In the wake of last year’s royal wedding, and in anticipation of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this summer, there is no shortage of reading material for monarchists and royal watchers. A journalist and the Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, John Fraser provides the latest addition to this tide of regal readings. Fraser’s book, aimed squarely at Canadians, purports itself to be “an attempt to explain to those who ‘don’t get it’ why there are good reasons not to sacrifice the Crown.” However, the book ends up being more about Fraser himself and his encounters with viceregal representatives and members of “The Firm.”
The Secret of the Crown begins by examining the royal family’s evolution from a mysterious institution garnering automatic deference to tabloid fodder for scandal-seeking journalists. Fraser provides insightful commentary on the success of royal tours throughout the years, the unique relationship between the Crown and First Nations peoples, and the role of viceregal representatives as an important link between the Crown and citizens and governments. He furthers his argument for maintaining a constitutional monarchy by acknowledging that becoming a republic is no easy feat; all provinces have to decide unanimously to abolish the Crown.
The subtitle is a little misleading, as the book has less to do with Canada’s affair with royalty than with Fraser’s. Each chapter tends to shift abruptly from historical summary or analysis to personal memoir. As a student, and throughout his career as a journalist, Fraser has had the good fortune to meet many of Canada’s viceregal appointees and some of the key figures in the British Royal Family, including the Queen. These anecdotes are suffused with the excitement of a dedicated royal watcher, but are more autobiographical than historical. What begins as a polemic for the necessity of Canadian monarchy and an analysis of the reasons for its longevity quickly becomes a personal essay about one man’s unusual access to Canada’s royal cloisters.