2019’s Engagement Numbers & What They Tell Us

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[N.B. The below post was written before the Sussexes’ news yesterday. Since it’s not overly relevant to this topic, I haven’t edited it, save one little note at the end.]

Before we get started, Happy Birthday to the Duchess of Cambridge, who turns 38 today! The occasion was marked at Anmer Hall last weekend, but I’m sure there are some day-of festivities planned now that the family has returned to London. We’ll next see her out and about on Wednesday when she and the Duke visit Bradford for their first engagement of the new year.

With that, let’s turn to the matter at hand: last year’s engagement numbers. If you keep up with royal news then you may have seen the end-of-year articles tracking who the “hardest working” member of the Royal Family was in 2019. If you read more than one, then you may have noticed very different statistics get reported. There’s no exact science to these tallies – what constitutes an engagement is in the eye of the beholder, however the most traditional approach is to count it if it made it into the Court Circular.

Over the last several years, the highly unofficial title of “Hardest Working Royal” is traded back and forth between the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal, the Queen’s two eldest children. That’s because the Queen is continuing to scale back her public duties, while the Duke of Edinburgh retired in 2017. Once upon a time, the Queen and Prince Philip led the pack, but as many of you well know, we’re in a period of transition now as younger generations take on larger shares of the work.

So, the numbers:

  1. Prince Charles (PoW) – 521
  2. Princess Anne (PR) – 506
  3. Earl of Wessex (Prince Edward) – 308
  4. Queen Elizabeth – 295
  5. Duke of York (Prince Andrew) – 274
  6. Duke of Cambridge (Prince William) – 220
  7. Duke of Sussex (Prince Harry) – 201
  8. Duchess of Cambridge (Kate) – 116
  9. Duchess of Sussex (Meghan) – 83

This is, of course, an incomplete list. I can’t find final tallies for the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla) and the Countess of Wessex (Sophie) that includes both domestic and international engagements, but based on their domestic figures, I believe they would fall in-between Harry and Kate. I’m also not bothering to include the Kents or Gloucesters (the Queen’s cousins).

As we’ve discussed before, these figures also tell incomplete stories. Meghan, for example, was mostly on maternity leave from March through August, so there were few engagements, but she was still very much working behind-the-scenes on projects like the SmartWorks capsule collection and the British Vogue edition. Likewise, she and Harry then took a six-week break from mid-November through December, indicating that Harry was working at a nearly identical clip to William.

Kensington Palace has made more of an effort to promote the internal meetings that William and Kate carry out, so some of that work is reflected in the above, but not every royal office reports such events. Personally, I wish every office did simply because it offers a more holistic view.

And Andrew’s numbers, of course, stopped in November when he was forced to step down from royal duties.

What these numbers can tell us are broad trends. For one, total engagement tallies for the entire Royal Family are slightly down from 2018, and significantly so when you compare with prior decades. What does this mean? Well, it means that this is likely to continue. One of the drawbacks to Charles’s vision to streamline the monarchy is that it will inevitably mean there are less royals to offer their patronage to various charitable organizations in the UK (and around the world). I’m still in favor of cutting the fat, so to speak, but the impact this has on charities that once benefited from royal attention will certainly have to be considered.

We’re also continuing to see a reflection of William and Harry’s focus on quality over quantity. Both princes and their wives have taken on fewer traditional patronages in favor of the flexibility that their foundation work affords them. This allows for public campaigns like Heads Together, and it allows for shorter-term funding projects that may start with royal support before spinning off into independence. The latter is slightly different from how Charles has traditionally handled his foundation work, which has generally been longer-term. As such, their “engagements” will continue to look a bit different than earlier generation’s, and I think it’s pretty cemented that there’s not going to be a major shift on this front until Charles ascends the throne.

I was also taken by how relaxed coverage of these figures was this year. In other words, I didn’t see headlines getting hysterical about how little the “Fab Four” worked. Some of this, I think, is a happy accident – the press had other fodder thanks to Andrew and the Sussexes’ lawsuit/documentary. But zooming out a bit, I think there’s at least an unconscious acknowledgement that this is the status quo for the time being and there will be a re-shuffling eventually that pushes William and Kate, at the very least, to the forefront, while the Queen’s younger children (Anne and Edward) step back.

Kate’s numbers remain relatively low. I don’t keep numerical track when I’m writing about specific engagements, but I have at least half an eye on it out of necessity just to keep track of calendars, and I certainly noticed it as the year unfolded. The Cambridges’ summer break was longer than usual, while Kate also stayed out of view for several weeks in the spring. There are some obvious explanations for this – I think her numbers will always remain lower than William’s (as well they should), and the Cambridges have always reinforced that her primary focus is on her children. But I find it interesting that KP’s response to the “work shy” narrative that has always plagued the Cambridges, but especially Kate, hasn’t been to push her forward, but rather to promote the behind-the-scenes work.

In years past I’ve said that I wished her numbers would increase, but I’m less firm on that now. I wonder if keeping Kate at her current clip isn’t part of an effort to keep her hands clean, even if unconscious. Based on personality and interest, she has no inclination to be as outspoken as her sister-in-law, and there’s certainly been plenty of evidence that doing so brings with it a good deal of risk that a future queen consort can’t afford.

And then I think there’s the mundane – William and Kate have positioned their lives to be as “normal” as humanly possible, and with that comes having the ability to be more hands-on parents. I think that by and large, Kate is re-creating the same upbringing that she enjoyed – privileged, yes, but also pretty cozy compared to even what William saw in the ’80s and ’90s. She wants to be available for school drop-offs and pick-up, homework, and daily machinations of life with children, and there’s really no good reason given her current place in the hierarchy that she shouldn’t. By necessity, William doesn’t have as much leeway as Kate, but he can certainly afford her these years before the succession rears its head. So, 116 engagements it is, and I think that’s okay.

If the last three years are any indication, there’s still plenty of change afoot within the House of Windsor, so let’s see what 2020 hands us 😉 [Update: Well, we have a better idea now of what that change will be, yes.]

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