The Royals on E! is a portrayal of a modern, fictional British royal family. In real life, the duties of royals includes opening new buildings, smiling for cameras and, of course, looking fashionable doing so. Sans the cameras, centuries ago the royals could actually care less about public duties whilst relishing in their own passions and desires.
Take George IV, for example. Desperate to get the crown – and the crown’ s finances – as Prince Regent, he laid ground for an era of Jane Austen-esque opulence. He had a penchant for buildings, creating exotic sites such as the Royal Pavilion and laying the foundations for what would become the seat of the Monarchy – Buckingham Palace. He loved lavish parties, priceless objects and jewels, and had no qualms about sharing his bed with someone not his wife. Who he hated. For realz….
The Royals portrays a fictional British Royal Family, led by the fabulous Queen Helena (Elizabeth Hurley), as equally lascivious and decadent. Fictional as they are, in truth English royals over time carried on in such fashions. Charles II was notorious for it. Exiled during the mid-17th century Commonwealth, the future ‘Merry’ Monarch had a child out of wedlock. As King, he would go on to have a total of a dozen royal bastards, granting them and their descendants the highest ranks within the English aristocracy. Outside of Charles’s own circle, his entire Court was known for its unquenchable sexual appetite, its decadence in fashion and interior design, as well as the popularity of plays and theater. Meanwhile, his mistresses not only ruled the royal bedchamber but acted as agents in the game of politics.
Centuries later, we see Wallis Simpson carrying on in a similar capacity. The mistress of Edward VIII, the young and charismatic monarch was head over heels, showering her with luxuries no other King-Emperor could buy! Despite being twice-divorced (not allowed), an American ‘commoner’ (looked down upon), and a Nazi sympathizer (really, Wallis?), Edward was so smitten that he gave up his crown to be with her! It was certainly not the last drama to be played in the history of the British Monarchy. Two Three words: Prince & Princess of Wales. (Well, technically four words!) The eldest son of Elizabeth II, Charles married a young, attractive, and shy ‘commoner’ named Diana Spencer. (In truth, Lady Diana’s pedigree had far more English monarchs than the current British royals, most of them descended from Germanic princelings.) Similar to George IV, Charles would become estranged from his wife – who would carry on romances of her own – as the prince chose to keep someone else in his bed. (*coughs* Duchess Camilla *coughs*) The press, forever a stickler for royal drama, had its own role in the PR tug-of-war between Charles & Diana throughout their separation, divorce, and the princess’s untimely death in 1997.
It is the sexy and soapy-ness of royal life that has been a critique of the new E! network show. But would it be so different if they donned powdered wigs and elaborate costumes? Is it that far-fetched from the decadence of distant and not-so-distant royals? At the end of the day, The Royals is nothing more than a bit of fantasy. Fun, silly, and sensuous in so many ways. As an avid viewer of period dramas, and a historian of royal ones, I am definitely ecstatic for this new drama.
After all, art does imitate life, no?