How Queen Elizabeth II Will Step Down—Without Giving Up Her Title

"Abdication" is not in her vocabulary.

Queen Elizabeth IIPhoto: Shutterstock

Behind Queen Elizabeth’s future plans

The British monarchy planted its roots for more than 1,000 years, and there are some staunch traditions that go along with that. One of the strongest senses of duty for the head of state is to serve for life. That might have been easy enough when kings would die in battle or from sudden disease, but 65 years since her coronation, Queen Elizabeth II is the United Kingdom’s longest-reigning monarch. The 92-year-old is healthy but slowing down, which begs the question: What will she do when she’s just not up for royal engagements anymore?

Among royal insiders, it’s clear that the Queen will never formally step down. Only one British monarch has ever willingly abdicated the throne—and ironically, that person was Elizabeth’s uncle, King Edward VIII.

When Queen Elizabeth was born, there was slim chance that she’d ever become monarch until King Edward VIII fell in love with Wallis Simpson, who’d already been married twice. There was so much social and political objection to the king marrying a divorcee (even King Henry VIII had his own marriages annulled and was never divorced) that Edward stepped down in 1936 so he could be free to marry Simpson. His brother and Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI, took his place on the throne, putting young Elizabeth in line for the crown. (Check out 50 things you didn’t know about the royal family.)

Sources say watching her uncle step down influenced Queen Elizabeth’s views on the monarchy, and she sees abdication as going against her country. The oath and the constitution don’t specify a lifelong commitment, but the Queen saw it as a vow to fulfill her duties until death, and she isn’t about to let a little thing like her 90s get in her way, according to Robert Jobson in the book, Charles at Seventy: Thoughts, Hopes and Dreams. That said, she won’t necessarily keep being the star of the show.

“One senior aide told me that the Queen has given the matter of her passing years considerable thought and believes that, if she is still alive at ninety-five, she will consider passing the reign to Charles,” Jobson writes. “Abdication, however, is not even a consideration.”

Queen Elizabeth II could simply let Prince Charles unofficially take over some of her responsibilities—as he’s already started to do—or she might plan on “dusting off” the Regency Act, according to Jobson. In that case, the Queen would name her son Prince Regent, putting him in charge of her official duties while she’d get to keep her title as Her Majesty the Queen. Either way, he wouldn’t become King Charles until she passed away. (Here’s what Queen Elizabeth would prefer we not know about Prince Charles.)

“She would never want to do anything, or be seen to do anything, that would harm the monarchy, and that includes going on too long,” a senior aide told Jobson. “If she felt her age was in any way damaging the monarchy, she would act accordingly.”

Don’t miss these other reasons why Queen Elizabeth II will never give up the throne.

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