all, he continued to make official trips. So one can imagine that it spans geographical and diplomatic boundaries between the United Kingdom and the European Union, regardless of political tensions.
In France, in English class, all students have heard about the British monarchy. This is what most people remember about British culture. In school, when we learn a language and some elements of civilization, we first combine the elements that we think everyone knows them. If one is interested in a foreign country, clichés are interesting, because they make it possible to crystallize the attention, especially in college or among young people. And for England, the royal family is a good way to get them interested.
“Elizabeth II is probably better known than the Beatles, she says something to everyone.”Philippe Chassaigne, historian
Can this also explain the interest in the history of France, a country that beheaded its king? Are we nostalgic for the monarchy?
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 has a Republican Guard, the President lives in a palace…
“Even in the republic, the French are used to a presidential ceremony that is no stranger to a monarchical ceremony.”Philippe Chassaigne, historian
So the transposition can be easier. But France remained a republic and the French were included in it. This political culture has been rooted in our country since 1958.
Confirmed by Stéphane Bern at Review of both worlds : “If the British royal family is so popular in France, it is because it embodies this symbolic power that can unite an entire people and in which we feel orphaned.” Do we envy the UK the way the monarchy brings people together?
In France, the presidential figure is not the type to create a consensus set in stone. That is the difference between a monarch and a president. In Great Britain, by contrast, the crushing majority was for the continuation of the monarchy. So yeah, I think it’s a unifying element. The republican movement, opposed to the monarchy, was also small across the Channel. At most, no more than 20% of Britons call themselves Republicans.
To last, has the royal family changed? Has it adapted to modern times?
When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne, it was the time of the paperweight. At her coronation in 1953, she agreed, because her husband insisted, that the ceremony be televised. Then, it moved to documentaries in 1969. Then to multimedia with the opening of the royal family’s website. The monarchy is also on Twitter. Furthermore, the queen’s death was first announced on Twitter, before being more formally announced on a poster placed at the gates of Buckingham Palace.
The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon.
The King and The Queen Consort will stay at Balmoral tonight and return to London tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/VfxpXro22W
– The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) September 8, 2022
In the royal family, there are disputes, deceptions, reconciliations, scandals… but in a luxurious setting. Is it this mix of the ordinary and the extraordinary that excites us?
The royal soap opera is a type of dallas to the British. There is the unpacking of dirty laundry between Prince Charles and Diana, and then Princess Anne divorcing and marrying her lover… In the next generation, there will be a real or perceived separation between Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, or between two brothers William and Harry. In France and the United Kingdom, the royal soap opera sold tens of thousands of copies. It increases the sales of Match in Paris, Point of view, and so on. This is holy grail for the tabloid press.