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A rare royal double act from King Charles and Prince William as rift with Prince Harry drags on

When King Charles handed over a senior military title to Prince William the other day, it was more than a symbolic passing on of a role. It was also a personal moment rife with symbolism for the monarch and his heir, and hinted at the family dynamics at play right now in the House of Windsor.

Monarch hands military role over to Prince of Wales during joint engagement

A person hands another person a cap as they stand in front of a large military helicopter.

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When King Charles handed over a senior military title to Prince William the other day, it was more than a symbolic passing on of a role.

As the Prince of Wales became colonel-in-chief of the Army Air Corps, it was also a personal moment rife with symbolism for the monarch and his heir, and hinted at the family dynamics at play right now in the House of Windsor.

Such transitions are routine from one generation to the next, although there is a sense that for Charles and William, they are unfolding at a faster pace.

"We're seeing some of the kinds of transitional activities that we associate with the last decade of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II … happening quite quickly during the reign of Charles III," Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris said in an interview.

For Charles, Harris suggested, there is a sense his reign is a period of transition between the long reign of his mother and the next one of his son.

"Especially with King Charles III's health, his cancer diagnosis, even though [he] has been determined to remain in the public eye as much as possible, there has been a lot of looking to the future," said Harris.

A person in a soldier's uniform talks to two other soldiers.

Seeing Charles and William together as they were at the Army Aviation Centre in Hampshire, southwest of London, was unusual.

"It's relatively rare to have joint engagements with members of the Royal Family," said Craig Prescott, a constitutional expert and lecturer in law at Royal Holloway, University of London, in an interview.

"It is even rarer to have the King and the Prince of Wales together, because normally they fan out and do their own engagements."

There is also a feeling that the engagement reflected a closeness between the two that perhaps has grown in recent years.

"It shows the strength of their relationship and that this was something they genuinely wanted to do together," said Prescott. "It also shows perhaps a bit of common interest between the two."

It's something of a change from headlines of a few years ago, when attention focused, among other things, on how much time William seemed to be spending with his in-laws, and that they saw more of their grandchildren than Charles did.

As much as Charles and William may have grown closer, there is no public sense the rift with Prince Harry has lessened in any way.

A person looks back over their shoulder and waves, against a dark background with a few orange dots.

"It seems that Harry is very much out on his own," said Prescott.

The rift was brought into further media relief in recent days when headlines focused on how father and son did not meet while Harry was in London May 8 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Invictus Games, the sporting event he founded for wounded and sick service members and veterans. A spokesman for Harry said it was because of Charles's "full program," and that he hopes to see him soon.

Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, stepped back from official duties four years ago and are living in California with their two children.

"Harry's withdrawal from his role as a senior member of the Royal Family not only seems to have brought Charles and William closer together, but it's contributed to the public perception that Charles and William are closer together, as Harry is constantly talking about them as though they are a unit and he is on the outside," said Harris.

Harris sees "a lot of moving parts" at play behind the fact that Harry and Charles did not meet, including that royal schedules are set months in advance, and Charles has always placed a high priority on keeping to his official diary.

Two adults are surrounded by children. Some of them are holding basketballs.

Harry's life is not scheduled months in advance, Harris said, and it's clear he would like to have the kind of relationship where he could just drop in on his father.

"We see two very different approaches before we even address the question of what their relationship is like at this time. Are they particularly interested in seeing each other or prefer to keep a distance? Is each one hoping the other one will make the overture in order to reconcile?"

After Harry's time in London, he and Meghan spent three days in Nigeria, taking part in events connected to the Invictus Games.

"For those who just casually follow the monarchy, this is something that might look like a royal tour, though very clearly it isn't," said Harris.

"For those who follow the Royal Family more closely, looking at this tour might perhaps bring up memories of past years."

Could, for example, the change in role for Harry and Meghan within the Royal Family have been handled differently?

"I think the [trip to Nigeria] does raise questions of roads that were not taken five years ago that perhaps would have made things easier for the monarchy today. We don't know whether choosing a different road would have simply delayed the rift or whether a full rift could have been averted entirely."

