On Tuesday March 11 at 1pm, I will be participating in a Canada.com online chat about 2014 royal events including the upcoming tour of Australia and New Zealand by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George.by
The second Monday in March is Commonwealth Day and Queen Elizabeth II will mark the occasion by attending a multi-faith service at Westminster Abbey with the Duke of Edinburgh, High Commissioners, Commonwealth dignitaries and young people from around the world. Women’s education advocate Malala Yousafzai will deliver the keynote address. The 2000 person congregation will be the largest Commonwealth Day observance but similar events will take place around the world including a Canadian Commonwealth Day Observance Service in Toronto, in the presence of The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.
In the twenty-first century, the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth as a family of nations are synonymous in the popular imagination. Recent coverage of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGMs) has emphasized the importance of these events for the Queen and the future of the monarchy. In 2011, coverage of the Perth CHOGM focused on the support for succession reform in the sixteen Commonwealth Realms where the Queen is Head of State. In 2013, the presence of the Prince of Wales in Sri Lanka, representing the Queen, sparked discussion of the changing face of the monarchy as the Queen’s children and grandchildren assume more of the royal duties and overseas engagements once undertaken by the monarch.
In Monarchy and the End of Empire: The House of Windsor, the British Government, and the Postwar Commonwealth, Philip Murphy, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and Professor of British and Commonwealth Studies at the University of London explains that the current “Royal Commonwealth” was a controversial idea for much of the organization’s history. As much of the former British Empire transformed into a Commonwealth of independent nations after the Second World War, it seemed inevitable that the connection with the monarchy would gradually weaken. Newly independent African nations were encouraged to become republics rather than constitutional monarchies. The Queen took her role as Head of the Commonwealth seriously and became the most traveled monarch in history but the desirability of a “ceremonial head” for the Commonwealth was a matter of debate.
For Canadian readers, there is plenty of fascinating material about the decline and rebirth of the Canadian monarchy during the reign of Elizabeth II. In recent years, Australia had a referendum about the future of the monarchy while Canada was chosen as a friendly destination for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first overseas tour as a married couple in 2011. During the 1960s, Canada was the nation that appeared more likely to become a republic as the Quiet Revolution fostered negative attitudes toward the Crown in Quebec and prominent Canadians mused about the gradual decline of the monarchy in Canada. The Duke of Edinburgh’s remark at a 1969 Ottawa press conference, “We don’t come here for our health…we can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves” has been dismissed as a gaffe but Prince Philip was actually making a larger point about how monarchy exists in the interests of the people rather than the monarch.
Murphy also provides a fresh perspective on the Queen through his analysis of the Commonwealth. A number of recent biographies focus on her role as Queen of the United Kingdom and therefore emphasize her ceremonial role. By looking at the Queen through the context of the Commonwealth, Murphy reveals her multifaceted political influence around the world over the course of her reign. The Queen supported sanctions to aid the collapse of apartheid in South Africa and encouraged continued democracy in Ghana. Murphy also illuminates the influence of gender on public perceptions of the monarchy. Just as the public saw Queen Victoria as the “mother” of the British Empire, Elizabeth II has been viewed as a maternal figure for the Commonwealth.
Monarchy and the End of Empire: The House of Windsor, the British Government, and the Postwar Commonwealth is an erudite and engaging study of the relationship between the monarchy and the Commonwealth since the Second World War. For the past sixty-two years, the Queen has been the one constant figure in the organization, her role endlessly scrutinized by successive governments around the world. It remains to be seen if the current model of a “royal commonwealth” will remain successful during future reigns.by
I am quoted in Sarah Hampson’s article “Will a ‘regal makeover’ mean the end of winsome Kate?” in the Style section of today’s Globe and Mail. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will visit Australia in April and there is a great deal of speculation that Catherine’s wardrobe will incorporate jewels from the royal collection. There is a long tradition of royalty displaying their status through elaborate clothing and jewels. In Hampson’s article, I mention the regal fashions of Queen Elizabeth I.by
In “Happy Birthday, Prince Andrew,” I am quoted regarding the Duke of York’s long relationship with Canada. Andrew has been a frequent visitor to Canada since childhood and he lived in Ontario for six months in 1977, as an exchange student at Lakefield College. Today, Andrew is a trustee of Lakefield College School and Patron of numerous Canadian organizations including the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, the Canadian Canoe Museum and the Canadian International Air Show. Andrew is also Honourary Colonel-in-Chief of three Canadian regiments: The Queen’s York Rangers, the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada and the Princess Louise Fusiliers.by
My column in this weekend’s edition of the Kingston Whig Standard looks at the recent scrutiny of the Queen’s finances. While press coverage focuses on the Queen being “down to her last million” in her reserve fund, the most important issues raised by the UK Treasury report are the urgent repairs necessary for the royal palaces. The disappearance of the Palace of Plancentia at Greenwich, the setting of key events from King Henry VIII’s reign demonstrates that is is possible for neglect to render a palace uninhabitable. In contrast, the survival of Windsor Castle for nearly a thousand years reflects a succession of visionary plans for the historic royal residence.by
The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall will visit Canada in May, 2014. I discussed how royal visits still matter with Janet Davison for CBC.ca. The nature of royal visits is currently changing as the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have reduced their overseas travel in recent years. The Queen’s children and grandchildren are increasing their royal engagements with the Prince of Wales assuming more and more engagements previously undertaken by the sovereign. In Canada, royal tours allow Canadians to see their monarchy in a Canadian context, challenging the view that Elizabeth II is primarily “The Queen of England.”by
With the arrival of a baby girl for the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips and her husband Mike Tindall last Friday, there has been renewed interest in the size of the royal family of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. The new baby is 16th in the line to the throne. Another royal baby born recently, Maud Windsor, granddaughter of the Queen’s cousin, Prince Michael of Kent, is 43rd in the line of succession.
