LONDON – The death of Prince Philip marks more than the death of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband – recalls that her nearly 70-year reign, the longest in British history, is in its final stages.
Experts say that as her children and grandchildren step up their royal duties, the transition to the next generation is an unstable time that could cast doubt on the value of the monarchy in today’s world.
“This is the end of an era and may call into question the leadership of the monarchy and broader questions about the role of the monarchy in Britain in the 21st century,” said David McClure, author of The Queen̵
“The death of Prince Philip will affect people who rethink the value of the monarchy for the life of Britain and as a political institution,” he said.
In Britain, the Queen has an official role as head of state, head of the Church of England and head of the armed forces, and as a powerful symbol, delivering a speech setting the government’s priorities at the beginning of the parliamentary year and formally signing legislation.
Britain is not the only place where she is head of state. She is also the Queen of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and several island nations, as well as the head of the British Commonwealth, an association of 54 states, almost all of which were once under British rule.
It is in these places where the transition to the next generation will begin to raise the most questions, said historian Sarah Gristwood.
“The British monarchy will always be most vulnerable in the coming years, not in Britain, but in countries in the British Commonwealth or other countries that currently have a queen as head of state, but who may not want to do so forever,” Gristwood said. author of “Elizabeth: The Queen and the Crown.”
The day after Philip died on Friday at the age of 99, the couple’s eldest son, Prince Charles, referred twice to the British community in his short speech, remembering his father. That’s no coincidence, Gristwood said.
Support for the monarchy as an institution remains high in the UK More than 60 per cent of respondents believe the UK should have a monarchy in the future, according to a December YouGov survey. Only 25 percent said they should have an elected head of state.
In Australia, however, longtime critics of the monarchy see the transition to the next monarch as a time to sever ties.
“After the end of the queen’s reign, now is the time to say, ‘Okay, we’ve been through this watershed,'” former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is campaigning to remove the British monarch as head of state, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. in March. “Do we really want someone who happens to be the head of state, king or queen of Britain to be automatically our head of state?”
Meanwhile in the Caribbean island state of Barbados, where the queen is also head of state, the governor-general said in September on behalf of the government that “the time has come to leave our entire colonial past behind” and that “Barbados want a head of state of Barbados.” “
In Britain, despite high ratings from royal polls, detractors are convinced that inheritance will lead to greater resistance from the institution.
“When people think of the monarchy, they think of the Queen or Philip and the connection to the past, the war, etc.,” said Graham Smith, chief executive of the Republic, an anti-monarchist campaign group. “Charles will inherit the throne, but he will not inherit his mother’s respect or esteem.”
This has not escaped the attention of royalty. They are really aware of the dangers of the transition and are already planning for it, said royal expert Daisy McAndrew.
“One of the first things planned when ‘Charles takes over’ is a 100-day tour of Britain around the country. They will try to make a fuss about the new monarch,” she said. “It will be a time to make or break for Prince Charles to keep the country behind.”
As the queen grows older, Charles has already taken on many of his responsibilities, including travel abroad. His wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, as well as Prince William and his wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, also took on additional responsibilities.
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But opinion polls show that Charles’ popularity is not very close to that of the Queen. According to a YouGov poll in December on who should take on the role of queen, 32% of respondents are named Charles; 40 percent said William.
On a practical level, this may not matter. No political party in the United Kingdom supports the abolition of the monarchy, said Anthony Taylor, a contemporary British historian at Sheffield Hallam University.
“Without a political party committed to reforming or removing the head of state, I don’t see how you can make a difference,” said Taylor, who studies republicanism.
However, this may change as the younger generations, who have no recollection of the role of the royal family in sustaining the nation’s spirit during World War II, grow up.
“For them, things are very fluid, and maybe a fluid situation allows them to think about the unthinkable,” he said.