World·Royal Fascinator

Preparing to do more: Barbados visit reflects evolving role of Prince Charles in royal transition

As Barbados became a republic and replaced Queen Elizabeth as its head of state, the ceremonies also reflected the ongoing — but subtle — transition playing out within the upper echelons of the House of Windsor.

Heir to Queen Elizabeth on hand as Caribbean country became republic and replaced her as head of state

Prince Charles speaks during the ceremony to declare Barbados a republic at Heroes Square in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Tuesday. (Randy Brooks/AFP/Getty Images)

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As Barbados became a republic and replaced Queen Elizabeth as its head of state, the ceremonies also reflected the ongoing — but subtle — transition playing out within the upper echelons of the House of Windsor.

Elizabeth's heir, Prince Charles, was on hand in Heroes Square in Bridgetown, Barbados — as he has been increasingly on overseas trips that his mother, now 95, would have once made.

As we've been noting in The Royal Fascinator for a while, it's been a gradual transition, but this week's events were a high-profile, international reflection of it.

And they stuck to a theme that's emerged over the past few years.

"We're seeing an emphasis on a smooth transition," Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris said in an interview. "Barbados will be remaining as a republic within the Commonwealth, and Prince Charles is the next head of the Commonwealth."

Charles was presented with an honour by Barbados's new government, and "there was an emphasis on continued good relations with the United Kingdom and with the Royal Family," Harris added.

Those who watch closely what's happening within the House of Windsor only expect to see more of the senior royals — especially Charles — given the medical cautions in recent weeks that saw the Queen miss engagements and stick to lighter duties at home in Windsor Castle.

"The Prince of Wales is going to be doing more and more," John Fraser, author of The Secret of the Crown: Canada's Affair with Royalty, said in an interview.

"He's already been doing a lot."

The Queen will, if she's able, continue to do some of the "great moments," Fraser said, suggesting she'll be on hand for events such as the opening of the British Parliament, accompanied by Charles.

But, cautions Fraser, it's not as if Charles is lusting for the position his mother now has.

Prince Charles visits the National Archives with chief archivist Ingrid Thompson in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Tuesday. (Jeff J Mitchell/The Associated Press)

"All the things that he has done and championed as Prince of Wales he's been able to do because he's Prince of Wales, because there's no definition of what a Prince of Wales does," Fraser said.

"The moment he becomes crowned, he's got a straitjacket on. He's got a constitutional straitjacket. He knows it better than anyone, and he has to watch everything he says and does."

People were certainly watching what Charles was saying in Barbados this week, especially his acknowledgement of the "appalling atrocity of slavery" that "forever stains our history."

The acknowledgement was brave, historic and the start of a "grown-up conversation led by a future king," equality campaigners said in a report in the Guardian newspaper.

But would Charles have said something similar were he the monarch? And what about the Queen — what might she have said if she'd been in Barbados herself?

"Charles as heir to the throne is able to speak his mind on a wide variety of subjects, whereas the Queen is always quite careful in terms of what she says in public," Harris said.

"Charles is able very directly to engage with this issue and acknowledge this long history of slavery as an atrocity."

WATCH | Barbados becomes a republic: 

Barbados severs ties with the Queen to become a republic

1 year ago
Duration 5:25
After more than 400 years of British colonial ties, Barbados is celebrating having an elected, Black head of state for the first time. Many hope the change encourages Barbadians to take control of the country’s future and will be a step toward getting reparations from the British for the atrocities of slavery.

In years past, the Queen has expressed regret for some of the actions that took place under the British Empire, "but she tends to speak more circumspectly," Harris said. She noted, for example, a speech in Ireland in 2011 when the Queen said "that there were things that should have been done differently, without going into the specifics."

The transition evolving between the Queen and Charles, along with other senior members of the family, differs considerably from what took place more than a century ago between another long-serving monarch and her heir.

"It's very much a contrast from Queen Victoria's reign, where she was inclined to keep her son at a distance," Harris said.

"Generally, the future Edward the Seventh was seen as someone who had a lot of time on his hands to play cards and pursue women and go to the races, whereas Prince Charles has this very busy schedule of both his own philanthropic endeavours and also the amount of overseas travel and public engagements that would in the past have been undertaken by the Queen."

While there's every indication an emphasis on a smooth transition will continue, there's no indication the Queen would consider abdication.

Fraser doesn't "have a lot of high-measure worries" about how the House of Windsor will weather whatever comes next.

"The House of Windsor has survived so many things."

