Senior courtiers are looking at the possibility of Prince Charles taking over HM The Queen’s duties as she approaches her 90th birthday, according to the Daily Telegraph. A legal mechanism known as the Regency allows an elderly or mentally incapacitated monarch to be effectively removed from office without losing their title.
The discussion are said to have come about following the Queen giving up long-haul travel and other tasks that have been taking their toll. She is, however, expected to live at least as long as her mother, who died in 2002 aged 101. This raises the possibility that she might lack the mental and physical attitudes to continue the day to day work involved with being the reigning monarch.
The Queen has already significantly reduced the amount of work she does, in favour of both Prince Charles and Prince William. She is still required to have the mental capacity to sign legislation, and to speak to the Prime Minister in her weekly meetings.
The last time a monarch was considered incapable of this was George III, whose son did take over as Prince Regent. As a result 1811 – 1820 was known as the Regency Period and was considered a golden age as the Prince of Wales at the time was a great patron of arts and science.
In 1937 the rules on implementing a regency were renewed in an act of parliament of the same name. It says a regency can be implemented if three senior members of the royal household state in writing that the monarch is incapable of performing royal functions. They are the sovereign’s spouse, the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls.
Since the drafting of the law the Lord Chancellor has ceased to chair the House of Lords, in favour of a newly created post of Lord Speaker. Any new rules may hand the power held by the Lord Chancellor to the Lord Speaker.
Although the concern in the Queen’s case would be protracted age-related and incurable mental health problems such as dementia, the law still states the monarch will have their powers returned when their health improves.
Stepping aside is a thorny issue for the Queen because she has always said she believes her royal vows are for life. She is also reported to dislike the practice of abdicating, which is not uncommon in continental Europe.
Recently the Pope Benedict, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and King Juan Carlos of Spain have all taken the route of abdication. However, the Queen’s father King George VI only became monarch because of his brother’s abdication.
He died aged just 56-years-old having taken on the role of King less than three years before WWII started. This led family members to blame his untimely death on the stress of the job, which in turn was caused by his brother’s abdication.