The newest member of the Royal Family is in line to be a future king of Canada. But as Prince William, his wife Kate and millions of others celebrate Monday’s birth, monarchists and republicans alike questioned the role the latest heir to the throne would play in Canadian affairs.
The line of succession may seem assured with four generations of claimants currently living, but experts muse that the capricious whims of both history and public opinion could interfere with those best-laid plans.
If historical precedent is any guide, royal boosters suggest that unpredictable developments within the Royal Family may prevent the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first-born child from succeeding to the throne at all.
Even if he does, members of Canada’s republican movement firmly believe the country will have broken with its past as a constitutional monarchy and may no longer be looking across the pond for its head of state.
Carolyn Harris, a royal historian and staunch monarchist, said it would be premature to assume that William and Kate’s new baby will one day grace Canadian currency. The annals of British royal history are littered with examples of secure dynasties who lost the throne through events ranging from abdication to infertility.
“There are only a few instances of the crown passing smoothly from grandfather to father to eldest son,” Harris said in a telephone interview earlier this month. “If we look at the wider list of monarchs, it’s a web rather than a direct line.”
King Henry VIII, one of England’s most prominent rulers, only assumed the throne after the premature death of his eldest brother.
Queen Elizabeth I, herself a second-born child, enjoyed a fruitful reign that ended in upheaval and a change in ruling family through her refusal to marry and produce an heir.
Even the very dynasty that received its new addition came about through a historical quirk of fate, Harris said, adding the current Queen’s father, George VI, only became king after his eldest brother abdicated to marry a divorced woman.
The newest royal offspring won’t be in a position to rule for years, Harris said, noting both Prince Charles and Prince William are in line for the monarchy first.
If the new arrival does take the throne, however, Harris predicts his lineage will stand him in good stead. William and Kate are widely credited with reviving Canadian interest in the Royal Family, Harris said, citing their triumphant 2011 tour that drew throngs of well-wishers on every leg of the nine-day visit.
The Conservative government’s recent efforts to play up Canada’s British heritage, combined with other high-profile royal occasions, have further ensured the monarchy has a more prominent and positive place in the Canadian consciousness, she said.
“In recent years, with the Diamond Jubilee and William and Kate’s marriage and now the royal baby, there’s a lot more interest in the future of the monarchy going forward,” she said.
But Tom Freda, director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, said public focus lies in the opposite direction. He said signs of anti-monarchist sentiment abound, citing a current case in Ontario superior court in which three people are arguing that swearing a citizenship oath of allegiance to the Queen violates their constitutional rights.
Public opinion and press coverage also suggest that William and Kate’s current popularity is based more on their celebrity status than their governmental role, he said, adding the youth and glamour that make them media darlings now may make them seem like relics by the time their child is ready to assume the throne.
Freda, who was interviewed before Monday’s royal birth, said Canadians have grown weary of having an unelected head of state and will have successfully lobbied to implement a more democratic system by the time the newborn has come of age. More importantly, he said, the royal birth will remind the public of the value of having a head of state born on home soil.
“There will be hundreds of Canadian future citizens born that same day as this royal baby, yet regardless of how smart, selfless, hard-working and proudly Canadian that child may one day become, because they were not born in the right entitled family, he or she is constitutionally barred from ever becoming Canada’s head of state,” Freda said. “In the 21st century, this is really an outrage.”