los Windsor, Sus Últimas Majestades
Prince Philip’s Death Adds New Urgency to U.K. Monarchy’s Transition Plans
Queen Elizabeth II is increasingly withdrawing to Windsor Castle, royal watchers say, while Prince Charles is stepping forward.
LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II turned 95 last week, four days after burying her husband, Prince Philip, and with him the partnership that guided Britain’s royal family for nearly 70 years. Now, as the queen faces the future alone, her son and heir, Prince Charles, is reshaping the family to carry on after her.
Philip’s death has given new urgency to a transition already underway in the House of Windsor. With the queen’s reign in its twilight, Charles has moved to streamline the royal family and reallocate its duties — a downsizing forced by the loss of stalwart figures like Philip, as well as by the rancorous departure of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, and the messy internal exile of Prince Andrew.
Buckingham Palace is conducting an after-action report on Philip’s funeral ceremony, people with knowledge of the palace said, applying lessons from it to Operation London Bridge, the long-in-the-works, minute-by-minute blueprint for what will transpire in the days and weeks after the queen dies.
By all accounts, Elizabeth is in good health, bothered only by stiffness in her knees, which makes it hard for her to climb stairs. Royal watchers point out that her mother lived until 101. Buckingham Palace is busy planning her platinum jubilee, a four-day celebration in June 2022 to mark the 70 years since her accession to the throne.
Still, the poignant image of an aging, isolated queen, grieving alone in a choir stall at St. George’s chapel during the funeral because of social distancing restrictions, drove home to many a sense of her vulnerability and fragility. It also raised questions about how active she will be, even after the pandemic ebbs.
“Fundamentally, the queen will fade away gracefully,” said Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC. “Covid has helped in the sense that it has accelerated what any sensible 95-year-old woman would want to do, which is not stand on your feet all day long.”
As always with the royal family, details about its internal deliberations are elusive and befogged in speculation. Reports that Charles and William would hold a summit meeting to hash out the transition are pooh-poohed by people with ties to the palace.
The royal family, Mr. Hunt noted, rarely telegraphs such moments, leaving outsiders to read the tea leaves. Yet a few things seem clear.
While the queen has gone back to work since Philip’s death, she is never going to return to the hectic schedule of meetings, receptions and garden parties that she plowed through for decades. She may come to Buckingham Palace only two days a week for meetings, these people said, preferring to stay at Windsor Castle, where she and Philip quarantined during the pandemic.
The queen conducted multiple meetings by video calls over the last year, showing off a wry wit in some of those virtual encounters. Like others who worked from home, she adjusted to the new environment, a person with ties to the palace said, and is not reflexively returning to the office just because it is reopening.
Charles, as Prince of Wales, had already taken over some of his mother’s duties, including overseas trips and investiture ceremonies, in which people are granted knighthoods. He accompanies her to the state opening of Parliament; the next one is scheduled for May. And he spoke up after the furor over his brother Andrew’s ties to the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, pressing to have him banished from public duties
The biggest challenge for Charles is reconciling the family’s workload with its reduced ranks. He has long favored a slimmed-down monarchy, built around him and his wife, Camilla; Prince William and his wife, Kate; and Harry and his wife, Meghan. Princess Anne, his younger sister, also remains a full-time royal.
But the decision of Harry and Meghan to withdraw from their duties and move to California blew a hole in those plans. There was no sign of a change of heart from Harry, or even much hope for a reconciliation with William, when Harry attended his grandfather’s funeral. The brothers chatted briefly as they left the service, but Harry flew home before the queen’s birthday on Wednesday.
There is also little prospect that Andrew will ever return to the fold. If anything, the palace is girding itself for further embarrassing disclosures this July when his friend Ghislaine Maxwell goes on trial in New York on charges that she trafficked underage girls on behalf of her employer, Mr. Epstein. Andrew has been accused of sexual misconduct by one of Mr. Epstein’s victims, an accusation that he denies.
“You’re not going to get a situation on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, where people are pushing and shoving for a place,” said Andrew Morton, a royal chronicler whose latest book, “Elizabeth & Margaret,” explores the relationship between the queen and her sister. “It’s going to be down to just a handful of people.”
