As the Queen celebrates her 90th birthday today, there is renewed speculation that she may abdicate—or at least retire from public life and move more or less full time to Balmoral, her remote and beloved Scottish estate, in the event of the death of her husband.
The author Christopher Andersen, whose book Game of Crowns has been causing headaches for the royal press team all week with its claims that Camilla tried to break up Will and Kate, has put the cat among the pigeons by raising the abdication issue in his new book.
The mathematics behind abdication are certainly compelling: At the age of 90, and still going strong, the queen could live another decade or more.
Were she to live as long as the queen mother, Charles would become king at 78, and Camilla would be 79. If Charles, in turn, lived to be as old as Prince Philip, William and Kate would both be well past 60 by the time William assumed the throne.
It’s not a particularly exciting prospect, and Andersen believes that, despite what he called in a telephone conversation with the Royalist, “the constant drumbeat over the years that the queen will never retire, that she will never step aside,” she may well be planning to do just that.
“She’s never said that she would not abdicate publicly,” he says, “And there are very serious reasons for her to consider it. Actually, it’s already happening.
“Many responsibilities have been handed over to Charles. She’s let it be known to palace insiders that on the death of her husband, who’s turning 95 in June, her plan is to basically retreat to Balmoral on a full-time basis.”
Indeed, abdication truthers point out that she gave a second knighthood to her private secretary Sir Christopher Geidt—for “a new approach to constitutional matters… [and] the preparation for the transition to a change of reign.”
As Andersen says, “The London Times called that ‘hugely significant wording’. It is very clear that abdication is something that is on the table and I believe it’s going to happen.
“It will give her the opportunity to act as a kind of dowager queen, to have the same role that her mother had, as someone who could ease the public into accepting Charles and Camilla.”
It should be noted that sources at the palace remain adamant that there had been no change in the queen’s position, and that she plans to give her ‘whole life’ to her role, as she publicly declared in her coronation speech in 1952.
However, even the most well connected of courtiers concede that only the queen knows her own mind, and she plays her cards close to her chest. There have been persistent rumors that the abdication of the pope may have opened the possibility in her mind that she could step down prior to her death without the world coming to an end, and that such a move would not be considered a gross dereliction of duty.
The “abdication fantasy,” as its detractors call it, goes back to Princess Diana, who never gave up hoping that both the queen and Charles would abdicate, handing the crown to William at an early age.
Diana believed this was the “ideal solution” to the problem of keeping the monarchy alive in the 21st century.
In December 2014, it was widely rumored that the queen would announce her abdication during her annual Christmas broadcast. The bookies went so far as to suspend betting on the queen’s abdication after a series of “highly specific” bets were placed indicating that someone with inside knowledge might be seeking to cash in on her decision to step down.
The rumors came to nothing.
However, it is becoming less common for royal observers to dismiss abdication out of hand.
Robert Lacey, author of The Queen, A Life in Brief (HarperCollins), told The Daily Beast in an email conversation: “The message of today’s birthday is that the Queen at 90 is working as hard as ever—and she certainly is working busily, with increasing support from the younger members of the family.
“But Philip has always provided her with very extra and special support, and were he to pre-decease her, by no means a given in the context of his daily exercise schedule and general fitness, then work and the world would look very different to her.
“She has not actually sworn to go on reigning for ever, but to do her duty.
“So on her own, she might interpret that duty in terms of handing the baton on to Charles, either in the form of abdication or a regency—though both words have unfortunate connotations in British royal history.
The writer Lady Colin Campbell adds: “I am reliably informed that she will never abdicate, and the best Charles can hope for is a regency if she becomes infirm.”
But Margaret Rhodes, the queen’s cousin, has said that the queen saw her duty to the British people as “something so deep and special” that she would fulfil it, “until the day she dies.”
The queen herself has sometimes privately brought up the notion of retiring, only to dismiss it out of hand. “Oh, that’s something I can’t do,” she once told former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey. “I am going to carry on to the end.”
Abdication is not a word which will probably enter Her Majesty’s head today of all days.
But in the years to come, it just might.