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‘A lot of subtext going on here’: Why King Charles gave daughter-in-law Catherine a rare honour

Princess of Wales is 1st member of Royal Family appointed to Order of the Companions of Honour

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When King Charles awarded Catherine, Princess of Wales, a rare honour the other day, it was more than a recognition of her role within the Royal Family.

It also drew attention to the warm relationship that has developed between Charles and his daughter-in-law since she joined the family through marriage to Prince William 13 years ago this week.

“There’s a lot of subtext going on here, both on a personal level and on a professional level,” said Justin Vovk, a royal commentator and a PhD candidate at McMaster University in Hamilton who specializes in the history of the monarchy, in an interview.

On the personal level, Charles and Catherine get along splendidly, he said.

But there are also larger family dynamics at play that reflect subtle changes over time and in the new reign of Charles.

“This is a public show of support that [Diana], Princess of Wales, didn’t really get from the late Queen,” said Vovk.

Members of the Royal Family, including Catherine, Princess of Wales, Prince George, Prince Louis and King Charles, wave to well-wishers after attending a church service.

“I think this is really reinforcing [Charles and Catherine’s] personal relationship, but also the fact that this is a united Royal Family. The drama, the tensions of the 1980s and 1990s, are not looking to be repeated, and the mistakes of that era are not looking to be repeated.”

Vovk also sees a contrast between the way the relationship between the sovereign and the Princess of Wales was handled under Elizabeth versus how her son Charles is handling it now.

“When William and Catherine got married, Catherine just seemed to get it. She seemed to get what the Royal Family was about, she seemed to get what the expectations, what the job would be, and she’s integrated so seamlessly that I think Charles is probably, on some level, really grateful for that.”

With the award, Catherine becomes the first member of the Royal Family appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour.

The order was founded in 1917 by King George V to recognize outstanding achievements in public service, the arts, sciences and medicine. Other members include actor Maggie Smith, musicians Paul McCartney and Elton John and artist David Hockney.

Three adults and two children stand on a balcony.

While the award may not “seem like much to the average person,” Vovk said, considering that Catherine has only been Princess of Wales for less than two years, “for the family, that’s a big gesture.”

Judith Rowbotham, a social and cultural scholar and visiting research professor at the University of Plymouth in southwestern England, saw a personal element to the award that comes as Catherine is undergoing preventative treatment for cancer.

“I think [Charles] took an opportunity to do something that would give her a boost and I think that the timing has more to do with that than anything else,” Rowbotham said in an interview.

Two people hold irons as a child looks on.

Observers have long noted the strong bond between Catherine and Charles, and see the possibility of it being reinforced through their shared experiences with cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“It is clearly mutual fondness, mutual respect, mutual comfort on both sides, and I think you could say that it’s undoubtedly been a major factor in improving relations between William and Charles,” said Rowbotham.

She also sees Catherine — along with Queen Camilla — having an effect on Charles.

“Charles has, since his marriage to Camilla and since Catherine came along, [become more] approachable,” she said.

“Now we look for something that’s in our leaders [that is] more approachable in terms of them being relatable, and that’s what I think Catherine and Camilla have both brought.”

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