THE WORLD FROM...London
The British monarchy looks to European counterparts for a more modest, popular, updated model
NOW that Queen Elizabeth II has agreed to pay taxes and support family members out of her own purse, advisers at Buckingham Palace are looking to continental Europe for additional ways of bringing the British monarchy up to date.
The lifestyle and financial arrangements of kings and queens "across the water" appear to offer limited guidance.
Some constitutional experts dismiss European examples as largely irrelevant.
Asked whether the comparatively homely monarchies of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden were suitable models for study, Lord St. John of Fawsley, a royal confidant, snapped: "I doubt whether a monarch on a bicycle is what we are really after."
There is a feeling in the air, all the same, that there must be something about the way other European monarchies order their affairs that shields them from the criticism the British queen and her family have been attracting in what the queen described as her "annus horribilis" (horrible year).
The historian David Cannadine says a large part of the problem is that Elizabeth, unlike her continental counterparts, is encumbered with outmoded trappings.
"We have an imperial monarchy," Mr. Cannadine wrote in the London Observer, "largely the creation of the late 19th century. But Britain is no longer an imperial nation."
Cannadine may have a point. Holland and Spain, which also used to have great empires, have long since dispensed with the rigmarole that went with them. Queen Elizabeth, however, still rides in gilt coaches on state occasions, opens Parliament in full regalia, and has a fleet of aircraft, a personal train, and an ocean-going liner at her disposal.
The Spanish monarchy offers a few clues to the changes Elizabeth could make if she wants to get into better tune with the British public.
When King Juan Carlos came to the throne he became "a catalyst for democracy," according to Robert Lacey, author of the best-selling book "Majesty." This appears to have brought him closer to his people. He buttresses his popularity by shunning a spectacular lifestyle.
A London-based Spanish diplomat said Juan Carlos has four homes paid for by the government but only a "negligible" private income. His salary, coming from a government grant, is taxed.
Paying taxes on personal income gives a head start to a monarch who wishes to remain on good terms with the public. King Carl Gustaf of Sweden pays tax on his private income, but not on the annual $3.8 million the government stumps up to support his household.
The same applies to Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands. Income from her personal fortune estimated at $5 billion is taxed. She and her family, however, do not pay tax on their annual inflation-linked state allowance, which last year was $7 million.
The British queen's advisers may find it easier to satisfy the taxman than to find ways of jettisoning the monarchy's antiquated ways. A leading backbench member of the House of Commons said it would be "unthinkable" for Elizabeth to appear at a state opening of Parliament without wearing her crown and robes.
Royal tradition dies harder in Britain than elsewhere in Europe. A few years ago the queen decided to review her troops from a horse-drawn carriage rather than from the saddle.
"Many people were unhappy," a source close to the royal family said, "until it was pointed out that once, when riding her horse to the annual `Trooping the Color' ceremony, somebody pulled a gun on her."