"In England, for a long time after the Norman Conquest, the authority of the monarch was almost unlimited. Inroads were gradually made upon the prerogative, in favor of liberty, first by the barons, and afterwards by the people, till the greatest part of its most formidable pretensions became extinct. But it was not till the revolution in 1688, which elevated the Prince of Orange to the throne of Great Britain, that English liberty was completely triumphant."
- Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers (Federalist No. 26)
Throughout the English-speaking world, people are fascinated by the British monarchy. Although the institution has very little power today, Americans still follow its every move, as though we had never fought a revolution against it. Despite all this interest, there has sometimes been a trend in recent years - amongst historians, at least - to try and focus on what happened to "ordinary people" in history, and focus less on the traditional subjects of "politics and the military." For example, Ken Burns once said that the history of the United States is usually told as "a series of presidential administrations punctuated by wars," and that all other aspects of American history - including those dealing with ordinary people - are given short shrift, or even lost entirely. There is truth in this claim, and there is value in focusing on the lives of ordinary people - and on other celebrities from other areas, besides the traditional focus on politics and the military. Why, then, do we focus so much on powerful political leaders? Why do we continue to be fascinated by the lives of kings and queens, when the "common man" is held up as the "greater ideal" for an enlightened democracy?
Why do we sometimes ignore the "ordinary people" of history?
I think part of it might be that the lives of ordinary people are usually not as well-documented as the lives of the rich and powerful, and a dig by archaeologists that unearths details of an ordinary person's life doesn't get as much fame and sexiness as those that unearth details of a major monarch's life. For example, most people would rather hear more about Julius Caesar and his generals, than about the ordinary men and women that made up the empire he ruled; and the same is true of American presidents and generals. But besides the fact that the lives of ordinary people are not as well-documented, there is another reason that historians focus so much on politics and the military (including monarchy), which is that the lives of ordinary people are affected quite extensively by what genius - or moron - is in power at the moment. For the history of most countries of the world, this necessarily entails a thorough examination of kings, queens, and royal families - on the monarchs and dynasties who are in charge at any given time. These kings are not just studied because historians are fans of royalty and juicy court gossip (although there is plenty of that), but because the history of entire countries depends on these things, and on the "royal soap operas" that are so often found at the center of power.
Queen Elizabeth the First