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

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David Parker / Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II arrives to meet with patients and staff at the defense medical-rehabilitation center in Headley Court in Surrey, England, on May 2, 2013

Often what British royals do is far more consequential than what they say. At today’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 on the dais at 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.”

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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 U.K. 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.

And a hugely significant moment passed entirely unremarked, earlier this year. After the Queen had been hospitalized for gastroenteritis, she canceled most engagements but returned for one event before she was fully recovered, according to the palace insider. At Marlborough House in London, on March 11, the Queen signed the new Commonwealth Charter. Before she did so, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma gave a speech in which he not only acknowledged the Queen’s long service as the head of the Commonwealth but lauded Prince Charles’ role and spoke of “a foundation of friendship and continuity” in the association between the Commonwealth and the royal family. The Queen responded: “I am grateful to you, Mr. Secretary General, for your kind and generous sentiments, and for your thoughtful words about the link between the Crown and the Commonwealth and its enduring value.” Later that month, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, with antipodean bluntness, spelled out, in a tribute to the Queen, exactly what the Queen and Commonwealth secretary general had meant by their exchange of pleasantries.

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“The institution of the head of the Commonwealth, standing as it does above individual governments, has been an asset of the Commonwealth since its foundation, and we need not be reticent about its future,” said Gillard. “For Australia’s part, I am sure the Queen’s successor as monarch will one day serve as head of the Commonwealth with the same distinction as her Majesty has done.”

With Charles apparently assured the warmest of welcomes at CHOGM, the Queen has been relieved of a long-haul responsibility. And with public attention snared by the younger royals, and especially the birth, due in July, of the Queen’s great-grandchild, the slow transfer of duties is set to continue, largely unremarked, mostly unchallenged. As the head of state that wears the crown lies a little easier, her successor can lie a little easier too.

140 comments
EdwardJ.Cunningham
EdwardJ.Cunningham

Charlesian? Pardon me, but isn't the correct term "Carolingian"? 

DebbieMichelakis-Miller
DebbieMichelakis-Miller

I am thinking he will be king soon for only a short while. Then William will step in (Antichrist). It won't be a pretty time.

AvrilHackett
AvrilHackett

Prince Charles will not be King because were  in left to right with in the New Testament  Bible year 2013 of of Lord God Jesus Holy Spirit. With Muilty Faiths a cross  in between or a bridge ? you read right to left to take you back in time. Once he is anointed its treason to object to follow your own faith through our Lord God  Jesus Holy Spirit Who Saves the Souls of whoever be leaves in him. Jesus is Love Light Peace and saves souls this is the way he serves us. to know him.

49JBT
49JBT

@danielbiss There is no "like" button. A marginal effort of engagement is required. I wouldn't have suspected you a fan of the Royals. Amzng

mamabee99
mamabee99

I lost respect for Charles in the 80's and my opinion of him as a royal continued declining ever after. I trust he will have the dignity to step out of the way. He is an embarrassment to the Royal Family and to men.

StephenSwain
StephenSwain

Frankly my dear... I am glad there's a British royal house and family.  Under their system, obviously, the monarch is head of state, with few actual powers, but at least the Brits don't have to rely on the PM of the day to represent the state, with all the wrangling that their parliamentary system often involves.  How tiring it is to keep seeing BHO and his bride every day of this world, given that he may or may not have been my choice for president.  

Richard Strong
Richard Strong

Put them in a rocket and ship them off to Mars. I hear they're looking for "volunteers".

SteveThompson1
SteveThompson1

Who cares?  I don't swear allegiance to the British Crown .

US Declaration of Independence:  "All men are created equal."  Amen.

GoatyMcCheese
GoatyMcCheese

"Charlesian"? The term is Caroline, geniuses - or rather, the term would be Caroline if Prince Charles were going to be King Charles.  Of course, he's going to be King George VII, so the proper adjective would have been Georgian.

