Until now, the overwhelming focus of the media coverage of the queen’s Platinum jubilee has been the human drama of an aged monarch trying to bring her family back together in order to put on a united front one last time. British tabloids have been particularly interested in the roles Harry, Meghan and Andrew will play as part of the jubilee events.
The queen’s attempt to heal rifts and wounds is interesting: it suggests she wants to be seen publicly as though she is moving on. It is also an attempt to smooth the path to Charles’ accession and coronation, so that difficult issues do not resurface after she is gone.
We saw this with the queen’s intervention on the anniversary of her succession earlier this year, when she made it publicly known that it was her ‘sincere wish’ that Camilla become queen consort. This was Elizabeth II’s way of reducing any potential opposition to such a move.
However, these family-centred narratives can distract from the bigger story of what the jubilee as an event is meant to do for the monarchy and the nation.
The celebrations offer a last chance to loudly celebrate Britain’s longest reigning monarch. The next time the nation is encouraged to come together in this way will very likely be the queen’s funeral, when a different mood will prevail.
The jubilee is therefore an opportunity for the royals and their advisors to generate support for the institution of monarchy ahead of the succession. The defining theme of the event will, as ever with Elizabeth II, be duty.
The queen has won support and affection because she has always publicly presented herself as putting duty ahead of personal fulfilment. This is a powerful idea: it stands in direct contrast to the behaviour of her uncle, Edward VIII, who put personal desire ahead of national duty when he abdicated the throne in 1936. It also suggests that the queen prioritizes service to her people and country ahead of all else.
On closer inspection it is clear that this has not always been the case. Only recently, Elizabeth II has repeatedly indulged her second son and, in trying to shield him from scandal, has shown that, in fact, she has put family interests ahead of the good of the monarchy and nation.
These lapses of judgement on the part of the queen will be quietly ignored this summer. Instead, we are going to witness celebrations designed to embellish the image of Elizabeth II as Britain’s greatest ever monarch.
Of course, much attention will also be paid to the line of succession with Charles and William playing key roles as well. As environmentalist-kings-in waiting, they are the modernising force behind the monarchy. The queen and her advisors will be conscious of the need to give both men the space to set out their visions for the future of the crown.
The intergenerational appeal of monarchy has, historically speaking, been its greatest strength. But, with support for monarchy among the young dwindling, it is more important than ever for the heirs to the throne to appear ‘in tune’ with the public mood, for example on prescient issues like climate change.
It could be inevitable that the most important jubilee roles fall to Charles and William given how the queen’s health problems may prevent her from playing a fulsome part in proceedings. Indeed, we are now living through a regency in all but name, in that the Prince of Wales has taken over a majority of the responsibilities of monarch with his mother appearing at events that are less physically demanding.
It remains to be seen whether, with the queen’s health an ongoing concern, an official regency will be declared. Such a move would allow Elizabeth II to essentially retire while creating an opportunity for Charles to start reshaping the monarchy so that it is better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead in the decades of the mid-twentieth century.
Featured image credit: Crowds outside Buckingham Palace at the 2012 Diamond Jubilee. Brian Harrington Spier. CC.2.0 via Wikimedia Commons