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Prince and Princess of Wales to Visit Boston as the Royal Family Recasts Itself

On its face, the visit by William and Catherine, the Prince and Princess of Wales, to Boston this week is typical of the British royal family’s philanthropic work.

The couple will present awards given out by the Earthshot Prize, an organization founded by William to help entrepreneurs with solutions to climate change and environmental issues.

But the visit is weighted with extra significance as William and Kate visit the United States for the first time in eight years, a time spanning a swell of change for the royal family as it tries to rebrand itself as a modern monarchy.

It will be the first visit by the royal couple to the United States since the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September; the first time they touch U.S. soil since Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, left Britain for a more private life in California; the first time they are greeted by an American public that has a deeper understanding of royal life, thanks in part to Netflix’s “The Crown.”

“This is them trying to establish who they are in a more pared-down, streamlined monarchy,” said Arianne J. Chernock, a history professor at Boston University and a scholar of modern Britain. “This is a more updated, modernized family that they want to represent.”

Dr. Chernock said the Earthshot Prize, a cause that the royal family has embraced in recent years, is a way for the prince and princess to explore how they can align themselves with “core, weighty issues and maintain a sense of relevance, as well as a connection with their subjects and global population to justify their existence.”

“It’s a tall task,” she added.

To do that, the couple, who are to arrive on Wednesday, have largely limited the scope of their itinerary to climate issues and social change. Mayor Michelle Wu will meet William and Kate for a welcome event at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon. Caroline Kennedy, the ambassador to Australia and the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, will also greet them.

On Thursday, the couple will visit Greentown Labs, an incubator for start-ups tackling climate issues, and Roca, a nonprofit organization that works with young people in preventing incarceration. On Friday, the prince will visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and the princess will visit the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

The main focus will be on the Earthshot Prize on Friday night. Five entrepreneurs will each receive 1 million pounds, or about $1.2 million, to continue their work in one of five categories: the restoration and protection of nature; air cleanliness; ocean revival; waste-free living; and climate action. The prize’s name is inspired by Kennedy’s “moonshot” initiative, which was announced in 1962 and put men on the moon for the first time in 1969. William announced the 15 finalists for the prize in early November.

“This is his Super Bowl moment of the year,” said Karen Pierce, the British ambassador to the United States, “and he uses it to shine the light on some of the most impactful projects that are doing amazing things around the world to help save the planet.”

Compared with a traditional royal tour, Ms. Pierce said, this visit is “much more focused on the work being done in climate change.” The prince and princess are “very natural people,” she said. “They want to meet ordinary people who are working hard for their communities.”

Ms. Pierce said the idea to announce the prize winners in Boston was twofold. This year is the 60th anniversary of Kennedy’s moonshot goal, and the event will also honor “the tremendous work” Boston has accomplished in battling climate change.

Boston’s historical connection to Britain is not lost on anyone, she added.

In fact, dating to the American Revolution, “Americans have never lost their fascination with the royal family,” Dr. Chernock said.

“You can see some of that royalism in America in the fact that we have created our own royalties and dynasties — whether it’s the Kennedys or the Bushes,” she said. “There is still this fascination with inheritance and family dynasty.”

That makes Boston, a cradle of the American Revolution and home to the Kennedys, “fertile ground for a royal visit,” she said. “It’s really the perfect city for them.”

William and Kate’s visit is the first major one to Boston by British royals in recent times. The one with the most fanfare occurred in 1976, when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited for the U.S. bicentennial. Among their stops was a service at the Old North Church in Boston.

The Rev. Dr. Matthew Cadwell, the current vicar of church, said that “there’s enthusiasm and excitement,” especially among congregants who still remember the queen’s visit.

William and Kate’s last trip abroad together was a turbulent tour of the Caribbean in March, one filled with gaffes, miscues and renewed calls for reparations for Britain’s role in the slave trade. Dr. Chernock said that trip had been “ill conceived” and that this trip would probably be much more carefully managed and calculated.

“It will be telling to see how they present themselves, the kinds of comments they make to the public — have they accepted or heard some of the criticisms?” Dr. Chernock said. The couple has been “quite good at being human,” she said, and at tackling difficult issues, like climate change and mental health, that “they do genuinely care about.”

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