Queen Elizabeth II is supposed to be celebrating 70 years on the throne this year, but 2022 already is off to a rocky start for the 95-year-old monarch, with ongoing controversies involving three of her heirs and news this week that she tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, the queen has only been dealing with “mild, cold-like symptoms,” which prompted her to cancel scheduled virtual engagements, according to Buckingham Palace. The palace also assured the public that she’s still able to perform “light duties.”
Unfortunately, such assurances haven’t been enough to quiet concerns in the U.K. media about the queen’s health or about what happens if she becomes too ill to perform even “light duties.” Amid this uncertainty, there are few definitive answers for what happens with the transition of power.
According to British law, two or more counselors of state can act on her behalf if she becomes too ill to perform her official duties, the New York Times and other outlets reported. Up until Prince Philip’s death last year, he was one of her counselors. The four remaining counselors are her sons and grandsons, who are in line of succession and who are 21 years or older: Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince William and Prince Harry.
While this counselor-of-state role has been little-known to the public for decades, it is now at the center of fierce discussion, given the queen’s age, her health struggles in recent months and the controversies surrounding Charles, Andrew and Harry, The Telegraph reported.
Last week, London’s Metropolitan Police announced an investigation into a charity led by Charles. A close aide to the Prince of Wales has been accused of seeking donations from a Saudi businessman in exchange for arranging for him to receive a royal honor and for offering to help him secure British citizenship.
Victoria Howard, a royal expert, told the New York Times that the investigation shouldn’t hamper Charles’ ability to perform royal duties — not unless police discover that he was aware of the alleged crimes. Charles has denied any such knowledge.
When it comes to the transition of power, palace officials and the U.K. media are more worried about the situations involving Andrew and Harry because of their reduced status within the royal family, and because they have become polarizing figures in Britain.
The queen stripped Andrew of his public duties, military titles and royal patronages earlier this year after a U.S. federal judge said the Duke of York had to face trial in a sexual assault lawsuit brought by Virginia Giuffre, an American woman who alleged that she had been one of Jeffrey Epstein’s teen sex trafficking victims. Guiffre accused Andrew, 61, of sexually abusing her three times in 2001. Andrew settled the lawsuit last week, reportedly agreeing to pay the Giuffre up to $14 million and to donate other money to charity to help sex trafficking victims.
Meanwhile, Harry also was stripped of his royal patronages and military titles after he and his American wife, Meghan Markle, stepped away from royal life in 2020 to live in California and become financially independent through a variety of endeavors. Harry also has angered royal family loyalists by giving interviews complaining racism and dysfunction in the monarchy, and by signing a multimillion-dollar deal to pen a memoir that could disclose more embarrassing details about his relatives.
Because of Andrew and Harry’s reduced status, Buckingham Palace officials have been considering how to remove them as counselors of state, the Daily Mail reported in January. Andrew is ninth in line to the throne, while Harry is sixth, behind William’s minor children, George, Charlotte and Louis.
Counselors of state are authorized to carry out a number of official duties for an ailing monarch, including signing important documents, attending Privy Council meetings and receiving the credentials of new ambassadors to the U.K., the Daily Mail said.
Peter Hunt, a royal correspondent for the BBC, wrote on Twitter that the “public won’t stomach Prince Andrew stepping up.”
The Queen’s Covid diagnosis will be focusing minds at Buckingham Palace – the current ‘back up’ plans are untenable: https://t.co/WInIlCug1I.
The public won’t stomach Prince Andrew stepping up for his mother and Prince Harry lives in the US. pic.twitter.com/ePbeAyDQeL
— Peter Hunt (@_PeterHunt) February 20, 2022
A royal source similarly told the Daily Mail: “Can you imagine the Duke of York having to sign official documents, for example, because the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge were both abroad, and the Queen became ill? It’s not an exaggeration to say it could put the monarchy in jeopardy.”
Andrew’s settlement with Giuffre prompted Craig Prescott, an expert in UK constitutional law, to tell the Times UK that it seemed “inevitable” that Andrew would be removed as counselor of statement.
“They could draft in Princess Anne or Prince Edward and specifically make them counsellors of state,” Prescott said.
Questions about the counselor of state role also arose earlier this month when William was out of the country on an official trip to Dubai, and Charles was isolating for his own case of coronavirus.
As much as palace sources say “it is a genuine problem that the palace is looking to address,” they also told the Daily Mail that Andrew and Harry couldn’t be stripped of their counselor roles without an Act of Parliament.
Meanwhile, Harry’s ability to serve as a counselor may be complicated by his legal fight with the U.K. government over receiving Metropolitan Police security when he is in his home country. Harry’s legal team said in court last week that he would like to visit his friends and family in the U.K. but “does not feel safe” without security.
In other ways, Harry has apparently tried to solidify his eligibility for the counselor job by making sure to maintain an address in the U.K. The Telegraph reported this week that he had just renewed his lease on Frogmore Cottage, on the grounds of Windsor Castle. The queen had given Harry and Meghan the house to use after they were married. They had the house renovated but only lived in it a few months before leaving for North America.
Royal expert Howard, also the founder of the news website, The Crown Chronicles, told the New York Times that she doesn’t see Harry coming back to the U.K. until his security issues are resolved.
Royal sources told Page Six this week that Harry might make an exception for the memorial service next month for Prince Philip. He might fly back to the U.K. to attend the event with other royal family members. He’d also be assured that police security would be provided because it is an official state event.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism