BY JAMES CRAWFORD-SMITH
Queen Elizabeth II’s youngest son, Prince Edward, and his wife, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, face a series of objections as they begin a tour of the Caribbean islands this week, with renewed calls for slavery reparations.
The royals’ tour, celebrating the queen’s Platinum Jubilee, follows Prince William and Kate Middleton‘s tour of Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas which has been called a “royal disaster” and “all offense, no charm,” after a series of PR blunders occurred. The Cambridges faced protests at each stop of their tour from locals demanding that the royal family acknowledge their historic role in the transatlantic slave trade and seriously discuss the debated topic of reparations.
Edward and Sophie Wessex begin their tour in Saint Lucia on Friday and from there will make visits to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda before returning to Britain on April 28.
Originally the couple’s itinerary was to include a visit to the island of Grenada but a statement released by Buckingham Palace on Thursday announced that, “In consultation with the Government of Grenada and on the advice of the Governor General, The Earl and Countess of Wessex’s visit to Grenada has been postponed. The Earl and Countess hope to visit at a later date.”
Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, are due to undertake a royal tour of the Caribbean this week following one made by Prince William and Kate Middleton last month. The Wessexes, left, are pictured in London on June 11, 2016 and the Cambridges, right, in Jamaica on March 24, 2022.SAMIR HUSSEIN/WIREIMAGE/CHRIS JACKSON/GETTY IMAGES
No further explanation for the postponement has been offered by Buckingham Palace or by the government of Grenada but the decision has generated disappointment among reparations activists in the country. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, chairman of the Granada national reparations committee, Arley Gill said:
“We wrote to the queen’s viceroy in Grenada, the governor general, asking for an audience with him. We have not heard back yet. We want to discuss the subject of reparations.
“We wanted the royal couple to go back to the queen and to let her know that Grenada is owed reparations by her family and Great Britain. They need to be aware that we want reparations for all that they have done in the past.”
These sentiments are echoed by the chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission, Dorbrene O’Marde, who announced on a local talk radio show his intentions to present an open letter to the royals during their visit.
Of the contents of the letter, O’Marde said, “essentially, it supports the positions taken by other…people as far as the issue of reparation is concerned.”
He said that the letter highlights the “absence of an apology from the Crown both as family and as an institution for their role in the enslavement of African people in the slave trade and in the slavery of African people.”
The Wessexes tour is being made in celebration of the queen’s Platinum Jubilee as the monarch remains head of state in eight Caribbean countries, despite them gaining independence from the crown decades ago.
William and Kate’s tour in March highlighted republican movements in the Caribbean following Barbados’ cutting ties with the British monarchy in 2021. During a meeting with the Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the Cambridge’s were told:
“Jamaica is, as you would see, a country that is very proud of our history, very proud of what we have achieved.
“And we’re moving on. And we intend to attain, in short order, our development goals and fulfill our true ambitions and destiny as an independent, developed, prosperous country.”
Growing discussions around republicanism as well as reparations prompted William to make two key statements during the course of his tour. At a reception in Jamaica the prince said of slavery:
“I want to express my profound sorrow. Slavery was abhorrent, and it should never have happened.
“While the pain runs deep, Jamaica continues to forge its future with determination,
courage and fortitude.”
However, this expression of “sorrow” did not translate into the apology most were hoping for. In a statement released to Newsweek at the time, The Advocates Network described the comments as “tone deaf” and accused the prince of “whitewashing” history.
On the final evening of his Caribbean tour, in the Bahamas, William also made efforts to address the republican sentiment in the countries he had visited. He said to the assembled crowd, “with Jamaica celebrating 60 years of independence this year, and Belize celebrating 40 years of independence last year, I want to say this: We support with pride and respect your decisions about your future. Relationships evolve. Friendship endures.”
The legacy of the Cambridge’s tour has been widely debated as the protests, a series of PR missteps, including poorly chosen photo opportunities accused of being “colonial” in tone, and the prince’s comments have contributed to the royals reevaluating how tours should be planned moving forward.
Though the Wessexes, as more junior members of the royal family, may draw less attention than the Cambridges, their tour as familial representatives of the queen is expected to provoke challenging discussions on each of their visits.
Newsweek has reached out to Buckingham Palace for comment.