Shortcuts / 14 April 2022

The Queen and the future of the British royal family

This year, Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating her Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years on the British throne. So in this Squiz Shortcut, we look back at her reign, what’s in store for the Jubilee celebrations, and what’s next for the scandal-plagued royal family.

Gimme the rundown…
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary – now known as Queen Elizabeth II – was born on 21 April 1926, and is the first child of Prince Albert, Duke of York and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Her sister Princess Margaret was born 4 years later in August 1930.

So Albert wasn’t king at this point?
Not yet. Initially, the family were set for a life away from the spotlight because Albert wasn’t going to be king and Elizabeth wasn’t being groomed to be queen.

But then Albert did become king…
That happened in 1936 when his brother Edward – who had been monarch for less than a year – abdicated the throne and moved to France with his wife Wallis Simpson. She’d been married before, and the rules at the time were that she couldn’t be queen. It was quite a thing at the time.

What happened when Albert took over?
He had a name change when he was crowned – he became King George VI, and he shepherded the country through some tumultuous times. WWII broke out 3 years after George took the throne…

How did he manage that period?
He was very stoic and remained in Buckingham Palace throughout the Blitz – the big German bombing campaign on London in the early years of the war. It wasn’t long after WWII that he suddenly died in his sleep on 6 February 1952 at 56yo.

That must have been a huge shock to the family…
It was – Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip were on a big royal tour at the time, and had only been married for a couple of years at this stage. At this stage, they were living an ordinary family life and had 2 little kids – Charles and Anne. And Philip wasn’t a straightforward choice for the future monarch…

Why not?
He was born in Greece and his mother was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria who was born in Windsor Castle. Before Philip could marry Elizabeth, he had to get British citizenship, convert to the Church of England, and change his German surname to Mountbatten.

Okay, so back to Elizabeth – at this point she’s now Queen?
Yep, she became Queen on the day her father died in 1952. But she wasn’t crowned for almost 18 months on 2 June 1953. Technically, this year isn’t the anniversary of her coronation – the Jubilee marks 70 years since she became Queen.

Gotcha. What was her coronation like?
It was one of the biggest events of the 20th century. It marked the first time that cameras were brought inside Westminister Abbey, so it pulled back the curtain on the monarchy for the first time – something historians say that helped bind the public to her.

How did Elizabeth start her reign?
One of the chief parts of the job of a British monarch is keeping the vast Commonwealth together and humming along. So just over a year into her reign in November 1953, Elizabeth embarked on a massive 7-month tour.

That’s a long time…
Yep… She started out in the West Indies and went through New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific, Asia and Africa, covering 44,000 miles across 12 countries.

What happened during the visit to Oz?
Elizabeth and Philip were here for almost 2 months. When they arrived, they sailed into Sydney Harbour to a crowd of 1 million onlookers – the city’s population was then 1.8 million. And she went on to visit Australia another 15 times.

What role has Elizabeth taken on the world stage?
Some of her more memorable moments have been with US Presidents. Those who watched The Crown might remember President Kennedy’s trip to London in the early 60s, where there was some controversy over Jackie Kennedy’s alleged criticism of Elizabeth’s old-fashioned style and Elizabeth and Philip’s lack of chemistry. Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy became the first pair to stay overnight at Windsor Castle. And Obama called her “one of my favourite people”.

What are some of her big moments closer to home?
The Troubles between the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland were one of the defining conflicts of her time. And in 1998 when a peace agreement was signed to end the violence, Elizabeth accepted the invitation of the Irish President Mary McAleese to visit Ireland. The trip was received with a warmth that helped thaw what was a pretty frosty relationship.

Anything else of note?
Well, she’s not known for being an activist, but last year Elizabeth made one of the big addresses at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. She urged leaders to act now “for our children and our children’s children.”

How has Elizabeth managed the domestic political scene?
It hasn’t been an easy task. Elizabeth has worked with 14 different PMs and weathered a number of political storms with them.

How did she get on with them?
From all accounts, war-time PM Winston Churchill was her favourite, and Margaret Thatcher was her least favourite.

What’s the relationship between the Queen and the PM usually like?
They have a special relationship regardless of their political party. She gives them a weekly audience – where she has a right and a duty to express her views on Government matters.

