On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s succession to the throne, Elizabeth the Second issued an unprecedented statement. What started out as words of gratitude to people for their support took a turn to set one the terms of the next reign, the title for her daughter-in-law. It is unusual for a sovereign to make a statement about titles that may be in place following their lifetime.
Since 2012, the palace has strategically been moving to resolve unfinished business before Prince Charles succeeds his mother. At the end of the Diamond Jubilee, there was the smaller Royal Family on the balcony: just the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and Catherine and Prince Harry along with the Queen. This reinforced the long-standing plan by the Prince of Wales for a more streamlined monarchy in his time.
By 2017, the palace was sounding out Heads of Government to clarify the position of Head of the Commonwealth in the future. This position is not inherited but is the choice of the 54 members of the Commonwealth. In April 2018, the Queen expressed her “sincere wish” that the Prince of Wales would be the next head of the organization, so that would not be an issue in the days following his succession. Given the prince’s commitment to the Commonwealth over the course of his life, it was not a surprise when they unanimously agreed.
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Just last month, the Duchess of Cornwall was named to the Order of the Garter, a personal appointment by the Queen in what is England’s principal honour. This was the latest in a series of honours and increasing status for the Duchess over the past decade, including as a U.K. Privy Councillor in 2016. No female consort of a future sovereign had been appointed to the Privy Council or the Order the Garter prior to succeeding to the throne, but it mirrors Prince Philip when he was honoured with the accolade by the King prior to his marriage to Princess Elizabeth.
This honour further enhanced the position of the Duchess of Cornwall after years of public service since marrying Prince Charles in 2005. Shortly, they will be celebrating their 17th wedding anniversary, having been married for longer than he was married to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, in addition to having known each other since 1970.
The Duchess of Cornwall has taken on increasing responsibilities in the Royal Family, with more than 100 patronages as well as regiments, including the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. She has visited all but one province over four Canadian tours. In the past two decades, the public has increasingly come to know her better, and there is a sense that she has made a successful transition to the Royal Family, even though she joined it at age 58, a major change later in life.
Members the media who cover the royals in the U.K. are fond of the duchess as she is invariably in good humour and seems to enjoy what she does, finding the fun in public life. She has seemed to make the Prince of Wales more approachable and mischievous. Members of the public who meet her are pleasantly surprised and charmed by their interactions. The duchess has also taken on and spoken about issues including literacy, supporting those in need; the elderly, victims of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence, empowering women; dance, heritage, and the arts.
While in the U.K. her image has been changing and improving, in North America, particularly the U.S., she is still one of the least popular members of the Royal Family and there continues to be lingering resentment at her involvement during the prince’s marriage to Diana. She certainly suffered the most negative coverage in the media for years.
At the time of their marriage, the palace said that the duchess would be known as Duchess of Cornwall rather than Princess of Wales, in deference to public feeling at the time. It was suggested that Camilla would be known as Princess Consort rather than Queen in Charles’ reign. It has been clear for years that the Prince of Wales has regretted this and felt that the duchess should be treated as other royal wives.
The spouse of a King is a Queen. Any use of a different title would have been unusual in the Commonwealth and awkward given the protocol that surrounds the Royal Family which might have suggested that the marriage was not equal to previous generations. While it may appear to be a small difference, it counts on ceremonial occasions such as the coronation or other state occasions and represent the King where he could not go. This distinction was one of the reasons that Edward VIII abdicated in 1936.
Until now this has been unresolved and would have had to be clarified on succession. But this would have the potential of starting a new reign in controversy. The Queen now suggesting that it is her “sincere wish” that the duchess be known as Queen Consort in the fullness of time is a significant step to clarify this last piece of incomplete business.
The Queen has put her reservoir of support behind this after 70 years of service, to smooth the way for her son in the future. Once again, the Queen has placed the health and durability of the Crown before all and this is increasingly a transitional moment in the twilight years of this second Elizabethan era.
While this announcement could have been made on another occasion, it was interesting that it took place at the start of the Jubilee year. This had effect of changing the conversation from reminiscing about the past 70 years and looking toward the future. The Queen does not need to promote herself and is more interested in what comes next.
Each word in the Queen’s statement was carefully chosen. Along with a sense of gratitude for the support she has received, the Queen also reiterated the pledge she made at age 21 to serve the people of the Commonwealth for her entire life, be it long or short. It has proven to be remarkably long, and it is clear between the lines that the Queen intends to serve to the end.
Signing off on this remarkable historic statement, which will have impact for years to come, the Queen used the closing salutation “your servant.” The Queen sees her role as serving people rather than the Crown existing for its own purpose. She is acutely aware that the monarchy exists only so long as the people wish, in a form which serves the public interest.
The Queen has put her prestige and reputation on the line for her son and his wife, and now can only hope that they will reign with the affection, love, and respect of the people, as she has done for 70 years.