Former Countess of Wessex long considered a no-fuss royal devoted to numerous causes.
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When members of a regiment from Ontario’s Niagara Region took part in a military skills competition organized by their honorary colonel-in-chief in England last month, they claimed first place.
Sophie, the Duchess of Edinburgh, has been the Lincoln and Welland Regiment’s colonel-in-chief since 2004, and coming out on top in the competition involving her other Canadian- and U.K.-affiliated units meant a lot to its members.
But it wasn’t everything.
“While winning is important, the bond we share as allied units under [Sophie] is just as important to our soldiers,” Lt.-Col. Christopher Canavan, the regiment’s commanding officer, said via email.
Canavan said he has “always felt a great sense of pride” talking with Sophie about the state of the unit, where its soldiers are serving or training and how their families are adjusting with personnel away on training or operations.
Sophie “has always been genuinely interested in the affairs of her soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers,” he said.
🏆Congratulations to The Lincoln and Welland Regiment, winners of the 2023 Countess of Wessex cup!<br><br>The annual event sees HRH’s military affiliations come together to compete in a series of challenges.<a href=”https://twitter.com/RAF_Wittering?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@RAF_Wittering</a> | <a href=”https://twitter.com/CO_5RIFLES?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CO_5RIFLES</a> | <a href=”https://twitter.com/Corpsarmymusic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@corpsarmymusic</a> | <a href=”https://twitter.com/qarancassn?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@qarancassn</a> | <a href=”https://twitter.com/Official_REME?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Official_REME</a> <a href=”https://t.co/DTqTOnqUMo”>pic.twitter.com/DTqTOnqUMo</a>
Such sentiments are often attached to Sophie, the 58-year-old sister-in-law of King Charles, who became Duchess of Edinburgh earlier this month as her husband, Prince Edward, was granted the title Duke of Edinburgh, which had been held by his late father, Prince Philip.
“She’s credited with the ability to listen and to listen with a smile and look interested and genuinely respond and engage,” Judith Rowbotham, a social and cultural scholar and visiting research professor at the University of Plymouth in southwestern England, said in an interview.
“I think a lot of people identify with her ease of manner, her accessibility.”
Long before the new title, however, there was a sense that Sophie’s profile was on the rise.
Charles is widely thought to want a slimmed-down monarchy. The passage of time and other family circumstances have played into that plan, as some members age out of more active roles, and others — Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex — step back of their own accord.
Along with Prince William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, Sophie and Edward have become the “key extra support” to King Charles and Camilla, the Queen Consort, Rowbotham said.
While Sophie’s public profile may be on the rise, she has long been considered a no-fuss royal who is diligent and devoted to the many causes she supports, with little need of fanfare. Areas of interest developed during her time as Countess of Wessex range from support for women who are victims of conflict-related sexual violence to those who are facing challenges in the agricultural sector.
“She picked up an awful lot of the traditional, but unglamorous … philanthropic involvement and other kinds of patronage involvement,” Rowbotham said.
“She’s been working on women’s rights long before it became high-profile and fashionable. She has been working on various forms of disability — particularly blindness, because there was a problem with her daughter’s sight soon after birth.”
Sophie has also urged openness around women’s health issues, such as menopause.
“I’ve always found that when we talk about women’s health, it’s actually preceded by talking about women’s problems or women’s issues, which immediately puts it into a negative light,” Sophie said in a virtual chat a couple of years ago, as she took on the royal patronage for Wellbeing of Women, a U.K. women’s health charity.
“But armed with knowledge and choice, our lot would be so much better, and I think it is up to us to try and inform women about that knowledge, about those choices that they have, in a way that is bringing the subject out into the open.”
Sophie’s approach and openness have drawn the attention of others.
Rowbotham said activists she knows who work in areas such as domestic violence welcome Sophie’s involvement.
“They credit her with listening and learning from them, but also putting forward perspectives, practically based perspectives, that help enrich the debates.”
