World·Royal Fascinator

Shadows of a difficult 2021 loom over Royal Family ahead of next year's Platinum Jubilee

Many of the troubles the House of Windsor faced in 2021 show little sign of fading as the calendar turns to 2022, a year when attention will focus on marking the Platinum Jubilee to honour Queen Elizabeth's 70 years as monarch.

Queen Elizabeth will mark 70 years as monarch in 2022

Queen Elizabeth, shown greeting her guests at a reception in Windsor Castle in October, will mark 70 years as monarch next year. (Alastair Grant/The Associated Press)

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Some years are better than others. For the Royal Family, this has not been one of the better ones.

Many of the troubles the House of Windsor faced in 2021 show little sign of fading as the calendar turns to 2022, a year when attention will focus on marking the Platinum Jubilee to honour Queen Elizabeth's 70 years as monarch.

Royal author and biographer Penny Junor says 2021 has been a very difficult year for the Royal Family.

"One thing after another has hit them," Junor said in an interview. "And I think it's been a very damaging year for them."

Most damaging, Junor said, is the combination of two circumstances. 

One is what has come from Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in California, including their interview last March with Oprah Winfrey, where discussion of their life in the Royal Family raised issues of race and support for mental health, among several others. 

The interview Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, did with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021 was the focus of intense media coverage. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

The other circumstance is the saga surrounding Prince Andrew and the fallout from his friendship with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

"Neither of these problems is going away any time soon, I don't think, and Harry is promising his memoirs [in 2022], which must be hanging over the family like the sword of Damocles," said Junor.

"Who knows what he's going to say. Who knows what his truth is."

In addition to the controversies surrounding Harry, Meghan and Andrew, the Queen lost her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, on April 9.

Pandemic restrictions at the time of his death meant a small family funeral in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, and much attention focused on the dignified — but lonely — figure cut by the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth looks on as she sits alone in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle during the funeral of Prince Philip, the man who had been by her side for 73 years, in Windsor, England, on April 17, 2021. (Jonathan Brady/The Associated Press)

"Those images of the Queen sitting alone in her mask at Prince Philip's funeral became more widely iconic of the COVID-19 pandemic for those who had lost loved ones," Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris said in an interview.

There were moments that were more hopeful for the family — four great-grandchildren of the Queen were born this year. Junor also pointed to an increased profile for Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.

"They've really sort of stepped up, I think, to a whole new level. They did handle the lockdown really well. I think they put out some very good messages and they gave some terrific interviews and … they were … working as a team."

When it came to dealing with the difficulties, Junor said members of the Royal Family handled them the only way they could, particularly through a focus on carrying on doing what they do, whether through their charitable endeavours or bringing "comfort and reassurance to people in times of trouble."

The increased scrutiny on Harry, Meghan and Andrew had an impact on how others in the family have gone about their royal business, Harris added.

"We've seen … senior members of the Royal Family undertaking public engagements together, emphasizing continuity," she said, with an emphasis on them "all appearing together, whether it's the G7 [in Cornwall] or the premiere of the new James Bond movie."

Two generations of senior royals were on hand as Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, left, Prince William, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince Charles pose for photographers before the world premiere of the new film from the James Bond franchise, No Time To Die, in London on Sept. 28, 2021. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

Given all that has transpired this year, it's tempting to compare 2021 to another year of troubles: 1992, when three of the four marriages of the Queen's children unravelled, fire ravaged part of Windsor Castle and Elizabeth herself spoke of it being an "annus horribilis."

"I think it's absolutely fair to call this another annus horribilis," said Junor, with a nod to the circumstances surrounding Andrew and Harry in particular, and their potential impact on Elizabeth.

"I mean, Harry has taken a swipe at everybody in the family, mostly his father. But you know, he also actually had a swipe at the Queen," she said.

"Harry did say that he thought the reason his childhood had been so difficult was because Charles was not a particularly good parent, but equally he didn't know how to be a good parent because he hadn't been well parented himself, which is a bit of a slap in the face for the Queen."

Harris sees a distinction between 1992 and 2021 in how attention has focused on the Queen. 

Queen Elizabeth receives the Sultan of Oman during an audience at Windsor Castle on Wednesday. (Jonathan Brady/The Associated Press)

"There were questions raised [in 1992] about her relationship with her children — should she have provided them with more guidance, how had she balanced extensive travel on Commonwealth tours and public engagements while they were young … whereas in 2021, there's been a great deal of respect and sympathy for the Queen."

The clouds hanging over 2021 ahead of the Platinum Jubilee stand in contrast to the circumstances the Royal Family found itself in ahead of the last Jubilee — the Diamond, in 2012, marking 60 years for Elizabeth on the throne. 

"Certainly in 2011 and 2012, there was a lot of very positive coverage of the monarchy," said Harris, noting that Prince William and Kate had just married and done a "very successful tour of Canada" in the summer of 2011.

Now, heading into the Platinum Jubilee, there are concerns about the 95-year-old Queen's health, Harris said, and "questions of just how many public engagements that the Queen will undertake even within her own royal residences as she is being encouraged to rest more and more."

Junor said she hopes the Queen will be out and about during the Platinum Jubilee, and not limited to video appearances, which she has taken to doing throughout the pandemic.

"Seventy years … is an extraordinary achievement and … she is incredibly loved. So I think if she shows her face at the age of 95 — 96 she will be then — I think there will be huge enthusiasm for her."

The Crown and Canada

Prince Charles speaks during Canada 150 celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Another person noticing a difference in the anticipation of the Platinum Jubilee compared to what was seen a decade ago is Michael Jackson, president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown Canada.

"Things are much more muted, more low-key and … people like us are hoping the Platinum Jubilee will give a recharge … to the Royal Family and the Canadian Crown," said Jackson in an interview.

The Crown in Canada has also had its difficult moments of late, with the controversy surrounding Julie Payette's time as the Queen's representative here. Payette resigned as Governor General in January after a workplace review of Rideau Hall found she and her secretary presided over a toxic work environment.

Payette's appointment "did a great deal of damage to the credibility and profile of the office of the Governor General," said Jackson, and it's going to take a long time to recover.

"Staff morale was at rock-bottom. Work wasn't getting done. There's a huge backlog of paperwork on honours and awards and the office just lost its respect and stature [with] the Canadian people."

Jackson looks with optimism at the appointment of Mary Simon, who was sworn in as Governor General in late July, becoming the first Inuk in the role.

Buffy Sainte-Marie, right, speaks with Gov. Gen. Mary Simon at the unveiling of a Canada Post stamp honouring Sainte-Marie's legacy as a singer-songwriter, in Ottawa on Nov. 18, 2021. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

And he looks with optimism toward next year's Platinum Jubilee — with an asterisk.

"At the moment, the one thing that we are concerned about is the failure [of the federal government] to announce a Platinum Jubilee medal."

Medals have been given during previous jubilees, and Jackson said one next year would offer a chance to pay tribute to Canadians, particularly those who have contributed to their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're thinking there's an opportunity here to honour the grassroots people in Canada, the volunteers, the unsung heroes, the first responders."

Previous jubilees have included visits to Canada by members of the Royal Family — the Queen during her Silver (for 25 years) in 1977 and Golden (50 years) in 2002, while Prince Charles and Camilla came in 2012 to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Queen Elizabeth talks with Canadian rowers at Ottawa's Dow Lake, where she went to watch the Silver Jubilee Regatta on Oct. 15, 1977. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Whether there will be a visit to Canada next year by a senior member of the Royal Family is unclear — particularly in light of the ongoing pandemic.

"I think there's a lot of uncertainty in 2022 regarding royal tours and public engagements," said Harris. 

"A Platinum Jubilee would normally prompt extensive Commonwealth tours, particularly to the Commonwealth realms, by members of the Queen's family. But with travel advisories once again being issued with the Omicron variant … it remains to be seen."

Visits by members of the Royal Family can have an impact on public views of the Crown and the monarchy in Canada.

"We tend to see less debate and discussion regarding the monarchy in Canada when we're not having regular royal visits," said Harris. "When there are royal visits, often this prompts discussions about the Crown's role in Canada."

  • Our CBC friend in Ottawa, Elizabeth Thompson, has looked more deeply into a question that arose concerning the time Prince Harry spent in Canada in recent years. Through a request for records under the Access to Information Act, she found that protecting Harry and his family cost taxpayers more than $334,000 over a period of less than four years. Read her report here.

COVID's shadow over Christmas 

Prince William, centre, and Kate stand with their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte after attending a Christmas Day service at the St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, England, on Dec. 25, 2019. The Royal Family's Christmas gathering at Sandringham was cancelled last year because of the pandemic, and it's not clear whether it will be held this year. (Jon Super/The Associated Press)

With the Omicron variant fuelling a coronavirus case surge in the U.K., the Queen has cancelled a pre-Christmas lunch for extended members of the Royal Family.

The gathering was planned for Windsor Castle next Tuesday, but was called off as a precaution, it was widely reported. 

The decision showed that the Queen, like everyone else, is trying to navigate another COVID-19 Christmas, BBC royal correspondent Sean Coughlan wrote on the network's website.

"It's also a public statement, as well as a private family decision," Coughlan said. "A public figure leading by example, as families make their own choices about meeting at Christmas."

The Royal Family has traditionally gathered at the Queen's Sandringham estate, northeast of London, for Christmas, although that was cancelled last year because of the pandemic. It's unclear whether the get-together will go ahead this year.

The effects of the pandemic were also front and centre on a royal Christmas card. The annual greeting from Prince Charles and Camilla showed him in a candid moment, helping her adjust her face mask.

William and Kate also released the photo they shared on their Christmas card. The picture, featuring them along with their three children, was taken during a vacation in Jordan earlier this year.

Royally quotable

"When I listen to it now, it takes me back to those car rides and brings back lots of memories of my mother." 

Prince William recalls drives with his mother Diana, Princess of Wales, back to boarding school as she sang along at the top of her voice to Tina Turner's The Best. The memory was one of many William shared during an episode of the Time to Walk podcast on Apple Fitness+. On Instagram, William said that "in the hope of inspiring a few other people to get active and take some extra time for their own mental health — I wanted to share a few of my stories and favourite songs with you in an episode of Time to Walk."

Royal reads

  1. A representative of a campaign urging the Royal Family to rewild its lands met with the Crown estate to ask it to consider pledging a portion of its 250,000 hectares to wild nature. [The Guardian]

  2. A private collection of letters and photos of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles that offer a glimpse into royal family life have been put on sale. [BBC]

  3. Mary, Queen of Scots, used a complicated process to conceal the secrets of the last letter she wrote before she was beheaded in 1587, researchers have found. [The Guardian]

  4. The Dutch royal family has apologized after Princess Amalia invited 21 guests to her 18th birthday despite the government having told citizens to restrict gatherings to four. Last year, the Dutch royals cut short a holiday in Greece at the same time as the general population had been advised against going abroad. [Daily Mail]

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

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