How Queen's Heirs Can Officially Take On Her Duties as Reign Transitions

As the long weekend of celebrations marking Queen Elizabeth II's milestone Platinum Jubilee came to a close, the 96-year-old monarch's thoughts turned to the future.

In a brief statement released by Buckingham Palace after the queen made a second and final appearance on the famous palace balcony on Sunday, she said:

"When it comes to how to mark 70 years as your Queen, there is no guidebook to follow. It really is a first. But I have been humbled and deeply touched that so many people have taken to the streets to celebrate my Platinum Jubilee. While I may not have attended every event in person, my heart has been with you all; and I remain committed to serving you to the best of my ability, supported by my family."

"I have been inspired by the kindness, joy and kinship that has been so evident in recent days, and I hope this renewed sense of togetherness will be felt for many years to come," the statement continued. "I thank you most sincerely for your good wishes and for the part you have all played in these happy celebrations."

Though this message may not seem out of the ordinary in comparison to the queen's other addresses and speeches, the inclusion of the line: "I remain committed to serving you to the best of my ability, supported by my family," takes on greater pertinence as the queen's health increasingly prevents her from carrying out her official duties.

Queen Elizabeth II Heirs Charles William
As Queen Elizabeth II continues to deal with health issues, deemed by the palace as "episodic mobility problems," her heirs can step in to take on some of her royal duties officially in certain ways. The Queen (C) photographed June 5, 2022. Prince Charles (L) June 5, 2022. And Prince William (R) photographed June 3, 2022. Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images/Samir Hussein/WireImage

The queen missed Trooping the Colour for the first time this year, though she took a salute from the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the event. Last month, the queen did not attend the State Opening of Parliament, one of her most important functions as monarch, with Prince Charles reading the queen's speech on her behalf accompanied by Prince William.

Both of these cancellations have been attributed to what the palace has officially called the queen's "episodic mobility problems" which seem to have been brought on by a series of health scares last fall resulting in the queen spending the night in hospital.

As the queen fast approaches her 100th year and with her stated intention that her family will support her moving forward, Newsweek looks at some of the key ways the royals can officially step up to share in the queen's royal workload as her one reign slowly transitions into the next.

Counsellor of State

What is a Counsellor of State? This constitutional appointment sees four of the most senior members of the royal family, in addition to the monarch's spouse, able to undertake some of the king or queen's official duties such as opening or dissolving parliament.

This structure was put in place so that if the monarch should become briefly incapacitated or away from the country on a foreign tour, someone is able to carry out the official workings of state on their behalf.

The current Councellors of State are Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Andrew and Prince Harry. Since the latter princes have both stepped away from their royal roles, an argument is being made that Princess Anne, the queen's only daughter, should take one of their places. She would be entitled to the place held by Andrew if it were not for the laws of royal primogeniture (males being senior to females) which though removed in 2013, do not apply retroactively, only to royals born after that date.

The queen called on Charles and William to act in their capacities as Councellors of State in May when she was unable to open parliament. Charles read the queen's speech to the lords and MPs with William as a witness.

Working Members of the Royal Family 2022
The queen appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with the working members of the royal family and their children on June 2. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Regency

A regency is a process where an appointed guardian of the crown takes over the monarch's royal duties in the case that the sovereign "is by reason of infirmity of mind or body incapable for the time being of performing the royal functions," according to the Regency Act of 1937.

The most famous case of a regency occurring in the history of the British monarch came when King George III experienced severe mental illness during the last years of his life meaning that his son became the Prince Regent, ruling in his father's place.

If Queen Elizabeth II were to become too incapacitated to perform her royal functions it would require a consensus of five high courtiers including the Lord Chancellor and Speaker of the House of Commons to declare Prince Charles regent.

Undertaking Overseas Visits

Something that we have seen the extended members of the royal family doing more and more is undertaking overseas tours on behalf of the queen since she gave up foreign travel in 2015.

A large part of the queen's duties as head of the commonwealth and also sovereign of the commonwealth realms was to undertake visits to their countries drawing attention to their work, cultures and achievements.

As the queen's age and mobility now prevent her from being physically present in those places, the role of her children and grandchildren in helping foster good relations between Britain and the rest of the world is of increasing importance.

Deputizing at Official Events

At official events where a Counsellor of State is not required to take part on behalf of the queen, other members of the royal family may step in to take over in her place.

We have seen this become an increasing occurrence since the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and the queen's health and mobility problems.

From hosting the annual round of royal garden parties at Buckingham Palace to deputizing at the Royal Maundy Easter service, a new working model sees the queen perform as many of her duties and engagements as possible from the confines of Windsor Castle, with her family acting as a public-facing arm of the monarchy.

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