One thing that is rarely publicized, Rowbotham said, is how much time Sophie spends in her local hospital, in maternity units and care homes, and similar places.
“She’s one of the people who is known to be able to add value to an event personally, on the basis of her personal insights, experience and ideas.”
It’s why Sophie is popular “in a low-key way, why she is so recognized and so welcome wherever she goes,” Rowbotham said. “People enjoy meeting her and listening to her.”
Sophie’s visits with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment include time spent with members in 2012, when she presided over the presentation of new regimental colours. She also visited a training exercise in 2015.
“We look forward as her regiment in the Niagara Region to host [Sophie] when she is next able to visit,” Canavan said.
A new horse for the King
At first, the thinking went, the next horse the RCMP would give to the Royal Family would be a gelding — after all, that’s what Queen Elizabeth suggested when she broached the idea a year and a half ago.
But when King Charles met the horse that will eventually replace the one he rides on ceremonial occasions, it was a relatively young mare named Noble, which offered her nose for a nudge.
Noble, a seven-year-old Hanoverian who stands 16.2 hands high, arrived at the Royal Mews in Windsor, west of London, a few days ago.
Those who worked with Noble in the RCMP Musical Ride stables in Ottawa have heard she’s taken quite comfortably to her new surroundings.
“I’m … in contact with the folks of the Royal Mews and they’ve all [fallen] in love with her,” Sgt. Maj. Scott Williamson, the RCMP’s riding master, said in an interview. “She’s really settled in well.”
After the Queen suggested the need to think about a successor to George — the horse Charles is riding that was a gift to Elizabeth from the RCMP in 2009 — the search was on for a suitable replacement within the RCMP’s equine ranks.
When Charles, then Prince of Wales, and Camilla, then Duchess of Cornwall, were in Canada last May, they visited the Musical Ride stables.
“We had actually set aside a couple horses that we thought might be good fits,” Williamson said.
But when Charles commented that those animals were “awfully big,” that got the RCMP folks thinking maybe they needed to reassess just what horse they were putting forward.
Plus, the Musical Ride hadn’t been touring for almost three years, limiting the potential to assess how the horses behave and perform in public settings, with noise and music and so on.
Once the Musical Ride did get back on the road for its summer tour season, one horse kept standing out, presenting the qualities most sought for the royal role.
“The main quality that we’re looking for is going to be a calm disposition,” Williamson said, “a horse that when it is in a very raucous or very intense environment … is able to withhold its temperament, stay very steady and continue to commit to its duties.”
Noble seemed like a prime candidate.
After the Musical Ride came back from its summer tour, Williamson put Noble through her paces, seeing how she would behave in certain environments, such as loud music being played, and how she would work on her own, without other horses to support her, as happens within the Musical Ride.
“She just took it like a champion and … I thought, OK, yeah, definitely this is the horse that we’ll put the work into.”
That meant mimicking what Noble would encounter in ceremonial parades for Charles.
“We had live music, we had the RCMP pipes and drums band coming in on a regular basis, playing with Noble up to the point where she was just … bomb-proof with anything and everything that went on around her.”
Beyond the ability to keep calm, Noble’s disposition was appealing.
“She’s an incredibly, incredibly sweet horse,” Williamson said. “Any of us that worked with her really developed a strong bond with her….
“She is such a willing partner [and] really wants to please whoever it is that she’s working with.”
All that leaves Williamson with some envy of the time that Charles will get to spend with Noble.
“But at the same token, I’m incredibly proud that she’s going to represent our country.”
Noble arrived at Windsor after quite a journey, flying with an RCMP vet to Frankfurt, where she was met by Royal Mews staff, put on a truck and transported to England.
Noble follows a long line of RCMP horses given to the Royal Family. Throughout Elizabeth’s reign, the RCMP presented her with eight, beginning in 1969 with Burmese, which the Queen rode at Trooping the Colour, marking her official birthday, for 18 years.
