World·Royal Fascinator

Passing the royal baton: How more duties are gradually shifting from the Queen to the younger generations

Recent events involving senior members of the Royal Family offer the latest insight into a gradual transition unfolding within the House of Windsor.

Monarch disappointed at being unable to attend Remembrance Sunday ceremonies

From left: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, stand on the balcony of the Foreign Office during the Remembrance Sunday service in London on Nov. 14. (Aaron Chown/The Associated Press)

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On their own, the events were routine, the regular moments that happen every year around this time, when members of the Royal Family turn their attention to remembering the loss and sacrifice of war.

But put them all together, and consider just which Royal was doing what over the past few days, and there is an underlying message about the future of the House of Windsor.

Central to this was Queen Elizabeth's absence at ceremonies to mark Remembrance Sunday, an absence that came as a great disappointment to her, but was necessitated, Buckingham Palace said, by a sprained back.

As he has for a few years now, her son and heir, Prince Charles, laid a wreath for her during those ceremonies. His wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was at Westminster Abbey a few days earlier for another remembrance event.

Charles and Camilla, along with his son, Prince William, and his wife, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, were also on hand for a variety show, where observers could not help but notice there were fewer Royals in the royal box than in previous years.

Prince Charles bows his head during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony. (Toby Melville/AFP/Getty Images)

"I think we are seeing a gradual shift from the Queen to Charles and Camilla," royal author and biographer Penny Junor said via email.

"They are doing the brunt of the physical work, along with William and Kate, and also Edward and Sophie."

Junor said there's been a perception that Prince Edward, the Queen's youngest son, and his wife, Sophie, "are suddenly stepping into the breach."

"But the fact is they have been working away quietly all these years but have attracted very little media attention. They have now come into focus."

Edward was also on hand the other day to deliver the Queen's speech to the General Synod, which governs the Church of England, an event his mother hadn't missed in its 51-year history.

In the speech, the Queen offered her deep regret at being unable to attend, and also noted how "none of us can slow the passage of time."

The next day, she met the chief of the British defence staff at her Windsor Castle home.

Queen Elizabeth receives Gen. Nick Carter, chief of the British defence staff, during an audience in the Oak Room at Windsor Castle, west of London, on Nov. 17. (Steve Parson/The Associated Press)

"She's all right, thank you very much," Charles told reporters that same day during a visit to Jordan. "Once you get to 95, you know, it's not quite as easy as it used to be. It's bad enough at 73."

Royal historian Sarah Gristwood said we're seeing "further steps along an already established progression toward an informal sharing of responsibilities."

But, Gristwood said in an email, she'd stress the "informal" in that sharing. 

"There's a very limited list of constitutional duties the monarch (or an officially instituted regent) absolutely has to perform herself — signing off on new legislation, inviting a prime minister to form a new government, etc. And there's no reason to think those are going to be handed over any time soon." 

Beyond those constitutional duties, however, it's very much a sliding scale, Gristwood said, noting that it's been "some years now since we first began to see younger royals taking over exhausting foreign tours, etc."

Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, visit the pyramids of Giza, on the edge of Cairo, on Nov. 18. The visit is part of the royal couple's first tour since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. (Mohamed El-Shahed/The Associated Press)

Gristwood expects there will be more of that. 

"There is a sharp new awareness that the Queen is 95 — and only human," she said. "It's said palace insiders now speak of 'Magnificent Seven' — Charles and Camilla, the Cambridges, the Wessexes and Princess Anne — who will be stepping up to the post."

Notably absent from that list: Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who stepped back from the upper echelons of the Royal Family, and Prince Andrew, who stepped back in the fallout from his friendship with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Questions remain, however, about how exactly it will work for those seven, and, Gristwood said, "whether the Queen's own mystique has been passed on to her descendants, especially considering the scandals and splits in which some of them have been involved."

Charles and Camilla and William and Kate led a high-profile royal participation during the opening days of the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, after the Queen pulled out of her scheduled appearance, instead delivering a message via video to world leaders.

Prince William attends a reception at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on Nov. 17. (Yui Mok/The Associated Press)

Rather against the odds, Gristwood said, "COP26 suggests that the baton can and will be passed. And the palace (even more than the rest of us) will be watching that process intently."

Junor expects the Queen will stay at Windsor Castle and do far fewer face-to-face engagements.

"Thanks to the technology we've all used during the various lockdowns, she can still be seen and heard and because we are now all so used to video messaging, I think it will all be quite seamless."

Looking more long term, it has long been thought that Charles is focused on the idea that the monarchy will operate on a smaller scale.

"Thanks to the restrictions of COVID-19, I would say that Charles's vision of a slimmed-down monarchy is evolving almost naturally," Junor said. "And we saw the key players on Remembrance Sunday."

Mary Simon's focus on reconciliation

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon sees reconciliation, mental health, climate change, youth issues and education as linked, and says they will be her focus over the next five years. (Mathieu Thériault/CBC)

CBC's chief political correspondent, Rosemary Barton, spoke with Gov. Gen. Mary Simon the other day. Here's our colleague Christian Paas-Lang's report of their conversation.

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon says Canadians have sent her a clear message that reconciliation is at the top of a "chain" of issues she should address during her term as the Queen's representative in Canada.

In an interview that aired Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live, the recently installed Governor General said she saw the issues of reconciliation, mental health, climate change, youth issues and education as linked, and they would be her focus over the next five years.

Addressing reconciliation specifically, she said there had been a shift in Canadian society such that "we're willing to look at the truth" when it comes to Canada's history with residential schools. She said that was reflected in countless messages she received following her appointment.

"I think the day they found those unmarked graves of children that died at residential schools, that was the day the wound really opened up," she told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.