Royals carry out more than 2,000 official events a year, many of which involve charity groups. About 3,000 philanthropic groups list a member of the family as their patron or president, according to the palace. Family members also take part in dozens of military and diplomatic ceremonies a year
But that would raise a separate set of problems. The modern royal family, experts said, has defined itself and justified its taxpayer support largely through its public works. Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, maintained ties to hundreds of charities until he retired from official duties at the age of 96.
“The key development of the monarchy in the 20th century is the development of the welfare monarchy, without which it won’t survive,” said Vernon Bogdanor, a professor of government at King’s College London who has written about the role of the monarchy in Britain’s constitutional system.
The short-term fix for the workload problem, people with ties to the palace said, is to elevate another royal couple, Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, also known as the Earl and Countess of Wessex. Edward, 57, the queen’s youngest son, and his wife emerged as prominent figures after Philip’s death, speaking about his legacy and how the family was dealing with its grief.
Edward and Sophie had their own scrapes two decades ago when their private business activities — her public-relations firm and his television-production company — came under criticism for conflicting with their royal status. But they gave up those ambitions and submitted to the rigors of royal life.
In the process, Sophie, 56, forged close ties with the queen and her husband. On the eve of Philip’s funeral, with the blessing of Buckingham Palace, Sophie released a private photo she had taken several years earlier of a beaming Elizabeth and Philip at ease in the Scottish countryside, not far from the queen’s estate, Balmoral.
Charles, too, found his stature enhanced by the funeral, according to royal watchers. Some pointed to the dignified way he carried himself as he headed the procession behind Philip’s coffin. Others noted his unselfconscious display of grief. At 72, they said, Charles had finally emerged from the long shadow of his father, with whom he had a complicated relationship, to be the family’s patriarch.
“He’s looking like a much more confident character, happier in his own skin,” said Penny Junor, a royal historian. “He is now the paterfamilias of the family, which means he has new roles and responsibilities.”
Charles, however, must also reckon with his elder son, William, 38, who is in line to be king after him. Royal watchers said William had strong opinions about the structure of the family and how its duties should be reallocated. And he and his father have different views on how to conduct philanthropy, they said.
While Charles has built a sprawling portfolio of charities, William has preferred to devote time to a few favored causes. As president of the Football Association, he spoke out last week against an unpopular plan to create an elite soccer Super League, which would have pulled in several of the top clubs in Britain.
“There is a difference between the way Charles envisages things and William envisages things,” said Valentine Low, the royal correspondent of The Times of London. But he added, “Charles acknowledges and even welcomes that William should have a role in these conversations.”
Mark Landler is the London bureau chief. In 27 years at The Times, he has been bureau chief in Hong Kong and Frankfurt, White House correspondent, diplomatic correspondent, European economic correspondent, and a business reporter in New York. @MarkLandler
Prince Philip’s Funeral Marks the End of an Era for U.K. Royal Family
The prince’s death is the monarchy’s dress rehearsal for the far more consequential passing of the queen, a reckoning that seems likely to reverberate in British history
LONDON — Elizabeth and Philip were married the year I was born — 1947 — when Britain’s deference toward its royal family had not yet been exposed to the merciless shredding that was to come. Back then, my own family might almost have seen itself reflected, albeit remotely, in their lives.
Like Prince Philip, whose funeral is on Saturday, my father had served in World War II, on deployments that were so protracted that, my mother recalled, she went three years without seeing him. In London, Buckingham Palace was bombed. So, too, were the rowhouses in Barrow-in-Furness in northwestern England where my aunts, uncles and grandparents lived, close to the shipyards targeted by the German Air Force.
When Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, we clustered around a small black-and-white television at a neighbor’s home to follow what was billed as the country’s first coronation to be broadcast live. Certainly, it was a moment of pomp that seemed to fete Britain’s re-emergence from postwar deprivation.
But by the time Prince Philip died last week, Britons had long ceased to march quite so closely in step with the royals. The mirror had become distant, supplanted by the oft-voiced questions: When did the sovereign family and its subjects begin to go their separate ways? And what does that bode for the future of the monarchy?
