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Why Are Americans Fascinated By Royalty?

Americans fought an eight-year war to get rid of their monarchy and establish a republic. More than two centuries on, royals are more popular here than ever. The Texas Renaissance Festival suggests some of the reasons.


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Juana and Henry
Queen Juana (Rachell Holman-Hinojosa) and King Henry VIII (Jared Barnes) at the Texas Renaissance Festival

Texas was once an independent republic. So it's ironic that one of America's largest celebrations of monarchy takes place in the backwoods of Grimes County.

The Texas Renaissance Festival kicks off each day of its run with a royal proclamation. The Festival King and Queen introduce visiting courts from all over Europe – not to mention realms you're unlikely to find on a map.

"Her most magical, mystical, majesty Titania, and her flying flock of flipping Fae from the court of Avalon."

"We play pretty fast and loose with history around here," says Travis Bryant, the festival's marketing director. He says there's a reason Americans are drawn to royals, whether you're talking about Game of Thrones or Wolf Hall. "There's some part of us that sees kind of a hierarchical structure of kings and queens and lords as maybe simpler. You know, you know what you're getting. You may not like it, and you may not have a choice in it, but at least you know what you're getting."

Bryant says that's easy to romanticize, especially in comparison to the messy process of elections like the one just finished. "You know, it's great if you get King Arthur," he says. "It's not so great if you get Richard III."

Of course, it's the prospect – and the experience – of having a bad king that led Americans to opt for a different form of government in the first place.

"Our whole history is based on getting away from royalty and being a democracy with liberty and freedom and not having a king telling us what to do," says Eleanor Herman, an author who's devoted much of her career to writing about royalty. Herman regularly travels to Europe to do research for her work. She says Americans are often more fascinated by monarchs and nobles than people in countries that still have them.

"We've made our own kind of fake royalty," she says, "like we invented the Hollywood movie stars, and we have star athletes and rock stars. And we try to pretend the Kennedys were royalty. But they didn't have that extra aura that real royalty does have."

Herman says there's a part of human nature that leads us to want to put people up on an altar and worship them, just as it leads us to want to tear those idols down.

Mention royalty, and the image most Americans will think of will be the British royal house. Guy Streatfield runs the British Isles store in Rice Village. Streatfield says there's something to the argument that Americans are drawn to monarchy because they don't have a monarchy themselves. But he also thinks it goes to a deeper, cultural connection between the United States and the United Kingdom.

"I mean, one of the things that people often forget is that we do actually speak the same language," Streatfield says. "Therefore, we do feel very close. So in a sense, our monarch is your monarch. Our Shakespeare is your Shakespeare. Our Jane Austen is your Jane Austen. Our Emily Brontë is your Emily Brontë, etc., etc."

And that gets to one of the biggest attractions of royalty — and one of the reasons people flock to the Texas Renaissance Festival. Royals make for great drama. Just ask King Henry VIII and Queen Juana of Spain.

Henry: "The typical thing that I'm constantly asked is..."

Juana: "Why did you poison Juana's sister? That is what he is typically asked."

Henry: "Actually what I'm typically asked is how many wives I have. Most people get it wrong."

Juana: "One of them was my sister."

Henry: "Yes, one of them was your sister."

Juana: "Your first wife."

Henry: "Yes, my first wife, Catherine of Aragon."

Juana: "He poisoned her."

The Texas Renaissance Festival wraps up its 2016 season this coming weekend.