LONDON – The birth of Prince William and Kate’s son is supposed to give the British royal family an injection of youth, but the crown will likely rest on the head of an older monarch for decades to come, analysts say.
At 87, Queen Elizabeth II shows very little sign of relaxing her solemn coronation vow of lifelong duty, while her eldest son, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, is 64 and still potentially many years from the throne.
The birth of a child to Charles’ eldest son, William, will mean that four generations of monarchs will be drifting around the corridors of Buckingham Palace, leading royal commentators to ponder on the growing succession queue.
“If the queen lives as long as her mother, 101, then Prince Charles will be 80 before he succeeds to the throne. We might have a succession of very elderly monarchs,” said Robert Hazell, director of the Constitution Unit at University College London.
The queen inherited the throne in 1952 at the age of 25 following the early death of her father, King George VI, at 56.
She celebrated her 60 years on the throne last year and is approaching the longevity record set by Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years, 216 days until her death in 1901.
First in line is Charles, who quipped last month with the Commonwealth’s outgoing chief rabbi: “I realize, of course, that we have both reached the official age of retirement.
“But I hope yours is going to be a bit more realistic than mine.”
The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported it under the headline: “Retiring? I haven’t even begun my job.”
He is followed in the line of succession by William, 31, who tops royal popularity polls.
The new royal baby is third in line to the throne.
“This baby represents the next generation and the ability of this dynasty to survive,” said Patrick Jephson, former private secretary to William’s late mother, Diana, princess of Wales.
“Their first responsibility as a dynasty is not to open hospitals and be kind to animals — it is to perpetuate the dynasty.”
In 2013, Pope Benedict XVI, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, King Albert II of Belgium, and the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, have all abdicated in favor of younger successors.
But Queen Elizabeth, loyal to her vows, shows no sign of giving way to Charles.
Hazell said that he had tried in vain to start a public debate in Britain on the abdication taboo.
“If we inflicted that punishing amount of work on any other woman of 87, people would call it granny abuse,” he exclaimed.
David Aaronovitch, a newspaper columnist for The Times, said the birth of the heir to the heir to the heir to the throne was “not a bad moment for her to tell us that she would now like to spend more time, deservedly, with her horses, corgis and great-grandchildren.”
Although her health and stamina remain robust, the queen has slowly started to share the burden with younger royals, with Charles taking a growing role.
In November, he will represent his mother — the head of the Commonwealth — at the organization’s biennial summit in Sri Lanka.
The “transition” could be a difficult sell.
The popularity of Charles — and his second wife, Camilla, even more so — is still hampered, with acceptance of their relationship growing at a snail’s pace since his 1992 separation from his first wife, Diana, princess of Wales.
Plus, as Charles himself noted, they, too, are getting old.
“A couple of septuagenarians tottering up the aisle at Westminster Abbey to be crowned . . . that doesn’t do the brand an awful lot of good,” Jephson said.
Another hazard is that Charles risks being seen as a “caretaker monarch” while people wait for William.
And as for the new father, once the baby euphoria calms, “it won’t take long for people to question how he spends his time.”
The Regency Act 1937 sets out that the next adult in line should act as regent if the sovereign is a minor or is incapacitated.
In the event of physical or mental incapacity, 48 percent believe Queen Elizabeth should step down, according to a May YouGov survey.
Joe Twyman, the polling firm’s director of political and social research, said that the public seemed increasingly comfortable with Charles taking on more ceremonial duties.
“If not an abdication, then there is a sense of passing of the torch,” he said.