Has the monarchy changed much under her reign?
Definitely – she has been actively driving reform within her own institution. The “Succession to the Crown Act” came into effect in 2015 and formalises the rules around succession so it’s no longer dependent on gender.

So a monarch’s daughters have a better chance of becoming Queen?
Exactly. It put an end to the old-fashioned system of something called ‘male preference primogeniture’ – where princes take precedence over their older sisters. And the reforms also allow royals to marry a Catholic and still become king or queen.

So that’s her public life. What about her private life?
It’s fair to say there have been a few struggles over the years… 1992 was a particularly tough year – she called it her annus horribilis which is Latin for a horrible year.

What happened in 1992?
Where to begin… There were the racy phone calls between Charles and Camilla – which leaked when Charles was still married to Diana. Then there was Sarah Ferguson and the toe sucking scandal, where pictures of Fergie surfaced on the front page of newspapers with a new lover just after she and Prince Andrew separated.

What a mess…
Yep – Elizabeth and Philip were reportedly furious. And then there was a reckoning when Diana died in 1997 and the royal family were called on to grieve publicly.

And the family troubles continue today…
That’s right. Recently there’s been a big schism between William and Kate and Harry and Megan that’s deepened since the Sussexes stepped back from royal life in 2020 and moved to the US.

What happened?
Well, Meghan and Harry’s explosive interview with Oprah last year was never going to end well… Meghan claimed an unnamed member of the Royals had speculated about how dark her son Archie’s skin might be. It was hugely damaging to the family and now Harry is on the outer.

And let’s not forget Prince Andrew…
We could never… Andrew’s friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and his partner Ghislaine Maxwell and then his multi-million dollar settlement with Virginia Giuffre has been a huge issue for the Queen. More recently, he’s also been asked to explain why he received £1 million in payments linked to business adviser/fraudster Selman Turk.

So has he been keeping a fairly low profile?
Not quite… There was commentary that Andrew should be exiled from public life altogether, so royal watchers were shocked when he made a big public return at Prince Philip’s memorial service in March.

What was the reaction to that?
Some critics said it overshadowed the event that Elizabeth had reportedly put a lot of her personal time and energy into organising. Others said it amounted to a seal of approval from Elizabeth, and that her ‘favourite’ child had been forgiven.

And hasn’t Elizabeth been a bit unwell lately?
Yes, she’s been looking increasingly frail. She had COVID in February and had to cancel events after Buckingham Palace said she was suffering from mild symptoms. She’s since recovered, but it’s just been the latest challenge. Philip died last year, and more recently, Elizabeth fell and sprained her back.

Hopefully she gets back on track before the Platinum Jubilee celebrations…
Indeed – the big celebrations kick off in June, and there’s a 4-day holiday weekend to mark the milestone.

What’s on the Jubilee agenda?
There will be soldiers in their regalia and RAF planes doing flyovers while the family watches on from Buckingham Palace’s balcony. The royals are travelling around the world to mark the big occasion, and there’s a Commonwealth initiative to “plant a tree for the Jubilee”. And of course, there’s the pudding competition…

Mmm, pudding… So what’s next for the royal family?
It’s clear Elizabeth has been thinking about what will happen to the monarchy after she’s gone. She recently said Camilla should become Queen Consort when Charles becomes King.

What will a King Charles reign look like?
It’s thought Charles will be a different leader from his mother. For one, he’s very active when it comes to lobbying for action on climate change.

What’s the current consensus on the monarchy in the Commonwealth?
Not great, for some nations anyway. Kate and William’s recent tour of the Caribbean revealed that the former colonies have been inspired by Barbados to cut ties with the Commonwealth and remove the Queen as their head of state.

Ouch… What about in Oz?
The Republican movement here has been trying to restart the conversation about the process of appointing an Australian head of state. It hasn’t picked up momentum as yet, but it’s clearly a live issue in other parts of the world.

So there are lots of challenges ahead for the monarch?
Indeed. It won’t be an easy task to lead the institution that Prince Philip used to refer to as the “firm”. It’s a tough business…

Squiz recommends:

The infamous 2019 BBC interview with Prince Andrew

The Queen (2006) – available to watch on Binge, Foxtel and Paramount+

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