William was born on 21 June 1982 at St. Mary’s Hospital, London, becoming the first prince in the direct line of succession to be born in a hospital. The birth attracted worldwide media interest as it occurred only 11 months after the high-profile wedding of the royal baby’s parents, the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. The newborn Prince was christened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie, in the music room of Buckingham Palace.
Although Charles and Diana employed full-time nannies, they were both closely involved in the upbringing of William and his younger brother, Prince Harry(born 15 September 1984). When William was only nine months old, his parents broke with 20th-century royal precedent by bringing him along for their 1983 tour of Australia and New Zealand. When Charles and Diana undertook their first tour of Canada as a married couple that same year, they were showered with gifts from the public in honour of their son’s first birthday, including a miniature canoe and a deerskin suit.
In contrast to his father, who was tutored by a governess until he began his formal education at Hill House School at the age of eight, William attended Mrs. Mynors’s Nursery School in London from the age of three, then attended Wetherby School, also in London, from 1987 to 1990. At the age of eight, the Prince transferred to Ludgrove Preparatory School, a boarding school in Berkshire previously attended by the Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Kent.
During William’s five years at Ludgrove, his parents’ marriage broke down. In December 1992, British Prime Minister John Major announced the “amicable separation” of the royal couple. On 20 December 1995, Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen had sent letters advising the Prince and Princess of Wales to divorce. Following legislation passed during the reign of King George I, the Queen retained formal custody of her grandchildren, though both parents received equal time with their sons. William and Harry enjoyed a close relationship with both their mother and father; they were devastated by the death of Diana in a car accident in Paris in 1997.
Early Tours of Canada
William visited Canada on two occasions before his marriage. In 1991, Charles and Diana toured Ontario, visiting Toronto, Sudbury, Niagara Falls, Kingston and Ottawa accompanied by nine-year-old William and seven-year-old Harry. For many Canadians, the highlight of the tour was seeing the royal family together on the deck of the royal yacht, Britannia, in Toronto Harbour.
In 1998, William returned to Canada with his father and brother for a ski holiday in Whistler, British Columbia. The royal family attracted cheering crowds including teenage girls screaming for the 15-year-old prince. His image as a teen heartthrob persisted for years after this tour. During the Queen’s Golden Jubilee tour of Canada in 2002, a Sheridan College student held up a sign stating, “Hook me up with Prince William.”
William attended Eton College in Windsor, completing university qualifying examinations in Geography, Biology and History of Art. The proximity of the school to Windsor Castle allowed the young Prince to spend significant time with his grandparents, the Queen and Prince Philip. Like numerous other British young people of his generation, the Prince took a gap year before university in 2000–01, engaging in military training exercises in Belize, teaching children in Chile and visiting numerous countries in Africa. While his father and great-grandfather, George VI, studied at Cambridge, William decided to pursue a degree in Art History at St. Andrews University in Scotland in 2001, later changing his field of study to Geography. While at St. Andrews, William met his future wife, Catherine “Kate” Middleton, who was also enrolled in the Art History program. In 2005, the couple both graduated from St. Andrews with Scottish Master of Arts degrees.
After his graduation from St. Andrews, William began military training, following in the footsteps of generations of male royalty. He spent 2006 at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, receiving his commission as Lieutenant Wales in December, and began his military career as a troop commander of the Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons (Blues and Royals). With active duty out of the question for the second in line to the throne, William began training for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, obtaining the respective commissions of sub-lieutenant and flight lieutenant. In 2009, William transferred his commission to the Royal Air Force, received a promotion to flight lieutenant, and became a Sea King helicopter co-pilot with the Search and Rescue force in 2010. (See also CH-124 Sea King.)
The Prince’s military service received positive press attention worldwide. In 2012, a helicopter piloted by William came to the aid of an Ontario woman who broke her leg while hiking along the Welsh coast. That same year, William qualified as a captain in charge of helicopter missions. In the spring of 2013, the UK government announced that Search and Rescue operations would be privatized beginning in 2016, ending 70 years of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy rescue service. William’s tour of duty as a Search and Rescue pilot ended in the fall of 2013.
In addition to numerous honorary military appointments in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, both William and Harry were appointed honorary Canadian Rangers (see Reserve Force of Canada) in 2009.
On 16 November 2010, Clarence House announced the engagement of Prince William to Catherine Middleton. In contrast to many previous royal couples, who experienced short courtships prior to their engagement, the young royal couple had dated since 2003, and lived together at St. Andrews and in Anglesey, Wales. William would be the first direct heir to the throne to marry into the “middle class” since 1660, when the future James II married Anne Hyde.
