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Despite the Meghan and Harry interview, the queen at 95 is more relevant than ever

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Even with the recent bombshell Oprah interview of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the British monarchy likely will carry on. After all, it has weathered 1,000 years of storms including Charles I’s lost head and Cromwell’s ensuing commonwealth. Moreover, a just-emerged poll indicates that, even adjusting for age disparities, “On the whole, 36 percent of people said they sympathized more with the queen and the royal family, while 22 percent said they sympathized more with Harry and Meghan.”  

In another recent Economist/YouGov Poll, “More than two-thirds (69 percent) of Americans have a ‘very favorable’ or ‘somewhat favorable’ opinion of Queen Elizabeth II.” Such popularity of a lady turning 95 in April is staggering: She inspires not just her nation but the world at large. The contrast is stark set against Americans’ historical opinions of their own presidents, if Gallup polls are anything to go by. There is often speculation that the nonagenarian monarch might retire — and who could begrudge her after 70 years of service?

Many non-British monarchs — the Dutch and Spanish among them — retire decades younger than the queen’s 95 years. She has been true to the oath she took at her 1953 coronation, holding consistently to the belief that her duty as monarch is lifelong, limited by death alone. Unlike their European counterparts, British monarchs have tended to stay for life because theirs is the most stable of states. Madness (George III) or self-seclusion (Victoria) have not ended reigns. In all cases, the institution has adapted. With the exception of the ill-suited Edward VIII, British sovereigns don’t quit. 

Nonetheless, observers won’t stop speculating — not least when tabloid content is short — about the future of the 1,000-year old British monarchy. Will Prince Charles succeed his mother or be passed over for his more popular son, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge? Will Camilla Parker Bowles, Charles’ wife and the Duchess of Cornwall, become queen? Will Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge? More existentially, critics eternally hold forth about the relevance of the institution that they cast as stodgy, staid and irrelevant within their chosen revisionist, history-hating, culture-canceling narrative. 

Recent surveys by polling organization YouGov shows Brits want the monarchy to continue with 67 percent in favor (up 4 percent since the pandemic crisis). Clearly, the queen is seen as a positive influence for national unity during a crisis, though less so among younger respondents. 

Regarding how the monarchy should look moving forward, YouGov reveals: “Two in five (41 percent) adults want to see Prince William ascend to the throne, marginally higher than the 37 percent who want to see Prince Charles take over.” Older Brits, however, are more likely to want Charles to succeed — 49 percent of those over 65 want Charles to rule first, compared to 41 percent who back William.

This is just noise. Unless Charles becomes incapacitated before inheriting the throne, leapfrogging in the succession simply will not happen. Sarah Bradford, one of the queen’s leading biographers, sums it up: “It would be very strange for the monarchy if public opinion forced the heir to step aside. I think that would be extremely dangerous for the monarchy. We simply have to accept the rules of the game.”

The British monarchy has been remarkable in its ability to adapt to weather history’s greatest tribulations. Some links in its chain have proved better equipped than others. Queen Elizabeth, though, has been an outstanding custodian of the crown. Even she has not been spared challenges — mainly arising from behavior, and misbehavior, of her extended family. 

More than 70 years of public life have seen Elizabeth capture hearts throughout her realms — and the globe — by being so, well, admirable. Especially in moments of trauma, she provides comfort and hope. Her role is constant but her presence at pivotal moments sticks in the collective mind, such as during the pandemic, when she took to the airwaves to remind us in Greatest Generation style, “We will meet again,” and after the 9/11 attacks, when she consoled America: “Grief is the price we pay for love.” 

While the future of the monarchy is bound by tradition, laws and informal constitutional rules, nevertheless, it adapts. The British Constitution makes the eldest child of the monarch heir to the throne. Some “experts” may get excited by the polls and suggest that public opinion could bring alteration of time-honored rules, but Charles — himself well past retirement age for regular folk — will follow his mother, provided he outlives her. William and his son, Prince George, each will have their turn, provided tragedy does not intervene.

Constitutional rules aside, it is clear that the queen has been preparing Charles to succeed her. Over the past decade, she has gradually cut back and passed on responsibilities to him. One of the most significant moments of transition came in 2018 when she publicly expressed her backing for Charles to succeed her as head of the British Commonwealth, which encompasses nearly 2.4 billion people. Yet, still she is Her Majesty, The Queen.

Speculation may be entertaining, but one thing is crystal clear: With the cataclysmic turbulence of 2020, the stabilizing, steady hand of Elizabeth II and her unique ability to reassure and calmly carry on are priceless. Certainly, the assets of a nonpolitical head of state, imbued with the reverence guaranteed by a thousand-year heritage, are apparent. But making good on her famous pledge — “My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service” — is owing to the unique qualities and commitment of the woman.

Lee Cohen, a fellow of the United Kingdom’s Bow Group and Hungary’s Danube Institute, was adviser on Great Britain to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus. 

Tags British monarchy Elizabeth II House of Windsor United Kingdom

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