Something to talk about

Two men in blue suits stand in front of a red-hued portrait of King Charles III.

To say the reviews are mixed is an understatement.

The first official portrait of King Charles to be unveiled since his coronation drew praise and pique after the red-hued work by British artist Jonathan Yeo was revealed at Buckingham Palace this week.

Some reviews were scathing. "A formulaic bit of facile flattery," read the headline on the one-star review in The Guardian. The reviewer in the San Francisco Chronicle was more welcoming of the painting, which features Charles in the red uniform of the Welsh Guards with a butterfly hovering over his right shoulder. The portrait "is slightly terrifying, and I love it," the headline read.

Art is subjective and can carry a multitude of messages — both from the artist, and in the case of portraiture, from the subject of the work. Interpretations of those messages can be as varied as those who view the works.

Royal portraiture has its own history and purpose, dating back centuries.

"In the past, if a portrait painter was commissioned to paint a Royal Family member, it was to keep their likeness in memory, to archive their likeness and to present their likeness to the public … painting them in their riches, with their wealth around them, this kind of thing that was kind of like a propaganda tool," said Ilene Sova, an associate professor of drawing and painting at OCAD University in Toronto, in an interview.

WATCH | What do Londoners say about the new portrait of King Charles:

There's a new portrait of King Charles: What do Londoners think?

1 hour ago

Duration 0:50

From 'ghoulish' to 'striking,' people in London offer their opinions of a new portrait of King Charles.

Then came a change in how an image could be captured.

"After the camera was invented, portrait painters really had to be different or better than the camera, be more human than the camera," Sova said.

"So when you're commissioning a portrait in 2024, you want the artist's ideas, the artist's concepts, the artist's feelings about a person."

As Sova sees it, Yeo's portrait of Charles is "trying to bring concepts and ideas into the composition in a way that the camera can't."

"Having this frenetic brush stroke, having these deep, passionate reds and pinks, putting this butterfly on the shoulder, having him kind of emerge from this background — they're all strategies of contemporary portraiture to make you feel, to make you think, to make you have a emotional response that you wouldn't get from a photograph."

Sova thinks that through his painting, Yeo is trying to say something about someone emerging from a history and trying to create his own legacy, but that the legacy is not yet clear. That's why, she said, the edges are blurry.

"I read one quote from Jonathan Yeo that he saw the King himself as a butterfly, that he's emerging from a cocoon, that he's becoming what he has been trained to become since he was a young boy. And this is kind of his moment in history."

A closeup of a face in a painting with a red background.

Judith Rowbotham, a social and cultural scholar and visiting research professor at the University of Plymouth in southwestern England, doesn't think the portrait readily fits within traditional royal iconography.

"And possibly, reading between the lines of Yeo's comments, this was intentional — as part of an enterprise to make the monarchy seem more modern," she said via email.

"It also started as a portrait of the heir to the throne and ended as the portrait of the King. So the direction was set several years ago."

During Elizabeth's reign, Rowbotham said, a number of non-traditional portraits were painted of her and other royals.

A person looks at a small painting hanging on a gallery wall.

"This is recognizably the King and facially it's actually rather good as well, with the depiction of the face having depth and complexity. In that sense you could argue that this is in line with a more modern tradition of royal portraits and is even rather better than most."

The mixed reactions to the painting are "pretty predictable," Rowbotham said, and the portrait is doing its intended job: "making the King and the monarchy a topic for discussion."

"What could be worse for the individual monarch and the institution than not to be noticed or talked about?"

Striking a royal rapport

A person seated on a horse speaks with a person standing nearby as three other people look on.

The nerves were jangling as Pippa Blake sat on her horse, waiting with other riders to show Princess Anne their equestrian skills.

They were welcoming Anne, an avid equestrian herself, to the Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association during her recent three-day working visit to British Columbia.

Therapeutic riding has been a strong support to Blake, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair.

