Britain’s monarchy stretches back further than almost any other
similar institution. Over 1,500 years, between the Early Middle
Ages and the early 20th century, its history was at best checkered.
The position of British kings and queens of this period—some
rogues, some average, a few genuinely heroic—rose from that
of exalted tribal leaders to rulers appointed by God. Their role then
changed slowly, and at times painfully, into that of living symbols,
politically neutral personifications of their realm. This long and
extraordinarily diverse tale mirrors that of the nation itself. Its
keynote is the triumph of pragmatism—survival through adaptability.