British Monarchist League
Joe Eldren
Member, The British Monarchist League
The Republic Campaign (the actual author is anonymous) recently posted a comment on the Royal Collection. You can read the article here.

A quick read of this might leave you a little unsettled – so many artefacts poorly catalogued and suffering from poor conservation because of a lack of money; only a privileged few get to see the Collection; and any criticism means you get struck off the list of people the Collection will lend to, so Republic says.

Doesn't sound very good, does it? Perhaps, you think, there is a case for transferring ownership to the government who will care for the items 'properly'.

Well, let's deconstruct the article and see what our author - who dare not speak his name - is actually saying (and we'll be correcting a few rather glaring errors on the way, gentle reader, so bear with me!) Statements by Republic Campaign are in italicised blue; those by the Royal Collection and others are emboldened.

 “The Royal Collection is a vast collection of art assembled by monarchs over the last 500 years. It includes around 150,000 paintings by artists such as Rubens, Rembrandt, Mantegna, Titian and Raphael. The Collection's total value has been estimated at £10 billion.

Well for a start there aren't 150,000 paintings! The Collection confirmed in an email to me that they hold only around 10,000 paintings (including miniatures). There are of course a considerable number of other items – furniture, ceramics, clocks, silver, sculpture, jewellery, books, manuscripts, prints and maps, arms and armour, fans, and textiles. The valuation Republic gives appears to be a straight lift from an undated Wikipedia entry rather than anything based on a professional view; this also seems based on an estimate by an individual who didn't actually see the Collection!

The bulk of the Royal Collection was assembled by Charles I and dispersed throughout the country at the time of the Commonwealth. During the Restoration, Charles II was able to reassemble the majority of the collection, although a number of pieces were sold to European museums such as the Prado in Spain.

Once again a rather large error here. The Royal Collection's website clearly says “The Collection has largely been formed since the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Some items belonging to earlier monarchs, for example Henry VIII, also survive. The greater part of the magnificent collection inherited and added to by Charles I was dispersed on Cromwell's orders during the Interregnum. The royal patrons now chiefly associated with notable additions to the Collection are Frederick, Prince of Wales; George III; George IV; Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; and Queen Mary, consort of George V.

'Dispersed' means of course seized and sold off – Cromwell and the Puritans were the cultural philistines of their day. It is rather dismaying to read the same short-sighted postings by Republic's supporters, arguing that a national and cultural treasure should be sold off for short-term financial gain; clearly there is a lack of investment in our cultural heritage. As Harold Macmillan once noted, it's akin to selling off the family silver.

Republic campaign places a link to the Royal Collection's website; such a shame they didn't seem to follow it themselves.

The Royal Collection is "held in trust by the Queen as Sovereign for her successors and the nation, and is not owned by her as a private individual". In other words, it is owned by us - the people of Britain. It is unclear whether the royal family fully understand what this means, however; until relatively recently the Royal Collection website claimed that it was the private collection of the Queen.

Dear oh dear, where to start with this?

To paraphrase: “It is not owned by the Queen as a private individual, therefore it is owned by 'us'”. Oh, really? Did 'us' pay for it? No, 'us' did not – the money was spent by the Monarch from a combination of own resources and money voted by the state for the upkeep of the Royal Household. Republicans will of course immediately argue that as taxpayers they are the source of funding and so 'ownership' ultimately resides with them. First off this is factually incorrect – the acquiring monarch may well (and often did) use private funds. Secondly, to argue that ownership belongs with the original source of the funding is quite fatuous. As an example, imagine that your employer comes to you one day and says, 'Hey, that house, that car, that nice stereo – they all belong to me, because I paid your wages!” Clearly absolute nonsense. Once the money has been handed over it is up to the recipient how they spend or invest it. That the monarch spends private money to enhance the Collection for the benefit of the nation as a whole is something to be celebrated, not condemned through ignorance or plain mischief.

It is unclear whether the royal family fully understand what this means” - which is of course a generalised statement with absolutely no meaning or relevance, but designed to throw a little mud and see if it sticks in the reader's mind. I could as easily write 'It is unclear whether the republican campaign fully understand what this means' in relation to ownership. I'll give another example of their playing with words later in this piece.

Around 3,000 objects in the collection are on permanent loan to museums. Other pieces are on display in former royal residences such as Hampton Court.”

