Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II in November 2016. Photo / File
On the day of the sad queen dies, every news organization, magazine and newspaper in the world will swing into a well-stocked business. Long ago wrote the obituary. Special editions and tailored souvenir pull sections; TV stations already know exactly where each will be broadcasting from outside Buckingham Palace.
For decades now, “Operation London Bridge,” the startlingly comprehensive plan of action about what happens upon Her Majesty’s death, has been gathering dust in various drawers in London.
However, despite the intense preparation, despite the meetings and thousands and thousands of hours spent meticulously planning and writing down to the smallest detail, there is only one yawning and unknown gap for which the courtesans and Their Royal Highnesses cannot prepare: Will the order continue Royal to stay once King Charles III is crowned?
Now, a new book has made the startling and ominous claim that the current ruler will go down in history as the last woman to hold that particular office. The revered journalist Cliff Irving wrote in the ominously titled book, “Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning monarch in British history and possibly the last of England’s queen.”
He argues that during the Sussex 2018 wedding at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, “she must have also known that she might have been the last queen her country had ever seen.”
All of the next three heirs are male, and assuming Prince George the Younger, who is six years old, lives a decent life (those Saxe-Coburg and Gotha genes as well as Mountbatten are made of strict materials) then there will be a man on the throne for the next 80 years Or so.
When the queen dies, a fact that is difficult to align with the relatively quick move of the 94-year-old, there will be no other queen (a reigning queen in her own right as opposed to the title bestowed to the king’s wife) for at least the best century.
Really bleak things, right?
His case is intact and therefore even more troubling for royalty, palace servants, and people who spend a large part of their day writing about the royal family. (cough.)
In Irving’s view, Her Majesty had achieved tremendous success in her reign by becoming a Royal Cipher, a public figure unknown by nature who preserved the mystery surrounding her role by remaining firmly “astonishingly unknown”.
But in his opinion, and many others, things are likely to become particularly dubious when she heads to the Grand Racecourse in Heaven and her son becomes King Charles III, the man Irving achieved the opposite of his mother: We know very much about him.
For many years now, we’ve known everything from his enduring support of homeopathy to his ideas about culling a badger, to poaching of Patagonian toothfish, and even his occasional bouts of tampons.
While the Queen transformed solitude and silence into a wonderful art form, Charles showed no self-control.
Irving points to the fact that the Prince has significantly inserted himself into the many architectural projects that have shaped (or were to shape) the London skyline. (The Prince, with all modernist aficionados, seems to fancy some kind of aesthetic return to centuries gone by.) “He is the most dangerous intruder who combines ignorance and opinion as evidence for his actions,” writes Irving.
In 2014, “a well-placed source who had known him for many years” revealed that once Charles became king, “the strategy would be to try and continue his heartfelt interventions” in national life.
But does the UK – and the Commonwealth – really want an outspoken sovereign ready to hop on his high horse whenever the mood goes? Does this desire reflect a more modern and interactive view of judgment, or does it smell of moral impiety? Would this forthright approach (what his biographer Jonathan Dembele calls “a quiet constitutional revolution”) anger the people, or could it simply arouse little interest in their king who weighs on them in the affairs of the day?
Irving recently told Vanity Fair: “I think there’s a really real risk that if Charles succeeds her, the monarchy will cross the ramp very quickly.” “This question of the survival of the monarchy did not really arise for a long time [Edward VIII’s] Abdicate, but it would appear like a real slap in the face.
“Charles has a serious problem … It doesn’t sound like a tonic jelly shift, does it?”
Assuming Charles lives as long as his mother, there will be two decades before his son, Prince William, succeeds him, so the next logical question is, what would the monarchy look like at that point?
For one thing, would there really be Great Britain to rule it?
Over the past year, demands for a new vote on Scottish independence have only grown with more Welsh votes arguing that they want out as well.
Ditto, the Commonwealth. Will Republican sentiments, including in Australia, finally assume great and persuasive control under King Charles? While we may currently be looking at the Queen with some passive and indifferent affection, I doubt we will be willing to offer the same kind obedience to her son as our head of state.
By the time William becomes king, there may not be much to rule. Photo: AP Photo / Chris Jackson / pool.
Sure, Charles in my book anyway, he might deserve much more public acclaim for his decades-long environmental activism (apart from his annoying penchant for private jet travel) but is that enough for us to keep him in the top position?
A factor also is that it is likely that once a major Commonwealth country like Canada, South Africa or Australia takes the decisive step and severing ties from Old Blighty, there will be a certain contagious effect. Lots of sun never set on the empire.
By far the biggest challenge William is likely to inherit is the need to find an answer to the question, What really is the benefit of the monarchy?
Later. It doesn’t sound like much as a first-year philosophy student who just worked on how to pronounce Descartes, but what was the point of the complex and costly whole project?
A hundred years ago, kings and queens had a lot more constitutional meaning, but today they occupy a kind of strange, mysterious place in modern society as a kind of star of reality with long-term decades.
They are not politicians but do play a role in public life. They aren’t quite celebrities but endure a life of unimaginable scrutiny. They are not CEOs but they do head up a billion-dollar brand and business. They are not artists, but we watch billions whenever someone gets punished and their faces move magazines off the shelves like anything else. They are not strictly philanthropists but their involvement in a cause can literally save lives.
The challenge for William is that he will have to take this mixture of aspects of royal identity, coupled with the fact that he will also be the head of government, religion and armed forces, and find a lasting and convincing answer to what the monarchy is actually benefiting from Great Britain, along with transferring loads of crates from Beefeater tchotkes. And snowballs at Buckingham Palace.
Then there is George who will ascend to the throne in about 40 or 50 years.
As recently as 2017, his uncle Prince Harry admitted that no one in the royal family really wanted to be king or queen. So, what happens if the audience no longer accepts the idea of hereditary monarchy, but also men and women are not given any choice about “heroism” in this never-ending saga? It is not an exaggeration to ask for a moment, what will happen if a day comes when none of the candidates wants to rule?
William, Kate Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge are raising George and his brothers Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis “as naturally” as possible. Perhaps instead of spending decades of his adult life waiting for a job he never asked for, the boy might simply decide that he has better things to do on his time instead of an open parliament and overseeing palace garden parties and he’ll dump the job.
It is impossible not to feel queen. Next year will mark her 70th anniversary on the throne, seven decades defined by an unwavering and indomitable commitment to a party she never wanted and the fulfillment of her duty.
To find out that despite her management and loyalty to the crown, a project spanning more than 1,000 years that may collapse in the not-too-distant future must be a little heartbreaking. The fact that despite everything, despite her diligence, hard work, and personal denial, it may be in vain that resembles Shakespeare’s tragedy.
You don’t hear it much these days, so long live the Queen.
There may be nothing else.
Daniela Elser is an expert and royal writer with over 15 years of experience working with a number of leading media headlines in Australia.