One year ago, Queen Elizabeth II’s death brought an end to one of the world’s longest reigns of a monarch and second-longest in British history.
But royal experts say those hoping for a large evolution by the British Royal Family in just one year may need to temper their expectations.
“It has been a year and despite what people think, a year is actually a very short period of time,” said Ed Wang, a royal commentator.
Wang said there have not been a lot of opportunities yet for the Royal Family to show such change, but noted King Charles III has made some differences.
One example, Wang says, is that Charles is more open about his emotions. He says Charles, “Wears his emotions on his sleeves,” pointing not only his first message as monarch following his mother’s death but also his statements related to the wildfires in the Northwest Territories and British Columbia.
“I think those are key differences already between how he runs messaging from the monarchy versus Queen Elizabeth,” Wang said.
It’s not only communication, however, that has changed.
While the Royal Family has been careful about not stepping into the political realm, the King has shown support for a variety of matters including reconciliation — which can range from Indigenous people in Canada and Australia, to the Maori and non-Maori people of New Zealand — and most recently, backing research into the monarchy’s ties to slavery.
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In April, The Guardian newspaper said an archive document discovered by historian Brooke Newman showed in 1689, King William III gave 1,000 pounds of shares in the Royal African Company (RAC) which was involved in the transportation of thousands of slaves from Africa to the Americas.
The recently-discovered document was signed by Edward Colston, a slave trade magnate whose history became widely known after protesters pulled down a statue to him in Bristol, southwest England, and threw it in the harbour during 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.
According to Wang, by putting his support behind this research and behind other issues like reconciliation or environmental protection, Charles sends a signal to both the public and political leaders.
“These are messages that the King can send in a soft manner to not just the society and not just the population, but also to the political leaders that the crown is willing to put their weight on these issues,” Wang told Global News.
“That’s also another way of not so much forcing the political actors to take action, but at least putting enough spotlight on these issues so that the political actors cannot hide from it anymore. And I think that’s what this King is brave enough in doing.”
Royal historian Barry MacKenzie said evolution for the family and the monarchy may also come from how it interacts with people around the world. In Canada, he said this includes the members of the Royal Family meeting with Indigenous leaders and talking about the issues they face.
But he adds while Canada is a constitutional monarchy and the federal government carries out how the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous people works, he believes Ottawa is “failing to use” the monarchy to its “full potential” when working on reconciliation.
“The treaty was with the Crown and to many Indigenous people that’s a sacred relationship,” he told Global News. “Why not allow that? The King seems very willing. Why not allow that to unfold?”
MacKenzie said that there are many aspects to how the Crown can evolve, but it is likely to be incremental and not sudden.
“I guess the challenge when we look at change in a thousand-year-old institution is that things don’t typically happen overnight.”
The Royal Family’s tension and evolution
Last month, King Charles and Queen Camilla officially moved into Balmoral Castle — the intended residence for the couple — and according to reports, planned to hold a summit at the castle with William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales. At this reported summit, the King was expected to carve out precise roles for both himself and Camilla, as well as the younger couple.
Royal expert Patricia Treble told Global News’ The Morning Show that it is expected the Commonwealth will play a big role, with Charles also reportedly wanting William and Kate to cement their own future.
The monarch’s stay at Balmoral has been known for some time, and while Charles is there, all members of the Royal Family have an open invitation to visit, raising the question whether Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will visit when they attend the Invictus Games in Europe this month.
Harry was also in London on Thursday, but it wasn’t expected he would meet with his father or brother even as the country prepared to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s death. It was reported by The Daily Mail that a palace insider said the King had no time in his diary to see his younger son.
Harry’s relationship with the rest of his family has been strained since the couple moved to California in 2020, and deepened in the past year as the family was critiqued in a six-part Netflix series as well as in Harry’s book, “Spare.”
While they live in California, in March of 2023, King Charles made the request that the couple be evicted from Frogmore Cottage which had been allocated to them when they were working royals as a wedding gift from the Queen.
Despite the strain, however, Harry did attend his father’s coronation in May though he did not join his family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace following the ceremony, nor was Meghan in attendance as she opted to remain home to look after the couple’s children.
MacKenzie said the changing support for the monarchy amid this tension is not necessarily surprising, in part because certain aspects could be seen as relatable in terms of family.
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“It’s one of the great strengths of the institution, because we can all identify whether we have our own families or whether we come from a family,” he said. “We can identify, most of us at least, with that kind of basic building block of society.
“The challenge there, I think, is that we want that family to be like us, and we also want them to be different … because otherwise, why would we think that they’re special?”
The events involving Harry, both earlier this year with his book and Netflix series, but also an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021, has seen support for the monarchy ebb and flow. That interview, in which Markle alleged there were racist undertones in Buckingham Palace, saw support for the Royals dip to a historic low.
Ipsos polling for Global News has tracked a steadily increasing number of Canadians who would support ending the monarchy’s presence in Canada, and saw 66 per cent say they should hold no formal role in Canada following that 2021 interview.
Polling could potentially change now, however, in the years since that information was revealed in part because MacKenzie said the public can be fickle.
“If there is racism present amongst the staff at Buckingham Palace, that’s an issue that has to be dealt with and I think the King has made it clear that that would be dealt with,” he said.
“But at the same time, people are also sort of tired of the, ‘Oh, I was the second brother, I had a hard time,’ you know, this sort of thing.”
That same polling last year showed Queen Elizabeth II had a largely positive relationship with Canada, lacking any formal threats to the monarchy’s role. But the same cannot be said for Charles.
Polling by Ipsos done exclusively for Global News prior to the coronation found Charles had still not won over the hearts of Canadians. It found some Canadians viewed Charles “as a placeholder” with his son William holding more favourability. The polling showed that compared to data in September 2022, Charles’ approval rating had sunk by seven points to 37 per cent. William, meanwhile, had an approval rating of 52 per cent.
Dissatisfaction with the Royal Family can also be seen in a number of Commonwealth nations wishing to remove Charles as their head of state, with republican movements being spurred in Jamaica, the Bahamas and Belize.
Barbados was the most recent to do so in 2021, though Wang noted while it no longer has the monarchy as head of state, Barbados President Sandra Mason was still in attendance for the coronation.
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“There’s no hard feelings between a country that transitions into a republic versus one that stays as the monarchy for the Royal Family,” Wang said.
“Obviously, there is a much more familial tie with countries that are monarchies, but there is still a very close familial tie with all the republics that comprise the Commonwealth of Nations.”
Even as King Charles is set to enter his second year on the throne, he also continues to face questions of how long he will reign, with some seeing him as a “placeholder” because his son William often garners more popularity.
Yet MacKenzie says that, at its essence, is what the monarchy is.
“Every monarch is just a placeholder,” he said. “Previous sovereigns have indicated that they consider themselves custodians of all of this … I mean, someone could eventually be the last one, but we’re not building up to something.
“That’s when celebrity creeps into monarchy.”
MacKenzie added it’s unfair to write Charles off and it remains to be seen what his legacy will be as the monarchy continues.
— with files from Reuters and The Associated Press