Looking at the newly published pictures of HM The Queen and her three male heirs in line of succession, I am reminded that some time ago I posted some speculative trivia predicting how the British throne would pass from generation to generation. Let’s try that again.
At 90 years old today, Elizabeth II looks still fit enough for the job. It’s common knowledge that the Prince of Wales is desperate to succeed his mother, but if she soldiers on till she is aged, say, 96 then Charles III (born 1948) will be 74 when he becomes our next head of state in 2022. If he lasts six years then it will be the year 2028 when he dies and William V (born 1982) takes over at the age of 46. If he then reigns for say 40 years it will be the year 2068 when he passes on and Prince George (born 2013) succeeds to the throne at the age of 55.
Thus, all other things being equal, George VII will begin his rule 52 years from now. He only has to reign for 32 years for us all to be in the next century, having ‘known’ who our head of state will be for the next 84 years. All three kings appear, smiling, in the photograph published today.
This is, of course, making a number of assumptions. The most obvious one is that it envisages that the United Kingdom still exists in its present form in 2068, and is a monarchy shared with certain other states. That may not be a given. I can’t help feeling that there are several reasons why the timetable might get derailed.
Pause to reflect on the position of the Prince of Wales. The Queen will never abdicate (if only to recompense the nation for the selfish stupidity that was the downfall of her uncle Edward VIII) and every year she lives from now on lessens the succession chances of her preposterous eldest son. If and when he does succeed, Australia (and Jamaica?) will probably seize the opportunity to ditch the monarchy. No amount of friendly regard for Prince William, waiting his turn, will alter something of this kind.
As for the future of the institution itself, one only has to download moving images of the proclamation of Elizabeth II in 1952 and the Coronation of 1953 to see how far the monarchy has come since then and yet has more to change. In this less deferential, free-wheeling multicultural age, that may not be enough. As Britain continues to evolve, and the form of governance adapt to circumstances such as repeated referenda in Scotland, kingship will come to seem less and less appropriate. It was barely tolerated in the 18th century. The little boy in today’s picture standing on a pile of books, might well be the last of his line – a line stretching back to the year 976 and before.