As her heir, the Prince of Wales will be the first to know of his mother’s passing. He will probably be at her deathbed, unless she dies suddenly or unexpectedly.
On his mother’s death, Charles will be king immediately. His siblings and children will kiss his hands. Then constitutional government will kick in.
The Prime Minister will need to be informed immediately of the passing of the head of state.
The Queen (left) knows that even she cannot go on for ever. A handover of royal power is taking place right before our eyes with Prince Charles (right) into a position of power
That job will fall to the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Edward Young, who will go to a secure telephone line and tell the PM: ‘London Bridge is down.’
Then, from the Foreign Office’s Global Response Centre in London, the news will go directly to the respective prime ministers of the 15 governments outside the UK where the Queen is also the head of state, and the 36 other nations of the Commonwealth for whom she has served as a figurehead.
For a time, her subjects will not know she is dead and that the throne has passed to her eldest son. Governors general, ambassadors and prime ministers will learn first. But in the world of 24-hour news it will not stay secret for long.
All this, however, is jumping the gun. Given the Queen’s history of robust health, perhaps a far more likely scenario is that her great age will mean she herself will trigger a period of regency, thus ensuring safe stewardship of the great office she has held and worked so hard to secure.
Senior former members of her household believe the Queen will grant her eldest son the full power to reign while she still lives because of the respect she holds for the institution of monarchy.
Abdication, however, is not even a consideration. One senior aide admitted to me the ‘dusting off’ of the Regency Act. My understanding is that senior figures, with the Queen’s blessing, have been examining various scenarios.
Prince Charles (right) is already the power behind the throne and Camilla (left) is set to be his Queen
Before his unceremonious departure, the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, was awarded a second knighthood for, according to the citation: ‘A new approach to constitutional matters . . . [and] the preparation for the transition to a change of reign.’ This was interpreted as the clearest sign yet that the Queen was getting ready to pass on the mantle.
At 92, the Queen knows that even she cannot go on for ever. And so — smoothly, discreetly, and unnoticed by many — a handover of royal power is taking place right before our eyes.
This increased responsibility means Charles is much more than a deputy, stepping up to stand in for the Queen. As we approach the end of 2018, a more accurate description of his role is ‘Shadow King’, as it is he, not Her Majesty, who is now doing most of the ‘heavy lifting’ for the monarchy at home and abroad.
His increased workload sees the Prince regularly working 14-hour days and he carries out more than 600 engagements a year at home and abroad.
Indeed, now that she does not travel overseas, Charles’s royal tours representing her across the globe are state visits. It is, in effect, a job-share monarchy, with the heir leading the way for the House of Windsor, not following.
There are those who insist the Queen is still as sprightly, fit and sharp as she was two decades ago. This is not true. She is still sharp on matters of state, but requires her schedule to reflect her age and capacity. Even she thinks those loyal subjects who believe nothing needs to change are deluding themselves.
‘Some close to the Queen say that when she reaches 95, she will allow Charles to take over’
It’s no coincidence that she’s been spending more and more time with her grandson Prince William, or that his duties — such as making a historic visit to Israel and the West Bank earlier this year — are expanding.
But the Queen has no desire to push aside her son and heir.
Indeed, she has been meeting Prince Charles regularly in private for some time to discuss matters of state.
No private secretaries or royal aides of any description are ever present. It’s always just the two of them — and they both view these meetings as crucial for both the smooth running of the country and the eventual succession.
Practical and unsentimental about her advancing years, the Queen, who is known around Whitehall as Reader No 1, has had Charles added to the distribution list of despatch boxes that she is sent. In the event of her death or inability to continue through illness, the Queen has ensured that her heir is fully primed and ready to take over.
Some close to the monarch say that, if she reaches the age of 95, she will make a monumental decision and choose to officially allow Charles to take over the stewardship of her reign.
She will, they say, officially transfer all executive powers to him as Prince Regent until her death, when he will become king. This would enable her to fudge the issue of her not fulfilling her Coronation Oath to God and her people to serve as queen regnant until her death.
