Or, shit, I guess I was wrong about the whole immortality thing
It’s an end of an era. Elizabeth Windsor, queen of the United Kingdom since 1952, died yesterday surrounded by family at Balmoral in Scotland at the age of 96. Unless she’s in hiding, still dictating behind the scenes while we’re distracted by royal pageantry.
I kid. She’s probably really dead.
People have asked me before what happens when a royal monarch dies, so I figured I’d take this time to explain both what it means to be a monarch, and what’s going to happen next.
First off, Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t just queen – she was queen regnant. The difference between the two is rather stark. A queen can either be queen consort or queen regnant. A queen consort is the wife of the king, while a queen regnant is the person who has the actual power. Broadly speaking, only one person has the actual power (the only exceptions were during the rules of Mary I and her spouse Philip II of Spain, and William III and his spouse Mary II). When the ruling person is a dude, his wife is the queen consort. When the ruling person is a woman, she’s called the queen regnant and her spouse is called a variety of things. The tradition was set during Victoria’s reign that a queen regnant’s husband is given the rank of Prince vice king lest people consider him to outrank his wife. Prince Philip, Elizabeth’s late husband, was also given the title Duke of Edinburgh. As prince consort, however, it was understood that his rank and title only existed because he was married to the queen regnant.
So now that the queen regnant is dead, her oldest child, Charles, is automatically king. Prior to the 2011 Perth Agreement, the Commonwealth realms (those countries that still recognized Elizabeth as their head of state) followed male-preference primogeniture. That is, the oldest son of the monarch inherited the throne. If there was no son, the oldest daughter got it instead. The Perth Agreement replaced that inheritance mode with absolute primogeniture, which made inheritance gender inclusive. This didn’t change the succession, as Charles is Liz’s oldest kid. As a result, Charlie is now king and his wife, Camilla, is automatically queen consort. Charlie’s oldest kid, William, is now Prince of Wales. Both need to be officially “sworn into office” as it were, but these things kicked into place as soon as Liz died.
One of the big questions for a while was what regnal name Charlie was going to take once his mom died. It’s been an on and off tradition for several generations for the new monarch to take a different name upon ascending the throne. Elizabeth’s father’s name was Albert (Bertie to the family) but changed his name to George when he became king. His older brother was David but changed to Edward upon his accession. Generally, the name change is done to avoid offending anyone. George VI (Bertie) changed his name to avoid putting another Albert near the throne – Albert being Victoria’s beloved husband. There hasn’t officially been a Charles III, but if any of you remember the Jacobite uprising from Outlander, or my obsession over 18th century fashion, you may remember Bonnie Prince Charlie.
The Jacobite succession actually names two more Charles’ – Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) and Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia. The pope only recognized Bonnie Prince Charlie as Charles III, but Jacobites recognize Charles Emmanuel IV as Charles IV of Great Britain. This means that our current Charles, by taking the regnal name of Charles III, risks pissing off Jacobite supporters.
The primary job of the monarchy right now (as indicated by me – I’m sure the actual monarchy would have a different answer) is to avoid offending anyone. If he stuck with the name Charles, it would violate that objective.
But really, the bigger question is whether anyone is going to even tolerate Charlie III. He’s a much more controversial figure than his mom. Elizabeth cultivated a persona of neutrality. Charles…has not. Some people love him, a whole lot more people can’t stand him. It’s entirely possible people are going to reject him outright. He still hasn’t escaped the scandal from his treatment of Diana, which painted him very much the bad guy.
As for Camilla, she seems to have escaped a lot of the bad press. Plus, she champions adopting rescue dogs, so I love her. But the two of them together have a lot more skeletons in their closet than their predecessors. In this age of social media and instant access to the news, can the monarchy really survive such a contentious change? Even Prince William and Kate haven’t escaped the bad press. Harry and Meghan are the darlings of the day, but that can change in an instant.
A few final thoughts before I see you off. It’s nice to see that the Church of England has calmed their tits when it comes to the marriage of Charles and Camilla. While the ultimate irony may be that the Church was originally started because Henry VIII wanted a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, for the longest time it did not recognize divorce. A couple was together until one of them died – this was the official reason why Edward VIII wasn’t allowed to marry twice-divorced/Nazi collaborator Wallis Simpson. As her (two) spouses were still alive, the Church considered any remarriage for her to be bigamous. As such, if Edward VIII married her, he wouldn’t be able to also be the head of the Church (the traditional role of the monarch) and he was forced to abdicate.
Granted, it’s been a few decades, and the Church of England has relaxed a bit on that point. They recognize divorce now, but only allow remarriage if the new partner didn’t have anything to do with the original divorce. For example, Meghan Markle was a divorcee before she married Harry, but because Harry had nothing to do with her divorce, the Church had no problem with the two of them getting hitched.
Charles and Camilla were a very different story. Diana was dead when Camilla and Charles started talking about marrying in the early 2000s, so Charles was free. But Andrew Parker-Bowles is still alive and kicking, and Charles very much had something to do with Camilla’s divorce from Andie. As a result, Charlie and Cammie were not able to have a Church-sanctioned wedding. Instead, they had a civil ceremony that was later blessed by the Church. But, if we go back to Rule #1, They Whose Ass Sits the Chair, Charles and Camilla were still covered since Elizabeth was cool with it. Why this didn’t float for Edward VIII and Wallis…well, it probably had something to do with the Nazi stuff. Which, I can’t really argue against.
Last thing. Elizabeth II certainly broke the record for the longest British reign, beating out her predecessor, Victoria. That one was busted several years ago. She did not, however, beat the record for longest reigning European record. That still belongs to Louis XIV, French King of Fabulous Fashion. Known as the Sun King, Louis set serious trends for being Fly as Fuck. This mofo was fancy, is what I’m saying. His record was 72 years. He, however, was crowned at age 4 so he had a slight advantage over Liz.
Anyway, I’ve stuck the popcorn in the microwave and am getting cozy on the couch. It’s time to watch Operation London Bridge* unfold and see if the shit hits the fan.
*The deaths of the most immediate members of the royal family have organized and practiced plans in place under special code names. Elizabeth’s was called Operation London Bridge. All of the events that take place over the next several days have been on the books for the last several decades. Interestingly enough, when Diana died, organizers used adapted plans for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, since they didn’t have anything planned yet for Diana’s death.