By monarchist standards it was a boffo week.
In a merely good one, Robert Finch, director of the Monarchist League of Canada, fields 10 new memberships. But ten times that many have flooded the League’s inbox since Harry and Meghan Windsor, a.k.a. the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, jolted the world with their plans to step back as senior royals, split their time between Britain and (possibly) Canada, and make money of their own.
Mr. Finch, a 41-year-old medical supply salesman, has had “a couple of hundred calls” from journalists. The world is obsessed with HarMeg. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tweeted that the couple are “among friends and always welcome here.” Social-media mavens debate everything from the significance of the Queen’s emergency meeting at Sandringham House last Monday to the price of the Le Chameau quilted boots Meghan wore to a Vancouver homeless shelter last Thursday ($640).
Mr. Finch reassured his flock that nothing has changed. He has been a monarchist since middle school, when he realized that to understand Canada he had to first understand “the strangeness of the Queen.” He sees no serious barrier to Meghan and Harry living and working part-time in Canada. “It doesn’t change the constitutional status of the Queen or the vice-regals,” he tells people who ask.
But monarchists are fretters by nature. One of their fears is that Harry and Meghan, stooping to make their private fortune, will degrade the high ideals of the monarchy and make it harder to believe in the Canadian partnership between a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy.
But the 6,000 paid-up members of the Monarchist League aren’t the only people who think about this stuff. Mr. Finch believes most Canadians, in their widespread support of the Queen, are small-M monarchists, even if they express it only by inhaling gossip about the Royal family.
Still, the national appetite for Royal Family-watching is not the same thing as the unifying power of the Crown, whatever that is.
Meghan herself spent last week in Victoria in the house she and Harry and their nine-month-old son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, borrowed for six weeks over Christmas – Milles Fleurs, a $14-million, 11,000-square-foot French Provincial knockoff in Victoria’s exclusive northern Saanich Peninsula. If the Seven Dwarfs were billionaires, this is where they’d live.
The endless chains of online chatterers weighing in on Harry and Meghan’s “grabdication” (The Spectator’s term) fall into three main camps: a small minority who claim they couldn’t care less; the Get Back to Work scolds who chide H&M for their millennial selfishness; and the mostly female Free Meghan tribe, who see “Megxit” as the true love tale of the liberation of a young(ish) woman and new mother trapped by a patriarchal Crown and penned in by racist news media.
The new Sussex Royal brand (created secretly last year after Harry and Meghan pulled out of the charity they share with William and Kate) is a huge potential source of income for the couple, which is part of the problem: Can they make their own money without cashing in on their royal status? How is that possible? The monarchy has been commodified for centuries; “the difference this time,” according to Philippe Lagassé, a constitutional scholar at Carleton University, “is that they’re doing it for themselves.”
Harry wants to be more financially productive to supplement the £5-million ($8.5-million) annual allowance he receives from Prince Charles, who last year announced his plans for a more streamlined monarchy. There are book contracts and the 200-odd patents the Sussexes quietly filed last year for everything from socks to leadership training programs they will promote under their new Sussex Royal brand. (“Which sounds a bit like a potato,” The Economist declared last week.)
The Sussex Royal website and logo – a melange of the letter H and the letter M under a winsome Crown – was designed last April by Article, the same Toronto digital design firm that created new laptop looks for the distinctly unregal Toronto Maple Leafs, Canopy Growth Corp. (cannabis) and, back when she was just a TV actor with a lifestyle blog, the Tig, Meghan’s defunct website. “We make digital products and experiences for every platform, and we make shit happen for clients in any country,” Article’s website purrs. That would not be the royal “we.”
But it’s the monarchists who will have the lasting word on the real significance of Meghan and Harry’s possibly not-so-excellent adventure. Monarchists are hipper than they used to be. A decade ago, the Monarchist League’s annual Feb. 6 Toronto luncheon to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth was packed with white-skinned female septuagenarians in alarming fascinator hats.
Today, half the crowd looks more like James Janeiro, who is 34 and 6-foot-5 and bearded, holds a masters in public policy and is the first-generation Canadian son of Portuguese immigrants. He works for Community Living Toronto; his job before that was policy director to Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne.
His wife is a devout Free Meghaner. The couple have had words over breakfast on this subject. Mr. Janeiro fully understands the Senior Royal couple’s desire to live a less enclosed life; his only concern is that the move wasn’t fully thought out beforehand, hence the scandal. “For me,” Mr. Janeiro says, “it disrupts the institution of the monarchy. And for me, the institution and the outcome of the institution matter, because our whole system of government is dependent on that institution.”
The authority of the Crown – the bulwark that keeps elected politicians from running amok, who in turn advise the Crown on the will of the people – is so deeply enmeshed in Canadian life it’s impossible to delete and replace. Canadians swear oaths to the Queen, parliamentary bills receive royal assent, our police wear Crowns on their sleeves. You can call it a symbolic Crown, but it’s the embodied memory of a political evolution that stretches across a thousand years from absolute monarchy to modern parliamentary government. “I think our constitutional monarchy has provided over 150 years of peace, order and good government,” Mr. Janeiro says.
Constitutional monarchists get nervous when anything threatens the balance between that Crown and the government – a balance notably absent these days in the presidential United States, where the head of state is also the head of the government. Look how well that’s turning out.
For that matter, look at Ontario. “Ontario is in a bad way now, at Queen’s Park,” Nathan Tidridge, a high-school teacher near Hamilton and an officer in the monarchist Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada, points out. He means Premier Doug Ford, now polling lower than the Liberals, who don’t even have official party status. “But not if you look at the work of the lieutenant-governor.” He means the widely-praised Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the Queen’s proxy. “And that’s because she’s grounded in service.”
At its best, Mr. Tidridge says, “the dignified Crown is supposed to reflect back to us the very best aspects of ourselves and our society.” Maybe Harry and Meghan will modernize their Royal roles and still accomplish that. Or maybe they won’t, in which case they’ll be no different from the rest of us. We might regret that.