Prince Charles (pictured) is effectively already our ‘Prince Regent’, a king in all but name
Others, who claim to be equally well informed, say that such a move or use of the ‘Regent’ title is not really necessary. After all, as the Queen made clear to the unassuming 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, when he went to see her on the occasion of his resignation in her Golden Jubilee year of 2002: ‘That’s something I can’t do.’
Times, however, do change. In truth, with the Queen now well into her tenth decade, senior officials within the Royal Household confirm that Prince Charles is effectively already our ‘Prince Regent’, a king in all but name.
Granted, Her Majesty is a consecrated monarch who pledged in her coronation oath to serve throughout her life. But can she seriously remain as head of state if she lives to be a centenarian like her mother?
The last time the Regency Act was invoked was in 1810 during the reign of George III, when the monarch became permanently deranged. It meant his eldest son assumed the title Prince Regent for ten years until, on his father’s death, he became George IV.
Queen Elizabeth II has enjoyed remarkably good health, both mental and physical, and there is nothing to suggest that Regency would be necessary in the way that it was for George III.
Behind palace gates, however, preparations have been made in recent months for all eventualities, with Her Majesty’s blessing.
Strangely, until 1937, our constitutional law had no permanent provision for a regent to cover the situation of a monarch being incapable of performing his or her duties.
It was the debilitating illness of the Queen’s grandfather, George V — who suffered from chronic bronchitis from 1935 until his death — that led to the reformed Regency Act including the intriguing possibility of a Regency if ‘the Sovereign is for some definite cause not available for the performance of those functions’. It is not clear what situations this covers.
Perhaps it is vague enough to allow the monarch simply to pass the baton to her heir and effectively retire — thus effecting the smoothest of successions with the minimum of fuss.
The Queen is au courant with the passage of time, and how her age impacts on the institution she serves. She has, impeccable sources have told me, already drawn a line in the sand, a date when, like Prince Philip, she will effectively retire from public life.
The Queen doesn’t seem to be slowing down on her royal engagements. Earlier this month she met with Queen Maxima
Nobody has a crystal ball. But my knowledge of the monarchal system leads me to believe that, whatever happens, it will unfold naturally. It is clear, however, that Charles’s position as the driving force of the institution in the second decade of the 21st century, as he approaches his 70th birthday, is indisputable. He, not the Queen, is the firm hand on the tiller.
In the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana, many long-serving staff at Buckingham Palace believed the public would never tolerate Charles becoming king.
Since then, however, anger against Charles has subsided.
Through hard work and consistency, and perhaps the popularity of his sons and their wives — and the goodwill they have generated — such fears have all but disappeared.
He may still be blamed for Diana’s misery over his infidelity with Camilla Parker Bowles, but there’s no longer a groundswell of support for skipping a generation.
It was the Queen herself who eventually urged him to resolve the ‘Camilla problem’ by marrying his lover. Mindful of his duty, Charles complied.
This was a smoothing of the way forward to the next generation, not simply the glorious resolution of Charles and Camilla’s enduring grand romance.
It was made clear to Charles that he had to fit in with the bigger picture and accept the shifting shape of the monarchy as envisaged by the Queen. It was a calculated risk and it appears to have paid off. The warm receptions given to Charles and Camilla when on tour, and the more positive Press coverage of Camilla, is increasingly gentle but never effusive.
More recently, on her 90th birthday, the Queen took the key decision to elevate Camilla to her most senior advisory body, the Privy Council. As ever, this was all done very quietly. And, as ever, the Queen had her reasons.
Camilla is set to be Queen. Queen Elizabeth had urged Charles to marry her
She wanted her daughter-in-law to be at Charles’s side at the precise moment that he formally becomes King.
This will now happen: as a privy councillor, Camilla can now attend the ceremony, normally held within 24 hours of a sovereign’s death.
This leads to a more contentious question: will Camilla become Queen? Ever since the Prince of Wales married the Duchess of Cornwall in April 2005, the Royal Family have gone to great lengths to avoid any public uprising over the prospect of ‘Queen Camilla’.
Indeed, the official wedding announcement stated: ‘It is intended that Mrs Parker Bowles should use the title HRH the Princess Consort when the Prince of Wales accedes to the throne.’
