Why the French love the UK royals

The warm welcome to the British royals at the D-Day celebrations might almost make one think the French were royalists.

THE WARM welcome extended to the British royals at the D-Day celebrations might almost make one think the French were royalists. In fact that would not be far from the mark, argues Frédéric Rouvillois, the author of several books on French society*.
He told SAMANTHA DAVID he detects a nostalgia for the dignity of royalty as compared to the ‘over normality’ of French presidents

WRITER Frédéric Rouvillois would like to see the French bring back their monarchy - and claims there are plenty of other French people who share his view.

“As we saw at the anniversary of the Normandy landings, the British royal family are incredibly popular in France,” he said.

“I think this is because they represent something that French people miss; family life, stability, an unflinching attitude to life.

“The British royal family are always unruffled, the Queen is nice with everyone, she demonstrates that the true aristocracy is not snobby, authoritarian and difficult to please. She is gracious with everyone, rich and poor, left and right, north or south. She has nothing to prove; and because the entire family is royal, it gives a feeling of unity and continuity.”

He said, though, that the British royals are especially loved as compared to the royals of, say, Denmark, Belgium or Spain.

“The heroic behaviour of the British during the world wars forged enduring links between the two countries and between the French and the British royal
family - who changed their name to show their solidarity with the Allies and who stayed in London and took the same risks as the British population. These things are not forgotten,” he said.

He added that on July 14, he would be remembering that the events of the start of the Revolution, like the Storming of the Bastille, originally led to the setting up a constitutional monarchy.

Before that, he said, Saint Louis’s Day on August 25, was the nearest thing to a National Holiday - dedicated to Louis IX (the only canonised king of France), in honour of royalty in the days when the kings had almost “godlike” power.

Today, he said, the French president has more actual power than the British Queen but appears less regal, even though he is also a head of state. “That is very present in the minds of the French - both Sarkozy and Hollande disappointed people and didn’t behave as leaders should.

“In any case French presidents are only ever elected by one section of the population but a monarch represents everyone, and is brought up to be head of state. Our presidents are more or less ‘nouveaux riches’, not bornto-lead aristocrats. Monarchs know their destiny from the start so they know how to conduct themselves. But what have we got? Sarkozy insulting people in the street and Hollande riding round on a scooter to see his girlfriend: showing a complete lack of dignity, a lack of class.”

He added: “I think it’s good the Spanish king has abdicated in favour of his son. There was a replacement in the wings ready to take over and it shows that royalty are ready to be flexible to adapt to new situations.

“Now that we all live such a long time, I think we’ll see monarchs abdicating and retiring more often. That’s not a bad thing. Why shouldn’t they enjoy a happy retirement? Being a monarch is hard work.”

The new baby for Monaco’s royal couple is “very good for the country,” he said. “The Monégasques have really welcomed the news. It will boost commerce, tourism, give free advertising in terms of TV coverage and secure the future of the Principality. Who could ask for more?”

He would love to see a royal family return to France, he said.
“I think people of all sorts would like it. It would be reassuring, stable, and supplies a solid centre to life in France.

“It’s hard to say exactly how many people agree because most don’t even think about it but some polls appear to show that perhaps even the majority would like to see them back. However seeing as our presidents are so disappointing, I think that increasing numbers of people are considering the idea.
We could have a French monarch with no real powers, like the UK one, or perhaps a more active monarch like we see in Morocco, only with more democratic processes in place - or something in between.

“There are two branches of the French royal family, and both are legitimate in their own ways.”

*Frédéric Rouvillois is the author of Une histoire de la politesse, Une histoire du snobisme and Crime et Utopie, all published by Flammarion.

Photo: tsaiproject-CC