World·Point of View

Congratulations to Harry and Meghan, but long live the Queen

As the royal wedding and all its pomp and circumstance approach, Peter Mansbridge looks down the road a few years and into the uncertainties for the monarchy in a post-Elizabethan era.

Amid the wedding pageantry, there are also worries about the future of the monarchy

The excitement surrounding the royal wedding obscures a more serious issue facing the monarchy: Who will be its next leader. Queen Elizabeth is 92 years old. (Steve Parsons/PA via AP)

The wedding of the year, with all its pomp and pageantry, is almost upon us. There's much talk about what it all means as Prince Harry marries Meghan Markle — for Britain, for the monarchy and for the approaching post-Elizabethan era. 

After all, this will not be your normal royal wedding. She's older than he is, she's American, she's a divorcee and she's biracial. And he, of course, is the party-going prince with a string of ex-girlfriends from South Africa to Las Vegas. The dashing bad boy who once dressed up as a Nazi. Oh, the horror of it all.

If this had been unfolding a generation ago, almost any one of those items would have stopped this union dead in its tracks. But it's not a generation ago. This is 2018, as the saying goes, and all's well with Harry and Meghan. Party on.

The wedding of Prince Harry, right, and his fiancee Meghan Markle, illustrates how modern the monarchy has become. Meghan is older than Harry, has been previously married and is biracial. Harry is known as a dashing bad boy. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

However, not to spoil the moment, but I must tell you there are whispers outside the walls of Windsor that should be considered this wedding weekend, too. 

They are about the matriarch, Queen Elizabeth, the most beloved woman in the empire. She, who after 66 years on the throne, has only had one bad week — the week in 1997 when Diana died.

The Queen hid up in Scotland, away from Buckingham Palace, said nothing, wouldn't even lower the flag, until her subjects almost charged the palace gates and she finally relented. But that was 20 years ago and I mean, we all have the occasional bad week.

The Queen is 92 now and has become untouchable when it comes to criticism. Even most republicans begin their pitches against the monarchy by praising her first and offering their undying support, knowing the "undying" part is likely approaching, in years, single digits.

To them, the real target is the monarchy post-Elizabeth, and if truth be told, that is the question at hand for a lot of people. What will happen to the monarchy with a new person wearing the crown, how will the "firm" explain its raison d'être?

No other monarch

Most of those who see the Queen as head of state, like us Canadians, have never known another monarch. We've never seen anyone else's face on our currency and our stamps or sung — when appropriate — anything other than God Save the QUEEN.

How many young boys and girls have learned to play hockey in rinks across the country that still have that decades-old post-coronation portrait hanging at one end of the ice? Not to mention the thousands of portraits hanging in public offices from St. John's to Victoria.

Queen Elizabeth has spent 66 years on the throne and is beloved. (Steve Parsons/Pool/Reuters)

Well, all that is going to change, likely in the next decade. But change to whom? And what could it mean for the future?

If it's by the book, there is no choice. It will be Prince Charles. As the eldest son, he's No. 1 on the succession list. He's a complex character, sometimes controversial and consumed by big issues of his time. But he's also Charles, the prince who talks to plants and once said he wished he was a tampon. Think about that when you stick his stamp on an envelope. Hey, his words, not mine. Charles is 70 this year. I've never needed to look up his age because he's the same age as I am. I just retired. He's still waiting to start work.

But Charles's son, Prince William, may be a more popular choice to take the throne. His young family is adored and he rarely puts a foot wrong.
The popular choice would certainly be William, Charles's elder son, No. 2 on the list. As far as we know, he's not just handsome, he rarely steps out of line or says anything wrong. He's got a bright and beautiful wife and three wonderful children. He oozes sincerity, dignity and kindness, all of which are strong qualities in a leader (even one with debatable power).

He's the future of the modern monarchy, they say. But hold on. He's 35 and if the longevity streak continues in the family (the Queen Mother was 101 when she passed), he could be a pensioner before he feels the weight of the crown passed on to him. Modern monarchy man? I don't think so.

A real modern monarchy might actually be one led by the likes of Harry (we'll give him a mulligan for his early mistakes) and Meghan, for the very reasons listed in the opening paragraph above.

Helping those in need

They certainly have a lot in common with many of their millennial subjects, while adding their apparent belief in what Victoria taught the family it should be consumed by when she led the way almost two centuries ago. 

She ended the age of royal bias in politics and instead chose to focus on helping those who were in need, whether that be helping the poor, the suffering or the wounded. 

Harry and Meghan were both working those angles before they even met and seem focused on continuing along that path in the future. They seem confident and comfortable in their skin and determined to do what they want and on their terms. All good qualities and best of luck to them.

But barring some bizarre turn of events, it will never be Harry and Meghan. They're way down on the succession list, and I mean way down. And that is a real shame.

Instead, it's going to be Charles and Camilla. How popular are they? Let me remind you that the last time they came to Canada, some of the "cheering" crowds were at best, dismal. 

When Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visited Ottawa and Gatineau in 2017, the crowds could have been larger. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

And when offered the chance to talk to his future Canadian subjects in extensive, wide-ranging television interviews, his officials responded the way they always do — "No thanks, the schedule is too busy." This despite the fact he often finds time for similar American network interviews. Oh well, they (the Americans) used to be subjects, so close enough, I guess.

So enjoy this weekend's wedding, it could be the last big one in a while. You'll get to see all the pretenders to the crown. But when it's over, repeat after me: "Long live the Queen. Please."

Peter Mansbridge is the former chief correspondent of CBC News and has covered many royal occasions, including three royal weddings: Prince Charles and Diana in 1981, Prince Andrew and Sarah in 1986 and Prince William and Kate in 2011. He will be at Windsor Castle on May 19 to witness and comment on the latest royal wedding as part of CBC's coverage. And also on May 18, he has a special one-hour documentary on CBC-TV, A Royal Wedding for the Ages on at 7 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT on CBC-TV, and at 8 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.

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Peter Mansbridge

Former Chief Correspondent CBC News

Peter Mansbridge is the former chief correspondent of CBC News and Distinguished Fellow, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.


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