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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Royal Family

In a dynastic sense the royal family encompasses all the descendants of George I, any of whom is eligible to inherit the British crown but who suffer certain restrictions under the terms of the Act of *Settlement (1701) and the Royal Marriages Act (1772). The former prevented a Roman Catholic or anyone married to a Roman Catholic from remaining in the line of succession; the latter, now largely a formality, required royal consent for the marriage of any British descendant of George II.

In everyday usage the phrase covers only the immediate family of the sovereign, a group which is roughly perceived by the public as stretching as far as first cousins – the effective limit of most modern families. By this yardstick the royal family is composed of the children and grandchildren of sovereigns.

The idea that the royal family should represent a national ideal of family life is relatively recent, deriving from the domestic bliss and numerous offspring of Victoria and Albert, but it soon became firmly established. The *abdication crisis was rooted in the assumption that the royal family would be irretrievably tainted by any connection with divorce. The adulation of everything royal reached a peak in the years after World War II, when even faint criticism of the family and its entourage caused Lord Altrincham and Malcolm Muggeridge to be seen by many as enemies of the state. By the early 1990s this situation had drastically changed, though the hysterical adverse publicity caused by the failed marriages of younger members of the royal family was the reverse of the same coin. It implied that they were still expected to be better than the rest of us.

In the centuries before Victoria few expected the royal family to be morally superior; power was their business. The murderous excesses of *Henry VIII in the 16C were followed by the adulterous excesses of *Charles II in the 17C; but it was the undistinguished *Hanoverians of the 18C who attracted a level of public criticism which puts such matters in perspective. A comment on the children of George III by Lord Grenville has often been quoted: 'Good God what a set they are. We talked over the Royal family and we agreed that the three Kingdoms cannot furnish such a brood, so many and so bad, rogues, blackguards, fools and whores.'

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