Three kings makes a very good poker hand. It’s equally good news if you happen to be a royal family, or one of their many subjects.
This week, Canada, along with Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth, celebrates the happy news that Catherine, duchess of Cambridge, gave birth to a healthy baby boy. While birth announcements are always cause for excitement and festivity, the arrival of a new prince represents more than just the start of a new life. It also signifies the continuance of centuries of vital tradition.
The new baby boy is third in line to the throne of Great Britain, Canada and 14 other realms. After his great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, the young prince will likely follow his grandfather Charles and father William in wearing the crown. The succession line for the house of Windsor is well-established into the remainder of this century.
Of course, it would have been equally good news, had the new prince been a princess. The antiquated rule of male primogeniture was recently removed from Britain’s laws of royal succession, allowing a first-born daughter to become monarch, even if she has younger brothers. Earlier this year, Canada altered its own laws to reflect this new equality of opportunity. (In furtherance of separatist obstructionism, two Quebec law professors, with apparent support from the PQ government, have challenged the constitutionality of the move.)
Regardless of whether a king or queen sits on the throne, however, the great advantage of the modern British monarchy has been its stability and security.
For the past 61 years, the indomitable Queen Elizabeth II has provided a rock-solid foundation to Canada’s parliamentary democracy. Her selfless devotion to the ceremony of her office has been awe-inspiring—including 23 visits to Canada and hundreds of annual events at home. Equally impressive has been her attention to the significance of her office. She has always treated her sovereignty with the dignity and seriousness it deserved.
While it often seems as if our Queen will reign forever—in 2015, she’ll surpass Queen Victoria to become the longest-serving monarch in British history—this is obviously wishful thinking. As is appropriate, she has already taken important steps to ensure her throne remains relevant long after she’s gone. Changes to the succession law, made at her behest, are one such example.
William and Kate, the duke and duchess of Cambridge, represent another equally important effort to modernize the British throne. In our celebrity-fixated world, the photogenic young couple provides a refreshing air of honesty and practicality. On their honeymoon trip to Canada in 2011, they captivated our nation with their easy manner and sense of fun. And despite the massive media attention lavished on her pregnancy, Catherine always maintained her poise.
Of course, the concept of a hereditary monarchy inevitably produces a few cranky complainers. Aside from the separatist law professors trying to derail new succession rules, recently, a trio of would-be Canadians claimed in Ontario court that the federal citizenship oath violates their constitutional rights. Anyone wishing to become a Canadian citizen must swear or affirm, “I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors.” Why should this be considered intolerable?
Swearing faithfulness to the Queen (and the next three kings) merely recognizes Canada’s particular form of democracy. Keep in mind that all political power in this country ultimately resides in the Crown, as represented in Canada by the governor general. The throne, and whoever occupies it, is therefore a symbol of the very permanence of Canada itself.
And remember that a monarch owes a deep and continuing duty of allegiance and responsibility to all his or her subjects in a way that elected prime ministers or presidents, dependent as they are on vagaries of political favour and competing interests, do not. This is the ultimate reason for the great success of Canada’s constitutional monarchy: It provides stability in the face of constant change. The oath, and our loyalty to the crown, must stay.
Then again, concerns about royal relevance and duty are a long way off for the newest prince. For now, he ought to concern himself with learning about the pleasures of his parents’ company, as well as feeding, burping, sleeping and all the other necessities of young life. The responsibility of centuries of tradition will come soon enough. God save the Queen, and all the kings to come!