Skip to main content

While NATO leaders have been shoring up the defences on their eastern flank, the Cambridges have been on a tour of the Caribbean to shore up the House of Windsor’s far-flung domains in The Queen’s historic Platinum Jubilee year. 

Elizabeth II is the first British monarch to reign for 70 years, and is now just over two years away from surpassing Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, to become the longest reigning monarch in the history of the world. 

While the Jubilee year is an opportunity to reflect on an extraordinary seven decades of steadfast service, attention is shifting to consolidating the future, not just commemorating the past.

Fifteen Commonwealth realms still share The Queen as Head of State, a position she has maintained for longer than many might have thought possible in a changing world. 

Many former Commonwealth realms that have become republics, with their own heads of state, are nevertheless members of the larger Commonwealth of Nations, including Barbados which became a republic in late 2021. 

Debates concerning the legacy of colonialism and slavery, and what, if anything, the UK should do about it, are intensifying across the Caribbean. Demands for reparations from the British Government have been rebuffed, but will persist. 

It is believed that the decision by Barbadians to break with the House of Windsor could trigger a wider wave of republicanism across the region. The latest eight-day royal tour of Belize, Jamaica, and the Bahamas by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge therefore came at a pivotal moment.

The trip didn’t start well, with protests leading to a cancelled engagement in Belize, followed by accusations of ill-advised photo ops reminiscent of an imperial past. Perhaps most awkwardly, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, publicly proclaimed to the royal couple that his country is “moving on”.

Yet despite some of the criticism, The Duke was determined to show that ‘The Firm’ is ready to both confront pains of the past, and build a new relationship with Britain’s former colonies that is fit for the 21st century.

In Jamaica, The Duke followed his father’s lead and expressed his “profound sorrow” for the “abhorrent” practice of slavery. While some wanted an outright apology, such an admission of guilt from the future constitutional monarch, whose duty is to remain above politics, was never likely.

He did, however, go further in the Bahamas, suggesting that the Monarchy would support any realm wishing to become a republic. “Relationships evolve. Friendship endures… We support with pride and respect your decisions about your future,” he declared at a reception in Nassau. 

It is possible that the end of The Queen’s time on the throne could accelerate the breaking of ties between remaining realms and the House of Windsor. Succession from one monarch to another is often an opportunity for renewal, but it is also a moment of peril, especially after such a long and popular reign.

While The Prince of Wales has gravitas, and has been widely recognised for his tireless campaigning all over the Commonwealth on the environment and other important causes, he will easily be the oldest heir to inherit the throne, and his reign is likely to be more transitory. 

Much rests on the Cambridges and the model they decide to take forward. Their popularity in the UK rivals that of The Queen, but they will need to work harder to prove their relevance in other parts of the world. The storm over ‘Megxit’ certainly won’t have made this any easier. 

The Caribbean tour appears to have alerted the Cambridges to this fact. Upon his return home, The Duke reportedly admitted that it had “brought into even sharper focus” that the Monarchy would need to adapt, perhaps even accepting that he would not succeed his father as Head of the Commonwealth. 

Whether the House of Windsor will want to cling on to Commonwealth realms for as long as possible remains to be seen. According to one expert, they might actually prefer for more Commonwealth realms to become republics. 

“My hunch is that privately Buckingham Palace might even welcome that,” said leading academic of the constitution, Professor Robert Hazell, during a recent Bright Blue TV episode. 

“It adds to the burden that The Queen is currently the Monarch of 14 other countries as well as the UK, trying to keep on top of the politics and issues where she is Head of State. Slimming down in that respect would not, I suspect, necessarily be unwelcome.”

As the Windsors gathered at Westminster Abbey this week for a final celebration of the life of The Duke of Edinburgh, they were doubtless considering how the world he knew on royal tours in decades past is evolving. The wind of change is blowing through the Commonwealth, whether they like it or not. 

Joseph is the Communications Manager at Bright Blue. [Image: FCDO]