America is fascinated with the lives of British Royals. Whether it’s the pageantry of their traditions or the pomp and circumstance of all their weddings (over 23 million Americans woke up early to watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011), British royalty takes up space in the American cultural imagination. Still, much of what they do is shrouded in mystery. We’ve broken down the role of the Royal Family in government as well as what they do and why they do it.

Queen Elizabeth II is the head of the Royal Family and the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. The Royal Family includes her spouse the Duke of Edinburgh, her children, grandchildren, their spouses, and their children as well as her first cousins and their spouses. This large family collectively carries out over 2,000 official engagements in the United Kingdom and abroad.

The Queen’s engagements include hosting heads of state, traveling on diplomatic trips, presenting citizens with awards, and other official State responsibilities. She also opens each session of parliament, has regular meetings with the Prime Minister, and signs all legislation before it becomes law (this is called Royal Assent and is only a formality since the Queen is expected to remain neutral in all political decisions.) Other events on her calendar include hosting receptions, state banquets, and garden parties.

Since the Queen can’t be everywhere at once, members of her family step in to represent her where necessary. Members of the Royal Family may represent the Queen and the nation in State funerals, national festivities, or diplomatic trips abroad. They also act as patrons to several charitable foundations and organizations that work in sectors like education, housing, culture, the environment, and hospitals. Some members of the Royal Family have even served in the armed forces. Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex has had a military career spanning 10 years, though he isn’t in active service today.  Through these engagements and roles, the Royal Family meets citizens from all walks of life and plays a role in fostering a sense of national unity.