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A ‘new sensitivity’ for the royals as a U.K. election looms

As members of the Royal Family put some planned engagements on hold during the U.K. election campaign, there is another reminder of the fine line royals walk in wanting to be seen to be above politics, along with hints that in the reign of King Charles, there may be changes in how the royals go about their official business.

Official state events likely to continue until vote on July 4 while other duties could be put off

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The visit to the drama school went ahead. But stopping by the charity that provides support for those struggling financially was called off for now.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's snap election call caught many by surprise, and has members of the Royal Family rejigging schedules and putting some planned engagements on hold.

In doing that, there is yet another reminder of the fine line royals walk in wanting to be seen to be above politics, along with hints that in the reign of King Charles, there may be changes in how the royals go about their official business.

Not long after Sunak called the July 4 election last week, Buckingham Palace said the Royal Family is postponing engagements "which may appear to divert attention or distract from the election campaign."

While a review of royal engagements and possible postponements would be par for the course during any general election, announcing it so publicly right off the bat seemed to strike a new note.

"I don't remember any other election where they made a statement such as that," said Craig Prescott, a constitutional expert and lecturer in law at Royal Holloway, University of London, in an interview.

A person standing behind a table with pieces of wood on it talks to other people in a scenic art studio of a theatre.

"I think it's an example of the monarchy perhaps saying things that once upon a time were just left unsaid, and you just saw it."

Among the events postponed were visits by Charles to the headquarters of Bentley Motors Ltd. and to a community centre that helps those who are struggling financially by providing furniture, food, shoes and community activities.

Prescott said he thought postponement of the charity visit "maybe was being very sensitive to the issue of being in any way political."

He suggested there is perhaps more caution than was the case during the reign of Charles's mother, Queen Elizabeth, "where her impartiality was beyond doubt and it would never be viewed in that way."

"I think it shows a new reign, a new approach, a new sensitivity to not just being involved in politics, but being seen not to be involved in politics," Prescott said.

Two people shake hands in a living room.

"And, I think perhaps it was an opportunity [for Charles] to say: 'I know where the line is and I'm going to ensure that I'm clearly on the right side of it.'"

King Charles and Queen Camilla were out and about, however, this week as they visited the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in central London. At the drama school, they met staff, students and alumni, and watched a play.

"Patronage of the arts is something that has been the purview of the Royal Family and the court for three or four centuries, and generally speaking, it's not political," said Justin Vovk, a royal commentator and a PhD candidate at McMaster University in Hamilton who specializes in the history of the monarchy, in an interview.

"So any …. of these sorts of royal academies, royal societies, we can expect to see the monarchy still engaging with them because they have the royal charters."

The election campaign comes at a busy time in the royal calendar. Some official events are expected to continue as usual with royal attendance.

Buckingham Palace confirmed Thursday that King Charles will take part in next month's Trooping the Colour despite his cancer treatment, the BBC reported.

Several people wearing military uniforms ride horses as part of a ceremonial event.

Charles will ride in a carriage on June 15 instead of on horseback, as he did last year during the event that marks the monarch's official birthday.

Charles and Camilla, along with Prince William, are also expected to take part in events in France next week to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

"There are certain state events like Trooping the Colour … I would say that arguably should carry on because they are in a sense beyond politics," said Prescott.

"Formal state occasions you imagine would go ahead."

But other events that members of the Royal Family typically undertake could pose a potential problem of perception during an election campaign that a royal might be straying into politics.

"You have those visits that the King does and other members of the Royal Family around the country, or picking up on causes — homelessness, environment," Prescott said.

"And of course there the risk is that you're much more adjacent to party politics and you could have … unfortunate coincidences."

Imagine, for example, if a political party made a policy announcement on the environment the same day Prince William was doing something related to the environment, Prescott suggested.

"They will want to avoid the perception of them being … on the same page as any of the political parties."

Still, postponements of some engagements might have a silver lining for the royals.

"This may actually be a bit of a welcome reprieve for the family," said Vovk.

"They've been under so much pressure for some time now that getting to cancel some engagements might give them a little breathing room just for themselves as a family on a personal level that's probably badly needed."

More time and space for the Princess of Wales

A person looks off to the left.

When Kensington Palace offered an update the other day on work by the Princess of Wales's early years foundation, an update on Catherine herself emerged.

Two months after she revealed she is undergoing preventative treatment for cancer, a palace spokesman said she "is not expected to return to work until it's cleared by her medical team."

At the time of her announcement in March, Catherine said her family needed "some time, space and privacy."