WATCH | Gov. Gen. Mary Simon speaks with CBC's Rosemary Barton:

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon sees reconciliation as top of a 'chain' of issues to tackle

1 year ago
Duration 9:39
Gov. Gen. Mary Simon tells CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton Canadians have sent her a clear message that reconciliation is the overarching issue she should address in her term as the Queen's representative in Canada.

Despite the fact that deaths of students had been recorded during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's process, Simon said discovery of potential unmarked burial sites "told the story in a very open way" that "made people realize more and more that this is something we can't hide."

She said her role was not a political one, but she was able to help people understand the issue and how they could bring about change.

Simon was appointed Governor General in July, becoming the first Indigenous person to hold the position. An Inuk from Kuujjuaq in northeastern Quebec, she had previously served on the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Arctic Council and as ambassador to Denmark.

Simon told Barton about her time as an honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and her own experience as a child.

Her family was deemed ineligible to be educated under the federal residential school system, she said, and that led to her father needing to do a great deal of home-schooling.

She also wasn't allowed to speak Inuktitut during her time at federal day schools.

Simon speaks with members of the public at an event to mark International Inuit Day and to rename a park in honour of deceased Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook in Ottawa on Nov. 7. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

"That was kind of the beginning of where I thought things weren't right."

Simon speaks Inuktitut and English, but after her appointment, some criticized her lack of proficiency in French. She said she understood the concern, and noted she is taking lessons two or three times a week.

"At my age, it might be a little bit more difficult," she said.

Simon also addressed an upcoming papal visit to Canada, the date of which is not yet set.

Pope Francis has accepted an invitation from Canadian bishops to come to the country, while a delegation of Indigenous leaders is also set to meet with him in December.

At the time of the announcement in late October, Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said she expects the Pope to deliver a "long overdue" apology to residential school survivors.

Simon was part of a delegation to Rome in 2009, which led then-Pope Benedict XVI to express "sorrow" over abuses at church-run residential schools in Canada.

But Indigenous leaders have said that is not enough and argued for a formal apology from the Pope for the Catholic Church's role in the system.

Simon said she is adopting a wait-and-see attitude, given the lack of details around the visit.

"If he's coming here to apologize, that would be very different than just maybe a state dinner where he would be speaking to individuals."

She was also asked about the work culture at Rideau Hall under her tenure.

Her predecessor, Julie Payette, was accused of creating a toxic work environment, as first reported by CBC News and described in a third-party report. Payette resigned after the report was completed.

Simon said she was not going to comment on the past, but said things were going "really well" and she had been proactive about making changes that would "help everyone come back into Rideau Hall with a very positive outlook."

The public and private worlds

Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, greet Stephen Rudinski, right, a Valour Award recipient, and others, as they arrive at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum for a gala on Nov. 10 in New York City. (Craig Ruttle/The Associated Press)

Harry and Meghan may have stepped back from official royal duties in the U.K., but they were stepping out in a high-profile, public way in the U.S. over the past few days.

After a relatively low-profile period following the birth of their daughter, Lilibet, in June, Harry and Meghan went to New York City, where they attended various events, including one to honour veterans. They also visited a military base in New Jersey to mark U.S. Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

Back in their now-home state of California, Meghan was on the set of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, telling the talk-show host in an episode broadcast Thursday several light-hearted stories about everything from her early acting days to the Halloween costumes their children, Archie (a dinosaur) and Lilibet (a skunk), wore. 

Talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, right, appears with Meghan during a taping of The Ellen DeGeneres Show at the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif. (Michael Rozman/Warner Bros. via The Associated Press)

Meghan also renewed her call for the U.S. to implement paid family leave, an issue she had focused on in an open letter to top congressional Democrats.

The public appearances come as Meghan continues to be involved in a legal battle over privacy with the publishers of a British newspaper. Associated Newspapers Ltd. is appealing a ruling that publication of extracts from a letter Meghan sent her father, Thomas Markle, was unlawful.

In the ongoing case, the Court of Appeal recently released several texts between Meghan and Jason Knauf, who at the time was her communications chief. One text indicated that she had drafted everything "with the understanding that it could be leaked," the Guardian reported.

Meghan also apologized to the Appeal Court for making a misleading statement in the privacy case. Court heard that she had asked Knauf to pass on information to the authors of a biography, even though she had said earlier that she did not contribute to the project, the BBC reported.

Meghan said she had not intended to mislead, and had forgotten the events, the BBC said.

Royally quotable

"Of course, in our richly diverse modern society, the well-being of the nation depends on the contribution of people of all faiths, and of none."

Queen Elizabeth, in her speech read by Prince Edward to the General Synod of the Church of England.

Royal reads

  1. A legal battle has been launched over a decision to exclude the media from a court hearing on Prince Philip's will. [The Guardian]

  2. Prince Charles's former aide, Michael Fawcett, has resigned as CEO of Charles's charity amid accusations he helped a major donor secure an honour. [BBC]

  3. Prince Harry has helped compile a report offering guidance for fighting fake news. [The Independent]

  4. A 1.5-million pound loan to Prince Andrew was paid off by a top donor to the British Conservative Party. [Bloomberg]

  5. Vera Lynn was secretly ordered to sing at Princess Elizabeth's 16th birthday in 1942. [The Guardian]

  6. On the entertainment front, the next season of Netflix's The Crown won't be streaming for another year, but it's already sparking curiosity, chatter and controversy. Meanwhile, the trailer has dropped for the Downton Abbey movie sequel, which lands in theatres next March and takes the aristocratic Crawleys and their staff off to the south of France. [Tatler, Daily Mail, CNN]

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

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