The Queen’s (real) birthday — time to talk succession planning

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Queen Elizabeth II speaking at CHOGM 2018 (Image via

Prince Charles is regarded as the heir to the British throne, however Prince Edward may be the one to claim it, writes history editor Dr Glenn Davies.

QUEEN ELIZABETH II turned 92 yesterday, Saturday, 21 April 2018. I’ve asked before, when will she be allowed to put up her feet? Most 92 year olds are long retired, but not that trouper the Queen. My grandmother will be 93 later this year. She's a hardy soul but there's no way she would be up to the frantic pace needed to be a world leader. Even though retirement plans for many people keep going further and further beyond 60, Queen Elizabeth II has still well and truly exceeded this.

There was lots of world leaders in London to help her celebrate her birthday at the Royal Albert Hall as it was the day after the week long Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting finished. CHOGM 2018 summit was held this time in London from 16 to 20 April 2018 to allow the Queen to attend. This was the first time the UK has hosted the CHOGM summit since 1997 and many suggest this may be the Queen’s last time she attends. It is, of course, also an opportunity for lots of other royals to have photo opportunities at a world forum.

Queen Elizabeth II has been the head of CHOGM since 1953. The question of whether her successor as CHOGM leader should be another Commonwealth leader or the next British monarch – who will be head of state in 15 of the 53 Commonwealth nations – has long been described as the elephant in the room at high-level meetings of its officials.

Queen Elizabeth II’s position as head of the Commonwealth isn't hereditary and not everyone is particularly excited about the prospect of Prince Charles taking over with some thinking her replacement should be directly elected and preferably someone from a small nation.

At the opening of CHOGM on Thursday, 20 April 2018 the Queen said that it was her “sincere wish” that her son, Prince Charles, carries on her work as leader of the Commonwealth. These comments are the first by the monarch to tacitly address the issue of succession at what is widely regarded to be her last Heads of Government Meeting as she no longer travels long distances.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared he will back Prince Charles as the next head of the Commonwealth. However, a poll of the British by the Australian Republic Movement in August 2017 found almost two in three do not want Prince Charles to replace the Queen on the throne. Only 39 per cent of those Britons polled said they trusted the man who is set to be their next king and 80 per cent of respondents agreed that a country’s head of state should only be a citizen of that country.

This critical decision on who shall serve as head of the Commonwealth will have occurred at a leader’s retreat at Windsor Castle on Friday, 20 April 2018 — the day before her birthday. A vote happening in the monarch’s castle on whether they will continue as the head of an organisation of states that they at one stage owned reminds me of Monty Python’s Dennis the Peasant’s query on why "You don’t vote for kings".

The CHOGM 2018 leadership succession issue highlights the British royal family preparations for the end of the Queen’s reign. All businesses have succession planning. The British Royal family is no different. However, there has been a family succession plan process in place for a number of years now for her husband, Prince Philip.

Prince Philip officially retired in August 2017 at 96 after his dramatic announcement of his intention to retire from active royal duties in May 2018. Since his birth, Prince Charles has known he will take over the top job eventually, however it is more recent that his youngest brother, Prince Edward, has been tapped on the shoulder to be the next Duke of Edinburgh.

In an effort to secure his promotion to his father’s job, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, quietly came into Australia in early April on the slipstream of his older brother, Prince Charles. Throughout April 2018 he has been criss-crossing Australia attending the Commonwealth Games and, as the Chair of The Board of Trustees of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, attending 32 engagements across Melbourne, Ballarat, Hobart, Brisbane and Adelaide. These included formal receptions, award presentations, meetings with government officials and the community sector as well as meeting award participants and their families at community centres.

The major focus of his visit is to promote the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, named after his father more than 60 years ago.

Prince Edward was appointed Earl of Wessex upon marriage on 19 June 1999. The Kingdom of Wessex played the leading role in the unification of Anglo-Saxon England in the ninth century. The last person to hold the earldom was Harold Godwinson, prior to his accession to the English throne in 1066. If this title has not been used in over 1,000 years, is it at all relevant in the world today? Perhaps he should be called the Earl of Westeros (rather than Wessex).

