The first week in July is traditionally known as Royal Week in Scotland. The monarch fills up their calendar with engagements north of the border and presses the Scottish flesh. It was always a staple of Queen Elizabeth II’s summer, and marked the beginning of her extended summer vacation at her Highland holiday home, Balmoral Castle.
Despite the generally quite Republican proclivities of much of the Scottish population, the crowds would turn out for the queen— and the antis would stay home.
King Charles and Queen Camilla are struggling to command anything like the same kind of respect, let alone love, across the border. A Scottish coronation in Edinburgh this week was not thronged; banks of Republican protesters waving yellow ‘Not My King’ banners were its most prominent feature. The noises of protest could even be heard inside the church while the ceremony was going on; a report in the London Times patriotically tried to make the case that “the demonstrations seemed to become almost part of the occasion.” Up to a point.
The royal news cycle shrugged at the whole circus; it was more interested in the revelation that an AI bot egged on a deranged man armed with a crossbow and wearing a home-made Darth Vader Mask who broke into Windsor Castle two years ago and wanted to kill the queen.
In short, it is becoming painfully clear that King Charles III (most recent net favorability: 32 percent) and Queen Camilla (most recent net favorability: 4 percent) have lost vast swathes of the public who supported his mother (deathbed net favorability: 70 percent).
In contrast to the two wealthy senior citizens who looked like they might be happier on a world cruise than dressed up in absurd and anachronistic “Order of the Thistle” uniforms at St Giles’ Cathedral, Kate Middleton, sitting next to them wearing a chic electric-blue coatdress by Catherine Walker paired with a gorgeous Philip Treacy hat, looked like she increasingly does these days—the one senior royal who actually understands that the world has changed in the past 500 years.
William, although bedecked in ludicrous ostrich feathers and medieval bling, at least managed to smile in contrast to his father, who again spent much of the ceremony showcasing his bewildered ‘big baby’ resting face.
It seems sadly inevitable that as long as King Charles and Queen Camilla remain on the throne, affection for the British monarchy will dwindle. There is a not-so secret hope among many royal loyalists that Charles will abdicate on or around his 80th birthday, handing the controls to William and Kate while they are young enough to make a difference. The nightmare for the institution is that he chugs along into his 100s (his father lived to 99) refusing to hand over power until death, while the great balloon of monarchy slowly deflates, leaking credibility and influence as it sinks to earth.
Kate and William must do little other than wait, and rear their children, which they will do happily for now, having no desire to immediately give up their largely private existence.
They are fortunate that the road ahead is more straightforward than it has been for almost any heir in modern times, not least thanks to the decision of Harry and Meghan to exile themselves and dispense with their constitutional credibility by publicly attacking the monarchy.
But if Charles does hang on to the crown until death parts him from it, a time may come when the Waleses tire of waiting. Although the dynamic of the two courts has been largely free of petty feuds so far, there have been some classy power plays from William and Kate’s side.
They have, for example, made it very clear that the days of being told what to do by Charles and his office are over.
This was expressed, rather amusingly, by a genteel showdown at Chelsea Flower Show in June when Kate turned up unannounced on the same day Charles was there. Crucially, she arrive about 90 minutes after him, thereby blowing him off global news feeds.
There was a bit of off-camera grumbling from Charles’ camp. “Charles is unlikely to be amused,” a friend of the king’s told The Daily Beast at the time. “Gardens are very much his thing, and given that it was always his mother’s big pre-Trooping the Color day out, I think he has a right to be annoyed.” But sources say there was no serious pushback.
Pointedly, a friend of Kate’s told The Daily Beast at the time of the incident: “William and Kate are now very senior figures as the coronation made clear. Charles wouldn’t have needed the queen’s permission to attend the Chelsea Flower Show, and Kate doesn’t need Charles’ permission to go to the Chelsea Flower Show.”
But we are clearly a long way from the time when Charles’s office felt able to “openly scold” Kate and William for “drawing attention away” from him, or Charles’ press officer told Kate’s team, when she visited Wimbledon on the same day as him: “Just make sure the Duchess doesn’t hold a tennis racquet in any of the photos.”
(Incidentally, Kate has now claimed Wimbledon as her territory, making all the front pages again as she palled around with Roger Federer in the Royal Box on Tuesday. She didn’t even need to lift a tennis racquet.)
Intriguingly, the London Times’ royal correspondent, Valentine Low, in a newly added chapter to the paperback version of his book Courtiers, cited a source as saying of Kate: “She does not get as much credit as she should, because she is so subtle about it. She is playing the long game. She has always got her eye on, ‘This is my life and my historic path and I am going to be the queen one day.’”
Low spoke of her “steeliness” and said that it was Kate who insisted the devastating understatement of “recollections may vary” was included in the official response from Buckingham Palace to Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview.
Steeliness is a trait remarked upon frequently when discussing the Princess of Wales: Anna Pasternak wrote in a Tatler profile that Kate has a “spine of steel.” Other sources remarked on her “ruthless survival streak,” to Pasternak, while a family friend spoke of the “Level of control she has to retain. I don’t think she’d know how to fully let her guard down now, even if she wanted to.”
Control is certainly an issue. Harry, in his memoir, portrayed Kate as easy-going when she first met William, a source of endless fun and jokes, but suggested that she became uptight and controlling when he became engaged and then married to Meghan.
Famously, this expressed itself as Kate shuddering when Meghan asked to borrow her lip gloss and chastising Meghan for talking to her about her hormones.
It must be said that most palace sources don’t recognize the froideur Harry describes as accurate; indeed, staff and ex-staff in William and Kate’s office are uniformly quick to praise both their bosses’ management styles in a way that Meghan’s staff are typically not. What seems beyond doubt is that Kate very much has her eye on the ball.
Charles may not want to believe it, but for many of his subjects he is just a place-filler between the twin stars of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Kate. There is no doubt that when the moment comes, the reign of King William and Queen Catherine will be radically different to what has gone before. And it seems increasingly clear that it is Kate who is shaping that dramatic shift in tone.