“The Future Belongs with the Cambridges,” Royal Expert Says

Returning from a complex Caribbean tour, that future has perhaps more questions than answers.

Prince William and Kate Middleton
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Nearly 11 years into their marriage, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have undertaken numerous overseas royal tours together. This most recent tour—to Belize, Jamaica, and the Bahamas—was, by far, their most complex.

Amidst Kate’s glittery fashion choices and the couple’s lighthearted events—sailing, scuba diving, and walkabouts, to name a few—calls for change ran deep: There were protests over colonialism in Belize and Jamaica. In Jamaica, a movement to remove the Queen as Head of State is gaining traction. (Barbados did the same just last year.) Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, while visiting with the Duke and Duchess, left little doubt as to his country’s intentions: “We’re moving on,” he said. While in Jamaica, Prince William, while stopping short of an outright apology, said in a speech “Slavery was abhorrent. And it never should have happened.” And, on their final night in the tour’s last stop, the Bahamas, William directly addressed the changing monarchy by saying, in a speech at a black-tie reception, “We support with pride and respect your decisions about your future,” he said. “Relationships evolve. Friendship endures.”

Meanwhile, the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, are on a much less intense tour of Ireland at the moment. Both couples are on tour on behalf of the Queen, celebrating her Platinum Jubilee and 70 years on the throne this year. Why did she send William and Kate to the Caribbean to address these important, pertinent issues, and not her heir? It’s because the Cambridges represent the future of the British monarchy, historian Sarah Gristwood told PEOPLE.

“Because of the ages of all the participants, there must be a feeling that, long term, the future of the British monarchy is more about William and Kate—spiritually, not in terms of actual succession,” Gristwood, author of Elizabeth: Queen and Crown, told PEOPLE. “The baton of the crown has to pass to Charles and Camilla, but there is a sense of a baton also being passed from the Queen to William and Kate. Charles and Camilla have a lot of life experience between them, and they’re not going to change. The future belongs with the Cambridges.”

Especially with the 2020 departure of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as working members of the royal family, it’s left to William and Kate to take center stage as the only representatives of their generation.

“Senior royals are a bit thin on the ground at the moment,” Gristwood said. “Britain is never going to drop all its pomp and ceremony, and it was eventually going to be slimmer and more economical. But it’s doubtful even Prince Charles wanted it to lose weight so rapidly.”

William’s remarks on Britain’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade—though, some have said, were not forceful enough—were a “step forward” for the royal family, historian Robert Lacey told PEOPLE.

“It shows the royal family venturing, quite rightly, into areas they previously wouldn’t have,” said Lacey, historical consultant to The Crown and author of the book Battle of Brothers. “In the past, this would have been considered a political area to get involved in. I am sure the Queen and Philip never mentioned slavery when they went to Jamaica in the past, but it is now a live issue.”

(For his part, Charles has addressed slavery as well recently, speaking in Barbados during the country’s transition ceremony removing the Queen as Head of State and swearing in its first president. Charles denounced the “appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history.”)

“It is a landmark, a step forward,” Lacey said. “The royal family would traditionally skirt around this sort of issue, so it shows the new generation facing up to social issues and being prepared to talk about them and acknowledge fault…It shows that the new generation are willing to confront difficult issues and to acknowledge mistakes.”

While overseas, “both [William and Kate] display everything that the Queen stands for in terms of duty, of responsibility, and dedication and service,” a royal insider told PEOPLE.

As the world evolves and changes, so will the British monarchy. And, though the future may belong with the Cambridges, what that exact future looks like for the royal family remains to be seen.

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.