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‘She made a pact with God’: why the Queen is not likely to abdicate

Caroline Davies
·4-min read
Photograph: Toby Melville/PA
Photograph: Toby Melville/PA

The Queen, newly widowed, will find it “difficult” without the support she has leant on over 73 years of marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh, but royal observers have dismissed any speculation that she might consider stepping down.

The former prime minister Sir John Major acknowledged that her position as monarch was “a very lonely position”. He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “There are a limited number of people to whom she can really open her heart, to whom she can really speak with total frankness, to whom she can say things that would be reported by other people and thought to be indelicate.” 

 Related: Prince Philip’s death ‘ideal opportunity’ to heal royal rifts, says John Major 

She could “unburden herself” on Philip. When facing “a sea of problems”, or when feeling overwhelmed and needing to share decision-making, one needed someone to understand, “someone who can metaphorically – or in the case of Prince Philip, I think, probably literally – put their arms around you and say: ‘It’s not as bad as you think,’” said Major, on whom the Queen bestowed the honour of Garter Knight.

Watch: Prince Philip - Queen described loss of Duke of Edinburgh as a 'huge void in her life', says Prince Andrew

Speculation about Philip’s death precipitating an abdication is unlikely to bear out, say royal experts. “One main reason why the Queen will absolutely not abdicate is unlike other European monarchs, she is an anointed Queen,” the royal historian Hugo Vickers told the Guardian, referring to the pact she made with God during her coronation. “And if you are an anointed Queen you do not abdicate.”

If she was unable to fulfil her constitutional duties, a regent could be appointed, as happened with George III. She also celebrates her platinum jubilee next year. “It would be completely illogical to abdicate just before that extraordinary anniversary,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate. And I would hope she would be feeling up to that; a bit of time would have passed.

“We need the Queen, with her vast experience. And she is still absolutely fine. She is still riding, and very busily at the centre of everything, her office is still thriving. She can’t go out much at the moment, but she does occasionally. She looks wonderful, so no abdicating.”

The Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge have done much of the heavy lifting of royal engagements in recent years. Since Philip retired from public life in 2017, the Queen has leant on her son and grandson. “It’s lovely to think she does have a very supportive royal family, and that’s what they are there for,” said Vickers. “And they will help her now. They will step up to the mark.” 

Joe Little, the managing editor of Majesty Magazine, said: “I remain of the opinion that, although the loss of Prince Philip is devastating for her personally, I don’t think it is going to impact on her role as monarch. I suspect that will continue pretty much as it has in the past few years.

“Clearly, it’s a strange time at the moment because of Covid, and we’ve seen much less of her than we might have done otherwise. But, I feel that despite the fact she is now a widow, and she’s soon going to be 95, it will still be very much business as usual.

“There has already been the handover of certain responsibilities, not least to the Prince of Wales in the last few years, and clearly that will continue. But as monarch, she will continue as long as she is physically and mentally able to do so.

“I think it is in her DNA. It also it goes back not only to her speech in 1947 in South Africa but more specifically to the oath she took at the time of the coronation. She is a committed Christian. That’s the contract she made with God, and I think something she feels can’t be broken. It’s just how she is.”

Watch: The wonderful life of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh