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Could the Royal Family shrink?

Over the years, there have been signs of a gradual streamlining of the House of Windsor, but there has been little recently to rival the straight-up announcement coming out of another royal household the other day.

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When Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee was celebrated in June 2012, there was a notable focus on the highest-ranking members of the Royal Family as they gathered on the balcony of Buckingham Palace: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, left; Prince Charles; Queen Elizabeth; Prince William; Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. The Queen's husband, Prince Philip, was in hospital at the time. (Dan Kirkwood/Getty Images)

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Over the years, there have been signs of a gradual streamlining of the House of Windsor, but there has been little recently to rival the straight-up announcement coming out of another royal household the other day.

Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf removed five of his seven grandchildren from the royal house, stripping them of their titles of royal highness. The children of Princess Madeleine and Prince Carl-Philip also won't be expected to perform royal duties and won't receive a share of the family's annual state funding.

In many ways, the move seems to be a sign of the royal times.

"This strikes me as part of this general trend within royal families in Europe for there to be a smaller core of working members of the royal family, with the wider extended family being expected to pursue their own careers," Toronto-based royal historian and author Carolyn Harris said.

Nothing in the official announcement offered any reason for the Swedish change.

But Harris, author of Raising Royalty: 1,000 Years of Royal Parenting, noted it seems to be influenced to some degree by the fact that the five grandchildren are approaching school age, when there would be more speculation about their public roles. In the case of the three children of Princess Madeleine, some of their time has also been spent living outside Sweden, she added.

Underlying the change, however, is the likelihood economics are also at play. Observers, the BBC reported, say the change reflects a view "that there is no need to pay so many members of the royal family for official duties."

Changes to the Swedish royal household mean the children of Princess Madeleine and Christopher O'Neill will lose their royal highness titles and won't be expected to carry out royal duties when they are older. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/Reuters)

And, Harris said, making the announcement is "a good way of making clear that the Swedish royal family is conscious of public money going toward the monarchy."

In the U.K., there haven't been such overt announcements, but there have been signs of streamlining, particularly in 2012, when Queen Elizabeth celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. At the time, there was a strong emphasis on a core group of royals: the Queen and Prince Philip; heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla; Prince William and his wife, Kate; and Prince Harry.

Other members of the more extended Royal Family, particularly cousins of the Queen, carry out royal duties, but there's a sense that could change.

Harris said it's "unique in many ways for royal cousins to be undertaking official duties, and in subsequent reigns, the Royal Family will likely be much more streamlined with fewer working members."

Other signs of a potential slimming down include the fact that Harry's son, Archie, didn't receive a title at the time of his birth in May, signalling he's likely to be a private citizen.

Still, unlike in Sweden, where the royal family has been publicly united in its support for the changes, there's a sense that an interest in a streamlined British Royal Family is not shared universally by its members.

It's long been considered Charles supports the leaner approach, while his younger brother Andrew has not liked the thought that his daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, who have pursued their own careers, might in any way be sidelined within the family.

Princess Eugenie, left, Prince Andrew, and Princess Beatrice attend the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle on May 19, 2018, in Windsor, England. (Chris Jackson/Reuters)

There's been "a lot of speculation behind the scenes regarding any diminishment of their status, so there isn't the same sense … of the entire Royal Family being on the same page regarding the position of junior members," said Harris.

In ways, however, the streamlining of the British Royal Family has been underway since Queen Victoria's reign, Harris said. The eldest son of Victoria's daughter Beatrice was the first member of the family to pursue a commercial career.

"Gradually, we are seeing more and more of an expectation that unless you are one of the people who is very close to the throne … you will be pursuing a career outside of royal duties."

Could Harry and Meghan move to Canada?

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle attend a wheelchair tennis event at the Invictus Games in Toronto on Sept. 25, 2017. Meghan was living in Toronto at the time. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

First, there were rumours Prince Harry and Meghan were going to decamp to Africa for a significant period of time. Then, some tabloids seemed convinced they were checking out real estate in California, where the Duchess of Sussex grew up.

Then came more speculation via an American celebrity magazine that the couple is considering a move to Canada, where she lived in Toronto for several years while filming the TV series Suits

There's nothing official to indicate Harry and Meghan are planning a significant move — to Canada or anywhere else — any time soon. 

But it's hardly the first time Canada has popped up in speculation about where members of the Royal Family who are not right at the top of the line of succession might end up.

"It's one of those rumours that appears every generation," said Harris. "It's a very powerful holdover of that 19th-century view of what do you do with junior members of the Royal Family. Well, you can send them out around the world to the wider empire and Commonwealth."

Drift back a few decades and there was a suggestion that maybe Harry's uncle, Prince Andrew, could become Governor General of Canada.

"In one of her interviews, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, speculated that her marriage might have survived if only Prince Andrew had become the Governor General of Canada and they had been able to live in Canada together," said Harris.

The last member of the Royal Family to serve as Governor General was the Earl of Athlone during the Second World War. Since 1952, governors general have been Canadian citizens.

Harris considers it unlikely Harry and Meghan would actually move here. 

"The Queen and Prince Philip are growing older and their children and grandchildren are taking on more royal duties," she said. Harry and Meghan are "going to be needed in the United Kingdom in order to undertake royal duties there."

In Diana's footsteps

William and Kate meet with cancer patient Wafia Remain, 7, while on a visit to Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, on Oct. 17, 2019. William's mother, Diana, had visited the hospital when she was in Pakistan in the 1990s. (Arthur Edwards/Getty Images)

Prince William and Kate spent the past week in Pakistan, but another member of the Royal Family loomed large over the visit: William's late mother, Diana.

The trip was billed by royal aides as the most complex visit undertaken by the couple, particularly because of security and logistical concerns. It was also a major diplomatic push and show of soft power as the U.K. looks to bolster foreign relationships as Brexit approaches.

But stories and photos from the trip frequently focused on parallels between this visit and trips Diana had made to the country two decades ago. Kate was dressing as Diana did. She and William visited a cancer hospital Diana had visited. And so on.

William and Kate visit a settlement of the Kalash people to learn more about their culture and unique heritage in Chitral, Pakistan, on Oct. 16, 2019. (Samir Hussein/Getty Images)

At one point, during a visit to a school, a student told William that the girls there were big fans of Diana.

"You were, really?" The Telegraph reported Prince William saying in response. "Oh, that's very sweet of you. I was a big fan of my mother, too."

The visit also focused on issues that are priorities for William and Kate, including the environment and climate change, and produced a highly rare — and brief — TV interview with Kate.

As heavily planned as the trip was, there was at least one unscripted moment no one could control: a heavy storm forced the plane carrying the royals to return to Lahore on Thursday after two aborted landings in Islamabad.

William and Kate visit the Chiatibo glacier in the Hindu Kush mountain range in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, on Oct. 16, 2019. While there, they spoke with an expert about how climate change is affecting glacial landscapes. (Neil Hall/Getty Images)

Royally quotable

"My commitment to them is that I shall also raise my own voice and continue to seek ways of ending the stigma they live with, push for opportunities for justice and encourage people in positions of influence to engage in offering better support." 

— Sophie, Countess of Wessex, speaking at a conference in Kosovo after meeting survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

Royals in Canada

Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, with their sons Prince William, left, and Prince Harry, bid goodbye to a cheering Toronto crowd from aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia on Oct. 27, 1991. (Hans Deryk/The Canadian Press)

When Charles and Diana arrived in Canada in the fall of 1991 with William and Harry, it was the first time both young princes had accompanied their parents on a foreign visit.

But as much as there was interest in the boys, there was also considerable scrutiny of Charles and Diana during the trip, which was concentrated on communities in Ontario. 

At the time, there was a strong sense all was not well between them, and the accompanying British press were watching for any signs indicating the state of the marriage. In ways, the visit from Oct. 23 to 29 became two trips in one, as Charles and Diana undertook individual engagements focused on their own interests.

Diana enjoys a ride on the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls with her sons Prince Harry, left, and Prince William on Oct. 26, 1991. (Hans Deryk/The Canadian Press)

Yet even when they went their separate ways during the trip, the media were intense in their interest in Diana. In Niagara Falls, where she and the boys spent a bit of a sunny Saturday afternoon aboard the Maid of the Mist, the press pack was relentless as it rushed to get the next shot of her greeting the crowd at Table Rock. (As a very young and green local reporter at my very first royal assignment, I was struck almost as much by watching the media rush after her as I was by my first glimpse of a member of the Royal Family.)

The trip was the last the couple made together to Canada. They separated the following year and were divorced in 1996, a year before Diana died after a car crash in Paris.

Royal reads

  • When Queen Elizabeth delivered her speech at the state opening of Parliament the other day, her ceremonial attire had a noticeable difference: instead of the heavy Imperial State Crown, she was wearing the much lighter State Diadem. [BBC] 

  • In the face of "endless criticism and carping," Prince Charles is proud of having stuck to his guns over his views on organic farming and town planning. [The Telegraph] 

  • In a documentary based on Harry and Meghan's recent trip to Africa, Meghan says the intense media scrutiny she's faced has left her struggling to cope as a new mom. Harry also says his grief for his mom is still a "wound that festers." [ITV]  

  • Diana's former private secretary wonders whether Harry's recent tears during a speech overshadowed William's visit to Pakistan. [The Telegraph]

  • Artistic inspiration can come from a variety of places. Actor Helena Bonham Carter says she sought Princess Margaret's blessing via a psychic in preparation for playing her in The Crown. [The Guardian] 

  • When the Queen was invited to have a cup of tea recently, she politely declined — because she was "too busy." [The Daily Mail]

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About the Author

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

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