I was reading The Daily Beast’s royal coverage as I am wont to do, and came across this interview between journalists Tom Sykes and Clive Irving, the latter of whom wrote a biography of the Queen last year. There’s a few snippets I want to react to, mainly because they caught me off guard. So, let’s get into it:
Sykes: The Jubilee is only pretending to be about celebrating QE2. She’s actually a trojan horse. The real goal of the Jubilee is the ongoing survival of the institution. And that means softening up the public for King Charles.
I actually don’t agree with this. Or, I would phrase it differently, I suppose. The Royal Family’s near single focus for the last few years (I would say intensely and obviously for five) has been on the succession. Succession is also known as survival, and after unprecedented longevity, no one working at the Palace has ever seen the monarchy through such an event. When you layer in decidedly less enthusiasm for Prince Charles compared with his mother, then you have a stickier situation altogether. Thus, the Palace has been focused on two things: 1) reinforcing the public relationship between the Queen and Charles and 2) highlighting the coming of William to keep those staunchly opposed to Charles, but fans of Diana, reminded her son is waiting in the wings. Any effort on Camilla’s behalf has been a reflection of bolstering Charles. And everything else – namely Harry and Meghan, even when they were working – has been noise.
So, in the sense that the Jubilee has obviously happened in the last five years, then yes, it had to do with the succession. But my reaction to it wasn’t surprise at how the RF highlighted the line of succession, because that’s their meat and potatoes these days. To my eye, this was very much about the Queen and reminding everyone how much – even deep down for some – they really like having the Royal Family around. Not because the Queen’s reign is ending, but because 1) these events are anchors of tradition, 2) there’s an appetite for them in a post-pandemic world and 3) it’s been a rough couple years in the royal ecosystem.
Sykes: I hate to be cold, but the fact that the queen is not well enough to perform her basic duties as head of state, that she was not able to even sit in a church for an hour, makes me think that, despite everything the palace say, abdication, or something very like it, can’t be too far off.
Oh, the third rail. So, I’ve written about the possibility of an abdication here before. And while I tried to go back and read exactly what I said a few years ago, the search function on this site isn’t working, so that’s fun! Anyway, I remember the gist, which is basically that – in an unpopular opinion – I said I didn’t think it was impossible the Queen would abdicate someday. The general consensus has always been that she never would because of her reaction to the events of 1936, and indeed, most commentators laugh off the suggestion because it would be so off-brand for the very dedicated Elizabeth Windsor. True. But as I said, having a monarch reach their 90s is unprecedented, so I’d hazard to guess there’s been talks – TBD on how serious.
Personally, I also think it would be smart. A truly safeguarded succession for Charles would be one that occurred because the public saw the Queen literally hand the reins over to him. I think it’s safeguarded regardless, but there’s plenty of speculation that says otherwise.
It’s also taking the long-view. The Windsors are a healthy family – active, sparing in food and drink, and mostly illness-free. They all seem poised to live long lives, and while that’s personally great, there’s a reason why there’s a rough retirement age bracket and why most people see their professional peak 40-60. In those years you have the perfect marriage of experience and energy. Elizabeth II is beloved, but I think it’s fair to say that William, at this point, has his finger most closely on the pulse of public mood and mores.
Sykes: I felt there was perhaps even a hint, a first admission of human frailty in her statement where she said: “I remain committed to serving you to the best of my ability, supported by my family.” What do you think?
But will an abdication actually happen? If there’s an announcement of anything formal, I will be surprised, but not shocked. If I had to put money down, however, I’d say no. Instead, we will continue to see what we’ve been seeing the last few years, which is a slow evolution of duties being handed off unofficially, but transparently. A likelier scenario than an abdication, if the Queen’s mobility continues to deteriorate, would be a modern sort of set-up that gives Charles a more official role to take over more or all day-to-day operations, without officially ending his mother’s reign.
All of this, of course, is based on the Queen’s maintaining mental clarity and energy. Mobility issues can be worked around thanks to technology and the handy practice of delegating. Anything more serious and all of this is completely up in the air.
Sykes: I think everybody behaved very childishly in regard to the great Sussex question. The palace were small-minded not to include them, but the couple then lost the moral high ground by leaving early to return to America during the Sunday pageant in what appeared to be a huff.
Separately, I want to touch base on this notion. I disagree with this, too, unfortunately. I’m still not convinced that Harry and Meghan should be brought back into the public fold (a separate issue from personal relationships). For one, they were in and chose to leave. Secondly, they are not universally popular in the UK. And lastly, they are a liability. Giving them access and information comes alongside keeping them close, realistically, and that’s what they dine out on.
That Harry and Meghan were included at all was significant. At this point, I don’t think they’ve earned anything else. If they want public recognition then they need to stop causing public problems.
Irving: It seemed to me to be very petty to so clearly push them out of the top tier. I also have a strong aversion to Harry’s father wearing a chest full of medals without having been in a hot war while Harry, who saw the horrors of a hot war up close, and who spends a lot of effort to take care of the casualties of war, does not parade around in funny uniforms.
Well, he doesn’t “parade around in funny uniforms” because he lost a lot of his military positions last year when the Sussexes’ break was finalized. Yes, Harry fought in a war and deserves nothing but admiration for that, but he also was outfitted with ranks thanks to his position in the Royal Family that were separate and apart from his actual service. I will not quibble with those who that offends – I will even acknowledge that it *is* a bit strange when you think about it too hard – but that’s also how it works. Across the board. Throughout history. This isn’t a Harry v. Charles thing, so let’s not knock Charles for a dynamic he in absolutely no way invented.
Irving: But I always feel that whenever Harry is there, so too is Princess Diana, she would be in her mid-sixties now, and St. Paul’s was where she and Charles had that marriage as the whole world watched, and I wonder, was that palpable to Charles? That was the beginning of Diana’s stardom.
Sigh. What people always seem to forget when remembering Diana as a “royal rebel” is that she was a monarchist. Her end goal wasn’t to wreak havoc on the institution, just Charles. She wanted the crown to pass from the Queen to William, with her guiding William. It was borderline Medieval. I highly doubt that Diana would have been in favor of Harry’s behavior the last two years, if for no other reason than his actions have her hurt her *other* son.
Of all the things crossing Charles’s mind on Friday, I don’t think his 1981 wedding was one.
And as for star-power, I think we can all agree we need to re-focus our attention on Prince Louis.