The British Commonwealth has a long and rather complicated history and explanations can get a little convoluted. In an effort to make this as painless as possible, I will try and keep this as general as I can. That being said, the vast inter-web is at your disposal should the spirit move you to more rigorous study on the topic. I present, in entirely untechnical terms, an oversimplified explanation of the Commonwealth.
The current Commonwealth of Nations is primarily made up of countries that formally constituted the British Empire, which spanned more of the globe than any other empire in history. Yes, they had those Romans beat. The collapse of the Empire, as is often the case in these political situations, was over time and had many contributing factors. For our purposes we will simply say, it fell apart. But, a "Commonwealth of Nations," came out of it. Again, this was complicated and there have been stages and changes since it was originally conceived. What is the situation today?
|53 Commonwealth Nations|
- The Head of the Commonwealth is Elizabeth II. "There is no maximum fixed term for the Head of the Commonwealth. The choice of successive Heads will be made collectively by Commonwealth leaders." Translation: Charles isn't guaranteed this position. He has to be elected! He must be chosen!
- 16 of the 53 Commonwealth Nations are colloquially known as Commonwealth Realms, that is they recognize Elizabeth II as their constitutional monarch. This is a step-up from the last. She is the "Queen" of the country. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand remain in this category. When in Canada, the royals are the "Canadian Royal Family," they have a royal standard in New Zealand, Elizabeth II can be styled: "Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth."
For our argument, there are two things to keep in mind as separate and important: Head of the Commonwealth and constitutional monarch. Ideally, the British Royal Family would love to stay both. It's a changed world though, and each of these nations is an independent and equal member of the Commonwealth. These countries span the globe, cross cultures and sometimes languages. There are a lot of different people and opinions, so staying Head of the Commonwealth and remaining constitutional monarch is going to be a struggle as time moves forward.
The Queen is greatly respected. She remains the steady rock of a past generation, but the world has changed massively since she ascended to the throne in the 50's. The likelihood that she would be replaced as Head or ousted as monarch is essentially nil. But, when she dies that is when the shake up may come. Attitudes have changed toward all sorts of things and when she dies not everyone is going to want to pass the status quo to Charles--either has Head of the Commonwealth, or an even tougher sell, as constitutional monarch in the 16 countries that still acknowledge the BRF.
So, when I say there are strong republican movements, these are the people who get up and say, why in 2014 are we still acknowledging some person half a world away as our constitutional monarch? Why do we have a royal family at all? This is a relic of the past! Modernization! (You see where the battle cry goes....)
Charles has (essentially) been running for election to Head of the Commonwealth for a while now. He meets with the heads of these governments, attends the Commonwealth meetings, yadayadayada. He has mixed reviews with the public. A lot of people see him as stuffy and a hold-over from another time and mental attitude. And, with some, he also still carries battle scars from his marriage to Diana. Let's just say, he doesn't inspire mass hysteria of excitement.
But, someone in the royal family does... Hello, William and Kate, you global superstars! Oh yes, and now Mr. Grumpy-pants. They have a job. They have a tasked mission: save the monarchy.
When the entire world was caught up in their fairytale romance and media frenzy was at its zenith over the royal wedding, what did William and Kate do? They departed almost immediately to Canada for a coast-to-coast tour. They took their gorgeous faces, their loved-up, honeymooning-selves, and they charmed their way through Canada. (And then they popped down to LA, because the rebellious colonies needed the crumbs from the table. :))
What did they do after they had their adorable little George? They departed for Australia and New Zealand and they are working their magic again, with the help of their tiny, and primarily unwitting, accomplice. As Vogue titles him, "George, the republican nemesis in nappies."
Was their a method to their madness? Let me think... yes! Canada, at 3.855 million square miles, is the largest nation in the Commonwealth! Australia--a continent in its own right--trails only slightly at 2.97 million square miles! Canada's economy is the 11th largest in the world by GDP followed immediately by Australia at 12! These are pretty impressive countries. It's a nice little jewel in your crown to have them acknowledging you as constitutional monarch.
In conclusion, is this political? Absolutely! That isn't to say they are visiting under false pretenses or trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes. Nor am I detracting from the historical significance, but this is two-fold. They are visiting their primary countries, the countries most likely to say, "Thanks, your majesty, but we are all grown-up and modern now" and saying, "Hey. We're cool. We're fun. We get you. Stick around and we'll be cool together."
This could be the monarchy's lifeline. Charles may not be able to cut it in the hip culture of today, but these two have a whole new approach to the monarchy and what it means to be royal. They present to the critical generation a cogent understanding of the modern monarchy. The Cambridges present the future and it looks bright...