The critical word in this statement, of course, was ‘intended’. What Clarence House was doing was buying time — time for a hostile public to warm to Camilla.
Prince Charles, however, has always intended her to become his queen consort.
According to an inside source, he’d already decided that before their wedding.
‘There was no doubt in his mind at the time about that, and I honestly don’t think anything has changed,’ said the source.
‘In fact, I think he has hardened his resolve.
‘For there to be any other outcome would, in his view, be to lessen his role as king.
‘His marriage to Camilla is legal. She happens to be his second wife. That is it. Did any of Henry VIII’s wives not get the title?’
Although Camilla has worked hard and proved a great support to her husband over the years, there is no escaping the lingering feeling that Charles’s greatest asset is also his greatest weakness.
Camilla, as consort and Duchess of Cornwall, is a constant reminder of his personal failings of the past. However, more than a decade of marriage, and the fact that his second wife undoubtedly gives strength from their mutual and obvious love, should be taken only as a positive.
But no matter how optimistic the palace try to be, the reality is that Charles and Camilla have both brought far too much baggage to the relationship, particularly that they committed adultery — which at the very least contributed to the breakdown of his marriage to Diana — for it to be presented as anything approaching love’s young dream.
I am told that Camilla will be named ‘Queen Consort’ on Charles’s ascension.
There would have to be a change in the law in Britain and several other realms before Charles becomes king for her not to be. There is little or no appetite for that.
To alter her status would be a PR own goal, like insisting a president’s wife should not be allowed the role and title of ‘First Lady’ — especially when the Government plans to use the royals to bolster our status on the world stage.
The Duchess, 71 at the time of writing, is said to have told friends previously that she would be ‘happy’ to use the lesser title when her husband ascends to the throne.
The title issue will be decided in the court of public opinion and by the Prime Minister at the time.
Clarence House has always claimed that the constitutional issue surrounding the title would be ‘a matter for the government of the day’.
However, all previous wives of British kings have been known as queens.
Camilla has assuaged Charles’s loneliness, but knows when to leave him alone.
When on the public stage, their togetherness makes them a redoubtable couple.
He is the most prepared heir to the throne the country has ever had — wise, funny, intelligent and connected to his people in so many ways.
She rarely puts a foot wrong on tour while representing the Queen or when supporting her husband. The Queen acknowledged this in 2012 when she awarded her daughter-in-law her highest personal honour, Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, to mark the seventh anniversary of her wedding to Prince Charles.
Camilla has earned her stripes through the love and loyalty she has shown to her husband and by devotion to duty to the Crown.
She will, I am told, be deservedly given the correct rank when the time comes. Charles will rightly insist on it.
- ADAPTED from Charles At Seventy: Thoughts, Hopes And Dreams by Robert Jobson, published by John Blake on November 1 at £20. © Robert Jobson 2018.
To order a copy for £16 (offer valid until November 4, 2018; P&P free), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640.
How he will be defender of the faith
Queen Elizabeth II, as we all know, is a devout High Church Anglican. Charles, on the other hand, has taken a great interest in other religions, studying both the Koran and Judaism in depth.
In 1993, for instance, he said: ‘Islam can teach us today a way of understanding and living in the world which Christianity itself is poorer for having lost.’
This was widely quoted as proof that he had abandoned Christianity, though he remains a practising Anglican. Clearly, however, our next Supreme Governor of the Church of England plans to do the job a little differently.
‘He is an individual who wants to chart new territory, and that will be very interesting indeed,’ says Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. ‘He is very outspoken.’
The Prince certainly caused a furore when he told Jonathan Dimbleby that he wants to be seen as a ‘Defender of Faith’ when he ascends the throne, rather than ‘Defender of the Faith’.
Since then, Charles’s position on the wording to be used at his coronation has categorically changed. It has been made clear to me that Charles will ‘absolutely 100 per cent’ be named as ‘Defender of the Faith’ when he is crowned king.
But he will also demonstrate in his reign that he believes wholeheartedly in the importance of his connecting with all faiths of the subjects he will reign over.