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Opinion: More pancakes than politics in modern royal visits

By Emily Brand, Special to CNN
Emily Brand is the author of "Royal Weddings," which explores the marriages of the British monarchy through the ages.
Emily Brand is the author of "Royal Weddings," which explores the marriages of the British monarchy through the ages.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The duties British monarchs are required to perform have changed over the centuries
  • Once politically motivated, royal tours now serve to pledge support or raise profiles locally
  • Can generate great excitement and media attention in far-flung Commonwealth countries
  • Brand: "Having a young, forward-looking couple is bound to raise public spirits"

Editor's note: Emily Brand is a writer and historian with a special interest in 18th and 19th century England. She is the author of "Royal Weddings," which explores the marriages of the British monarchy through the ages.

A far cry from the calculated matches of history, which usually saw strangers united to set the seal on a political alliance, over the last century royal weddings have become at once more personal and more public.

Marrying for love has become the new ideal and live television broadcasts across the globe on 29 April will invite billions to celebrate the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

The same changes that have bound royal weddings have also affected other royal engagements. The pageantry demanded by Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century is far removed from the visits of Britain's current queen.

Indeed, visiting charitable organizations would not have been a priority for royal heirs of the past -- let alone joining local children in flipping pancakes as Kate and William did in a recent visit to Belfast in Northern Ireland.

Yet, this is the itinerary the couple will continue to pursue in their engagements around the British Isles and their planned tour through Canada this summer.

As well as raising the profile of the royals, such visits can have a deep resonance for the host nation.
--Emily Brand, historian

William is also taking time out from his plans with fiancee Kate this week, to make a solo trip to New Zealand and Australia. He's going to offer his support in the face of the tragedies recently suffered by the communities of Christchurch, Greymouth and the flooded areas of Australia.

The visit was described by the Prime Minister of New Zealand as a "heart-warming gesture," and the prince will address a National Memorial Service on behalf of his family and take an active role in fundraising events.

This engagement perhaps illustrates most poignantly that as well as raising the profile of the royals, such visits can have a deep resonance for the host nation.

This has not always been the case throughout history: In the past, political matters have stood tall as the primary motivations behind such journeys. But while public displays of power and wealth were once essential, much less ceremonious affairs are favored in modern times.

Royal visits today come as the result of an invitation extended by the hopeful host country -- and the reasons behind them vary. But whether the visits symbolize a pledge of support, a means of extending the olive branch between nations or simply a matter of raising local profiles, they can inspire intense public excitement.

This can be particularly so in far-flung Commonwealth nations that have little other opportunity to catch a glimpse of their royal family. The associated media attention might boost tourism, and the visits themselves could raise local spirits or even foster a sense of identity around a royal family that is largely absent.

After the many difficulties that the Windsor family has faced in recent years, it is refreshing to see the next generation beginning to blossom.
--Emily Brand, historian and author of "Royal Weddings."
Day in the life: Kate Middleton
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This is hoped to be the case when William and Kate make their first official foreign visit as newlyweds to Canada. They are following in the footsteps of George VI and his consort who toured Canada in 1939. That tour was a huge event for local communities -- not least because it marked the long-awaited acceptance of invitations sent to Buckingham Palace since 1858!

Drawing crowds of hundreds of thousands at a time of imminent war, the couple was admired for their fortitude. Their daughter, Elizabeth, the United Kingdom's current queen, has also made many visits to Canada. Each time, concerted efforts have been made to emphasize the idea of the Canadian monarchy "coming home," not merely assuming the status of foreign visitors.

Inevitably, royal visits -- and the associated costs and security measures -- might rouse a few grumbles, and this seems to have always been the case.

During a trip in 1567, Queen Elizabeth I opted to descend upon the residence of a Mr More, much to his dismay. Despite being advised by friends to avoid the "very great trouble and hindrance," it seems he was unable to find the courage to excuse himself from the honor.

These days, though, the modern royal family seems keen to present themselves as just that -- a family -- and Kate's untitled background makes her entrance into royal life all the more fascinating to watch.

It isn't necessarily a unique situation -- in the 17th century the future King James II was even encouraged to marry "commoner" Anne Hyde in the hope that she might knock some sense into him (she didn't) -- but having a young and clearly forward-looking couple at the heart of the monarchy is bound to raise public spirits.

Certainly, after the many difficulties that the Windsor family has faced in recent years, it is refreshing to see the next generation beginning to blossom. We can certainly expect to see William and Kate embracing a host of public duties in the coming years.

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