The announcement of the abdication of Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II, at age 83, casts light on the challenges and concerns raised by advanced age among world leaders and politicians. One need but consider the understandable preoccupations of American voters concerning the cognitive and physical capacities of President Joe Biden to realize the universality of this predicament.
However, amidst these discussions, the remarkable commitment to serve Britain’s monarchy for life stands out prominently. The dedication and competence displayed by Queen Elizabeth II until her passing last year were inspiring.
Of course, Biden’s shaky faculties at 81 hardly compare to the late queen’s, who made important decisions of state with cleared-eyed acuity even upon her deathbed at 96. Nonetheless, one naturally hopes that Elizabeth’s heirs are blessed with her stamina and bound by her commitment to serve as long as competence allows.
Queen Margrethe’s decision to abdicate raised eyebrows because, as in the UK, Danish sovereigns have generally occupied the throne for life. While motivations for her abdication are doubtless rooted in health or personal considerations, nevertheless, it signals a shift within the Danish royal family and has an impact on Danish society, many of whose citizens have only known one head of state.
By contrast, U.K. royals, understood to have the job for life, have faithfully upheld the British value of carrying on stoically until the end. One hopes that any attempts to modernize the monarchy will see no departures from this policy.
Indeed, only a handful of British monarchs have abandoned the throne since 1066: John Balliol of Scotland in 1296, Edward II in 1327, Richard II in 1399, Mary Queen of Scots in 1567, James II in 1688 and Edward VIII in 1936. Quitters like Edward, who gave up the crown for Wallis Simpson, are generally loathed in the U.K. Prince Harry, for his part, has learned this lesson the hard way.
Unlike their British counterparts, monarchs of some other nations lack similar commitments to lifetime service, particularly in recent years. When the Danish queen enters retirement, she will join the ranks of Japanese Emperor Akihito of Japan, who abdicated in 2019, at the age of 85, Juan Carlos I of Spain, who abdicated in 2014, and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, who stepped down in 2013.
While none of these monarchies occupy the stature of Britain’s, it nevertheless says something profound about a nation whose 96-year-old head of state remained resolute to finish the job, fulfilling her solemn oath to her people to completion.
For the good of the British monarchy, King Charles and Prince William and their heirs would do well to take a cue from the peerless Queen Elizabeth. Her unwavering commitment to serving as the head of state for nearly seven decades solidified her as a symbol of stability and continuity in an ever-changing world. The profound impact of her reign extended beyond the United Kingdom, shaping perceptions and inspiring admiration worldwide.
While polls indicate that the British people have appreciation and affection for King Charles and the royal family, and desire the institution of monarchy to continue, no recent British sovereign enjoyed as much admiration as Charles’ mother.
Unlike politicians who have short-term motivations like re-election, kings and queens have a rather-more-permanent interest in the welfare of their people which makes lifetime service for them far more valuable and palatable.
The concept of lifelong monarchy resonates strongly with the public, symbolizing continuity, tradition and stability. Queen Elizabeth’s unwavering commitment was a source of reassurance and stability in times of uncertainty, from World War II to COVID-19.
Charles is well aware of this. At 73, the oldest king ever to come to Britain’s throne, he waited a lifetime to assume command, and as long as he remains healthy, he is unlikely to consider stepping down. Moreover, like his mother, and all monarchs before her, he took a solemn oath before God to dedicate his whole life to service.
While this does not preclude handing off some responsibilities to younger members of his family, the possibility of Charles abdicating is extremely remote.
We who live in a constitutional republic have an understandably different perspective on the merits of lifetime service among our leaders. Our political system occasionally delivers us some dinosaurs — like our current president — who have never held a job outside politics.
They careen from election to election with their hands out, beholden to the interest groups who support and re-elect them. The example of Queen Elizabeth, who did so much for her nation during her long lifetime, is a refreshing departure.
Elizabeth II left an indelible mark on our times. She wrote the playbook for successful public service. Her lessons are too valuable for her heirs to discard.