'Just like our family’: Royalty, national identity, heritage and tourism

Catherine Palmer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


The most persistent and recurring descriptive definition of the British monarchy is that it is a family, The Royal Family. Over the year’s countless books, articles and television documentaries have all reinforced the notion that, despite its constitutional significance, pomp and pageantry the monarchy is primarily a working family. Albeit of a type far removed from the experiences of the majority of the population. If, as many argue, the family is the cornerstone of the nation then the nation’s figurehead is the Royal Family, both because it is so visible and because it is promoted as being representative of the nation. The Queen and other members of the Royal Family represent ‘us’ the nation in many different ways both internally and externally. They are ‘our’ representatives on State occasions and on numerous Royal tours of other nations and regions in the world. They may have to undertake difficult and to some distasteful activities on ‘our’ behalf, for example, entertaining the former Rumanian head of state, President Caucescu. A ‘family’ is something almost everyone can relate to and this is so whether an individual’s personal experiences of family life are positive or negative. Even within the political arena ‘the family’ is a hugely contested phenomenon with politicians disagreeing about what a family is, how it is defined and the extent to which it should be accorded a special status in the nation’s life. The international political arena is similarly preoccupied with the idea of family; for example the European Community is likened to a family of nations. This focus on family is interesting because it is almost always presented as being an ideal state, supportive and safe, where members look after and out for each other, hence the superficial attractiveness of ‘a family of nations’. Yet the reality may be very different as illustrated by such as divorce statistics. Yet despite this ‘the idea of family’ retains a powerfully imaginative hold over people because of what it is deemed to represent. The idea of family is an important, but as yet under researched factor in understanding the ‘pull’ of Royalty. Even before Buckingham Palace was opened up to the public gaze the tourism industry relied heavily upon the idea of Royalty to attract overseas visitors to the UK. Primarily to London and the Southeast but not exclusively so, for example the Royal Estates in Scotland attract significant visitors in their own right. So what is it about the notion of family generally and this family in particular that is so powerfully appealing? One response to this question can be found in the interrelationship between the idea of family and the idea of nation. Within nationalist psychology a key factor in the perpetuation of a nation is the ability of individuals or groups to recognise themselves as a nation, as a community of common descent. What Balandier (1972) refers to as an ‘entourage of relations’. Within the context of the Royal Family, this chapter will explore the ways in which an idea of family is employed to create and maintain a sense of national cohesion. Indeed, it will be argued that a ‘royal family’ is a more potent symbol of nationness than the actual monarch because of its potential to represent the universal kinship ties that bind a nation together. Significant related concepts will also be examined. For example, the whole notion of kinship and its relationship to nation building, ritual recognition of ‘ordinary’, familial symbols of family, constantly evolving and contested definitions of national identity, Britishness and Englishness and the tourism industry’s use of and reliance upon royalty as a marker of nationness.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoyal tourism: excursions around monarchy
EditorsP. Long, N. Foster
Place of PublicationClevedon, UK
PublisherChannel View
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9781845410803
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008

Publication series

NameTourism and cultural change

Bibliographical note

© 2008 Channel View


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