UK Aristocrats

When one hears the word aristocracy, the picture of a king, queen, or nobleman comes to mind. The word aristocracy, which is a form of government, comes from the Greek words aristos and kratos, which mean the “rule by the best”. Some have described Britain as being a ‘class ridden society’, a society which is still based on wealth. In Britain, the aristocracy refers to the upper class--the wealthy and ruling class. This class is predominately made up of members of royalty and nobility. Many do not know that there is a distinction between nobility and royalty in regards to the aristocracy in Britain. If one is deemed royalty, it means that they were born into their position. Therefore only the king and queen and their direct relations can be considered royalty. On the other hand, nobility is a title conferred upon a person if they meet certain requirements, which include being wealthy and already being a part of the aristocratic population. It was common for royalty to confer titles of nobility on these members of the society. In the past, those owning great tracts of land were assured of wealth and political power. Along with their land, the British aristocrats usually possessed valuable works of art and elegant homes. In today’s modern Britain, the aristocracy is still alive and well. Research has shown that approximately 70% of the land is owned by only 0.6% of the population. A great majority of these land owners are from the same families that owned the land in the 19 century. This leads us to the British aristocracy today.

In Britain today, the most visible member of the aristocracy is Queen Elizabeth. Born in 1926, Queen Elizabeth was the daughter of Prince Albert, the Duke of York, and Elizabeth, the Duchess of York. She has a sister, Princess Margaret. In 1947, Elizabeth married Prince Philip, who was then given the title of Duke of Edinburgh. The first child of Elizabeth and Phillip was Charles, followed by Anne, Andrew, and Edward. At the time, Prince Phillip issued a formal letter allowing the children to have royal and princely status, which would not have been normally allowed. There are now several members of Queen Elizabeth’s family who are in line as her successor.

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The first in line after Queen Elizabeth is her son Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. Because of the manner in which the line of succession is arranged, the British Crown follows the male line, so the next in line would be Prince Charles’ two sons, William and Henry. Going further down the line, the fourth in line would be Andrew, the second oldest of the Queen’s sons, followed his daughters Beatrice, born in 1988, who will be fifth in line, and Eugenie, born in 1990, who will be sixth in line for the Crown. Queen Elizabeth’s youngest child, Edward Antony, was born in 1964, and will be seventh in line for the throne. Eighth in line is Edward’s second child, James. It continues this way down the line.

Although the members of Queen Elizabeth’s family are often thought of as doing nothing to gain the throne, the fact is that they all have found a way to serve the country in which they live. Queen Elizabeth is well known for her royal duties, such as presiding over the opening of Parliament. However, she is also a member of over 600 charities, such as volunteer organizations for the youth of Britain as well as those for wildlife preservation. When she turned 80 years old, she informed her family that she has no intention of abdicating the throne. As she is in good health, she plans to continue in her present role, with her private and public activities, as long as possible.

Queen Elizabeth’s heirs are also involved in volunteer and charitable activities. Prince Charles supports many environmental projects and is also the president of a group of charities called “The Prince’s Charities”. Altogether, he is a Patron or President of approximately 400 organizations. His sons also share in his work with charities. Prince William has been exposed to charitable work since he was young, and today is active in many, including Centrepoint, a homeless charity, and Mountain Rescue. Prince Harry enjoyed accompanying his mother, Princess Diana, when she volunteered at AIDS centers. Both William and Harry are planning to train to be helicopter pilots with the RAF, following in the steps of their father and uncle. The other members of the royal family also take part in volunteer and charitable work.

The modern day aristocrats have tried not changed so much from those in the past. Previously, those who were land owners were the richest and most powerful in the country. In the past, individual wealth and leadership was passed on to one’s children, so it was always known where the leaders will be coming from. The estates in Britain have survived many hardships-wars, famines, and depressions. But they may not be as extensive in the future, do to various reasons, such as dividing land up when one divorces, which in the past was looked down on. It has been said that the ‘womb-to-tomb’ way of life among the aristocrats does not exist today as it had previously. Today, the richest people do not have nearly the power they used to have. Although there is a large gap between the rich and poor, the citizens of Britain are becoming more aware of these differences, and have started questioning the aristocratic money and politics. For instance, taxes are taken out of workers pay, but those who are wealthy landowners do not pay taxes. It was even mentioned that perhaps there should not be benefits paid to those on disability, in order to allow the landowners to continue living tax free. In recent years, various scandals have been revealed, and the growing middle class is taking notice. Many people do not agree that land ownership should be hereditary. Today’s citizens in Britain believe that one should earn what they have, not just be given it because of who they are. In addition, the middle class has entered into the area of charity and volunteerism in the country. This is an area which was usually left to the aristocrats. But today, almost anyone who wishes can take part in the charitable activities throughout the country.

There are some who would like to revert back to the days of riches and real estate ownership by the aristocrats, believing that this would be the best direction for the country to go. But with the growth of the middle class, Britain now has to listen to many voices when making decisions, not just the wealthy. Although the past in Britain was almost fairy tale like, it will have a hard time remaining that way in the future. All the members of the population-rich, middle class, and poor- want to be given a chance to help shape the country, not only the aristocrats. As time goes by, the aristocracy in Britain will remain, but most feel that the continued growth of the middle class will allow for their greater participation in all the aspects of running the country, and less of a role by the aristocrats.

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Copyright Paul Verdon 2008