At first it might have been difficult to distill an answer from the reverential coverage that swamped Britain’s national broadcasters as Prince Philip’s myriad achievements were chronicled in profiles and commentaries and interviews: his war record; his presence on the national stage as the longest-serving royal consort; and, not least, the Duke of Edinburgh award program that gave millions of young people a chance to build self-confidence and hone their outdoor skills.
The word extraordinary was uttered so frequently in connection with his stewardship of his family, his charities and his many military affiliations that it became a kind of incantation.
But some Britons saw it differently. The British Broadcasting Corporation received about 100,000 complaints about its television coverage of the event when it canceled its scheduled programming in favor of blanket coverage of Prince Philip’s life and his death at the age of 99. Some people likened the obituary programming to what might be expected in North Korea.
Broadcasters “got the tone completely wrong,” Michael Cole, a former BBC royal correspondent, said in an interview with the rival Channel 4 News. Their hushed voices, he said, suggested that they had assumed the somber mantle of “self-appointed chief pallbearers” whose “sepulchral” utterances would have been more appropriate to a personal bereavement.
“I always believe,” he said, “that you can’t report from a kneeling position. And I think we have seen a little too much of that.”
For baby boomers, however, there was a particular piquancy to the prince’s death. Throughout their lives, the couple at the head of Britain’s constitutional monarchy had been a constant presence, emblems of the nation.
There had been a kind of familiarity and forgiveness — sly nods and nudges at the less public proclivities of Prince Philip’s off-camera life; his public gaffes, some of them racially and culturally offensive; the kind of Prince Philip more favored by the script writers of “The Crown” than by official biographers. One of his sons, Prince Andrew, called him the “grandfather of the nation.”
But time and familiarity do not always breed fondness, or heal any wounds left by his statements in a country that has become more diverse. Much of the outpouring of sorrow may well have been directed at the queen, a widow facing the rigors of her reign without her “liege man of life and limb,” as her husband swore to become at her coronation.
Throughout the crises that have threatened to upend the institution she has fought doggedly to secure, Philip had been her “strength and stay all these years,” as the queen said in 1997.
It may be that historians will one day penetrate the fog of obfuscation that shrouds Prince Philip’s role in many of the royal family’s crises, part of the blend of aloofness, formality and pageantry by which the monarchy seeks to survive at the titular helm of an ever-shrinking, post-imperial domain.
In recent years, the royal family has been buffeted ingloriously by scandals spanning the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and the broadsides launched by the self-exiled Prince Harry — Philip’s grandson — and his wife, Meghan, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in California in March.
The Prince Andrew who spoke of Prince Philip as the nation’s grandfather is the same Prince Andrew whom American law enforcement officials want to question about accusations of sex trafficking by his friend Jeffrey Epstein
In these days, few have wished to speak ill of the dead, preferring to focus on the prince’s emblematic place in the chronicles of those, like Meghan and Diana, whose marriages into the House of Windsor challenged them to come to terms with its secretive ways and define their often unscripted roles within, or outside, it.
In a sense, Philip outlasted all of them. Yet his departure may come to be seen as a grim and poignant dress rehearsal, for in those same years the queen has assumed a seemingly immutable position as the nation’s center of gravity. Her reign has overlapped the tenures of 14 British prime ministers and an equal number of American presidents.
In the reverence of the moment, the unspoken question is how she could ever be replaced as the guarantor of her line.
Back in those postwar days of the 1940s and 1950s, British schoolchildren learned by rote the names and lineages of her regal forebears, from Tudors, Plantagenets and Stuarts to Hanoverians, Saxe-Coburgs and Windsors.
In an era of far more divided loyalties and aspirations, the one lesson that may have endured may be found not so much in the names and titles of the past as in the fact that, save for a brief period in the 17th century, the monarchy itself has survived — though rarely without hard choices, stubborn resilience and often reluctant or enforced renewal.
Now is a time of mourning for Philip, who welcomed generations of young royals on their wedding days and who is credited with spurring an earlier period of self-assessment and renewal in the monarchy. That task will fall to others in coming years, in a world that may be less sympathetic than the one that welcomed the young royals on their wedding day.
After a long career as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times based in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, Alan Cowell became a freelance contributor in 2015, based in London.