What will the monarchy look like in 60 years’ time?

The monarchy could yet be blown away on the winds of history, as so many have been, but if it endures, what will change? asks Libby Purves

Sometime soon, God-willing, a significant baby will be born. Not that all babies aren’t significant, but the boy or girl born to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge amid the pomp and ermine of this anniversary is destined, in about another 60 years, to be crowned in turn. Given the family gift for longevity he or she may be the one to take this British monarchy into the 22nd century.


Of course, anything could happen. It’s already pretty remarkable, and a personal tribute to the last couple of monarchs, that the crown has endured and even recovered popularity in this disrespectful, diverse, jokey and stroppy age. The monarchy could yet be blown away on the winds of history, as so many have been, but if it endures, what will change? And how will Britain take those changes?

Even social issues like same-sex marriage cause tremors of dread: we have had Lord Tebbit suggesting that this reform, coupled with female inheritance in the new Succession to the Crown Act, could cause frightful worries. He imagines “a Queen who is a lesbian, and she marries another lady and then decides she would like to have a child, and someone donates sperm… is that child heir to the throne?”.

Gosh. Who knows? Could be the least of our worries. I don’t want to upset Lord Tebbit, but by that time we might have a cloned Prime Minister with a bionic Google-brain to solve the problem. Assisted, obviously, by a Privy Council containing a naturalised ten-legged octopus from Alpha Centauri and a Speaker of the House of Commons who presides from home via Skype.

I have one specific hope though, beyond the obvious ones for national harmony and prosperity. I’d like to think that we’ll keep the ceremonial: the ermine and splendour and clattering hooves and shining breastplates, the crowns on coffins and solemn guardsmen at the four corners, the timed perfection of marching bands.

I hope that the silken coronation robes will still be woven in Suffolk, the wedding rings made from Welsh gold. I hope that when (if) this coming baby finally stands before King Edward’s chair and accepts the Sword of State, the strains of Parry’s I Was Glad and the sharp shrill thrilling attack of Zadok The Priest will echo in his or her ears as they did in Princess Elizabeth’s.

I hope that the Star of Africa and the Black Prince’s ruby will shine on from the Imperial State Crown, and that curious visitors will queue, later, to gaze at them in the Tower.

I hope all these things will last because they are beautiful, and exciting and uniting. They are not baubles for a spoilt aristocratic family, but symbols of national community, and of a monarchy that by standing aside from party politics somehow represents us all, with our continuity and our vital electoral power to throw out temporary leaders when they foul up. We, the people, are those jewels in the crown. We endure through changing political regimes.

So I would like to think that the flummery will remain, even as other, funkier national entertainments develop alongside (just as Danny Boyle’s Olympics show did in the Jubilee year). But I also hope that the individuals trapped by birth into the duty of constitutional monarchy will be less persecuted by the vapid fascination of celebrity gossip. Less trapped in amber.

William and Kate have made a good start, doing their own washing-up in Anglesey and staying with mum-in-law after the birth. Who knows what Cambridge junior and the next one will decide to do? Work quietly for 20 years as doctor in A & E doctor, or software designer, or astronaut, before taking on a public role and climbing in the state coach.

Could happen.


Browse through the 60-year-old Coronation edition of Radio Times.