It was a sight to see on Saturday at Windsor – Prince William and Kate stepping out alongside Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to read all the tributes and see the flowers that have piled up outside the gates of the castle and to meet with well-wishers. This was the return of the Royal Four, the supergroup that most people were expecting to be a big part of the British monarchy when Harry and Meghan got engaged nearly five years ago. For a while it seemed that this would indeed be the Firm’s biggest asset: four young royals, glamourous and beautiful, taking the crown into the future. And then it all fell apart.
With the passing of the Queen though, their conflicts (and believe me, those conflicts are still there) have been put on pause. Because right now the British royals are doing what they do best: pomp, circumstance, and presentation – it’s time to put on a show.
Shortly after the Waleses and the Sussexes made their combined appearance, it was confirmed that William reached out to Harry and invited him and Meghan to join him and Kate. The invitation would have to come from William as the heir to the throne – Harry cannot make that call. And it was a good call, resulting in a good look for everyone involved, especially Will. He is the Prince of Wales now. He will be next and the whole point of being next is to make sure that there is a next, that there’s actually a throne for him to next himself onto eventually when the time comes. With so much of the world’s attention focused on the British monarchy right now, it has to be about unity. Unity supports continuity.
But everyone is now obsessed with how this moment came together. There are reports from multiple outlets that Harry did not join his father the King and his brother the heir for dinner on the night that the Queen died. Harry instead was at a separate gathering that included Princess Anne and Princes Andrew and Edward. William and Harry returned to Windsor the next day, separately. And then came the surprise when the Royal Four stepped out together, with Kensington Palace sources leaking to the press almost immediately afterwards that it was William who reached out. Which achieves multiple purposes. Needless to say it’s a great PR move on William’s part but also it shuts down all the noise that had preceded the moment about Meghan not being welcome at Balmoral.
Because it’s not just that that sh-t is mean-spirited and unproductive, it also keeps the focus on the Sussexes and right now, all the focus of everything has to be on the late Queen and the new King, on her legacy and his ascension, on the value of the crown. This is Charles’s big moment. He’s in Scotland now and will be touring the United Kingdom in the coming days to receive condolences before heading back to London for the state funeral on Monday September 19. It’s the debut of his majesty, the kickoff to his reign. He's been sitting on the bench, waiting for decades. Now that the time has finally come, it should be all about him and not the drama between his children.
After all, with the Queen’s passing, questions about the monarchy are coming to the forefront even more. There is a movement in Scotland for independence. While of course Scottish people are respecting this period of mourning, it doesn’t necessarily mean that in the long-term those ambitions will be set aside. Just look at yesterday’s cover of The Herald:
The Herald on Sunday #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter.com/abOdz5BKCW— Helena Wilkinson (@BBCHelena) September 10, 2022
Scotland isn’t alone in this respect. Also yesterday, Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, “announced plans to hold a referendum on becoming a republic within three years, signalling a willingness to step away from the monarchy”.
Earlier this year Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness also declared his nation’s intention to break from the monarchy following the example of Barbados last year.
So Charles is taking the throne at a vulnerable time for the Firm. Which is precisely why London Bridge and Operation Unicorn are not just ceremonial blueprints for the events to take place following the death of the Queen but a strategic playbook to strengthen the monarchy itself. And it’s hard to strengthen something that is fractured from within. Which brings us back to the King’s sons and this moment of performed reconciliation.
But can you imagine how much stronger of a position they’d be working from if, internally, those viper courtiers and staffers who’ve been leaking to the tabloids and causing so much trouble behind the scenes would have appreciated that they’d have to be cleaning up the mess they contributed to during these critical days?