For over 60 years now, Elizabeth II has reigned over the United Kingdom as Queen. Most people alive now have known no other Monarch and as a result, have never experienced a succession. Prince Charles, now 65, is the oldest male heir in history and one of the longest serving Princes of Wales – just what will his succession be like, and how will it affect the United Kingdom and the world.
For me, this article has been something long-in-the-making. I have never experienced a succession and because it’s been such a long time since the last one, I have found it very difficult to find the relevant information relating to it, such as people’s reactions and what changed, though using a variety of sources I hope to be able to piece together at least some insight into how the Prince of Wales’s succession may look.
To start with, it is highly unlikely that Her Majesty will abdicate – I think this much is clear to anyone who knows about Monarchy so, like for most successions in the British Monarchy, it will be upon the death of the Sovereign.
The Queen’s accession happened when King George VI died during the night of 5th-6th February 1952 at Sandringham House whilst Princess Elizabeth (now The Queen) was in Kenya. He was found by the King’s valet in the morning and the alarm was raised – Elizabeth found out 4 hours later that she was now Queen.
As morbid as it may sound, the Royal Household has plans fully laid out for deaths of members of the Royal Family – The Queen’s is codenamed Operation London Bridge and includes detailed plans for her funeral, laid out by her personally.
After members of the Royal Family, the first people to be informed of Her Majesty’s death would be the Prime Minister and the Government; Parliament is required to return to Parliament (if in recess) and to hold a sitting of the house. During this brief sitting, the house will express its condolences at the death of the Sovereign and also to arrange for oaths of allegiance to be taken to the new Monarch by the house.
The Prince of Wales will be urgently informed of his accession, either directly or through his private secretary. A meeting of the Accession Council will then be called to arrange for the proclamation of the new King’s accession to be made and also confirm the new King’s choice of regnal name (Charles III, George VII or another name).
By this point, the public would have been made aware of the accession through special news bulletins interrupting programmes on BBC and possibly other channels – the BBC, like the royal household, also have set procedures for reporting on royal deaths.
Public reaction will be the most interesting factor in the accession. In 1952, the public found out about the King’s death through radio and newspaper – the reaction was one of shock, disbelief but also interestingly – uncertainty, which one would suppose comes with a Monarchy. Monarchy is supposed to represent continuity and a succession is one of the most bizarre occurrences for all concerned.
The following weeks would consist of the lying-in-state of the Sovereign, beginning planning for the Coronation in a year’s time and reorganising the Royal Household for the new King.
It is worth noting though that the Monarchy will not end at the death of Her Majesty (as republicans would have you believe). Many countries’ Monarchies have experienced successions in recent years and whilst it’s not something you’d say was an easy experience and whilst of course it can come as a shock to nations, it is certainly not something new and the Royal Household and Government will ensure the transition is as careful as possible, however inconceivable it may seem to us now, having only known one Monarch.
Prince William would automatically assume the title of Duke of Cornwall (and be entitled to income from the Duchy) upon Prince Charles’s accession (becoming HRH The Duke of Cornwall and Cambridge), Catherine would become HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and Cambridge, they may choose just to go by one of these titles however.
The title of Prince of Wales must be granted to Prince William, it is not automatic (nor does it mean Catherine would become ‘Princess Catherine’ – which she will probably never become, for the record).
Prince Harry would become HRH The Prince Henry ‘Harry’ (and lose the designation ‘of Wales’).
Automatically, the Duchess of Cornwall would become Her Majesty Queen Camilla upon the Prince of Wales’s succession, though according to Clarence House she will be known as HRH The Princess Consort, many experts dispute this will happen.
Flags would fly at half mast until the funeral in the UK and likely across the world.
The Royal Mint and Bank of England would be looking to start putting Prince Charles’s head on new banknotes and coins, likewise for stamps at Royal Mail.
The national anthem would become God Save the King.
If you have any comments or questions relating to the Prince of Wales’s succession, or indeed this article, please leave them in the comments box below.