As the Queen marks her first birthday without her beloved husband, storm clouds are growing over the monarchy that could threaten her achievements.
Thank heavens for Fergus and Muick. Named after the Queen’s uncle who died during World War I and a favourite loch on her Scottish estate, Her Majesty’s new dorgi and corgi puppies respectively might be the only bright spots in what has been a bleak year for the sovereign.
Today marks her 95th birthday, the indefatigable monarch having passed into the history books years ago as the longest reigning monarch in history.
However, on what should have been a proud milestone for the mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, instead the Queen is currently facing one of the darkest periods in her 69-year reign with the knowledge that the institution she dedicated her life to protecting is teetering on the precipice.
The question now is will – even can – the monarchy survive?
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For nearly 88-years, the man born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark figured in her life with the couple becoming secretly engaged when she was only 20-years-old before marrying the next year.
However, the dark clouds gathering over Buckingham Palace right now go far beyond the grief that Her Majesty must be feeling. Not since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997 has the royal family faced such a period of reckoning and been the subject of such intense public debate than over the course of the past six weeks.
In early March, when Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, sat down with TV supremo Oprah Winfrey for a two-hour special, their claims of royal indifference to her mental health problems and of racism unleashed a global outcry.
To those outside of the UK, a hereditary monarchy no longer looked quite so much like a quaint, quintessentially British anachronism but a bastion of whiteness and privilege that stood in direct opposition to prevailing cultural and social winds.
Since then, the palace has become a target for unrelenting scrutiny and a whole lot of media hand-wringing about the current state of the monarchy.
For critics of the Windsors, the 15-months since Megxit, with the attendant stripping of the Sussexes’ titles, the loss of the royal imprimatur and their ability to style themselves as His/Her Royal Highness, only served as further proof of the inherently vituperative nature of the palace.
The current emergency is bigger than this particular storm though.
What the events leading up to, during and in the wake of the Sussexes’ dramatic exit have proven is that the palace seems out of their depth, being continually outmanoeuvred and outplayed. Faced with the breakaway State of Sussex, courtiers have floundered to get ahead of the storm and seem to be perpetually stuck on the back foot.
Life post-Megxit has also pulled back the curtain on the leadership crisis that has befallen the house of Windsor.
Since 2017, when Prince Philip retired from public life, his iron grip on the family has waned, leaving his son Prince Charles to step into the void. Given the upheaval and pick ‘n’ mix of crises that have buffeted the crown since then, the Prince of Wales has clearly struggled to steer the ship of state back into calmer waters.
The very fact that Her Majesty’s grandsons Prince William and Harry deigned to actually acknowledge one another in public made global headlines is an indicator of just how badly things have become.
The Queen must know that when she passes away, despite having spent her lifetime trying to safeguard the crown, the monarchy now faces a decidedly uncertain future.
A poll done last month found a paltry 27 per cent of Brits want to see Charles take the throne next. (That figure drops to a precipitous 5 per cent among 18-24-years-old.)
While William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, might enjoy far greater popularity, will the prospect of a future King William V and Queen Catherine be enough to keep things afloat and to sustain the monarchy in the meantime?
There is also the question of staffing.
The resignations, so to speak, of Prince Andrew and the Sussexes from frontline royal work, along with the ageing cadre of other working HRHs poses a significant problem, and one that is only going to become more acute in coming years. (Combined, Andrew, Harry and Meghan undertook 558 engagements in 2019.)
Of the 11 Windsors who currently officially represent the Queen, only four are under the age of 60 – Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex and the Cambridges. (Having a title or even an HRH does not mean one automatically gets to join this number – for example Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie have been denied the chance to fulfil such roles.)
While Charles has long espoused his model for a slimmed down royal family, that has gone from being a savvy strategy focused on lean efficiency to one that is verging on the worryingly malnourished.
Of the Queen’s four children, only Charles’ children have ever been given any sort of official role, and of his two boys, there is now only one man left on deck.
Or put another way, of the Queen’s eight grandchildren, only one works in the family business i.e. is a working member of the royal family, namely William and he hardly has a choice in the matter.
In the coming years, the number of able-bodied members of the house of Windsor will dwindle to just William, Kate, Edward and Sophie, begging the question, how many recycling plants can one Earl be expected to open? (It’s not as if the palace are going to send their first string players off for the dull but necessary gigs is it?)
To this end, it was revealed over the weekend that Charles and William will head up a summit to be held in the near future over the future of the monarchy. No pressure now or anything.
Over the course of the nearly seven decades she has been on the throne, Her Majesty – and under her stewardship, the crown – has survived the vicissitudes of 20th century life, somehow managing to sustain the mystique of the whole royal endeavour while still making it relevant.
All of that is now in serious jeopardy.
Which is why it is tragic that at the very time of the Queen’s life when she should be able to put her feet up and enjoy an afternoon of the Archers on the couch with a tin of Quality Street, she is facing the prospect of everything she has worked to achieve crumbling in the near future.
It is impossible not to feel for Her Majesty at such a heartbreaking juncture.
In 2018, the Queen’s corgi Willow died, the 14-generation and final descendant of her first corgi Susan (who was given to her by her father King George VI in 1938). At the time, the sovereign made the decision to no longer own any pooches given her advancing years.
In March, Her Majesty had a change of heart, reportedly coming to the conclusion that she wanted to embrace the moment and to find solace and joy in four-legged companionship.
Given what she has gone through in the past six weeks – and what she faces to come – Her Majesty is going to need all the joy she can get. Sadly, she is going to need it.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.