Canadians have some pretty strong opinions on the British monarchy, and while the discussion of whether Canada should remain a monarchy is gaining some traction, we are pretty fond of the Queen.
Elizabeth II turned 96 last week, and has served as Queen longer than any other British monarch. She remains a figure much admired, probably as much for her ability to rise above the messes continually created by her, let’s call them colourful, family, as for her steadfast adherence to duty.
But, the conversation about the role of the monarchy in many Commonwealth countries is much under discussion these days.
Angus Reid polling has found that only a thin majority of Canadians (51 per cent) say Canada should remain a monarchy in the coming years. A quarter say turf the monarchy and a further quarter are uncertain.
However right now, 55 per cent say let’s remain a constitutional monarchy as long as Elizabeth reigns. I don’t think I’m being overly pessimistic to say that won’t be for much longer.
And here is where the affection for the Queen separates from the affection for the monarchy. Once the Queen passes, the crown goes to her eldest son Charles. He is — how can I put this kindly? — not as beloved as his mother.
In fact, Angus reports, Canadians support for the monarchy under King Charles sinks to 34 per cent. That’s a pretty huge drop.
People just don’t like Chuck. The Queen is viewed favourably by 63 per cent of Canadians, edging out Prince William (60 per cent) for top spot. Charles has only 29 per cent favourability and 13 per cent say the same of Prince Andrew. Given Prince Andrew’s lawsuits and accusations of late, the fact that Charles is only 16 percentage points ahead speaks volumes.
Charles hit the peak of popularity when married to the glamorous Diana. People didn’t care that it was an ill-advised marriage between two completely unsuited people. They didn’t want to believe it was forced on Charles by his parents and the entire giant institution of the monarchy. They wanted it to be a love story, a fairy tale. When it proved not to be, Charles took much of the blame. Was that fair? I don’t believe it was, but he lost a lot of shine during that time.
It doesn’t help that he is hardly an exciting figure. He is currently married to Camilla, reportedly quite blissfully. But the public never warmed up to her either. How could Charles prefer her to Diana was the question.
The general opinion, at least in England, is that the preferred option would be to skip Charles and go straight to William. But that’s not the way the monarchy works, and if the monarchy is anything it is in thrall with tradition. That’s why Charles and Diana’s unhappy marriage was as long as it was. Royalty does not divorce.
They annul marriages, as Henry the VIII did twice (Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves) ; he was widowed once (Jane Seymour) ; and of course he was not averse to lopping off his wives’ heads to get rid of them (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard). And he was actually outlived by one of them (Catherine Parr).
But somehow all that behaviour was in the past and the royal family lurched into the 21st century still believing kings and queens shouldn’t divorce.
It was eventually allowed, but it also spelled the end of a centuries long blind belief in royalty. How can they behave so badly and still expect us to bow to them, to walk behind them, to respect them utterly? More and more people are asking that question.
If nothing else the last quarter century or so has shown us that the royal family are just people, completely fallible, with all the same problems and sins as the rest of us. Once the beloved Elizabeth passes the throne to Charles, are we going to continue to want him as our head of state? According to Angus, no.