The Platinum Jubilee and future of the monarchy

Queen Elizabeth II this year celebrates her Platinum Jubilee, commemorating 70 years as monarch. UCL recently hosted an event to discuss why we have jubilees, what they say about monarchies, what the process of starting the next reign will look like, the future of the monarchy at home and abroad, and what lessons can be learned from other European monarchies. A summary of the discussion is below.

On Thursday 17 March 2022, UCL hosted a webinar entitled The Platinum Jubilee and the Future of the Monarchy, chaired by Professor Robert Hazell, founder of the Constitution Unit. Robert was joined by four panellists: Dr Bob Morris, an Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Unit, Dr Craig Prescott, Lecturer in Law at Bangor University, Dr Carolyn Harris, a royal historian at the University of Toronto, and Professor Helle Krunke, Head of the Centre for European and Comparative Legal Studies at the University of Copenhagen. The webinar looked to the future in two respects; starting with the Accession of the new King after the Queen dies, and then looking further ahead to address the practicalities of the Prince of Wales’ vision for a smaller Royal Family, the impact of the accession on the Commonwealth Realms, and the continuation of the monarchy itself. This post is a summary of some of the key points made during the session.

Demise of the Crown

On Demise – the legal term for the transfer of the Crown upon the death of the monarch – the Accession Council – a ceremonial body formed following the death of one monarch to proclaim the new one – recognises the seamless transfer of executive power from one monarch to the next; and the coronation celebrates and legitimises the accession of the new monarch. Bob Morris suggested the process is likely to be much the same as it was when the Queen acceded in 1952: the Privy Counsellors will meet at an Accession Council along with the High Commissioners of the Commonwealth Realms, the Lord Mayor of London, and the Court of Aldermen, to make a proclamation declaring Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, to be King and to receive his oath. The new King will address the nation on the day after Demise, and visit Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Belfast in the days following to present a united vision for his Kingdom. The funeral for the Queen will be held at Westminster Abbey (the first since 1760), before an interment in St Georges’ Chapel, Windsor. Questions remain as to whether any part of the Accession Council will be televised, whether the oath will change, and how over 700 Privy Counsellors will be enabled to attend and sign the Proclamation.

The United Kingdom is the only European monarchy to have a coronation – a public and sacred anointing of the monarch invoking divine blessing for their reign. The coronation service will need to reflect what kind of nation the United Kingdom is, and wants to be. The UK of the Platinum Jubilee is very different: 30% larger, more liberal, and more diverse than in 1953. 11% of the population is from ethnic minorities; the nation is more secular, with 50% unaffiliated and 9% non-Christian; and the Empire has faded away, replaced by the Commonwealth which has grown from 6 to 54 independent countries, with 14 preserving the monarch as head of state. These socio-political and demographic changes suggest the next coronation, and the next reign, could be on a smaller and more modest scale.

Bob posited that the coronation ceremony will remain Anglican, with representatives of other faiths in attendance, but not acting as celebrants. The oaths will remain the same (unless the new King objects and parliament agrees on a replacement); and the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla) will be anointed as Queen Consort. The coronation will be smaller, with perhaps as few as 1900 attendees (so similar in size to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge).

Legal changes

Craig Prescott discussed the need to update the Regency Acts. The Acts provide for Counsellors of State – who are other members of the Royal Family – to exercise the Sovereign’s functions (such as assent to legislation when the monarch is abroad or unable to exercise their duties) when the Sovereign is unable to do so due to minority, incapacity or absence. At present, the Acts require two of four possible Counsellors of State to act jointly. Two of the four – the Duke of York (Prince Andrew) and Duke of Sussex (Prince Harry) – are unlikely to fulfil this role at present, which means that the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge (Prince William) have to act together: this places a burden on them to be present in the UK for this purpose, possibly at short notice. This might explain the brevity of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s recent trip to Belize.

In future, with a smaller Royal Family of just the Prince of Wales, the Cambridges, and their heirs, the Regency Acts may need to be updated to allow for Counsellors of State to act individually. It might also be worth considering widening the pool by having additional Counsellors. The Queen’s younger children – the Princess Royal (Princess Anne) and the Earl of Wessex (Prince Edward) – would be suitable candidates, as would the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge, who will become Counsellors of State on their husbands’ respective accessions. Advance planning is required to preserve the necessary checks and balances while allowing for the efficient functioning of government, especially as such changes require legislation, which the government may well be unwilling to take on.

Jubilees past and present

Carolyn Harris discussed the history of jubilee celebrations. Historically, there is little evidence of jubilees until relatively recently, possibly because the circumstances of accession in the medieval period was often one monarchs might not want to be reminded of. Henry III and Edward III, for example, came to the throne during a time of political uncertainty and internal conflict, so may not have wanted to emphasise that fact through the holding of jubilee celebrations. More recently, such as during Queen Victoria’s reign, jubilees have offered an opportunity to reflect on both the changes a country has gone through doing a reign, and the monarch’s role – both home and abroad – as head of state. Jubilees also provided the public with a rare chance to see the monarch in person.   

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, we have celebrated four jubilees using a combination of choreographed national pageantry and local level street parties. Concerns that enthusiasm for such celebrations would diminish or cease have so far proved to be unfounded.

Comparisons with Europe

After outlining the role of the Danish monarchy within the Danish political system, Helle Krunke suggested that for both Denmark and the United Kingdom, abdication is still unthinkable, with both Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Margrethe II (who is celebrating her Golden Jubilee this year) seemingly committed to serving for life. But for other European monarchies such as the Netherlands, abdication is normal, with the most recent Dutch abdication in 2013. Questions remain as to whether abdication is less likely to be acceptable where there is a link between the monarchy and the national church, as in Denmark and the UK. A broader discussion of monarchies around Europe showed movement towards gender equality, with Spain the only one prioritising male succession. This is part of a broader narrative of change that may be accelerated by Demise: what role do we want the Royal Family to have? How large should it be? How political should it become? Recent comments by the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine show attitudes on the latter might be shifting.

The future of the global monarchy

It was during the Q&A that the idea of a ‘global monarchy’ was addressed; where next for the Crown in the Commonwealth Realms? There are now 14 of these where the British monarch is Head of State: Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. In 2021, Barbados became the latest realm to end its constitutional ties to the Crown and become a republic. During the Cambridges’ recent visit to Jamaica, the country’s prime minister, Andrew Holness, declared that he believed Jamaica should become a republic. Demise may prompt similar reflections in some of the other realms; but they will need to amend their own constitutions to remove the Crown. Some constitutions are hard to amend (Jamaica’s being one); and it is not always easy to agree on how the new head of state should be selected, as Australia found when voters rejected plans to become a republic at a referendum in 1999. That is what a new Unit project is going to explore: the process of constitutional amendment in each of the 14 Realms; and the choices open to them in electing or appointing their new head of state.

The video of the full event, including a lively and informative Q&A, is available on YouTube. Visit our Events page for news of future events and video and podcast links for Unit webinars.

Desperate for more monarchy content? Both Robert and Bob are regular contributors to this blog’s Monarchy section. The Unit’s website also has an extensive Monarchy section, which includes an FAQ page, additional detail on accession and coronation, and discussion of what the future might hold for the monarchy.