Prince William Must Learn From Harry | Opinion

As Prince William turns 40, he will have ample opportunity to reflect. His disastrous Caribbean tour should have led to an existential, let alone, mid-life crisis. William and Kate must surely regret bathing in colonial nostalgia, even recreating photos from his grandparents waving to the locals in the 1960s.

The anger prompted by the out of touch visit should have made it clear that the old template for the monarchy is no longer productive. Queen Elizabeth II became an institution by staying completely silent, the steadying hand that the nation could always rely on to be there.

This was central to her reign, which has seen unprecedented social upheaval. In the last 70 years the entire fabric of the nation has shifted with the decline of industry, the rise of neo-liberalism and, perhaps most importantly, the collapse of the British empire. But the world is very different place to the one when his grandmother took the throne and, as his father will shortly find out, a strong, silent monarch will no longer be enough.

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Jamaica
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Jamaica in March 2022. The royal couple attended the inaugural Commissioning Parade for service personnel from across the Caribbean. Karwai Tang/WireImage

In Britain, the monarchy remains incredibly popular, serving as a connection to the nation's imperial past, the symbol of Whiteness that the nation craves. It may go unacknowledged, but the key to the monarchy has been the empire. It was the wealth from enslaving Africans that that laid the basis for the modern monarchy after Queen Elizabeth I launched Britain's involvement in the awful trade. The Act of Union in 1707 that brought the United Kingdom together was amenable to the Scottish so that King James could plunder wealth from the colonies.

Britain's second longest-serving monarch Queen Victoria was inseparable from the bounties of empire, claiming the title "Empress of India." It is no coincidence that Elizabeth II found out she was inheriting the crown whilst staying in a treetop hotel in Kenya. The whole image of the monarchy is shrouded in empire, with the crown jewels flaunting the exploitation of wealth from around the globe.

Queen Elizabeth II in Jamaica, 2002
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in Jamaica in February, 2002. The monarch visited Sam Sharpe Square on a visit to Montego Bay. Julian Parker/Getty Images

Now that the empire has formally ended, the Commonwealth of nations formerly colonized by Britain remains headed by the queen, who also reigns as the head of state of 14 other countries. But it is no longer 1952 and the natives are restless and seeking a reckoning that will upend the status quo.

The backlash from Will and Kate's Caribbean tour shows the tide is changing, with discontent leading several countries to reconsider their head of state and membership in the Commonwealth. Caribbean countries have unified in demanding reparations for transatlantic slavery and, even before the tour, Barbados decided to jettison the queen as their symbolic leader. The jewel in the British empire, India has developed into one of the largest economies in the world and is in no mood to retain a colonial relationship to Britain, or the crown.

It will no doubt hurt William to admit his younger brother Harry and wife Meghan were the future the crown needed. A couple that wanted to "modernize" the monarchy and embrace the former colonies. It can be no coincidence that the two people who have since proved capable of breaking the royal tradition of silence are no longer considered 'working' members of the family.

I have no idea what William thinks about the world, but if the monarchy is to remain relevant, he will need to find a voice and a new language to appeal to the Commonwealth. As someone who firmly believes the only meaningful reform of the monarchy is to dissolve it, I hope he doubles down on tradition. When the remnants of the empire finally shake off their attachments to Britain, the monarch will finally be found out as an emperor who has no clothes.

Prince Harry and Prince William
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, attends the swimming competition during day four of the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 at Zuiderpark on April 19, 2022 in The Hague, Netherlands. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge visits the Blaenavon Heritage Centreon March 1, 2022 in Blaenavon, Wales. Samir Hussein/WireImage

Kehinde Andrews is Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University and author of The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World. The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.