The abdication of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands yesterday has once again rekindled speculation that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth might abdicate, allowing her son Charles to accede to the throne before old age catches up with him.
Although he is being allowed to implement changes already, Charles is known to be frustrated by his long wait for power (aged 64 he now has the unhappy distinction of being the longest-serving monarch-in-waiting in British history), but he fully accepts that bar some unforeseen disaster that made it impossible for his 86 year-old mother to carry on, the chances of the Queen of England abdicating remain at absolute zero, insiders say.
“The Queen dedicated herself to 'a life of service' when she made her 21st birthday speech in South Africa,” a senior courtier – who refuses to even utter the word ‘abdication’ - tells the Daily Beast, “The word ‘life’ is the important bit.”
Part of the reason for a reluctance to even consider resignation is that while there is a tradition of abdication in the progressive Netherlands - Queen Beatrix has been head of state since 1980, when her mother abdicated, who herself succeeded Queen Wilhelmina, who abdicated in 1948 at the age of 68 – in the UK, abdication is associated in the national consciousness exclusively with the darkest days of the monarchy, the abdication crisis in 1936.
Edward VIII had fallen in love with the American divorcee Wallis Simpson and was determined to marry her, but was barred from doing so by the establishment on the grounds that as a divorcee she could not marry within the Church of England, and you could hardly have a king who had married outside the church, could you (and gloss over, for now, the point that divorcee Charles married divorcee Camilla Parker-Bowles in a registry office)?
In point of fact, many have argued that the king of England can marry whomever he jolly well pleases (except for a Catholic, which really would have been beyond the pale, and was specifically prohibited until the laws of succession were changed this year).
Anyway, Edward VIII (Real name: David) lost the argument, renounced the throne and his brother, George VI (real name: Albert, nickname Bertie, as in the movie The King’s Speech) took over. Fortunately George VI was an inspiring and much-loved wartime king and immensely popular, as was his wife, the Queen Mother, and the existential threat to the monarchy passed. But Bertie died young, meaning that our present Queen Elizabeth came to the throne at the tender age of 25.
Where she has remained ever since.
Last year, the Queen celebrated 60 years on the throne and in the central speech of her jubilee she hammered home the point that kingship (or queenship) is not a matter of picking and choosing, but a spiritual responsibility: she ‘rededicated’ herself to the lifelong service of her people.
Queen Beatrix may be ready to pack up and go, but here in Blighty, like it or not, our Kings and Queens have a job for life.
And, as Queen Elizabeth intends to make clear; life means life.