A reader of the Royal Spectacle blog asked how far down the line of a succession a person must be before they lose all contact with their royal ancestry and are no longer considered a member of the royal family. I addressed that question in a Royal Spectacle blog post, published today.by
My latest article on the website for the Magna Carta 2015 Canada exhibition discusses the “Rebirth of Magna Carta” during the 17th century. Magna Carta has not always been the famous charter that it is today. The Great Charter fell into obscurity during the late Middle Ages only to be revived as a seminal constitutional document by renowned seventeenth century jurist Sir Edward Coke. Since Coke wrote legal texts that were studied throughout the English speaking world, his interpretation of Magna Carta directly influenced the American Revolution and the growth of democracy throughout the modern day Commonwealth, including Canada.by
In my first column of 2014, I discuss the recent unpopularity of the Spanish royal family, placing the scandals of the past few years within the context of the otherwise successful reign of King Juan Carlos. If the King decides to abdicate in the coming year, the end of his reign will be an opportunity for Spain to look back on his key role in the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1970s.by
This week, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, began a ten week course in Agricultural Management at Cambridge University. William’s studies reflect the generational shift currently underway in the royal family. Just as the Prince of Wales is assuming the overseas travel once undertaken by the Queen, including recently attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka and Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa, William is learning more about his future responsibilities. Once Prince Charles becomes King, William will succeed to the Duchy of Cornwall and be responsible for managing this vast landholding. A course in agricultural management is professional training for the Prince’s future role as Duke of Cornwall.
Despite the importance of increased knowledge of agricultural management to William’s future responsibilities, the Prince’s enrollment at Cambridge has triggered a backlash from his fellow students. Will Heilpern of the Cambridge student newspaper, The Tab, wrote, “Normally students need A*AA at A-level to gain entry to Cambridge University, whilst the Prince only achieved a mediocre ABC. Conveniently though for Will, he is the registered benefactor of the department he will be studying at.” Leaving aside the fact that the Prince of Wales is the actual Patron of the Cambridge Program for Sustainability Leadership, the part of the School of Technology that organized William’s course, the Tab article presents a very narrow definition of the role of universities in twenty-first century education.
Heilpern’s emphasis on A-levels (the approximate British equivalent of Canadian academic Grade 12 credits) assumes that all university students follow a similar trajectory from secondary school to a degree granting program that concludes their education. If William’s attendance at Cambridge is viewed within that traditional framework, he appears to be part of a tradition of royal gentleman scholars who spent time at Oxford and/or Cambridge regardless of their academic qualifications.
William’s great-great-great grandfather, the future King Edward VII, studied at both Oxford and Cambridge despite his difficulties with academic subjects throughout his childhood and adolescence. The Queen’s father, King George VI, spent a year studying history, economics and civics at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1919 even though he ranked at the bottom of his class in his final examinations at the Royal Naval College at Osborne. An heir to the British and Commonwealth thrones did not complete a university degree at either Oxford or Cambridge until the current Prince of Wales earned a Second class honours, lower division, Bachelor of Arts on June 23, 1970.
Prince William, however, is not a student who has recently finished secondary school attending university for his first degree. He has already graduated from the University of St. Andrews and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Instead, William is part of a growing trend toward lifelong learning where adult professionals return to university to upgrade their qualifications or simply gain new knowledge and skills. As an instructor at the University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies and frequent guest lecturer, I have had the pleasure of meeting numerous students who view education as a process that continues far beyond the completion of traditional university degrees. Since William is returning to university after receiving a degree to complete a course that will assist him with his future endeavors, he has more in common with continuing education students around the world than secondary students who have just completed their A-levels.
When Kensington Palace announced that William would spend ten weeks at Cambridge studying Agricultural Management, Diane Bell, who runs the shop and post office in the north Wiltshire village of Nettleton, expressed the view that the Prince could become an advocate for people living in rural areas. I hope that William’s decision to continue his education long after the completion of his degree will also bring worldwide attention to the benefits of lifelong learning. As the Duke of Cambridge and thousands of others have discovered, there are advantages to returning to the classroom at any age or career stage.by