World·Royal Fascinator

How Kate has found her role as the House of Windsor looks to its future

Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, her husband Prince William and their young family, have been front and centre recently at public events, as the House of Windsor puts a focus on those in the direct line of succession.

Duchess of Cambridge 'understands the institution into which she has married,' professor says

A person holding their hand to their ear talks to a child holding their hands to their head.
Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, left, speaks with Princess Charlotte during a women's hockey match between India and England at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, on Tuesday. (Aijaz Rahi/The Associated Press)

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They aren't often seen in public, so when royal children do make an appearance, the long lenses of photographers are sure to follow.

Such was the case this past week at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, when a very animated Princess Charlotte accompanied her parents, Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, to watch swimming and gymnastics competitions, among others. For the seven-year-old, it was a milestone of sorts — her first public appearance without either of her brothers, George and Louis, alongside.

But as much as Charlotte was in the spotlight, the family's Commonwealth Games attendance was also an opportunity for observers to cast their eyes on whatever family dynamics they might see play out in public and try to glean whatever insight they could from it. 

Much of that focuses on William and Kate's parenting, and particularly Kate's role within the Royal Family. 

Since their marriage in 2011, much has been written about the gradual way in which she has been adjusting to that role and finding her voice.

A child sits between two adults watching a sports competition.
Prince William, left, Princess Charlotte and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, are on hand to watch the swimming events during the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham on Tuesday. (Jacob King/The Associated Press)

Judith Rowbotham, a social and cultural scholar and visiting research professor at the University of Plymouth in southwestern England, sees Kate showing "a shrewd grasp of her role as wife, and mother, within the particular institution of the Royal Family."

"She understands the institution into which she has married, and clearly values it, and is so willing to play her part in sustaining it, as a royal spouse to someone in direct line of succession," Rowbotham said Friday via email.

"But she also … comes across as a 'nice' person — not a cowed-by-duty-and-formalities individual, but one capable of seeing how, positively, she can help in keeping the institution into which she has married relevant."

In that, Rowbotham said, Kate echoes "past outstanding royal spouses, including Queen Mary and Prince Philip."

Longtime royal chronicler Tina Brown also has a view on royal spouses, and says that in Kate, Prince William "has a complete winner."

As Brown was writing her latest book, The Palace Papers, she said she realized "that who the person marries in the monarchy is the single most important decision they ever make."

"You know, without the Queen Mother, George the Sixth would have just been this sort of stammering, miserably shy" person, Brown told the CBC's Andrew Chang recently. But Elizabeth (who became known as the Queen Mother after her husband's death) was there, at his side, "moulding and pushing and charming and managing."

Two people stand on the steps of a large building.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa on May 19, 1939. (National Archives of Canada/The Canadian Press)

For William, Brown said, Kate is "somebody who is composed, who is stalwart, who is mature, who is graceful, who has accepted this role."

"I don't know many modern women who could actually have waited as long as she waited to marry William, and then have this life which is so constrained, which it really is," Brown said.

"But she has managed just to see a way to make it work. And as such, she has offered William such a support, you know, such a kind of domestic bubble … in which he can live and have a normal life, that it's been a great source of strength to him."

Two people stand together.
Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, applaud after watching the men's singles quarterfinal match between Serbia's Novak Djokovic and Italy's Jannik Sinner at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London on July 5. (Alastair Grant/The Associated Press)

William and Kate and their young family were front and centre throughout the recent Platinum Jubilee events to mark Queen Elizabeth's 70 years as monarch.

As much as the Jubilee was a recognition of her seven decades on the throne, it was also a time to contemplate the monarchy of the future, which is likely to be slimmed-down and more focused on those who are in the direct line of succession.

"There is an acknowledgement that a future Jubilee celebrating Elizabeth II's 80 years on the throne is unlikely," said Rowbotham. 

"And this does, I think, explain the emphasis on the House of Windsor presenting itself as an enduring feature of the monarchy — and the monarchy itself as an enduring institution. So while still about family, it is the family links to the future in terms of the institution which have been at the forefront."

Another donation for Charles's charity — and questions of optics

A person points while standing with a statue in the background.
Prince Charles views a model of a memorial by the Seafarers Memorial Group in Wick, Scotland, on July 29. (Andrew Milligan/The Associated Press)

The headlines about Prince Charles's charity — and questions that flow from them — just keep coming. 

A few weeks ago, it was all about a report of a cash donation a few years ago from a senior Qatari politician — of about 2.5 million pounds, in a suitcase and carrier bags — something the charity says wouldn't happen now.

More recently, another report surfaced regarding a one-million-pound donation to the charity from Osama bin Laden's half-brothers in 2013, two years after the al-Qaeda leader, who had been disowned by his family nearly two decades earlier, was killed. 

While that donation broke no rules and was cleared by the U.K. Foreign Office, it garnered significant attention after the Sunday Times broke the story.

And with that attention comes a multitude of questions, including just what impact this all might have on the image of the House of Windsor. 

"There's a risk that stories such as this generate a broader perception problem amongst the public," Craig Prescott, a constitutional expert at Bangor University in Wales, said via email.

Over the years, the Prince's Trust has generated an "overwhelmingly positive perception," Prescott said.

People in a crowd take pictures of a man.
Prince Charles, right, meets the public in London on May 11, 2022, during a visit to a JD Sports store to meet with young people supported by the Prince's Trust through the U.K. government's Kickstart Scheme. (Paul Grover/The Associated Press)

"It has clearly been shown to have a positive impact and its fundraising activities are generally high-profile, with many celebrities and public figures acting as ambassadors."

