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After almost 68 years on the throne, it’s no surprise that questions are being asked about how long the British monarch Queen Elizabeth II can keep doing her duties. After all, at the time of writing, she’s 93 years old. It’s been reported, too, that her son Prince Charles has been taking more of a hand as a power behind the throne. Nevertheless, the Queen persists. And recently, word emerged that has shed some light on her future plans.

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There has been talk, you see, that Charles is now a “shadow king” who may become ruler when the Queen reaches 95 in April 2021. And while a reigning monarch doesn’t often retire to allow a regent to take control, the necessary legislation exists and could, in theory, be utilized.

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However, if Charles was to become the so-called Prince Regent, that wouldn’t mean Elizabeth would stop being the top person in the United Kingdom. No, she would remain in her post as head of the British state – and she’d still be the Queen. But Charles may ultimately take over the duties of a king, even if he doesn’t assume the title.

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This outcome may not please the British people, though. Indeed, a poll taken in June 2019 concluded that nearly half of the population would like Charles to quit the throne straight away once he’s crowned. This would leave room for his son Prince William to take his place as king. It doesn’t seem likely, however, that Charles would bow to public opinion – no matter how strong it is.

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But could Charles really just take over the duties of the king and let his mother put her feet up in retirement? Well, it’s not strictly that straightforward. Before a regent can be appointed, there’s a bunch of people who have to be in favor of the idea. Yes, unless a collective agreement is secured, the law says it cannot happen.

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At least three of a group of five specific individuals must agree that the Queen is unfit to rule. Among the chosen few are her spouse, Prince Philip, along with the Lord Chancellor, who otherwise has a largely ceremonial role. Also one of the five is the Speaker of the House of Commons – who is less powerful than their equivalent in the U.S. but is nonetheless important in the British Parliament. And completing the list are the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls.

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However, as U.S. royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith pointed out to USA Today in 2016, “The evidence of physicians is required to make the judgment of incapacity. In other words, there is a set procedure, and it is something that wouldn’t be invoked lightly. It’s a big deal.” It is something that’s happened before, however.

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In 1811, for instance, the king of the United Kingdom was considered incapable of ruling, and this meant he had to step aside. Yes, while George III was popular, he was nonetheless beset with severe illness. And although he was well enough to agree to the regency, by the end of the year he was completely insane and never recovered. As a consequence, then, George III’s son – the Prince Regent who later became King George IV – reigned in his place until the stricken king died in 1820.

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The prospect of regency had arisen earlier in George III’s reign, too. In 1788 the king seemingly had a spell of insanity that prevented him from giving the speech that would open parliament. A crisis therefore ensued, which in turn paralyzed the government of the United Kingdom. Yet although politicians subsequently agreed that it was time for a regent, the king managed to recuperate before the necessary legislation could pass.

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Prior to 1788, regents had, from time to time, ruled in the United Kingdom and – before the U.K.’s establishment – in England. This was never down to the incapacity of the monarch, though. In 1714, for instance, the Lord Chief Justice had ruled while the nation waited for George I to take the throne. More commonly, regents have served in the absence of a king at war or simply because the sovereign wasn’t yet of age.

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However, in 1937, the Regency Act was passed. At that time, you see, King George VI was ailing, and there was a real possibility that the then-Princess Elizabeth might be called upon to act as the regent in his place. The act itself outlined the process of appointing a regent, and, interestingly, it stated that this wasn’t a measure to be taken solely in the case of an old or sick monarch. If, for instance, a leader felt that they couldn’t approve legislation in good conscience, a temporary regent would be needed to allow the act to pass.

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It’s not unheard of, either, for British monarchs to give up the throne, although it’s by no means common. Indeed, the only time a king has abdicated completely of his own will was in 1936. In that year, Edward VIII gave up the throne because of the strong opposition to his marriage to American divorcée Wallis Simpson.

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Before that instance, kings had generally only abdicated with, ahem, a little persuasion. Richard II had to give up the throne, for instance, when his cousin Henry Bolingbroke stole power. Then, when England underwent a revolution in 1688, James II ran away from England. At the time, people couldn’t agree whether he’d forfeited or abdicated; either way, though, he was out.