I don’t think Prince Edward would hope for his family to be as dysfunctional as the Lannisters from G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Many Lannisters appear to come to gruesome ends. Although it is what happened to the last holder of the title, Earl of Wessex. Westeros or Wessex. Does either place really exist? Perhaps it’s our fascination with modern fictional royalty that helps bolster offline royalty these days.

It would seem based upon the amount of illegal downloads by Australians of each Game of Thrones episode they would have a better understanding of the family trees of the Household of Westeros than the Windsor dynasty.

In keeping with the tradition of a monarch's son receiving a title upon marriage, but preserving the rank of duke for the future, Prince Edward is the first British prince in centuries to be specifically created an earl, rather than a duke. However, he will eventually succeed to the title Duke of Edinburgh, currently held by his father. It is for this branding reason that he has taken on many roles from his father, Prince Philip, including attending Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme ceremonies around the world.

On 1 September 1956, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, helped to found the Duke of Edinburgh's Award (commonly abbreviated DofE), in order to give young people "a sense of responsibility to themselves and their communities".

In 2014, in an effort to maintain relevance with the youth of Australia, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards in Australia removed Prince Philip’s royal monogram from all their logos and replaced it with the strongest symbol of popular sovereignty — the shape of the Australian continent.

The removal of Prince Philip’s monogram followed on the heels of the removal in 2012 of the 40-year-old pledge to Queen and God by Girl Guides Australia. This decision was based on a survey of all 28,000 guides and leaders on changing their promise. After 18 months of intensive consultation of Australia's largest volunteer girls group, most of them girls between the ages of 10 and 14, it was agreed that from 6 July 2012 Guides Australia would drop the pledge of allegiance.

The refreshed Girl Guides' promise has its 28,000-strong group now promising to do their best: ' be true to myself and develop my beliefs' rather than to 'do my duty to God, to serve the Queen and my country.'

The modernisation of the Girl Guide pledge reflects Guides' desire to move with the times in the understanding that Australia is changing; it speaks of this nation seeking its own identity as part of being Australian.

This was something Scouts Australia had done over ten years ago. In 2012, Richard Miller, then national Chief Executive of Scouts Australia, explained that in 2001 the Scout Promise was also changed so that an individual had the option to omit reference to the Queen.

It appears the youth movements of Australia understand that, to increase membership, they have to appeal to multicultural Australia rather than a bygone British Australia. Overt symbols of royalty have no place in 21st Century Australia and perhaps nor do any references to the British Crown.

It is likely the DofE people looked at the same membership rate projections as the Girl Guides and realised that, to remain relevant and viable in an Australian setting, they must become multicultural with a focus on service to this country. However, by 2015 the personal monogram of the oldest living descendant of Queen Victoria had been returned to the Duke of Edinburgh Award Australia logo.

I’ve argued previously there is no place for Princes in modern Australia. The public repudiation of previous Prime Minister Abbott’s knights and dames decision showed that Australia has moved on from the old colonial way of thinking.

The 53 Commonwealth nations – including 32 Commonwealth republics – are about to make a democratic decision about their next head. That is a good thing, and their democratic decision should be respected.  The position for Australians is the opposite.

It is a disgraceful fact that without constitutional change the citizens of Australia will not even be consulted on our next head of state. One morning we will simply wake up to hear news from England that will change our country for decades to come. This cannot stand.

If CHOGM 2018 is discussing succession – and if the British royal family itself is prepared to make arrangements for after the Queen's reign – Australia should certainly do the same. 

We should decide.

Australia should have a national vote on whether we have an Australian as our head of state, and whether our head of state should be elected by the people or by the Parliament in 2020. A referendum should follow to put this in place by 2022.

But even for those who think Australia should be a republic after the Queen's reign ends, that means starting preparation today.

You can follow history editor Dr Glenn Davies Glenn on Twitter @DrGlennDavies. Find out more about the Australian Republican Movement HERE.

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