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Should Prince Harry Become King of Canada?
The British royal family has too many members at loose ends and on the public purse. The solution to this problem is simple: fob them off to rule other countries where the British monarch is already head of state.
What a ridiculous idea, I hear you say. As a republican, I don’t disagree. This article is more of a thought experiment than a serious suggestion. Nevertheless, if Canada ever seeks to establish its own resident royal family, it would be natural to ask Prince Harry to become king of the True North Strong and Free.
There is (or used to be) a European tradition of royal families pawning off their relatives to puppet monarchies in other countries. Napoleon, for example, set up family members as monarchs all over Europe — in Naples, Spain, the Netherlands, and Westphalia, though it should be said that most of them did not last long in their royal positions.
Furthermore, at least three other European countries imported their first king from abroad during the nineteenth century: Leopold I of Belgium was the youngest son of a German duke, Otto of Greece was the second son of the King of Bavaria, and Romania’s Carol I began life as Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. The Austrian Habsburgs also got in on the game, installing Maximilian I as emperor of Mexico; unhappily for him, he was executed after only three years on the throne.
In the early twentieth century, the fad for finding a foreign-born monarch to rule a newly independent country continued. During World War I, Finland invited the Hessian prince Friedrich Karl to be king. However, the war ended in defeat for Germany and revolution for Finland, so Friedrich Karl never ascended the throne. A similar situation occurred in Lithuania, where another German-born prospective king never actually ruled.
Of all “invited kings” of the twentieth century, the story of Haakon VII of Norway is probably the most illuminating for our purposes. In 1905, when Norway became independent, Haakon (then Prince Carl of Denmark) was offered the throne. He agreed on one condition: the people would have to show their support in a referendum. Haakon won an overwhelming majority and reigned for 52 years; his grandson Harald is now the king of Norway.
Why Choose Prince Harry as King of Canada?
The royal reporter Angela Levin once wrote that “Harry’s seeming ability to cope, his ease with people and general gusto led [his mother Princess] Diana to believe that he would handle being king more easily than William. She even called him Good King Harry.” Not a bad endorsement!
At the time of this writing, Harry is nearly 40 years old. His personality is fully developed and he has a clear body of work. In other words, Canada would be getting a known quantity. Not to mention that his wife Meghan had previously lived in Toronto while filming the TV show Suits, and the couple memorably chose Canada as an initial destination when they scaled back as working royals in early 2019. If you believe the tabloids, they had hoped to split their time permanently between Canada and the UK. (Instead, as we all know, they left royal work for good and moved to California.)
That said, I don’t think that Harry wants to be the king of anywhere. And to be honest, even if he did, he might run into some opposition in Canada. In 2021, a survey found that only 24% of Canadians wanted the country to remain a monarchy; a full 45% indicated their preference for an elected head of state, while 19% said that they didn’t care. Clearly, this numbers do not bode well for a referendum on the question of Harry’s kingship in the country. However, more than 60% of Canadians hold a generally favourable view of the prince, so perhaps he might stand a chance after all.
A monarchy established by referendum in the twenty-first century in Canada would share many similarities with the fledgling Norwegian kingdom of the previous century: no nobility or aristocracy, relatively modest royal dwellings, and a monarch with the hyperawareness that he ascended the throne not by the grace of God but by the grace of the people. Haakon VII adopted Alt for Norge (everything for Norway) as his personal motto; I would expect Harry to choose a similar sentiment.
Haakon, Maud, and their young son Olav quickly took up Norwegian pursuits; even Maud learned to ski. Haakon never learned to speak Norwegian properly and instead made do with Danish and English, but Olav grew up in Norway and became culturally Norwegian. In the same vein, if Harry and Meghan were to become king and queen of Canada, their children would surely grow up playing hockey, speaking both French and English, and enjoying Nainamo bars and poutine.
The Canadian government could also impose conditions upon Harry’s kingship in order to ensure a strong connection to Canada. When the German duke Wilhelm of Urach was offered the Lithuanian throne in 1918, it came with twelve conditions. Most relevant to a new Canadian monarchy are the stipulations regarding residency and children:
The monarch and his family were obligated to reside in Lithuania, spending no more than 2 months a year abroad. His children were to be educated and raised in Lithuania. In essence, the Lithuanians imposed “elective ethnicity.”
The Norwegian monarchy is said to be folkenær og folkekjær. These words translate somewhat inelegantly but literally as “near to the people and dear to the people.” Essentially, this means that there is less distance — socially, emotionally, physically — between the monarch and the people. There is no aristocracy in Norway so the royal family must find friends among commoners instead, engage in similar pursuits as regular people (sailing and skiing rather than polo and grouse shooting, for example), and even attend public schools. In this sense, being folkenær is not difficult. It is surely something that would be prized by Prince Harry, who once told a reporter that he was “determined to have a relatively normal life…Even if I was king I would do my own shopping.”
Folkekjær depends much more on how the king and queen appear as individuals: generous, kind, thoughtful, well-spoken, a reflection of how ordinary people see themselves. Norway got lucky with Haakon VII, and I think that Canada would probably get lucky with Harry and Meghan, who both seem to be genuinely interested in improving the lives of others as well as intellectually curious and emotionally honest. However, this crapshoot with individual personalities could potentially land the country with a narcissistic, classist, racist, and self-serving monarch. An old monarchy with centuries of tradition behind it may be able to withstand the vagaries of one ruler here and there in time; in a relatively new kingdom, the institution would have less resilience. Hence it is important to choose well.
A modern monarchy: a contradiction in terms?
In the words of Republic, an organisation that supports the abolition of the monarchy in the UK, “Hereditary public office goes against every democratic principle.” Similarly, Citizens for a Canadian Republic wishes to abolish the monarchy in Canada because “inherited rights in government, symbolic or otherwise, is a concept incompatible with Canadian values of egalitarianism.” In this view, there is no way to create a “modern monarchy” because it is a form of government inherently at odds with liberal democracy.
With this perspective in mind, it is perhaps somewhat paradoxical to realise that Haakon VII used his position as monarch to promote and protect democracy. In the 1928 elections, the radical Labour Party won a majority. However, the king was advised by the outgoing prime minister to invite a different party to form a government. Haakon’s reply has become legendary: Jeg er også kommunistenes konge — I am also the communists’ king. He went on to ask Labour to form a government. It was short-lived, but nevertheless Haakon made it clear that the democratic process should be respected even if one did not personally like the results.
Could a monarch have defused the Freedom Convoy protests in a way that Justin Trudeau and other politicians and civil servants could not or would not? When Norway’s king and queen toured Chile, local protesters confronted them about the environmental effects of salmon farming by Norwegian companies in the area. Harald and Sonja made the spontaneous decision to meet with some of these protesters and listen to their concerns. Although the royals obviously weren’t going to oppose the Norwegian government’s official positions or sabotage Norwegian businesses in Chile, Harald later used the opportunity to support the democratic right of protesters to make their voices heard.
Although it may not be possible to modernise monarchy as a form of government, a monarchy’s style can certainly be brought up to scratch. Some pomp and circumstance, like state dinners, cannot be done away with entirely. In everyday life, however, a Canadian royal family could be more folkenær, more self-sufficient (in terms of servants and courtiers), and a more ethnically representative, socially just employer than its British antecedent.
When Haakon VII and his family arrived in Norway, they were greeted by Prime Minister Christian Michelsen, who gave the following speech:
“It has been nearly 600 years since the Norwegian people have had a king of their own. Not in all this time has he been solely our own. We have always had to share him with others. Never has he made his home among us. And where the home lies also lies the heart of the nation. Today, that all changes. Today, Norway’s young king has come to build his home in the capital of our country. Chosen by a free people as a free man to lead this country, he is to be our very own. Once again, the king of the Norwegian people will emerge as a powerful, unifying symbol of the new, independent Norway and all that it shall undertake.”
Could a Canadian king similarly embody a new beginning for the country? Admittedly, that a white British man on the throne could represent Canada’s aspirations for the twenty-first century sounds like a contradiction in terms. However, while Prince Harry may be the epitome of a privileged white man, his family — like that of many Canadians — is multiethnic and multicultural. Moreover, Harry and Meghan would come to Canada as immigrants. Rich, famous, English-speaking immigrants to be sure, but they would share this foreign heritage with many other fellow Canadians.
Perhaps Harry as king of Canada would even set a precedent for his niece Princess Charlotte and his nephew Prince Louis, who could set their sights on establishing thrones in New Zealand and Australia — after a referendum, of course!
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