But if there continue to be more stories, Prescott said, "there is a risk that the ongoing controversy drags in other activities of Charles, meaning that potential donors don't want to associate themselves with Prince Charles."

"I think we're a very long way from that, but the real problem is the broader reputational risk to Prince Charles's charitable activities more generally."

The BBC reported that a source at the Prince of Wales's Charitable Fund said "the sins of the father" — in this case, Osama Bin Laden — shouldn't mean other members of the family couldn't make a donation.

And that makes sense, BBC royal correspondent Jonny Diamond wrote on the network's website

Yet Diamond wondered, did Charles and those close to him "really think it was a good idea to take money from the bin Ladens," or that it was OK as long as those outside palace walls never learned of it?

"Because once it was public — however many checks were made and rules were followed — it was always going to look horrible," Diamond wrote.

A person talks with other people in a shoe store.
Prince Charles meets people at the JD Sports store on May 11, 2022. (Paul Grover/The Associated Press)

The issue for Charles and his charities, Prescott said, "is whether the benefit of the £1M donation is worth the public relations problems caused by the — however remote — link with bin Laden."

Charles has, Prescott said, "sought to rationalize and streamline his charitable activities and he has no legal responsibilities for his charities."

"That lies with the trustees of each, and on both occasions it is they who have accepted these donations."

But what happens when Charles becomes monarch?

"There has been a genuine question as to how Prince Charles will continue his charitable activities as King," said Prescott.

"Being King requires a political neutrality that is not required of the Prince of Wales, and some of Charles's charitable activities, such as Business in the Community, which sought to take business leaders into inner-city and other deprived areas tackling subjects such as homelessness … could be seen as filling in a gap that is arguably the role of government."

WATCH | Royal watchers on what kind of monarch Prince Charles might be: 

Prince Charles: A King in Waiting

7 months ago
Duration 8:43
As the Queen begins to step back from the spotlight, The National’s Andrew Chang talks to royal correspondents who’ve watched Prince Charles for years for insight into what sort of king we can expect him to become.

The key point, Prescott said, "is that there's more bite to these activities" than how Charles's mother, Queen Elizabeth, has carried out her charitable role, which is to be patron of various charities, "purely as a figurehead."

"This may all be perfectly fine as the political and constitutional role of the monarchy has become less significant. But it will be different to what has gone before," Prescott said, noting that Charles might hand some of his charitable activities over to his son, Prince William.

"With the emphasis on youth, this may make sense with something such as the Prince's Trust," said Prescott. "However, William and indeed [his wife] Catherine both have their own charitable interests and activities."

Want to read about the royals? The books just keep coming

A memoir by Prince Harry may be published by the end of 2022. (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

That authors will try to find fodder for books in the lives of members of the Royal Family is nothing new, and seems to come in waves.

Milestone birthdays and other occasions — such as Prince William's 40th and Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee — were pegs for recently published tomes. 

While those books were by longtime royal authors, one highly anticipated book by a royal himself has reportedly been pushed back a bit, but is on track for publication by the end of the year.

Fascinator readers have been wondering when Prince Harry's memoir might be available, and recent reports suggest it may be in stores in time for Christmas.

Harry, who along with wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, stepped back from official royal duties in 2020, has said his memoir will be "a first-hand account of my life that's accurate and wholly truthful."

Whatever he reveals — with ghostwriter JR Moehringer — there's a sense there may be some nervousness behind palace walls.

Prince Harry has been "busy lobbing his grenades from Montecito [California] and is going to publish his own memoir, his own tell-all memoir, in the fall, which I think is awaited … with a lot of trepidation, frankly, about what he's going to do now to destabilize things," Tina Brown told the CBC's Andrew Chang recently. (Brown's own book, The Palace Papers, was published earlier this year.)

WATCH | Tina Brown speaks with The National co-host Andrew Chang:

‘Their own worst enemies': Tina Brown’s take on the royals

9 months ago
Duration 7:53
Former Vanity Fair editor and The Palace Papers author Tina Brown talks to Andrew Chang about the Royal Family’s scandals, futures and why she thinks they’re “their own worst enemies."

In recent days, it also emerged that journalist Omid Scobie, co-author of Finding Freedom, an unofficial biography of Prince Harry, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, will publish a followup book next year.

Royally quotable

"You have all set an example that will be an inspiration for girls and women today, and for future generations." 

— Queen Elizabeth, in a congratulatory message to the English team after they won the European women's football championship.

Royal reads and watches

  1. A judge acted correctly when he decided to hold a secret court hearing in which he banned the public from inspecting Prince Philip's will, a U.K. court has ruled. [The Guardian]

  2. The royal yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997. Now, U.K. Tory leadership hopeful Liz Truss is backing another one despite minimal public and political support. [The Guardian]

  3. As an Australian senator was sworn into Parliament, she called Queen Elizabeth a "colonizing" monarch. [Washington Post]

  4. A U.S. Supreme Court justice mocked prominent figures around the world, including Prince Harry and outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for speaking out against the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The judge also dismissed criticism from French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

  5. The Commonwealth Games have begun in Birmingham, but along with celebrations, the games are being criticized by some for their colonial past. [CBC]

  6. He hasn't been seen much in public, but the Queen's youngest grandson, 14-year-old James, Viscount Severn, son of Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, had a much higher profile this week, as he attended the Commonwealth Games with his parents. [Daily Mail]

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

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