London Letter

Should Elizabeth Live Abroad?

Beverly Baxter June 1 1954
London Letter

Should Elizabeth Live Abroad?

Beverly Baxter June 1 1954

Should Elizabeth Live Abroad?

London Letter

Beverly Baxter

THAT eminent statesman, imperialist and cricket enthusiast, the Rt. Hon. R. G. Menzies, the Prime Minister of Australia, has suggested that a royal residence should be built for the Royal Family in his homeland. It would he a home away from home for them and thus the Queen of England would be in residence there, when she chose, as the Queen of Australia.

Quite obviously if this plan is accepted by the Australian parliament there will he Canadians asking why their fair land should lag in loyally behind Australia.

I know Premier Menzies well and like him very much. His love for London is so deep that when he is here he steals out by himself just to wander about the docks and the Inns of Court, and to mingle wit h the garish traffic of the Strand.

When he was facing defeat as prime minister early in the war many of us hoped that he would come to live in London. Frankly it was not entirely because we liked him although that feeling was genuine. There was room for him in the British Conservative Party and we thought that if he entered parliament he might well become a figure of great importance in British politics. But he went back to Australia where his Government was enjoying a majority of exactly one! I am my own majority,” he said with rueful irony to us in London.

I have mentioned all this because it indicates both the sentimentality and the realism of this lawyer-statesman. Romantically he visualizes the Queen periodically coming from the skies and setting foot on Australian soil. And then, through the cheering crowds, she would drive to her own home, her own Australian home, and everyone would be happy.

But with great respect I suggest that his idea is more romantic than realistic. Let us put away sentiment for a moment and consider what would happen if the plan were adopted.

First there would be a hearty internal wrangle as to where the royal dwelling should be erected.

Second, there would undoubtedly be a minority section in parliament which would point out that with a shortage of hospitals or houses it would be utterly wrong to give precedence to a palatial residence for occupation at brief problematical periods.

However, let us assume that Menzies’ idea is adopted. What is to be done with the royal residence in the long months when it is unoccupied? It could hardly be made a show piece like the Palace of Versailles for the simple reason that as yet it has no history. Nor could it be used for official entertainment functions by ministers of parliament since that would destroy the idea of the sovereign’s official and private residence. In fact the more one studies the unavoidable problems of this warm-hearted suggestion the more complicated it becomes.

It also raises the question of how often the ruling sovereign can visit her loyal dominions. No one but a curmudgeon would deny that the present tour of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh has been an enormous success. Not only have they brought joy and inspiration to the lands they have visited but, through the medium of the newsreel, the whole world has been able to see the miracle of sovereignty that rests upon the love of the people.

But though Her Majesty has a deep sense of dedication it was not easy to leave her little children behind. Children in a palace, cut off from normal contact with other children, need the wise guidance of parents even more than youngsters in normal homes. One has only to study the story of Edward VIII to see how difficult it was to establish a father-and-son understanding with his father in the atmosphere of the palace.

One might argue that next time Her Majesty goes on tour she should take Prince Charles and Princess Anne. Well, why not? It would fill their minds with the greatness of the British union of nations, it would make them interested in geography, and

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it would show how rich and varied is the world in which they live.

All that is true but Prince Charles must go to school and eventually to a university where he will learn to mingle with his generation and hold his own in the democracy of university life. No longer can a sovereign be trained for his task by private tutors. In the formulative years of character building he must learn at first hand the dignity and the way of democracy.

Therefore I think that Menzies’ plan could be altered and modified without losing the generosity that inspired it. Now that we live in an age of swift travel it should be possible for the Queen and the Duke to make short visits which would give pleasure to themselves and to the people who welcome them.

If this were carried out there would have to be some time allowed for recreation during the visit — it could not be only a furious round of official engagements. I know that this is not easy, and I am certain that neither Elizabeth nor Philip would want to fail in their duty toward the sick, and the veterans, and the ordinary folk who never get invited to official receptions. But to make their visit principally a process of privilege to a minority which is already privileged by wealth or position would merely be putting a strain on the royal guests for no valid purpose.

Where in Canada?

In Canada last year I heard the suggestion more than once that there should be a residence for Her Majesty. Coupled with it was the idea that the sovereign would spend a definite period there each year. And frankly, when I listened to these suggestions, it seemed a good idea.

Yet once again you must answer the question—where would you build the house? Already Canada has two viceregal residences which cannot be occupied simultaneously. There is that romantic floor-creaking old country mansion known as Rideau Hall which has atmosphere, dignity and a beautiful setting. Then there is that other dwelling place of the governor-general, La Citadelle in Quebec. It is not wildly luxurious but it has been built upon rising ground and from the terrace one can gaze on the St. Lawrence and watch the ending of the day and the coming of dusk as the trumpeter sends his silver notes down the river that leads to the open sea. Elizabeth and Philip would be entranced with La Citadelle, and they would find much quaint charm in the ancient city that belongs to the new world but enshrines the memory of a France that is almost forgotten in Europe.

They would love the river and fields of Rideau Hall as well and I can imagine that Prince Charles and his sister would feel that they had found an enchanted palace. It may be that Australia or New Zealand now share the hearts of the Queen and the Duke but everyone in London knows that, like the Queen Mother and the Duke of Windsor, they have a special love for Canada.

But will you Torontonians and Winnipeggers and Vancouverites demand that on such a visit the royal couple would stay only at official residences until such time as a home could be built for them? In Winnipeg there is a splendid official residence, Government House, for the lieutenant-governor. In far-off Victoria there is also an imposing official residence.

But what of loyal Toronto? What says the heartbeat of that noble city? Alas! The Queen’s representative has no official pillow upon which he or royalty could lay their heads. I remember staying with Dr. Herbert Bruce and his wife at the beautiful and not over-elaborate Government House which he then occupied. But not long afterward it fell beneath the economy hatchet of Premier Mitchell Hepburn.

When I state that Canada has a special place in the feelings of the Royal Family it is not in a sense of flattery but in the spirit of truth. That grand old lady Queen Mary who died last year often described her early visit to Toronto and always with immense verve. The Duke of Windsor was thrilled by the last great west and, as you know, purchased a ranch. But fate and temperament had other plans for him.

I heard the Queen Mother—then the Queen—describe her visit to Canada with King George VI not long after their Coronation. “It was a second Coronation,” she said in that soft voice of hers. What she might have said was “It was our real Coronation,” for when she and her husband were crowned the British were still heartbroken over the tragedy of Edward VIII.

So to Elizabeth and Philip. They still talk about their Canadian tour with great liveliness. Of course they have now seen other lands and it may be that the Far East has exerted its spell. But I doubt if even the azure skies and deep blue waters of New Zealand can obliterate the memories of the Rockies, the prairies and the endless northern lakes.

Therefore we must now end where we began; we must go back to Prime Minister Menzies’ suggestion. I admit the glamour and indeed the dignity of the idea but I contend that the project would bring the crown into the realm of political controversy and that the very existence of such a residence would make a routine duty of a royal visit rather than something warm and spontaneous.

After all, their home is in London and, in spite of the changing story of events, London is still the heart of the British community of nations. We do not want the young couple at the palace to go abroad too often. Imagine Ascot and the Derby without the Queen! And what about the garden parties at Buckingham Palace, and the opening of parliament and the Trooping the Colour and the service at the Cenotaph?

Elizabeth and Philip are Londoners. So come and see them here. In return I know they would love to visit your home town when they get a chance. But we should leave it at that and not

start building royal residences. +