‘Momentous’ Queen move we all missed

 

COMMENT

Something very strange happened in November. You would be forgiven for not having noticed, after all, it was a month during which Prince Andrew, Duke of York ingloriously made royal history after being essentially banished from official duties over his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein.

For weeks now, the Duke's stunning and humiliating tumble from his once lofty position to being an essentially unemployed 59-year-old has dominated the royal news cycle.

He now has the highly dubious honour of being the first member of the family to walk away from their HRH responsibilities in 83 years when they are still fit and able-bodied. (At least Edward VIII was acting under the vaguely noble guise of love when he gave up palace life.)

However, while this particular maelstrom was brewing, something else potentially momentous has been going on. Namely, the Queen has quietly taken a huge step back and nearly halved her workload.

Like pretty much everything to do with the royal family, this was not by chance or circumstance. Instead, in November, she logged only 30 official events in contrast to November last year when she hit 50.

Yes, she is a 93-year-old and has every right to perhaps pop her feet up a bit more and catch Coronation Street once in a while. But for a monarch whose life has been driven by a powerful sense of duty, this carries serious meaning.

Without anyone realising, the Queen has halved her engagements, as she prepares for retirement. Picture: Victoria Jones/WPA Pool/Getty Images
Without anyone realising, the Queen has halved her engagements, as she prepares for retirement. Picture: Victoria Jones/WPA Pool/Getty Images

In recent weeks, with Prince Charles coming to the fore in the Andrew debacle and reportedly playing a decisive role in officially sidelining his little brother, so too have reports that he is preparing to assume the throne in all but name.

Earlier this month, The Sun reported that Her Majesty was set to make Charles Prince Regent in 2021, the year she will turn 95. (After all, that was the age Prince Philip stepped back from official duties.)

What this would mean is that while she was still Queen in name, her by-then 72-year-old son would be able to take on all the duties of the sovereign such as officially signing bills into legislation (truly riveting stuff).

Prince Andrew has been making headlines around the world this year. Picture: AP Photo/Sang Tan, file
Prince Andrew has been making headlines around the world this year. Picture: AP Photo/Sang Tan, file

While Buckingham Palace courtiers were quick to put down their china cups of Earl Grey and quash this rumour fast, it did highlight the issue of how practically the Queen will continue to reign as she pluckily works her way towards 100.

(Given the Queen Mother lived to 101 there is every chance she could hit triple digits. Those Windsor genes are made of sturdy stuff.)

Here's the rub: The Queen will never abdicate. She vehemently believes that it is her moral duty is to be the sovereign and there is no abdicating from that profound burden and responsibility.

Things might have moved on a mote since kings assumed they had a divine right to rule and that God appointed them but only just.

However, that driving Queenly imperative faces coming up against the harsh realities of ageing. While Her Majesty might be, by all accounts, still sharp as a whip (with a surprisingly droll sense of humour) her days of spending hours shaking hands and making small talk with myriad functionaries is long past.

So too is standing about in the cold. For the last two years, the Queen has entrusted one of her most dearly held responsibilities - laying the wreath at the cenotaph during Remembrance Day commemorations - to son Charles (so too have her son and grandson Prince William taken on more investitures and other ceremonies that invariably involve a sword).

All of which leaves your average pinstriped private secretary in a pickle: How to help the Queen stay in the top job while also not forcing a nonagenarian to stand about in a winter breeze shaking hands?

 

The answer perhaps lies in what has just happened in November. That is, a gradual and subtle reduction in the more onerous aspects of her workload. Consider that Charles (and Camilla) now join the Queens for the State Opening of Parliament and CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) meetings.

Meanwhile, Prince of Wales, his wife, sons and their wives now carry out the bulk of international travel and work related to the Commonwealth.

What we are seeing is a paring back of workload while maintaining a continual show of strength and continuity from the top. In 2016, she handed over 25 patronages to ease her burden.

In 2019, her granddaughter-in-law Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, assumed two patronages that had been held for decades by the Queen, of the The National Theatre and The Association of Commonwealth Universities.

Earlier this month, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, became the latest patron of Family Action, whose two previous patrons have both been a Queen.

Kate has also stepped up in recent months, covering more of the Queen’s usual duties. Picture: Yui Mok/WPA Pool/Getty Images
Kate has also stepped up in recent months, covering more of the Queen’s usual duties. Picture: Yui Mok/WPA Pool/Getty Images

November marked a moment when this plan started to come into focus and become more outwardly discernible.

While she will remain, pretty much literally until her dying day, a steadfast fixture in the constitutional landscape, the maternal beacon who has presided over billions of subjects over nearly seven decades, this strategic and slow withdrawal from official outings will continue.

So what will she do now she is starting to have a modicum more free time? Groom the dorgis? Teach Prince George how to knight someone? Who knows. But one thing we know for sure - she sure loves Corrie and given she still had to work on dozens of days in November, she's probably got some catching up to do.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years' experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.



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