This week the History Society was privileged to host Robert Lacey, who discussed depictions of the British monarchy in media, fiction and academia, across the last two hundred years.

Robert Lacey is an eminent historian and serves as historical advisor to the Netflix series ‘The Crown’, where he tries to ensure that the show remains as true as possible to real events whilst still retaining its dramatic edge.

Lacey began by examining the fundamental paradox of a traditional monarchy existing the 21st century world, and asked us to consider how this institution continues to ‘exercise such a hold’ and provide such appeal for so many. He argued that this was achieved not only by the monarchy increasingly opening itself up to people, but also by being perceived as an ‘ideal’ family.

For example, he illustrated how the Golden Jubilee of 1809 was used by King George III to share the monarchy with the people and celebrate this institution in the midst of increasing European political turmoil. Whilst other European nations, most notably France, had overthrown their monarchy, in Britain George III remained widely popular. Indeed, Lacey even suggested that the whole concept of royal jubilees was ‘intended to represent the marriage between the monarch and their people.’

He also explained that the monarchy increased its popular appeal by being seen as a model family, both under Queen Victoria, who used photography to reinforce this theme, and under George VI. Lacey suggested that the experience of the royal family during the Second World War (in which the future Queen Elizabeth served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service) ‘reinforced the legitimacy of this ancient institution.’

An audience of Eton and partner school pupils were delighted when Mr Lacey explained some of the secrets of his trade as an historical advisor to ‘The Crown’, and we thank him for an entertaining visit.