The rest of the Collection is stored away from public view and is notoriously difficult to access, even for academics and art historians. The only people with regular and unfettered access to the Collection are the royal family and their employees.

No collections, whether public or private, save for a very few small ones, place their entire stock on public display. Allowing people 'unfettered' access to this or any other collection is simply not something that happens for goodness' sake – to do so would mean one would very shortly not have a collection at all! Securing a collection is standard practise and it is rather nonsensical – but rather typical - to point a finger at the Royal Collection for adhering to such.

The maintenance and care of the Royal Collection is the responsibility of the Royal Collection Trust (established in 1993 and chaired by Prince Charles).

Well, they got that right at least!

As a charity, the trust receives no government subsidy and maintains the collection using only the income generated by visitors.

And this is wrong how exactly? It is an essentially private collection made over in trust to the nation, it costs the taxpayer nothing at all. Again, something to be celebrated, not denigrated when government is looking to cut costs. 

This means that we are denied a stake in our national art collection and, unlike the works housed in the National Gallery, we have no way of ensuring proper standards of conservation and cataloguing are maintained.

It is NOT a 'national'' art collection, nor is it 'ours' however much Republic would like it to be misrepresented as such. Details of conservations are routinely published in the Annual Reports of the Collection, available online here. The past 5 years for example have seen literally hundreds paintings fully or partially conserved. Many items of course have already either been conserved in the past or do not require actual conservation in any case.

At this point I'll enter a quote from the London based Social Affairs Unit:  Finally, a word about the catalogue. There are plenty of ways in which other British art collections might be well-advised to emulate the Royal Collection. There's the high morale of the staff, for instance, who from the security guard on the door to the coat-room lady to the Surveyor himself, come across as unfailingly welcoming, helpful and keen to make every visit a success - or the exhibition spaces, which from the formal entrance area to the galleries to the baby-changing room, for heaven's sake, are well-designed, functional and aesthetically pleasing - or even the shows themselves, which, as with last year's excellent George III exhibition, somehow work both as crowd-pleasers and as serious curatorial events. Indeed, while sour-faced republicans periodically make noises about delivering this collection 'back to the people' (presumably with as much success as Cromwell or the Paris mob, this being republicanism's track-record in action) it would be far easier to frame an argument as to why more public collections should be offered to Her Majesty, if she could promise they would all be run as efficiently, effectively and as selflessly as her own Collection has been.

Like the royal properties, the Royal Collection appears to be suffering due to lack of funds. Curators and art historians are concerned about the impact the Trust's lack of money is having on conservation. Few are prepared to speak out openly, however, for fear that the Trust will refuse to lend items to other museums and galleries.

Of course, no actual evidence is produced to support this. Academics are notorious for complaining when historical items they have an interest in are in some way at risk – yet none can be found to make any sort of public statement. Academics abroad are even freer to make some comment; again, none can be found. One academic might hesitate to criticise; but a group of them? Hardly. This sort of approach is very typical of the Republic Campaign and akin to ringing a doorbell and running away – the poor householder is left puzzled at the intrusion, whilst the mischievous urchin stands sniggering around the corner watching the disruption he's caused.  

Following on from my point above about spurious statements, I could also just as easily write here that “some republicans are concerned that, over the last few years since their campaign took on a full-time official, their standing in opinion polls measuring support for a republican form of government has fallen (which is true by the way). No-one appears able to speak out against this damaging trend” (which is also true, but an opinion rather than a verifiable fact). Placing the two together gives a much more damaging interpretation, a cynical ploy the spokesman for Republic Campaign is rather over-fond of using and which of course his followers swallow hook line and sinker.

There is disturbing evidence that the Collection is at risk due to the stubbornness of the royals. It appears that, as with the royal properties, there is fierce resistance to bringing the collection under full public ownership - and to the greater public access this would entail.

So, what is the 'disturbing evidence'? As we have already seen, there is NOT ONE shred of it. As for “... resistance to bringing the collection under full public ownership...” (aka compulsory nationalisation) this is otherwise known as resisting an outrageous attempt to recategorise one's private goods and chattels as belonging to the 'state' - or 'us' as Republic would have it. Note also that compensation has not once been mentioned – reminiscent of Cromwell's approach and which should leave you shuddering with fear as to what would actually happen to YOUR wealth and your planned inheritance to your children should they ever get their republican way – which, fortunately, is a VERY long way off. 

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