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Abdication has been a little more common in other countries, however. During a certain period in Japan, more emperors abdicated than ever died in office. Empresses would quite often surrender the throne, too, if men seen to be more suited to the role turned up. And in fairly recent times, King Juan Carlos of Spain gave up his position for son Felipe, who was crowned in 2014.

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It’s also become the norm in the Netherlands, where three queens in a row abdicated in favor of their heirs. Other countries, on the other hand, have seen monarchs quit simply because they’ve grown old. Within the last 100 years, for instance, nations such as Belgium, Qatar and Bhutan have all changed sovereigns owing to age.

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But in England, abdication wasn’t the only way a monarch could leave the job. Charles I, for instance, stopped being the king when his head was removed by the Parliamentarians. Yes, after the royalist forces were defeated in the English Civil War, the so-called Roundheads executed the sovereign on the basis that he was a tyrant.

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Yet Charles I was not the only monarch to meet his end by execution, as Lady Jane Grey went the same way. She was known as “the Nine Days’ Queen,” as that was how long she reigned before supporters of her cousin Mary overthrew her. Then, within a year, she was executed.

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Other kings saw their reigns end on the battlefield. In 1485 Richard III died fighting to keep his crown, while Richard I met a similar fate when he was struck down by a crossbow’s arrow in a siege. In another conflict, William I took a fatal tumble from his horse. And King Harold is famously said to have fallen after being hit in the eye by an arrow at the Battle of Hastings.

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So, while the Queen is obviously very unlikely to die while in combat, retirement does seem possible. One reason to speculate, for example, is that Prince Philip has taken his leave from public engagements. It seems, too, that the Queen was right behind his decision. And when told by Sir Michael Atiyah, a renowned mathematician, “I’m sorry to hear you’re standing down,” Philip had a ready quip. He said, “Well, I can’t stand up much longer.”

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But despite Philip’s frequent visits to the hospital in recent years, one of the Duke of Edinburgh’s assistants was quick to point out that his health had not forced him to quit. Instead, they explained, “The duke decided this is the right time. He’s nearly 96, and most people will have retired 30 years earlier.” In August 2017, then, he bowed out from public duties and stopped accompanying the Queen on hers.

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It has to be noted, too, that the Queen’s spouse has certainly put in a decent amount of graft. He’s undertaken more than 22,000 solo engagements, for instance. Over the decades, Philip has also delivered over 5,000 speeches and ventured overseas to represent the U.K. on more than 600 occasions. And while his health has generally been good, he has naturally had a few medical issues to deal with throughout the years.

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Yet it seems that Philip is not the only current member of the British royal family to scale back his work. You see, Prince Andrew – the second son of the Queen – has also given up his royal obligations. This decision followed in the wake of revelations about Andrew’s link to convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein – a connection that the prince arguably hasn’t been able to properly justify.

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Furthermore, royal watcher Victoria Arbiter drew a connection between Andrew and his father on Twitter. In November 2019, she tweeted, “Prince Andrew is ‘stepping down’ in response to a wave of self-induced scandal and poor choices. But it’s extraordinary to think he’s effectively retiring from royal life 37 years before his father did.”

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But while Andrew claimed that he’d asked the Queen to approve his departure, the U.K. tabloids insisted that he’d been canned. Apparently, some of the other royals – Charles and Prince William in particular – wanted him gone. Even Philip supposedly weighed in, allegedly claiming that Andrew had to retire to maintain the stability of the British monarchy.

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And some of the commentary on the crisis was actually quite spicy. An article in The Guardian titled “Let’s get off our knees and abolish the monarchy” even suggested, “Andrew wasn’t just a bad apple. He comes from a royal orchard of them. It’s time Britain matured as a republic.”

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Then in 2020 another prince gave up on working full-time as a royal. Yes, Harry and his wife Megan became embroiled in crisis when they triggered an event that has since been dubbed “Megxit.” The pair, as you’re probably aware, decided to withdraw from royal work and announced that they would spend some of their time in Canada.

