One of the many oddities in the life of our Queen, Elizabeth II, is the fact that she has two birthdays each year – as if one wasn’t enough when you already have rather too many years on your shoulders, weighing you down along with all those cares of state. That’s twice the messing about anyone else has, and there’s Christmas too, although happily there are flunkies by the dozen to lend a hand. But let’s face it, Brenda – as Private Eye magazine almost affectionately refers to her – is now in her 88th year even when you don’t count “Official” birthdays. Most ladies of her considerable wealth would expect to have had their feet up relaxing with the Dorgies for at least the last 27 years, rather than still be loaded with all these ceremonial duties. Is it not time, perhaps, for her to consider genteel retirement, or at least a more consultative and less active role?
Adding to the whole age question is the fact that her likely – though not inevitable – successor, son Charles, will himself reach state retirement age in November this year, and therefore stands the very real chance of becoming entitled to his pension before his pre-destined career has even got off the ground. The poor bloke finds himself in a dilemma uncannily similar to that which faced his illustrious forebear King Edward VII, known to his more intimate acquaintances (prior to his eventual accession) as Bertie the Bounder, due to his notorious predilection for the wilder pleasures of life. Bertie of course did realise his lifelong destiny, and became rather a successful King – entering history as “Edward the Peacemaker” due to his diplomatic efforts on the Continent. Sadly, all these admirable endeavours merely delayed a worldwide conflagration, and a scant four years after his death we were landed with the Great War. But Bertie the Bounder certainly Did His Bit while he was above ground and able to; Charles, who some might think has been a bit of a bounder himself on occasion, must be wondering if his own chance to serve will ever come.
The world nowadays is a very different place to the one which Queen Victoria left in early 1901. At that time, the Monarchy was simply a given – a fact of life along with the Empire over which it presided. The Monarchy and all the trappings thereof seemed in tune with the times, whereas now a lot of that ermine and jewellery has an almost defiant air of anachronism about it, as if the whole institution is saying to us, “Look – we know the Empire is long gone, and that we’re a tad outdated, but it’s just how we are – have you got a better idea?” The transition from a monarch who has been there forever, or so it seems, to a new King on the block (sorry, Charlie, if that’s a phrase which unhappily conjures up the headless spectre of the first King Charles) may well be much harder to manage today than it was when Bertie came to the throne 112 years ago. It may even be that there is a case for the new lad to be eased in to his unaccustomed role by an older and possibly wiser head. This is the argument for the Queen to step down now so that her guidance and counsel should be available to King Charles III, or even to King William V if that’s the way the Royal cookie crumbles.
Of course any suggestion like this, threatening as it does to advocate a departure from The Way Things Have Always Been Done, is likely to be met with a pretty frosty response from the patrician mandarins of the Establishment. They will tend to gaze snootily down a long collective nose and wonder out loud just who on earth this frightful oik IS, mooting such radical and frankly dangerous possibilities. But just because something has always been done a certain way is no reason to continue down that path. Small boys used to be shoved up chimneys to clean them, and they used to drag heavy loads in narrow seams underground in the mines as well. These are old traditions which nobody outside The Cabinet Office much misses. And we used to effect changes in the line of Succession to the Throne by the simple expedient of lopping the incumbent’s head off, or by defeating them in battle – a manifestation of the now unfashionable “Might is Right” syndrome. One such defeated King (Richard III) has only recently been dug out of a Leicester car park having wound up there over five centuries ago in the least dignified manner imaginable, mute testimony to the fact that lèse-majesté is not a new idea. And in any event, it’s not my intention to advocate abolition of the Monarchy – well, not in this article anyway – I just have the feeling that a few fresh ideas wouldn’t go amiss in the corridors of regal power.
One of the other oddities of the Queen’s life – so it has been suggested by various irreverent comedians – is that she thinks the world smells of fresh paint, as wherever she goes there is some industrious decorator a few steps ahead, adroitly wielding his brush and roller lest Her Maj should see a mucky mark and shame be piled on the heads of her civic or diplomatic hosts. Many a true word is spoken in jest – and she really has lived her whole long life, certainly since her maverick Uncle David gave up his Edward VIII crown for an American divorcée, with people trying to make things as brand-spanking glossy and new as possible for her. It’s a cosseted, artificial sort of existence, surrounded by eager sycophants, and let’s face it – you only live once. Shouldn’t our venerable Queen have the chance to savour a bit of real life before her time is up?
Isn’t it finally time for the job to be passed on to a new chap?