Once a week for the past few years, the Queen has met with her eldest son, Prince Charles, for a private one-to-one briefing. Naturally, what is discussed in these meetings remains strictly private, but royal insiders say the pair go over events of the past seven days and make plans for upcoming royal engagements.
There is no doubt that the 93-year-old monarch has been handing more responsibility to her 71-year-old son for some time. Since 2017, he has laid the nation’s wreath on her behalf at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day.
The Queen no longer undertakes long-haul travel and instead, the heir to the throne represents her on official visits overseas – including at the biennial Commonwealth heads of government meeting.
But these one-to-ones between mother and son represent more than just planning meetings. Royal experts say the Queen is “very aware” that a transition is necessary. Some have even suggested she may invoke a period of regency in which she will grant her eldest son the full power to reign – a rumour that the Palace denies.
But in the twilight of her 67-year reign, Britain’s longest-serving monarch must have longed for a clean handover. Unfortunately, events of recent months – including Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein scandal, not to mention apparently increasing tension between Princes William and Harry – make this seem unlikely.
Last month, Andrew was forced to step down from public duties amid the scandal surrounding his association with convicted sex offender Epstein.
Andrew’s subsequent, disastrous Newsnight interview on the subject sealed his fate after he was accused of lacking empathy for Epstein’s victims and failing to show regret over his friendship with the disgraced financier.
He faces allegations, which he denies, by Virginia Giuffre that he had sex with her when she was 17 and had been trafficked by Epstein.
“This latest scandal involving Andrew, which is not going to go away any time soon, is greatly upsetting for the Queen and it’s also quite damaging for the institution of the monarchy,” Joe Little, editor of Majesty magazine, tells Yahoo News UK.
“It’s not something she would want to have associated with the royal family, so for them and for Buckingham Palace it’s an uneasy time.”
At least for now, despite her advancing years, the Queen appears to be in rude health and her management skills remain undiminished. The speed and efficiency with which she acted to remove Andrew from royal duties and calm the crisis he had created were as impressive as ever. How she must feel being forced to take such drastic action to protect the monarchy from potentially crippling reputational damage is another matter.
More worryingly for the Queen and those close to her, these recent scandals have brought into ever stronger focus the issue of what will become of the monarchy when she is no longer at the helm.
Over the last seven decades, her sense of duty towards her country has never wavered, making her a popular head of state. But the recent health scare with her husband, the 98-year-old Duke of Edinburgh, who was helicoptered to the hospital over the Christmas period, has only highlighted the frailty of both nonagenarian royals. Sources say concerns about the future of the Royal Family are very real.
“When the reign changes – and of course, we might be looking at nearly another decade if the Queen lives to 101 like her mother – then King Charles III and Queen Camilla (which is how I think she will be known) are going to have a difficult time for many reasons,” says Little.
“Firstly they will be well into their 70s when they come to the throne, which will be problematic in terms of how many duties they will be able to carry out. But also, they are not going to have the sympathy of the world that the Queen had when she became monarch at the age of just 25.
“No doubt Charles and Camilla’s past will be dredged up by the tabloid press again, and the world has moved on in terms of how the public views the Royal Family. We are less deferential than in 1952 and the monarchy is seen as less relevant, despite attempts to the contrary.
“Charles may well trim down the royals to just his immediate family. Princess Royal works away in the background pretty tirelessly but she will soon be 70 and will have to take her foot off the accelerator. Most of the royal cousins such as the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and Duke of Kent are also elderly, so the family will be trimmed naturally.”
However, the more serious fault line may lie between the Queen’s two eldest sons. It is rumoured the Prince of Wales was heavily involved in the decision to excommunicate Andrew, raising questions over the role the Duke of York will have in the future monarchy.
Little thinks he may have no role at all. “I think a lot of Andrew’s associations have already been severed, a lot more will be severed in the future and his name is rather tainted at the moment,” he says.
These long-standing tensions, successfully managed by the Queen for decades, may well be exposed by her passing. The worst annus horribilis for the Royal Family may be yet to come.