Many people in Britain literally can’t remember a time when Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t on the throne. She’s been the monarch since 1952, in fact. And yet, the 92-year-old shows no sign of slowing down, even though her husband, Prince Philip, has already retired. Technically, she could abdicate if she wanted to and pass the crown along to a younger family member. But according to people who’ve spent time with her, Elizabeth will never do this.
Elizabeth took the throne in 1952 after the death of her father, King George VI. By that point, she had already achieved a lot as a princess: she’d been a part of the Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II, she had wed Prince Philip and she had become a mother. And Elizabeth was only 25 when she became a monarch.
Plus, the Queen has witnessed several historical events just within the past decade alone. Many of them, of course, have involved her family. In 2011 Prince William – who is second in line to the throne – married his fiancée, Kate Middleton. And millions of people around the world watched the wedding – demonstrating as a result that the younger royals can certainly draw in the crowds.
In fact, William and Kate have appeared to have helped improve public opinion of the monarchy. The family had experienced serious damage to its reputation in the 1990s, due to Prince Charles’ separation and subsequent divorce from the late Princess Diana. Prince William marrying a “commoner” seemed to turn things around in terms of positive publicity, however.
Since tying the knot, Kate and William have had three children together: Prince George in 2013, Princess Charlotte two years later and Prince Louis in 2018. And before Charlotte was born, a new rule of succession was adopted by the royals. Male children no longer took precedence, meaning that if the oldest direct descendant of the reigning monarch was a girl, she would still be first in line even if she had brothers.
All of William and Kate’s children were celebrated from the moment they came into the world, too. After each birth, the major London landmarks were lit up in a certain color in tribute to the new arrival. The likes of Tower Bridge turned blue to greet Prince George and Prince Louis, for example, while the monuments changed to pink to mark Princess Charlotte’s birth.
And during the same year in which Louis was born, another important event took place: Prince Harry, William’s younger brother, married former Suits star Meghan Markle. And just as with William’s wedding, this ceremony was also watched by millions of people across the globe. What’s more, Meghan broke the mold somewhat by becoming the first biracial member of the modern royal family.
Another fascinating aspect of the romance between Meghan and Harry is that the bride had once been divorced. You see, before meeting Harry, she’d been wed to Hollywood executive Trevor Engelson. And the British royal family have a long and complicated history with divorce. For starters, the Queen is head of the Church of England, which disapproves of the dissolution of marriage in most circumstances.
But there’s more, as divorce had also proved a thorny issue for the royals back in the 1930s. The abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936 had caused tremendous upheaval for the monarch’s family – and this event would indirectly put the young Elizabeth on the throne less than 20 years later.
Elizabeth’s uncle, Edward, had wished to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson; despite the fact that he was king, however, this simply wasn’t allowed. Since Edward was head of the Church of England, it was deemed unacceptable for him to take a divorced woman as a spouse. And as a result, Edward was told that he should either split from Simpson or abdicate.
Edward chose the latter option. In December 1936, then, he gave up the throne, and his brother George VI – Elizabeth’s father – became king instead. After that, Edward was awarded with the title of His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor and wed Simpson just as he had wished. And the couple ultimately remained together for the rest of the duke’s life, although their relationship wasn’t always a happy one.
However, the abdication is said to have caused a massive rift in the royal family. The mother of the Duke apparently never forgave him for giving up the crown, for example, and so the pair sadly became estranged. And George VI’s wife, the Queen Mother, reportedly believed that the stresses her husband had experienced while having to undertake his kingly duties – ones, indeed, that he had never prepared for – had caused George’s early death in his mid-fifties.
Elizabeth’s feelings about her uncle Edward can only be speculated upon, as she’s never spoken publicly about the events that made her a future queen. In fact, she doesn’t speak on the record about very much at all; other members of her family have conducted media interviews, but she never has. As a result, the monarch’s innermost thoughts remain private.
Still, there have been claims made as to the relationship between Elizabeth and the former king. In the 2018 documentary series Elizabeth: Our Queen, historian Hugo Vickers asserted, for example, that Elizabeth had gone to visit Edward and his wife after she had learned that her uncle was dying. And it was an awkward occasion, by all accounts. When Elizabeth was alone with Simpson, the women reportedly “talked about anything and everything except the one thing that was on everybody’s minds: the poor man dying in his room upstairs.”
Vickers also spoke of the final meeting that Elizabeth had had with her uncle. “The Queen went up to see the Duke of Windsor,” the historian said. “With great difficulty, he rose from his bed to give his bow because, of course, she was his queen now as well as his niece. And it meant a great deal to him that she paid him this final courtesy.”
Elizabeth also apparently made an effort to reach out to Simpson at the ensuing funeral, as part of her efforts to reconcile the family as best she could. And these endeavors seemingly met with some success. Although the Queen Mother is said to have loathed Simpson, she did nevertheless apparently display kindness to the widow at the duke’s funeral.
Yet even if a great deal of time has passed since Edward VIII gave up the throne, the specter of abdication has still hung over the royal family. In the ’90s and ’00s, for example, it arose again with regards to Charles. And, once more, there was a divorced woman in the picture: Camilla Parker Bowles, the long-term mistress of the prince.
When it became obvious that Charles was determined to be with Camilla, the British public weren’t all entirely happy, either. On one occasion, Camilla reportedly even had bread rolls thrown at her while she was out shopping. So, before he married Camilla in 2005, Charles hired PR agents to try to improve her image.
Then, when the marriage took place, the Queen was not in attendance at the ceremony – although she was actually present at both the service of blessing and the reception. According to the media, the Queen had told a confidante beforehand that she felt being at the wedding itself would conflict with her duties as head of the Church of England.
