The Crown as a Geopolitical Player

“The worst thing for a monarchy is not hostility, but indifference”, writes Katie Nicholl in her book The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the Future of the Crown (Hachette Books). I was reminded of that crucial notion when I took note of a recent poll conducted in Canada, according to which “[…] only 19 percent of Canadians would prefer that the country remain a monarchy, down 12 points since a similar poll conducted in September 2022.

The Crown has visibly not lost its appeal in the UK, but the warning signs in places like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – just to name these – would be ignored at great peril.

The author, one of the keenest observers of the Crown and a gifted writer who has acquired first-hand knowledge of her subject, exposes the challenges facing the successors of Queen Elizabeth II while brushing the personal traits of the actors who are and will be called upon to meet them.

King Charles III was the longest-serving Prince of Wales, a title created in 1301 after “[…] King Edwards I conquered Wales and gave the title to his son”. With the help of genetics and a life of privilege, his reign might span a few decades, but most consider it transitional.

While he will not forgo the issues he has espoused for so long, it would be surprising if Charles III decides to rock the boat of the Crown radically, given the importance of stability and continuity as hallmark qualities of the institution.

But keeping “the boat” afloat in his own courtyard might prove to be a challenge. SNP leadership contender Humza Yousaf declared that Scotland “would consider ditching the monarchy within five years of independence.” Given the King’s strong attachment to Scotland and desire to uphold his mother’s legacy, such a declaration is fodder for many restless nights.

While the upcoming coronation is a landmark event in British history, all eyes are looking at the next generation, mainly on William, the new Prince of Wales – who now occupies a role that his father turned into “a pillar of British public life.”

Though being focused on the same signature priorities as his father– conservation and homelessness, Katie Nicholls observes that unlike him, William is not a workaholic, giving great importance to experiencing a balanced family life without overlooking his duty. The current Prince of Wales also brings stubbornness and ruthlessness to the table, a “[…] determined and headstrong temperament that had earned him the nickname “Basher Wills” as a child […].”

Beyond the pump and circumstances, the Crown is a crucial tool of soft power in geopolitics. Great Britain is now the shadow of the great Empire it used to be. The late Queen was only too aware of that, and she played the soft power melody like a virtuoso.

Thanks to his savviness, William could play an instrumental role on the world scene. Katie Nicholls points out a very revealing example. While Charles had refused to travel to China because of its human rights record, William went ahead with a visit to the People’s Republic to engage the leadership of the country about ivory trade. “Within two years Beijing had banned the elephant ivory trade within the country”, writes the author. His meeting with President Xi Jinping was therefore lauded as a soft power victory.

Even though the Prince of Wales “[…] indicated he might not take on the Commonwealth’s symbolic top job in [the] future”, current events might suggest a different positioning.

Last summer, two African French-speaking nations – Gabon and Togo – joined the Commonwealth, marching in the footsteps of Mozambique and Rwanda who did the same in 1995 and 2009 respectively, bringing its membership to 56 countries in the world. The governments of Libreville and Lomé took this decision mainly for economic reasons and this is a testament to the Commonwealth’s salience in world affairs. Foreign Minister Robert Dussey “[…] said he expected Commonwealth membership to deliver new export markets, funding for development projects and opportunities for Togolese citizens to learn English and access new educational and cultural resources.” The key word in that quote is opportunities.

Given the importance of Africa on the geopolitical chessboard – one can just think about the energies invested by Beijing and Moscow to make themselves unavoidable there – the Crown might be called to play an unparalleled role there. Just a few days ago, Professor Syed Kamall opined in The Telegraph that the Commonwealth is a tool “[…] which allows [notably through development assistance] the UK and allies to exercise soft power to stop countries falling under the influence of China and Russia.

It is difficult to predict the future contours of the British Monarchy and one would be ill-advised to say what a current or future Sovereign should or shouldn’t do. This said, the legacy of the late Queen is a good source of guidance on what we could expect in terms of realism and Buckingham Palace being a force for stability in a troubled world.

One can foresee the Crown will continue to play a significant role in world affairs just as it has with almost every Monarch who rose on the Throne. Times and circumstances might change, but the Monarchs who wear the Crown have a sacred historical mission to adapt, persevere and smile.

Since the Crown is not a lifeless institution, Katie Nicholls should be praised for offering such an eye-opening portrait of two members of the Royal family who are called upon to safeguard and renew its salience at a crucial point in its history.

The Monarchy, even if it came only to that, is an unavoidable player on the geopolitical chessboard.


Katie Nicholl, The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the Future of the Crown, New York, Hachette Books, 2022, 288 pages.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Melanie Freedman of Hachette Books Canada for her continued collaboration with this blog.

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