The relationship between the Royal Family and the RCMP is long-standing, and one that Williamson describes as special and unique, both in the ceremonial connections through attendance at every coronation for more than a century and other royal events, and the protection detail they provide when Royal Family members visit Canada.
Noble’s first public appearance in the U.K. may come within a few weeks, as the Mounties take part in another coronation procession, this time for King Charles on May 6.
“My understanding is that we will in fact be the first people to ride her in the first public performance when we ride her for the coronation,” said Williamson, who was one of four Mounties riding in the lead position of the procession following the Queen’s funeral in September.
For Williamson, Noble is “really a representation of all of Canada.”
“Everything in her demeanour and her steadiness is everything that I think Canadians would hope to see, and I think Canada should be very, very proud that we are having an opportunity to give this horse to the King and represent our country.”
Marking the coronation in Canada
After a noticeable silence from the federal government, a few details have emerged regarding how the coronation of King Charles will be marked in Canada.
An official ceremony in honour of the event will be held in Ottawa on May 6, the Prime Minister’s Office announced the other day. The ceremony will include speeches, artistic performances and unveilings, according to the federal government’s website.
“This historic event, the first coronation of a Canadian head of state and monarch in seven decades, will allow communities to come together and highlight themes that both King Charles III and Canadians hold dear, including service, the environment and sustainability, and our nation’s diversity,” the government said.
Canadians will also be invited on May 6 and 7 to celebrate the coronation at Rideau Hall, the residence of Charles’s representative in Canada, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.
That same weekend, federal buildings in the National Capital Region and landmarks across the country will be invited to light up in emerald green to mark the coronation, the federal government said.
Several provincial lieutenant-governors and territorial commissioners are also expected to hold celebrations.
The federal plans as they are known and described so far came as something of a surprise to Justin Vovk, a royal commentator and a PhD candidate at McMaster University in Hamilton who specializes in the history of the monarchy.
“I wasn’t expecting something so monarch-centric, you could say,” Vovk said, noting the emphasis the government is placing on the fact that Canada is a constitutional monarchy and that the monarch is central to the functioning of our political institutions.
Still, details remain few and far between.
“We don’t know yet how Canada’s identity is going to be showcased,” Vovk said.
Vovk was also “a little bit surprised we have not heard anything about celebrating Canada’s Indigenous history” or its diversity.
“If you’re going to make it relevant for Canadians, you need to acknowledge the tremendous diversity, so I’m hoping that acknowledgement will start to come in the coming weeks.”
Vovk will be watching what Buckingham Palace starts to announce “because the cards they start to show will begin to indicate what our government is going to do,” he said.
“The King and our prime minister have similar values. They espouse similar causes. So that in and of itself shouldn’t be difficult, but it is important to make sure it is kind of the same messaging.”
- While the coronation is less than two months away, a new poll is suggesting the country is split down the middle on whether it’s time to cut ties with the Crown. Read the full story from our colleague J.P. Tasker in CBC’s Politics bureau here.
“It’s amazing how resilient you are. That shines out.”
Royal reads and watches
- The Prime Minister’s Office says Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, stayed in a $6,000-a-night hotel suite while attending the funeral for Queen Elizabeth. [CBC]
- Unrest across France over President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms led officials to postpone a planned state visit by King Charles. [CBC]
- Prince William says his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, would have been disappointed at the lack of progress in preventing homelessness. [BBC]
- Queen Elizabeth was remembered by the Royal Family on the first Mother’s Day since her death last September. [ITV]
- The first British stamps featuring King Charles’s silhouette are going on sale, with a special nod to the monarch’s love of gardening. [ITV]
- A unique set of porcelain dessert dishes and plates commissioned by France’s King Louis-Philippe I, and believed to have been used only once, for a visit by Queen Elizabeth, is to be auctioned in Paris. [The Guardian]
Commonwealth group searches for relevance under King Charles
presiding over Commonwealth Day for the first time, King Charles hailed the group’s ‘near-boundless potential’ for good. But some are questioning its relevance since Queen Elizabeth’s passing and whether it can evolve.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.
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