The wedding on 29 April 2011 combined traditional and modern elements. The royal couple customized the interior of Westminster Abbey, adding eight 20-foot trees to the nave for the ceremony. Wedding guests included numerous friends of the couple as well as foreign royalty and Commonwealth Heads of Government and governors general. Harry served as best man, while the bride’s sister, Philippa “Pippa” Middleton, was maid of honour.
Instead of a gift registry, the couple encouraged the guests to donate to a charity from a recommended list. Governor General David Johnston represented Canada at the wedding and subsequent reception at Buckingham Palace. The Governor General also provided the funding for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Award, a one-time scholarship at the University of Waterloo established in honour of the marriage. Prime Minister Stephen Harper donated $50,000 to the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary “on behalf of all Canadians” in honour of the wedding, and presented the royal couple with a personal gift of outdoor camping gear.
A few hours prior to the ceremony, the Queen bestowed the titles of Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn and Baron Carrickfergus, confirmed by letters patent and formal addition to the Roll of the Peerage on 26 May. The royal couple would henceforth be styled the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge rather than Prince and Princess William. The wedding was a major media event worldwide, attracting over 8,500 journalists to London and an estimated global viewing audience of over two billion.
Tour of Canada 2011
In late June and early July 2011, Canada was the setting for the first royal tour outside the United Kingdom by William and Kate as a married couple. Like the wedding, the visits to Ottawa, Montréal, Québec City, Charlottetown, Summerside, Yellowknife and Calgary combined traditional and modern elements. In common with previous royal tours of Canada, William and Kate celebrated Canada Day on Parliament Hill, attended military reviews, and visited charities. The tour events, however, also reflected the individual personalities and interests of the royal couple. William and Kate demonstrated their athletic interests, racing each other in dragon boats on Dalvay Lake, Prince Edward Island. They also took the time for lengthy conversations with Canadians from all walks of life.
William and Kate were well received throughout the tour, even in Québec, where royal tours have declined in popularity since the 1960s. Coverage of tour events on social media introduced a new generation to the royal family and contributed to a revival of interest in the Canadian monarchy. In July 2011, Prime Minister Harper announced the creation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Parks Canada Youth Ambassador program as a legacy to commemorate the tour of Canada by the royal couple.
The marriage of William and Kate prompted speculation about their plans for a family and support for changing the royal succession to allow absolute primogeniture (inheritance by first-born child regardless of gender), a reform decided at the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, Australia. In December 2012, Kate was admitted to hospital with hyperemesis gravidarum, prompting the announcement that the royal couple were expecting their first child in July 2013. The following day, the British government announced that it had received final consent from all member nations of the Commonwealth to proceed with legislation to amend the succession.
On 27 March 2013, Canada became the first Commonwealth realm to formally legislate succession reform, passing An Act to assent to alterations in the law touching the Succession to the Throne. The UK passed a succession reform bill in April of the same year. The Canadian succession reform legislation was controversial because the provinces were not consulted and the “assent” to British legislation appeared to compromise the independence of the Canadian Crown.
The Act faced a legal challenge from two professors from Laval University in 2013. On 16 February 2016, Justice Claude Bouchard of the Superior Court of Quebec ruled that Canada"did not have to change its laws nor its Constitution for the British royal succession rules to be amended and effective." The Quebec Court of Appeal upheld this decision in 2019, and the Supreme Court of Canada declined the application for leave to appeal in 2020, ending the legal challenge to The Succession to Throne Act, 2013. By March 2015, the 16 Commonwealth realms of the time had all ratified succession reform.
Birth of HRH Prince George of Cambridge
The couple’s first child, Prince George of Cambridge, was born on 22 July 2013 at St. Mary’s Hospital, London. His birth made royal history: for the first time since Queen Victoria’s reign, there were three generations of direct heirs to the throne. In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mint marked the arrival of the royal baby by issuing commemorative coins, the first time a royal birth was celebrated in this manner. The Canadian government sent George a handcrafted blanket and donated $100,000 to a Canadian children’s charity. Governor General Johnston and Prime Minister Harper also sent the royal baby a personal gift, a collection of Canadian children’s books written in French and English. George was christened in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace on 23 October 2013.
