Hidden rift that's rocking the royal family
On the sad day that the Queen passes away, everything is planned in minute detail. The Prime Minister will receive a specific coded message: "London Bridge is down."
A special light will flash in radio and TV stations around the UK. A footman will appear from Buckingham Palace and place and attach a black-edged notice to the gates.
The choreography of these first sad hours, days and weeks has long been set in stone right up until the relatively speedy coronation of King Charles several months later.
One of the key goals of this plan is to ensure a smooth transition of power, the fear being that leaving too long between Her Majesty's passing and Charles' ascension to the throne would represent a fertile period for republican sentiment to foment.
Basically, courtiers fear allowing the UK and the Commonwealth to have too much time to dangerously ponder the point of the monarchy.
What none of the equerries and pinstriped private secretaries who have been labouring away to ensure the survival of the institution could have predicted is that that this particular crisis has arrived years ahead of schedule, thanks to the Queen's favourite son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York.
Last weekend, the eighth-in-line to the throne submitted himself to a grilling at the hands of seasoned journalist Emily Maitlis in an effort to address the ongoing scandal over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The result was 49 minutes of toe-curling television, as the Duke of York refused to say he regretted the friendship and offered up a children's pizza party as an alibi to counter allegations he had sex with a 17-year-old girl allegedly trafficked by Epstein.
On Wednesday, after a slew of sponsors and organisations cut ties with him and his charity initiatives, Andrew took the extraordinary, and unprecedented, step of announcing he was stepping back from his official duties, effectively resigning as a full-time working royal.
It has been a bruising and deeply embarrassing week for the Duke and the royal family and as the dust settles, has left the public pondering whether the Andrew crisis has permanently damaged the crown and bigger, philosophical questions about the very future of monarchy.
In a poll done this week, nearly half of Britons (47 per cent) surveyed thought that Prince Andrew's response to questions about Epstein had hurt the monarchy.
CNN reporter Max Foster who regularly covers the royal family posted, Prince "Andrew didn't just expose himself in his BBC interview. It also prompted the question of whether the monarchy is 'fit for purpose,' which has become part of the British election debate."
Prince Andrew didn’t just expose himself in his BBC interview. It also prompted the question of whether the monarchy is ‘fit for purpose,’ which has become part of the British election debate. The Queen is revered for her ability to stay ‘above politics’... pic.twitter.com/Y76hRmX5JP— Max Foster (@MaxFosterCNN) November 20, 2019
On Tuesday night, Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn attracted applause after saying that the monarchy "needs a bit of improvement" during a televised pre-election debate.
"This is different, and far worse to any other royal scandal, because it involves criminality," Richard Kay, a veteran royal reporter, has told Vanity Fair. "The royals have had many crises over the years. That said, I've never seen any royal shoot themselves in the foot as spectacularly as Andrew has done."
More broadly, the first time in a very long time, Her Majesty's judgment and authority is facing increasing scrutiny. Various reports that she was at least "aware" that her favourite son was planning to put himself through an extensive grilling by a veteran journalist.
And, according to the Daily Mail, Her Majesty "backs" her son with a senior royal source saying that the royal family "believe in him totally and think he has shown strength for telling the truth and admitting errors he has made".
It is also worth considering if Andrew's aloof, at times arrogant and entitled performance during the interview served to only confirm lingering suspicions that despite all the hugs and hashtags and efforts at appearing modern, the royal family is a hoary out-of-touch beast.
However esteemed biographer Sarah Gristwood author of Elizabeth: The Queen and the Crown thinks the damage won't be quite so lasting. "I don't think it really will do serious damage to the Queen herself," she tells news.com.au.
"Her 'support' after all, has been pretty muted and I think there will be a certain sympathy for her having to deal with this in her 90s.
"(This scandal) certainly hasn't done the monarchy any good. After all, one of their main functions was once supposed to be to lead the way, morally speaking.
"But I'm not sure it's done quite as much harm as you might think to the monarchy as a whole; not least because Andrew was already widely regarded as a bit of a disaster and Charles had already successfully sidelined him to some degree."
However, the Andrew imbroglio has accidentally put a much bigger question into play. That is, for more than six decades, with sheer grit, savvy and determination, Her Majesty has held together both her family and the very institution she serves.
When she passes away, will the monarchy come apart at the seams?
After all, the Queen more than anything represents continuity and stability. As The Guardian has pointed out, she is "Britain's last living link with our former greatness - the nation's id". So what happens when she is gone?
Andrew Morton, Diana's trusted biographer, told news.com.au in an interview earlier this year that Her Majesty's passing will likely be the catalyst for a broad "existential crisis" about the monarchy in the UK and beyond.
"I think that 99 per cent of the people who are alive today have lived with the Queen as the Queen. And it is going to be a profound, profound change in Britain and the Commonwealth (when she dies). And I don't think people have even remotely begun to begin to appreciate that," he says.
"I think that there'll be real reflection about what the monarchy means, the contribution of the monarchy to modern society … We are very much a nation divided and one of the things which is a constant has been the Queen. And if the Queen died tomorrow there'd be hell to pay."
However, Gristwood is more optimistic, arguing that growing support for Charles will ensure the crown's longevity. "In the last few years public opinion has warmed to Charles. He seems more secure in his marriage to Camilla, and some of the ideas which once looked so cranky (like his concern for the environment) are now beginning to look like sense."
She also points to Charles' increasing sway behind-the scenes at the Palace as proof that the institution is modernising and adapting to meet the challenges and expectations of the future. "It was apparently (Charles) who pushed for streamlining the royal family, so that Andrew, like other royals not in the direct line of succession, wasn't there for the last big balcony appearance (during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012)," Gristwood says. "And boy, doesn't that decision now look prescient, too."
(In fact, such is the 71-year-old Prince's growing authority and power at the palace, he is now often referred to in the media as the 'Shadow King.')
Given the Queen Mother only passed away at 101, and only last week Her Majesty the Queen was photographed, fit as a fiddle riding a horse, it would appear that this all remains a moot point, for the time being anyway.
If nothing else, Elizabeth II is the 38th monarch in a direct line that stretches back to Egbert in 897. Survival at all costs is definitely in their DNA.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years' experience writing for a number of Australia's biggest titles.