CHRISTOPHER WILSON: For anyone who cares about the future of the monarchy, these are dangerous times



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Our monarchy is a precious but ultimately fragile jewel. The events of the past few days have shown this all too clearly. There are widespread concerns for the Queen’s health as William and Kate endured several awkward moments during their Caribbean tour.

The couple returned home today after acquitting themselves with distinction, but the institution they represent, which has been such an important pillar of Britain’s national identity for centuries, has been attacked.

For many, the monarchy is a refuge in times of crisis. Ugly events – war in Ukraine, Covid, the rising cost of living at home – can seem less threatening if everything stays central and stable.

The Queen represents the beating heart of the nation, but her advanced age and increasing vulnerability show how delicate the bond between sovereign and people is.

It is now becoming increasingly clear that we should not expect to see our Head of State again at one of those traditional royal year set pieces – Trooping the Colour, the State Opening of Parliament, Royal Ascot and the rest.

The Queen (pictured viewing an exhibit of artifacts on March 23) represents the nation’s beating heart, but her advanced age and increasing fragility show just how delicate the bond between sovereign and people is, writes Christopher Wilson

However, there are no plans for a regency in which Prince Charles would formally replace his mother as head of state. For on her 21st birthday, the Queen promised: “I declare to all of you that my whole life, whether long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”

In other words, she would never give up the throne.

But make no mistake, critics of the monarchy are lining up to attack this cornerstone of the British state. And William and Kate’s overseas tour last week has given them more ammunition.

The royal couple’s performance in Jamaica, where the Republican feeling is warm and strong, was a misstep. After stumbling, they found it difficult to regain steady momentum.

And despite an excellent show of royal professionalism in the harsh glare of tropical sunlight, the trusty royal magic of yesteryear looked like it was wearing off.

With Barbados so recently turning its back on the crown and declaring itself a republic, a visit to Jamaica would always remain a gamble. In retrospect it is easy to see the flaws in the planning and perception of the Caribbean tour.

Broadcast mainly on social media, but also to a significant extent by the BBC’s Royal correspondent, who described an event as “a sort of white rescue parody”.

Last night came William’s dramatic statement about the future of the Commonwealth.

These are dangerous times for the millions who care about the future of the House of Windsor.

Following her painful decision not to attend the annual Commonwealth Day service two weeks ago, there is much concern about whether the Queen will head to Westminster Abbey on Tuesday for Prince Philip’s memorial service.

Understandably, she doesn’t want her mounting mobility issues broadcast around the world.

Despite last week’s charming photos of her in a floral dress, lightly leaning on a cane, it’s clearly become a struggle for her.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are pictured paying their respects during a visit to Abaco's Memorial Wall on Saturday to commemorate the victims of the hurricane

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are pictured paying their respects during a visit to Abaco’s Memorial Wall on Saturday to commemorate the victims of the hurricane

By refusing to step aside and sit back, it could be argued that the institution she heads is in danger of getting weaker with her.

The combined losses of Prince Andrew and Prince Harry of the royal ranks in highly controversial circumstances, coupled with the death of Prince Philip, undoubtedly make the Royal Family at its most vulnerable since the 1936 Abdication.

Members are no doubt working hard in difficult circumstances, but with older members such as the Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra and the Duke of Gloucester now retired, the institution looks and feels less solid.

In all fairness, the Covid lockdowns, which have seen Royals meet people on official visits, saw action with unusual speed to deal with the changing national mood.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen the Royals adapt quickly to the electronic world, finding a clever way to make themselves more visible to many more people.

But the more exposure the Windsor team gains, the greater the control and the greater the chance of error.

Many believe that William’s apology in Jamaica for Britain’s slave-trading past was a colossal mistake, meant to appease a nation that was not ready and unwilling to be satisfied.

All it did was open an old wound and it was of no use other than to make British royalty look weak.

For this, William can hardly take the blame personally – his speech will have been prepared on behalf of the State Department. But now that he’s back home, as he reflects on the events of the past few days, he may wonder if he and his family need better advice.

Because times change quickly. In today’s age of social media, where the toxic views of minorities often outweigh the feelings of the majority, the concept of monarchy is in danger of being viewed by younger generations as outdated, over-privileged and irrelevant.

Moreover, for some observers at least, the danger to the stability of the royal family does not lie in dissidents from distant lands, but from much closer to home.

For years there have been concerns that, despite his life of good works and cheerful patience as he waits for the top job, Prince Charles has an erratic side to his character that threatens the necessary stability that has been the hallmark of his mother’s reign.

Prince Charles and Camilla pose in front of a cathedral during a visit to the Rock of Cashel on March 25 in Tipperary, Ireland

Prince Charles and Camilla pose in front of a cathedral during a visit to the Rock of Cashel on March 25 in Tipperary, Ireland

Charles has promised that, once on the throne, he will no longer meddle in politics. The so-called “black spider” memos — handwritten notes he sent to cabinet ministers urging them to take action for his pets — will, we are told, cease and as king he will lay down his campaign sword. But those who know Charles doubt it.

The big question is whether King Charles III will leave the institution of the monarchy in as strong a position as when he inherited it. Or will his innate stubbornness give the monarchy’s critics more ammunition?

Looking much further ahead, and the reign of King William V, it is hoped that such lessons have been learned.

The fact is that William, as far as we know, has steered clear of political intervention, and wise too. From a hesitant beginning we know that he now harbors the prospect of kingship.

Most impressively, month after month and year after year, he and Kate have become a magnificent asset of which our nation and the Commonwealth can be proud. Pretty much, they followed the path laid out by the Queen, rather than the one laid out by Charles.

William, 39, is also unaffected by the heavy burden of waiting in line that has plagued his father, sometimes faltering his judgment.

After the bruises he sustained during last week’s Caribbean tour, William will definitely keep an eye out for it. And if he has more to say about the direction the monarchy is heading after last week’s mess, he should be heard.

Above all, the words of another man, a titan of the House of Windsor, should be taken to heart.

As the world pays tribute to Prince Philip at his memorial service on Tuesday, we would do well to dwell on this great man’s devotion to duty, patriotism, self-sacrifice, modesty and sanity—all virtues that will ensure that our monarchy continues to exist.

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