And while, over the years, the British people have come to accept Camilla, surveys still show that there is no great desire among the public for her to be queen. When Charles takes the throne, though, that’s what will happen – unless Charles abdicates in favor of William, that is. That possibility has been gaining popularity, too – perhaps because William is thought to be more beloved in the U.K. than his father.
There’s still no indication that such a thing would ever happen, however. Despite there having been several changes to the British monarchy in recent years, a king abdicating to allow his son to take the throne would still be a huge deal for the royals – and one that could potentially cause chaos. Indeed, although Charles would be the oldest man to ever be crowned British king, the throne is still clearly his by birthright.
Yet a section of the British public seem keen to usher William and Kate – the newer, cooler royals – into ruling as soon as possible. That’s led to a whole different discussion: would the Queen ever abdicate? Well, royal expert and documentarian Nick Burrell broached the topic in The Royal Box, a 2018 series for Yahoo News.
And according to Bullen, “abdication will never happen” in Elizabeth’s case. Furthermore, that’s because of – rather than despite – Elizabeth’s grandchildren. Apparently, she’s enjoying the newfound popularity of the extended royal family and observing the widespread approval of William, Kate, Harry and Meghan. “I think the Queen sees what those boys and their wives bring,” Bullen explained.
“I also wonder whether she even throws forward to the great-grandchildren,” Bullen went on. “Princess Charlotte, already at the age of three, knows how to work a crowd. Maybe now through her grandchildren, she can see a way of just staying on the crest of that wave.”
Bullen has commented on the Queen’s longevity, too. “Her mother lived to 101. The Queen is there for the long run… she could live for at least another ten years,” he said. “She’s seen it all, she’s done it all, she is the ultimate working mother and working woman. And I don’t think she’s going anywhere anytime soon.”
Then in November 2018 another royal-watcher spoke about the Queen’s views on abdication. Richard Fitzwilliams told the Daily Express that no, Elizabeth would never give up the throne. “In 1947, when she was 21, she made it clear that [for] her whole life she would serve the Commonwealth,” he said.
“And in 2012, in the year of her Diamond Jubilee, she reiterated that pledge,” Fitzwilliams went on. “The Queen is totally dedicated to what she does, and she’s done it brilliantly. No one has forgotten when her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated and [how] that caused a crisis for the monarchy.”
“There have been reports that when she’s 95, the Queen might… possibly invoke the Regency Act 1937 to let the Prince of Wales be king, so that she could carry on with her duty,” Fitzwilliams added. The Regency Act allows a royal to become regent if the reigning monarch is deemed unable to serve due to health issues.
The last time the act was invoked was all the way back in 1811, during the reign of King George III. The king had suffered from dementia in later life, and so his son had taken over as a result. It’s because of this that London’s Regent Street and Regent’s Park are so named. Something else worth noting is that George, too, reigned for a long time before having to relinquish his power.
But there are some who don’t believe that Charles will ultimately become king, regardless of whether his mother abdicates or not. In 2018 former royal butler Paul Burrell told Now to Love, for example, that “we will never see King Charles and Queen Camilla sat on the throne of England.”
“Why? Because when the Queen dies, she’ll be 100-and-something. She will never abdicate,” Burrell went on. “When she dies, I think Charles will do the right thing and say, ‘I’m far too old for this responsibility,’” he added.
And although death obviously isn’t a fun subject to think about, it appears, too, that the Queen has put provisions in place for what happens after the end of her life. In his Yahoo documentary, Bullen talked about this very matter. “Every detail of the Queen’s funeral will have been approved by the Queen,” he said. “I don’t believe she left anything to chance. It is her final piece of control, I imagine.”
In fact, much of the British media has careful plans in place for when the Queen does pass away, and The Guardian published details of these arrangements in 2017. For instance, the secret code used to alert newsreaders and journalists of the Queen’s death is “London Bridge is down.”
When those words are invoked, they will trigger a massive rush of activity in Britain. Most U.K. media establishments have pre-prepared material ready for when the day of the Queen’s death comes. And although almost everyone would probably already know thanks to the internet and television, a black-trimmed note announcing the news will have to be attached to the gates of Buckingham Palace.
The Guardian piece also suggested that all the stops would be pulled out for the Queen’s funeral. Indeed, one historian – who didn’t want to be identified – said that Elizabeth would “get everything” because of what she represented. “We were all told that the funeral of [Winston] Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But, actually, it will really be over when she goes,” he claimed.
And when Elizabeth does go, all the framework is in place for Charles to take over. It’s of the utmost importance that everything goes smoothly, of course, down to the finest details. Even Charles’ first speech as the new monarch already has a schedule, by all accounts; reportedly, he will address the nation on the very same day that his mother dies.
There’s still a quandary regarding Camilla’s title, however. Presently, she is officially the Princess Consort to Charles; royal courtiers are convinced, though, that Charles will eventually name her his queen – no matter what anyone else thinks. “If she is called Princess Consort, there is an implication that she is not quite up to it. It’s a problem,” an academic source told The Guardian.
But there’s also a curious secondary issue at play: the notion that some of the royals don’t actually want to be kings or queens, at least not until they’ve lived their lives first. In the book Charles, Prince of Wales, for example, author Gill Knappett claimed that William doesn’t want to “climb the ladder of kingship” until he’s older.
Furthermore, Harry himself has come right out and said that the role of monarch is not a coveted one among his relatives. “We are involved in modernizing the British monarchy. We are not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people,” he told Newsweek in 2017. “Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time.”
And perhaps because the Queen sees her role as a duty – rather than a privilege – she’ll never renounce the throne. She suggested as much, too, in her 21st birthday speech back in 1947. “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service,” were Elizabeth’s precise words.