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The New York Times

The death of Prince Philip gives new urgency to the British monarchy’s transition plans

LONDON – Queen Elizabeth II turned 95 last week, four days after burying her husband, Prince Philip, and with him the partnership that ran the British royal family for nearly 70 years. Now that the Queen faces the future alone, her son and heir, Prince Charles, is reshaping the family to carry on after her. Philip’s death has re-urged an already ongoing transition at the House of Windsor. With the Queen’s reign at Dusk, Charles has sought to streamline the royal family and redistribute their duties – a downsizing caused by the loss of staunch personalities like Philip, as well as the angry departure of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan and the messy inner exile of Prince Andrew. Buckingham Palace is doing a follow-up report on Philip’s funeral, said people with knowledge of the palace and applying lessons from it to Operation London Bridge, the long-in-work, minute-by-minute blueprint for what will happen in the days and weeks after the death of the queen. Sign up for The Morning Newsletter from the New York Times. After all, Elizabeth is in good health with only stiffness in her knees which makes it difficult for her to climb stairs. Royal observers point out that her mother was 101 years old. Buckingham Palace is currently planning its Platinum Anniversary, a four-day celebration in June 2022 to mark the 70 years since her accession to the throne. The poignant image of an aging, isolated queen mourning alone in a choir booth in St. George’s Chapel during the funeral because of social distancing restrictions led to many feelings of her vulnerability and fragility. Questions have also been raised about how active it will be after the pandemic ebbs. “Basically, the Queen is going to go away,” said Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC. “COVID has helped in the sense that it has accelerated what any sane 95-year-old woman who isn’t on her feet all day wants to do.” As always with the royal family, details about their internal deliberations are elusive and mired in speculation. Reports that Charles and William would hold a summit meeting to prevent the transition are dwarfed by people with ties to the palace. Hunt noted that the royal family rarely telegraphs such moments and lets outsiders read the tea leaves. Still, some things seem clear. While the Queen has been back to work since Philip’s death, she will never return to the hectic schedule of meetings, receptions, and garden parties she plowed through for decades. She could only come to Buckingham Palace to meet two days a week, these people said, preferring to stay at Windsor Castle, where she and Philip were quarantined during the pandemic. The Queen held several meetings via video call over the past year and showed an ironic joke at some of those virtual encounters. Like others who worked from home, she adjusted to the new environment, said one person with ties to the palace, and didn’t reflexively return to the office just because it reopened. Charles had already taken on some of his mother’s duties as Prince of Wales, including trips abroad and furnishing ceremonies where people are knighted. He accompanies them to the state opening of parliament; The next one is planned for May. And he spoke out after the excitement about his brother Andrew’s ties to the shamed financier Jeffrey Epstein and urged him to be banned from public duties. The biggest challenge Charles faces is balancing the family workload with the reduced ranks. He has long preferred a stripped-down monarchy built around him and his wife, Camilla. Prince William and his wife Kate; and Harry and his wife Meghan. Princess Anne, his younger sister, also remains a full-time queen. But Harry and Meghan’s decision to step back from their duties and move to California has blasted a hole in those plans. There was no sign of a change in Harry’s heart or even much hope of reconciliation with William when Harry attended his grandfather’s funeral. The brothers had a brief chat as they left the service, but Harry flew home before the queen’s birthday on Wednesday. There is also little prospect that Andrew will ever return to the group. If anything, the palace gears up for further embarrassing revelations in July when his friend Ghislaine Maxwell is tried in New York for trafficking underage girls on behalf of her employer Epstein. Andrew was charged with sexual misconduct by one of Epstein’s victims, an allegation he denies. “You won’t get a situation on the balcony at Buckingham Palace where people are pushing and shoving for a seat,” said Andrew Morton, a royal chronicler whose latest book, Elizabeth & Margaret, explores the relationship between the Queen and her sister . “It will only be a handful of people.” Royals host more than 2,000 official events annually that involve many charities. According to the palace, around 3,000 philanthropic groups name a family member as a patron or president. Family members also attend dozens of military and diplomatic ceremonies each year. With so many events and royals working less, Morton told the Foreign Press Association, the family has to take their pictures. Given his dedication to the military – which was shown by the troops at Philip’s funeral – and his diplomatic responsibilities, he predicted the family would cut back on their charity work. However, this would pose a number of problems. According to experts, the modern royal family has defined itself and largely justified its taxpayer support through public works. Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, had ties to hundreds of charities until he retired from official duties at the age of 96. “The key evolution of the monarchy in the 20th century is the evolution of the welfare monarchy, without which we cannot survive,” said Vernon Bogdanor, a government professor at King’s College London who has written on the monarchy’s role in the British constitutional system. The short-term solution to the workload problem, according to people associated with the palace, is to raise another royal couple, Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, also known as the Earl and Countess of Wessex. Edward, 57, the Queen’s youngest son, and his wife rose to prominence after Philip’s death, discussing his legacy and how the family dealt with his grief. Edward and Sophie had their own problems two decades ago when their private business activities – their PR firm and television production company – came under criticism for conflicting with their royal status. But they gave up these ambitions and submitted to the rigors of royal life. In the process, 56-year-old Sophie developed close relationships with the queen and her husband. On the eve of Philip’s funeral, Sophie published, with the blessing of Buckingham Palace, a private photo she had taken a few years earlier of a beaming Elizabeth and Philip who were at home in the Scottish countryside not far from the Queen’s estate, Balmoral. According to royal observers, Charles found his stature improved with the funeral. Some pointed to the dignified way he carried himself as he led the procession behind Philip’s coffin. Others noticed his unconscious grief. At 72, Charles finally emerged from the long shadow of his father, with whom he had a complicated relationship in order to be the patriarch of the family. “He looks like a much more confident character who is happier in his own skin,” said Penny Junor, a royal historian. “He is now the paternal family of the family, which means that he has new roles and responsibilities.” However, Charles also has to reckon with his older son William (38) standing in line to be king after him. Royal observers said William had a strong opinion about the structure of the family and how their duties should be redistributed. And he and his father have different views on how to do philanthropy, they said. While Charles has built an extensive portfolio of charities, William has preferred to devote time to a few privileged causes. As President of the Football Association, he spoke out last week against an unpopular plan to create an elite football super league that would have attracted several of the UK’s best clubs. “There is a difference between the way Charles imagines things and William the way William imagines things,” said Valentine Low, the royal correspondent for the Times of London. But he added, “Charles acknowledges and even welcomes that William should play a role in these conversations.” This article originally appeared in the New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company