Birth of HRH Princess Charlotte of Cambridge
The couple’s second child, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, was born on 2 May 2015 at St. Mary’s Hospital, London. The birth attracted worldwide attention because there had not been a princess born into the royal family since the birth of Princess Eugenie in 1990. In Ottawa, the Peace Tower was lit up in pink to celebrate the birth. The name Charlotte has not been popular in the royal family since the 18th century, and there is speculation that the name will increase in popularity throughout the English- speaking world, including Canada. Since succession reform came into force a few months before Charlotte’s birth, she is the first princess whose succession rights will not be superseded by a younger brother, if William and Kate have more children. Charlotte has received gifts from around the world, including miniature mukluks from the Ottawa branch of the Monarchist League of Canada.
Preparing for the Throne
Since the end of his military career in September 2013, William has focused on royal duties and charitable work. In October 2013, William presided at his first investiture; and in November, he represented the Queen for the first time at a State visit, when he joined South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, at a groundbreaking ceremony for a Korean War memorial. Like Prince Charles, William and Catherine have assumed an increasing share of the royal workload. In addition to their responsibilities in the United Kingdom, William and Catherine toured Australia and New Zealand in April 2014. William visited China and Japan in 2015, strengthening international trade relations. William has also been preparing for his future role as Steward of the Duchy of Cornwall, which he will eventually assume as heir to the throne. In 2014, he completed a 10-week agricultural management course at Cambridge University.
William and Catherine currently reside at Kensington Palace in London and Anmer Hall in Norfolk. William completed training for service with East Anglian Air Ambulance in 2015 and donated his salary to charity. The training ended just before daughter Charlotte’s birth, allowing William a six-week paternity leave before taking up his duties in summer 2015.
In 2017, Prince William left the East Anglian Air Ambulance service to assume a full-time schedule of royal engagements on behalf of the Queen. William’s public engagements include performing investitures, presenting medals, attending diplomatic functions, undertaking overseas tours on behalf of the Queen and working with his charitable patronages.
Philanthropy and Conservation Work
The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge supports charities focused on conservation, young people and the armed forces. The organization also allocates income from donations to the Princess Diana Memorial Fund, which closed at the end of 2012. The Royal Foundation is one of William’s 40 charitable patronages, which include Child Bereavement UK, The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), and The Royal Society. In 2013, William established United for Wildlife, an unprecedented collaboration between seven conservation organizations to enhance the global response to threats to endangered species and their habitats (see Endangered Animals and Endangered Plants). William and Catherine are honourary life members of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. In October 2020, William and the Royal Foundation launched the Earthshot Prize, a global environmental prize for innovators proposing solutions to climate change, pollution and deforestation.
2016 Tour of Canada
From 24 September until 1 October 2016, William toured British Columbia and the Yukon with Catherine and their children, George and Charlotte. The couple were based at Government House in Victoria(with the exception of an overnight stay in Whitehorse) to enable them to spend evenings with their children after public engagements during the day.
The tour itinerary reflected William’s interests in environmental conservation and expanding opportunities for young people. On 26 September, the couple visited the Heiltsuk First Nation community of Bella Bella, where they were welcomed in a traditional ceremony and visited the community school. Bella Bella is also home to the Great Bear Rainforest, which William officially recognized as part of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, a network of forest conservative projects. In Victoria later that day, he added a reconciliation ring to the Black Rod, a ceremonial staff used in the British Columbia legislature when the monarch or lieutenant governor is present. This fourth and final ring recognizes the monarch’s historic role as guardian and protector of Indigenous peoples, and symbolizes the reconciliation of different cultures in the province. During the tour, the royal couple also visited the UBC Okanagan campus and attended an Indigenous language lesson at the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse, among other engagements in Yukon and British Columbia.
The 2016 tour was well received and the royal couple were praised for taking the time to engage with Canadians from all walks of life, for introducing their children to Canada, and raising awareness of Canadian institutions and philanthropic organizations. William received some criticism, however, for his difficulties speaking French during his official speech on the first day of the tour and for joking in Vancouver that he had not read his briefing notes. In honour of the tour, Prince Minister Justin Trudeau donated $50,000 to the Prince’s Charities Canada to promote education in Indigenous communities and $50,000 to the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia to help new arrivals to Canada with housing, employment and language skills.
Royal Duties During the COVID-19 Pandemic
William contracted COVID-19 in April 2020, but his condition did not become known until November 2020 to “avoid alarming the nation,” since his father, Prince Charles, was known to have COVID-19 at the same time. William and Catherine undertook virtual engagements in the spring and summer of 2020 then returned to in-person public engagements in the autumn. In December 2020, William and Catherine toured Britain by train to thank front-line workers for their efforts during the pandemic. On 11 June 2021, William and Catherine attended the G7 summit in Cornwall, England and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021.