Does America Have Crown Envy?

The American public – especially women – has long been fascinated by foreign royalty, and this interest only seems to increase with each new generation of royals. Why are we so obsessed, and how deep does this obsession go?

By Hana Tilksew3 min read
Getty Images/Princess Diana Archive/Stringer

As legend has it, near the tail end of the Revolutionary War, officers of the Patriot army made an offer to George Washington: to make him the first king of the United States. If this urban myth is true, his refusal made it possible for America to be established as the democratic republic it is today. But what if General Washington had accepted, becoming King George I of America? 

Our Royal Hyperfixation

The jarring truth is America may not have looked as unrecognizable as we imagine with a king at its head. Despite our lack of a reigning family (the KarJenners certainly don’t count here), many traditions and norms we’ve accepted in the U.S. are very much royal. 

Of course, America isn’t Great Britain or Bhutan or Thailand – we don’t have monarchical coronations, queen consorts, or state weddings. We do, however, have elaborate inaugurations, publicly active First Ladies, and First Daughters who get married at the White House. In what other republic is each new president sworn in with a parade through the capital and several formal balls that go late into the night? Where else is a First Lady expected to champion a public cause, the same way that the Princess of Wales champions her Early Years initiative, or Queen Rania advocates for literacy education in Jordan? Our Founding Fathers may be rolling in their graves because America seems to be suffering from a serious case of crown envy.

America was born from a monarchy, and that may be why we still cling to these ideas today. After all, no royal house – not the Bourbons of Spain, the Hashemites of Jordan, nor the Yamatos of Japan – can seize American fascination quite like the Windsors of Great Britain. Maybe it’s because we speak the same language, or because some of our very own have joined their ranks (Wallis Simpson, Meghan Markle), but the British royals are held in particularly high esteem by Americans. According to a Gallup poll cited by NPR, King Charles enjoys a popularity rating of 46% in the U.S. (higher than any American politician in the poll), while his son and heir William’s popularity sits at a staggering 59% – even higher than Volodymyr Zelensky’s.

It’s clear from these numbers that the American psyche yearns for something we will never have: an apolitical figurehead. A head of state’s role is to embody the personification of a country and its identity. Queen Victoria understood this, referring to herself with the royal “we” to communicate that she was Britain, and Britain was her. In a nation with no monarch, the issue is that the head of state must be political – there’s simply no one else to fill the role. 

A head of state’s role is to embody the personification of a country and its identity.

But rather than acting as a unifying figure who represents the continuation of a nation’s legacy, a politician acts in the interest of themselves and their agenda. This is seen clearly in President Biden, who swore throughout his campaign that he would be a president for “all Americans,” yet has only continued the divisive rhetoric that politicians are known for. As it turns out, people whose power hinges on public approval tend to lie. Who would have guessed?

Besides the practical use of royals, we’re also fascinated by them because we, as human beings, are nosy. We like to splatter celebrity drama across the front page of every magazine, and trail the secrets of public figures’ lives. Drama is even more appealing when it’s shrouded in mystique, and no institution is as closed-off as a monarchy. Following the family feuds and personal tragedies of those who usually seem untouchable behind the red tape of castles and crowns proves itself a thrilling hobby for many: An estimated audience of 23 million watched Princess Diana’s 1995 bombshell TV interview as it aired, and as of December 2022, Harry and Meghan’s tell-all docuseries was Netflix’s most-watched documentary ever. Books like Finding Freedom and The Palace Papers, chronicling the family’s inward turmoil, become New York Times bestsellers. Opponents of the monarchy may insist that the royal family is obsolete and irrelevant in the modern age, but in many ways, they make more headlines than ever.

America’s Royals

The problem with crown envy is that we tend to attempt treating it with denial, rather than acceptance. Instead of reconciling with the fact that we will never have royals, Americans try to create pseudo-royals of our own. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Where men are forbidden to honor a king, they honor millionaires, athletes, or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes and gangsters.” And if you happen to think that real royalty is a waste of resources and press attention, just wait until you see the fake kind! 

Instead of reconciling with the fact that we will never have royals, Americans try to create pseudo-royals of our own.

Chelsea Handler, frequently lauded online as a “queen” by the left, advocates for widespread abortion – not exactly as regal a display as Hereditary Prince Alois of Lichtenstein using his constitutional veto power to strike down the proposed legalization of abortion in his principality. And how could we forget the Kardashians, who are often hailed as America’s ruling dynasty? As it turns out, our domestic replica is a little pitiful in comparison to the real deal.

Get Over It, America

Tiara-toting foreigners will always be a fixation for us, and in the case of those like Queen Elizabeth or Prince Alois, they should also serve as inspiration. But in order for America to come to terms with its crown envy, we must accept that we will never have royals, and stop treating politicians and celebrities as such. To be born royal is an immense privilege, but it also comes with a heavy responsibility to your subjects; a burden that we can’t trust presidents and television figures to take upon themselves. 

Trying to recreate an institution that’s fundamentally steeped in tradition, duty, and belief in the divine is a pointless aim in a country that’s abandoned all three in the last century. If we really want to bring a little bit of the royal magic to the U.S., we should start by restoring these principles. Still, who could blame us for fantasizing a little about a royal House of Washington? If anyone has complaints, feel free to take them up with George.

Support our cause and help women reclaim their femininity by subscribing today.