All of this could have been researched and verified easily. My guess is that no one on the Time staff even lifted a finger to do so. Illiterate, ignorant of history, and lazy - the media trifecta! Bravo!

04nbod
04nbod

No such thing as 'Charlsian'. It would be a 'Caroline' era, takes from the latin for Charles. However, I doubt he will be King Charles. They don't do that well.

ymorrissey
ymorrissey

@TIME @TIMEWorld I think Charles should step down for William. Don't want Charles wife to be Queen.. Time for young blood, not adulterers!

musikate
musikate

@TIME Prince Charles begins to take on Queen’s duties ti.me/141nOEg she wouldn't know duties if they bit her pastel ass

youngconstance221
youngconstance221

I have a heavy heart, the Queen mum was my mum's favorite queen.  So much for the silky transition and seamless passing of the crown jewels, nothing that is taking place in this volatile world we live in is as stable as the English empire, may the sun never set on her. ( this article is depressing.)

Lee Dunwoodie
Lee Dunwoodie

;) Skip Royalty & let Freedom to Rule our own lives Reign!

Susan Abasolo Osullivan
Susan Abasolo Osullivan

No es mas importante informarle al Pais que durante el Gobierno de la Sra Bachellet la FFAA compro material de guerra con un costo para el pais de mas de un millon de dolares y que despues dejaron botado en el aeropuerto... y que cuando se le informo al Ministro se hizo literalmente el tonto sera porque ya habia recibido su comision que pena que en Chile los periodistas se vendan por un jugo y un pan y no cumplan su funcion de investigar y dar a conocer cosas importantes para el Pais...

monicak136
monicak136

@TIME And here I was hoping they'd just skip the Charlesian age and go straight to the William era for the crown's sake.

party_eagle
party_eagle

@billpostmus @TIME and the really British male line disappeared long ago, however they are still rocking and rolling. Interesting.

party_eagle
party_eagle

@billpostmus @TIME Hannover is German, Windsor is German, the British Royal family has Greek, Portuguese, Romenian ancestors...

party_eagle
party_eagle

@billpostmus @TIME The funny thing about the British royal family is that they have ancestors from all part of the world even UK. Weirdos.

jwill
jwill

Great.   Now Britain will have another parasitic "ruler" of which to be proud, as it goes down the economic dead-end tubes.

mollyarabella
mollyarabella

Hold your horses @TIME. Prince Charles at CHOGM is more akin to an envoy. Transitional indicator at the most. The Queen is still the Queen.

Vijay Banga
Vijay Banga

Following Europe, good Charles may at least get some days of Royal duties, poor guy

Johnny Peteru
Johnny Peteru

get rid the royals , who needs royalty ,except the few dumb dumbs who will bow down & follow their exploits in women's beauty magazines.pathetic.

danielbiss
danielbiss

@49JBT I'm no fan, but I find it interesting. The search for public legitimacy of an ipso facto undemocratic ruling entity fascinates me.

TheKLF99
TheKLF99

@ymorrissey @TIME @TIMEWorld I don't think Charles should be king anyway after the way he behaved having affairs with Camilla whilst Diana was still alive.  Absolutely disgraceful man, in the old days he would have been thrown out of royal circles for his behaviour, never mind eyeing up the throne.

04nbod
04nbod

@party_eagle @billpostmus @TIME True, after the Stuarts the idiots thought it was more important to be Protestant than British so passed over dozens of Catholics to get a Hanoverian. Victoria was the only decent Hanoverian. You see to be a catholic and a failure as a monarch reflected on your Catholicism, to be a protestant and a failure just made you a failure.

Phoenetic
Phoenetic

@DynamiteDivaa Oh god look at that horribly long conversation on the article... Why does that function on Time even exist... :jonny:

DynamiteDivaa
DynamiteDivaa

@Phoenetic if it were William next in line people would be like "get off the throne bitch" but QE11>Charles generally