When Anne approached Blake, 73, after the riders went through their demonstration, any nervousness in anticipation of meeting King Charles's sister quickly evaporated.

"She … gave everybody lots of time. And then she got to me and … you know what? It was just normal and natural and very nice indeed," Blake said in an interview.

"She asked a little bit about my riding history. She said to me … 'How's your balance when you're not in your wheelchair?' And I said my balance is actually really shaky, dodgy, not good.

"And she said the good thing about sitting on a horse is it's a great equalizer. And I thought, that is so good. It's so thoughtful and it's so true."

A person pats the nose of a horse.

Blake cherishes the moments she had chatting with Anne, and also sees significance in her visit for the association.

"It's a memory I will treasure … forever…. And it was huge for our therapeutic riding group."

Liz Gagel, acting executive director of the association, said the visit went really well.

"I'm still pinching myself. I can't believe it happened."

Gagel's favourite moment came at the end of the visit, when Anne stopped to speak to a participant who has a visual impairment.

"She was leaving, and she knew that this young man hadn't gotten the experience everybody else had gotten because he didn't get to individually meet her. He was only watching, but because he was visually impaired, he couldn't see her. So she introduced herself to him, and it was just so touching."

Gagel also welcomes the impact the visit could have on the organization, through international media coverage and the potential to bolster donations.

WATCH | Adrienne Arsenault's 2023 interview with Princess Anne:

Princess Anne | Adrienne Arsenault Reports

1 year ago

Duration 24:42

Princess Anne invites CBC Chief Correspondent Adrienne Arsenault into her sitting room and opens up about her brother’s coronation, the monarchy’s future, and her lifetime of service.

"We're hoping to capture this and keep the ball rolling and to try to really push some things out and get some more media and social media and just reach as far as we can to help as many people as we can connect to our programs."

The visit to the therapeutic riding association came at the end of a jam-packed visit for Anne that included a commissioning ceremony in Vancouver for HMCS Max Bernays in her role as commodore-in-chief for Canadian Fleet Pacific.

While on Vancouver Island, she also visited a military family resource centre, an urban agriculture project, and the Maritime Museum of British Columbia, which was founded with an initial donation from her late father, Prince Philip.

A person presents a trophy to a person as other people look on

At the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in Oak Bay, Anne met honourary life members, delved into club history and awarded prizes to young sailors.

Dale Gann, the club's vice-commodore, was particularly struck by the rapport Anne, an avid sailor, had with the young sailors.

"She was very, very connected to them," Gann said in an interview. "She made them feel comfortable and they had a good conversation that I think is going to be a memory for them for a very long time and a motivation for them for a very long time."

Royally quotable

"The great thing is he's a very good pilot indeed."

— King Charles, speaking as he handed over the role of colonel-in-chief of the Army Air Corps to Prince William. Charles, whose treatment for cancer is ongoing, also spoke to a veteran at the event who had undergone chemotherapy for cancer, and they appeared to discuss losing the sense of taste.

Royal reads

  1. New $20 bills featuring the face of King Charles won't be in circulation for another few years, the Bank of Canada says. [CBC]

  2. Judges on a freedom of information tribunal in the United Kingdom have ruled that the cost of protecting members of the Royal Family cannot be revealed to the public. [The Guardian]

  3. A nine-year-old boy who has been re-invited to Buckingham Palace after missing a garden party due to traffic said he "just wants to see if the King is OK." [BBC]

  4. An animal rights group has welcomed a commitment from Queen Camilla that she will buy no new fur products. [BBC]

  5. Prince Harry and Meghan visited a secondary school in Lagos on the last full day of their Nigeria tour. Harry heard about the work of a charity that organizes basketball camps for children in Africa, and played a game with students. [BBC]

  6. Previously unseen photographs of the Royal Family — including a picture marking the birth of four royal babies in 1964 — are on display in a new exhibition. The curator has defended the practice of retouching images despite controversy over a Mother's Day photo of Catherine, Princess of Wales, and her three children. [Daily Mail]

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