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After the Queen had met with the couple, though, she gave a statement that seemingly raised more questions than it answered. Her decision to omit Harry and Meghan’s royal titles, for instance, only fueled the speculation that they would lose them. And all of this change has been taking place against a backdrop of chatter about Harry’s relationship with big brother William.

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It’s very possible, then, that these scandals have made the Queen feel as though retirement should be an option. After all, she’s not young anymore, and coping with the grind of royal duties must prove to be quite stressful. That said, her mom, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, carried on with public appearances until shortly before she died at 101.

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More whispers were heard after the Queen wore a lighter-than-usual crown when she opened Parliament in 2019. Members of the royal inner circle, it was claimed, were spreading the word that the Queen was ill. The talk even peaked with the theory that the Queen is fighting bladder cancer and is not strong enough for neither chemotherapy nor surgery.

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However, a royal watcher noted in the Daily Express that it seemed like nothing more serious than a cold had been afflicting the Queen on that occasion. And perhaps she had simply made a concession to age by not wearing the really rather weighty Imperial State Crown.

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Yet, of course, the Queen hasn’t reached her tenth decade without the odd health problem. In 2003, for instance, she needed minor surgery on her knee that kept her out of the public eye for a few weeks. Then, in 2018, she had to have cataracts removed. On that occasion, though, the sovereign didn’t skip a day of duty; instead, she simply slipped on a pair of shades and got back to business.

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Nonetheless, at the end of 2019 rumors persisted that Charles would become the Queen’s regent at some point. And owing to such talk, Charles’ representatives ultimately decided to make a statement that set out the Queen’s ideas about the future. This message revealed, “There are no plans for any change in arrangements at the age of 95 – or any other age.”

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In fact, the Queen has always been quite adamant that she will never give up her throne – meaning retirement just doesn’t feature in her plans. The reason is that she believes strongly in doing her duty, and her duty, as she sees it, is to stick with it.

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Royal expert and biographer Sarah Bradford reiterated this point, telling The Daily Telegraph, “[The Queen] won’t abdicate. That’s not what she does, or what the British monarchy does. There’s no tradition of abdication here; it goes against the informal rules of our constitutional set-up.”

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Smith agreed with Bradford, saying to USA Today that the chatter about abdication had been around for many years and had only strengthened because of the Prince Andrew crisis. In addition, Smith claimed, the Queen made a pledge when she was only 21. This promise has also supposedly been renewed on more than one occasion since – and it seems to preclude the Queen from ever retiring.

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On her 21st birthday, the Queen had been in South Africa, and it was there that she gave an important message to the countries her family ruled over. Back then, the monarch pledged, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

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Smith also mentioned something that the Queen’s cousin Margaret Rhodes had claimed the sovereign had said when the Archbishop of Canterbury resigned in 2003. Apparently, Rhodes recalled, “The Queen sighed and said, ‘Oh, that’s something I can’t do. I am going to carry on to the end.’” So, it seems that even if she is struck down by illness, the Queen would likely fight on.

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And while Bradford sympathized with Charles, she didn’t feel that there was any reflection on his personal qualities. She said, “I do feel sorry for the Prince of Wales, waiting and waiting, while his mother looks better and better. She’s not staying on because of any concern about his abilities as a king. The Queen simply feels she must do her duty, and she’s never even contemplated abdication.”

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Perhaps the Queen is so adamant about abdication because she saw her life turned upside down by Edward VIII in 1936. She had been only Edward’s niece at this time, with the line of succession then suggesting that there was little chance of her ever becoming monarch. It’s been said, too, that her mother always believed becoming king had led the Queen’s father, George VI, to an early grave.

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Ultimately, though, the Queen stays in the job because the people of Britain approve of her. Nothing could stop her giving up on the spot, if that’s what she desired. But the bottom line for the Queen is that she was given a job that she would have until the day she died – and she intends to honor her pledge.

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