WATCH | The Princess of Wales's announcment about her health:

Princess of Wales says she's receiving cancer treatment

2 months ago

Duration 2:20

Catherine, the Princess of Wales, says in a video released to her social media pages that tests after her surgery revealed 'cancer had been present,' and that she is in the early stages of preventive chemotherapy.

The wild speculation and social media frenzy that had built after her abdominal surgery in January subsided, and there had been no official comments on her health, although Prince William has said his wife is "doing well."

That statement from the palace spokesman, the BBC reported, suggests that any return to work is not imminent.

On Thursday, reports also emerged that she won't attend the rehearsal next month for Trooping the Colour, the annual military parade and event to mark the official birthday of the monarch.

Other public appearances in the near future also seem unlikely.

"I'm not anticipating seeing her in any kind of official status possibly for the rest of the year," said Vovk.

Any announcement during the next few weeks might also be unlikely because of the political campaign underway in the U.K.

"They don't make major announcements during an election period," said Prescott.

Still, there are some events where Catherine's absence would be particularly noted, including the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Catherine has been patron of the All England Lawn Tennis Club since 2016 and presents trophies to the winners on the final weekend in July.

A person receives a trophy from another person while standing on a tennis court, with an audience in the background.

Vovk expects Catherine will be back to public duties when she is "legitimately ready."

"She likes to be active, she likes to be involved," he said. "She's not going to be sitting on the sidelines doing nothing unless it's absolutely necessary."

Vovk sees another way Catherine might make a connection with people outside palace walls.

"I've been wondering if we might see a photo of Kate undergoing her treatment as a way of raising awareness for cancer and as a statement of support for people and particularly women and mothers going through cancer treatment," he said.

If Catherine's absence from the public eye does continue for some time, there could be a risk that speculation could spiral the longer it lasts without official comment from the palace.

"Maybe at some point they will have to address that, if it goes out of control again," said Prescott.

"But the lesson from earlier in the year is once they do make a statement, it stops it."

Cousins by his side

A person holding an umbrella and a drawing talks to others holding umbrellas as they stand on a lawn behind a large stone building.

As Prince William stepped out at a garden party at Buckingham Palace the other day, he had several royal supporters at his side.

Along with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, several of William's cousins were on hand to chat with guests on the big lawn behind the palace in central London.

Rainy weather meant umbrellas galore as Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, daughters of Prince Andrew, and Peter Phillips and Zara Tindall, son and daughter of Princess Anne, mingled with the guests.

A person holding an umbrella stands in front of several other people holding umbrellas on a lawn in front of a stone building.

It was a noticeable joint appearance by the cousins, who have been the focus of some speculation regarding whether they might step in to carry out more official duties.

While that seems unlikely, the cousins are often seen at family events and gatherings.

Also rather unlikely was the way in which Zara made headlines after the garden party: for her "well-heeled" way of protecting her stilettos on the sodden grass.

A closeup of the heels on a person's pink stilettos, showing a plastic protector on one.

Royally quotable

"Since returning to the U.K., many people have said how brave or courageous I was for going [to Ukraine]. I am neither. The brave people are those who have endured extreme violence and survived."

— Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, in a personal account published in The Sunday Times of her recent trip to Ukraine.

A person stands with their head bowed in front of a memorial wall.

Royal reads

  1. Prince Harry cannot broaden legal action against News Group Newspapers to include new allegations against Rupert Murdoch, a court has ruled. [BBC]

  2. Royal fans have taken to social media to voice their doubts about a painting of the Princess of Wales that appeared on the cover of Tatler magazine. [BBC]

  3. Traditionally, exhibits at historic properties focus on the lives, loves and accrued material goods of the aristocrats who owned the properties. Meanwhile, the identities and daily lives of the many men, women and children who kept these grand households' brasses shined, dinners served and bedpans emptied have remained obscure. Now exhibitions at grand houses are training a spotlight on life below stairs. One running at Kensington Palace explores the lives and occupations of generations of rat-catchers, pages, wet nurses and seamstresses at the royal palaces. [The Guardian]

  4. The first successful seedling nurtured from seeds collected from a 200-year-old tree that was illegally felled in northern England will be planted in Windsor Great Park after being given to King Charles by the National Trust. [The Guardian]

  5. A letter Diana, Princess of Wales, wrote to a person with AIDS in the 1990s is to be sold at auction. In the letter, written to Michael Nanson in April 1994, Diana speaks of his "courage and quiet strength" in coping with AIDS. [ITV]

  6. Prince William and his elder son, Prince George, beamed as they presented the FA Cup to Manchester United — with the team then jumping for joy as they celebrated their 2-1 win over Manchester City. [Daily Mail]

A man shakes a child's hand as other adults stand nearby. A large trophy is between them.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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