15 Minutes With Royal Historian Carolyn Harris
Historian Carolyn Harris dishes on the royal wedding, the Queen on TV and the British monarchy’s changing attitudes.
Illustration: Aimée Van Drimmelen
In conversation with royal historian Carolyn Harris
Between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, a new baby for Prince William and Kate Middleton and the success of The Crown, is the intrigue with royalty at an all-time high?
There’s definitely been a revival of interest among younger people, particularly here in Canada. That actually started in 2010 when the Queen visited to celebrate Canada Day. And then, a year later, William and Kate chose our country as their first overseas tour after marriage.
What do you make of Markle-mania? Why is the newest royal so popular?
We’re definitely seeing her interact with the public in a way reminiscent of Princess Diana. Just as Diana received a lot of attention for crouching down to speak with children and those who are ill, Meghan has been hugging people and making human connections.
A 2016 Ipsos Reid poll reported that about half of Canadians believe we should cut our ties to the monarchy when the Queen’s reign ends. Is there any reason not to?
I would say that when you look at the political climate around the world right now, you can see the value in having a level of government that is above party politics.
Is there any chance Charles could get skipped in the line of succession in favour of his more popular son?
No chance. Charles would have to abdicate and there is nothing to suggest that is something he is considering, or that Prince William is eager to become the king before his time. Prince Harry has even alluded to the fact that none of them really want that role.
Are you a fan of The Crown?
I think it’s a very well crafted TV series—but it’s certainly a blend of fact and fiction. For example, there is no evidence that Prince Philip had an affair, so those rumours are played up for a great deal of drama in the show.
How do you think the Queen feels about having her private life pilfered for entertainment?
I don’t know if she watches the show. But it’s interesting that, in her most recent Christmas address, she paid tribute to Prince Philip and to their marriage. She made a joke that when she began her reign there was no such thing as a platinum anniversary.
Back then the idea of a royal marrying a divorcée was absolutely unthinkable. Is the relationship between Prince Harry and the once-divorced Markle a sign of how much times have changed?
I think so. People look at the monarchy as a very traditional institution, but the Queen has reigned over a period of tremendous social change, including attitudes towards divorce. Her uncle, Edward VIII, had to abdicate to marry Wallis Simpson, but in 2005 Prince Charles married a divorced Camilla Parker Bowles. That’s helped pave the way for Prince Harry.
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Carolyn Harris’s Raising Royalty was published in 2017.