Not so merry and bright

Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, sing the national anthem during the Royal Variety Performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London on Nov. 18. The broadcast of a Christmas concert hosted by Kate at Westminster Abbey later this month has become entangled in a royal row with the BBC. (Jonathan Brady/The Associated Press)

There is perhaps some irony in the fact that a Christmas concert — an event intended to spread seasonal joy and cheer — is caught up in a row that touches a particular nerve for some members of the Royal Family.

It was thought that the concert hosted by Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was intended for broadcast on the BBC, but in what is now widely considered a royal snub to the network, it will air on ITV later this month.

At the heart of the row is a two-part documentary by the BBC looking at the relationship between the Royal Family and the media.

In a report on the BBC website, the network's royal correspondent, Nicholas Witchell, said the Royal Family was upset that they could not see the documentary before it was broadcast.

"There is undoubtedly irritation in the royal households but especially at Kensington Palace and especially on the part of Prince William," Witchell said. "We must remember that he still feels really quite aggrieved at the BBC over the Panorama interview with his mother [Diana, Princess of Wales]."

The latest documentary prompted a joint statement from the three senior royal households — those of the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William — criticizing the BBC for giving credibility to "overblown and unfounded claims."

Fraser said the statement was "one of the most interesting things" he's seen recently and predicted that "probably one of the things we're going to see all the time now is a much closer relationship, a much closer co-ordination between all three of these households out of necessity that the Queen is the age she is and has clearly been given warning by her doctors to slow down."

Getting together with the family

Queen Elizabeth is driven from Windsor Great Park in Berkshire, England, on Nov. 21, the day a joint christening was held for two of her great-grandchildren. (Steve Parsons/The Associated Press)

Queen Elizabeth's recent health concerns have curtailed her public appearances of late, but she was seen on her way the other day to a family event that would have been very important to her.

Cameras caught photos of her in a car being driven to a church near Windsor Castle for a joint christening of two of her 12 great-grandchildren.

The Queen had reportedly told courtiers she was intent on being at the ceremony for Lucas Tindall — son of Princess Anne's daughter Zara and Mike Tindall — and August Brooksbank, son of Prince Andrew's daughter Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank.

"The Queen likes to be surrounded by her extended family, and she's very close to her grandchildren and takes a lot of interest in her great-grandchildren, so that would have been a very important occasion," Harris said.

Few details have emerged about the christening — although Mike Tindall said on his podcast that it was a "lovely day." (Nor has there been any indication if — or how — the one replica royal christening gown babies generally wear was part of a joint celebration for two babies.)

The Queen could also have a chance to be surrounded by family over Christmas. While the Royal Family has for more than 30 years been getting together at the Queen's Sandringham estate northeast of London, the coronavirus pandemic cancelled the annual gathering last year.

Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, left, Prince William and Queen Elizabeth stand at Windsor Castle on Dec. 8, 2020. They were thanking volunteers for their work during the pandemic, and it was a rare moment during last year's Christmas season when members of the Royal Family were together. This year, the Queen will be hoping family members will be able to gather again. (Richard Pohle/Getty Images)

The emergence of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has prompted some uncertainty again — and mixed messaging from the U.K. government about what people should be doing about Christmas parties and so on, although there has been no indication of any restrictions to rival those in place a year ago.

"If the Queen is able to have her family around her ... she will want to have as much of her family there as possible," Harris said.

Royally quotable

"I remember the pressure of attending calls in the most stressful conditions, sometimes with tragic conclusions.... I also remember returning home with the stresses and strains of the day weighing on my mind, and wanting to avoid burdening my family with what I had seen." 

Prince William, who served as an air ambulance helicopter pilot, helped launch a program of mental health supports for emergency responders.

Royal reads

  1. Prince Charles's former aide, Michael Fawcett, co-ordinated with "fixers" in a bid to land an honour for a donor to one of the future king's charities, an independent investigation has found. [The Guardian]

  2. Jeffrey Epstein's longtime companion, Ghislaine Maxwell, has gone on trial on sex-trafficking charges, but the Epstein accuser who captivated the public the most — with claims she was trafficked to Prince Andrew and other prominent men — won't be part of the case. Meanwhile, court has heard that Andrew was a passenger on Epstein's private jet. [CBC, Daily Mail]

  3. Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, won the latest stage in her legal fight against the publisher of a British newspaper over a letter she sent to her father. [BBC]

  4. Prince Harry has compared COVID-19 vaccine inequity to the struggle by millions to get access to HIV medicines. [The Guardian]

  5. Kate has long had an interest in early child development and is backing a project that sees teenagers taking lessons on how babies' brains develop, something a study suggests could give them practical skills as future parents. [BBC]

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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