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The Queen’s Era Is Drawing to an End as Prince Charles Assumes New Royal Duties

Often what British royals do is far more consequential than what they say. At tomorrow’s State Opening of Parliament, Queen Elizabeth II will read out her government’s agenda for the coming session, this time expected to include immigration reforms, a cap on the cost of social care, a measure to control dangerous dogs and another to ban wild animals in circuses. Some of these legislative plans might appear a little weightier than others, but the really big news will be sitting mutely alongside Her Majesty. For the first time, the Queen will be accompanied to this annual ceremonial fixture not only by her doughty husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, but by their son—and her heir—the Prince of Wales, and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall. Their presence will signal a shift in public life that is likely to impact far more Britons than any law about muzzling pitbulls. After more than 60 years, the Elizabethan era is drawing to a close, and the Charlesian age is dawning. On May 7, on the eve of the State Opening, Buckingham Palace also announced that for the first time since 1973 the Queen, the head of the Commonwealth, will not attend November’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Prince Charles will deputize for her, traveling to Sri Lanka in her place. The Queen, at 87, looks frail, but is in good health, according to a palace insider, who does concede that officials “are pacing her commitments.” Charles will “increasingly share constitutional duties.” The Palace had not planned to draw attention to this shift, which has been taking place under the radar. Palace strategists, including the royals themselves, believe the best way to sustain Britain’s monarchy is through a process of constant, near-imperceptible adaptation. And for years, those strategists have been plotting how to apply those techniques of change management to the biggest change the Palace hopes to weather: the succession. Not for the Windsors the gamble taken by the Dutch royals last week, when Queen Beatrix stood down in favor of her son, the new King Willem-Alexander. Polls in the UK have consistently shown deep and steady support for the monarchy headed by Elizabeth II. The results have proved more ambiguous when Britons are asked how they feel about King Charles. Republican movements in the U.K. and in the 15 Commonwealth realms for which the Queen serves as head of state have resigned themselves to making only limited progress during her lifetime. They are looking to her departure to boost their cause substantially, maybe to even bring the Windsor reign to a close and sever Commonwealth ties to the crown. But if the Palace strategists prevail, she will not go suddenly, but in increments, and Charles will have his feet well under the desk by the time that happens. The choreography is intricate; its cleverest flourishes are invisible. Unlike Her Majesty’s government, Her Majesty doesn’t like to publicize her policy initiatives. The announcement on CHOGM was only triggered because Downing Street confirmed that Prime Minister David Cameron would be attending the meeting, despite calls for a boycott over Sri Lanka’s human rights record. Palace officials some weeks ago quietly posted notice of Charles and Camilla’s role at the State Opening of Parliament on the royal website, in language so carefully chosen that only the most dedicated royal watcher would understand the import.


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