Royal wedding: A new generation to fly the flag

Prince William and Kate Middleton leave the wedding of their friends Harry Mead and Rosie Bradford, October 2010

The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton is another sign that the British royal family has steered though its sea of crises and can, for the moment, look forward to calmer waters.

For now the attention is on a young couple - and the prospect of a future heir and perhaps a spare. Normal service, it seems, is being resumed.

Not that the royal problems are over. They never are. But the nature of the problems could change.

In recent years they have often been personal.

In future they might be constitutional. An activist King Charles III could test to the limits the unwritten rule that monarchs have the right to be consulted, to advise and to warn - and the responsibility to keep quiet.

There is also a lot of problematic legal stuff about the monarch having to be a practising Protestant and not marrying a Roman Catholic.

And there is the question of the right of females to be equal in the line of succession.

Like the country itself, the Royal Family has had to learn that its role is more modest. It will carry on with its public duties at home - the props to its popularity - and will sally forth on visits abroad. But gone are the days when the Queen sailed the seven seas in her own ship.

'Unlikely to become a republic'

British diplomacy still deploys the Royal Family - it's very useful with other monarchs, in the Middle East especially. But you cannot fashion a diplomacy on it.

Image caption The abdication of Edward VIII - absorbed by the monarchy

Nor, despite the best efforts of the Queen's second son to bang the drum for British exports, can you base your trade on it. The Germans and the Chinese do very well, simply by making things people want.

The British monarchy therefore is adapting, just as it always has. That is why Britain is most unlikely to become a republic.

The monarchy has avoided revolution in the same way that the country has - by adopting evolution. Examples: the ruling house blithely changed its name in the First World War from the German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the invented and English-sounding Windsor.

It absorbed the abdication of Edward VIII. It has tried to forget the support George VI gave to the appeasement policies of Neville Chamberlain (as did the recent film about George and his stammer, The King's Speech).

It has even accepted divorce. It tottered briefly in its tardy response to the death of Princess Diana but the skill of the Queen herself eventually saw it through.

It is probably no coincidence that monarchies have survived where democracies have thrived. There are royal families in countries with the most impeccable modern democratic traditions - the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Britain.

Why is this? Probably, because in these places, the monarchs were disempowered but left as figureheads. The real business of society was and is done by the people. The rest is for show. And on 29 April it will be quite a show.

Paul Reynolds is a former BBC royal correspondent

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