A rare level of panic descended on British newsrooms late on Wednesday night, after the Daily Mail scored a brilliant Royal scoop—the entire staff of the Royal Household had been summoned to London for an emergency meeting at 10am the following morning.
Appointments were cancelled and staff as far afield as the Queen’s Scottish palace, Balmoral, rushed to airfields. The world’s media, meanwhile, raced to the railings at Buckingham Palace as rumors of abdication, an imminent, or actual death swirled.
Media organizations have been planning for royal deaths for so many years that it is perhaps inevitable that events like this set news editors on edge. Britain’s Sun newspaper had the worst of it, accidentally publishing a half-written obituary of Prince Philip with the not particularly reverent working headline, “Prince Philip dead at 95, how did the Duke of Edinburgh die etc etc.”
It is testament to the efficiency with which the actual news—that Prince Philip was, as opposed to being dead, merely planning to stand down from public life in the Autumn—was protected, that, when it came, it was still something of a surprise.
The grand old man of British public life, famed for his politically incorrect and sometimes inappropriate comments (when asked in 1967 if he would like to visit the Soviet Union, he said, “I would like to go to Russia very much, although the bastards murdered half my family”) will turn 96 in June, and is surely due a respite from a punishing schedule which has seen him continually top the list of hardest working and most visible royals, despite his advancing years.
However, there is no sign that he has not been enjoying his work, and this is where the plot thickens. Yes, he’s about to turn 96, but some cynics are now quietly airing theories that Prince Philip may have been gently encouraged to retire for reasons other than his age.
The most intriguing of these is that Philip’s retirement may in fact be a dry run for a similar announcement on behalf of the Queen, no spring chicken herself at 91.
While most observers think the Queen will never abdicate because of the unfortunate reminders such a move would bring to the constitutional crisis of 1936— and palace sources have repeatedly told the Daily Beast that this is the case—this position itself begs the question of what will happen if she is so old that she is physically incapable of carrying out royal duties.
Philip’s example may be seen as charting a new course for the twilight years of extremely elderly royals.
Christopher Andersen, author of the best-selling royal biography Game of Thrones, has always maintained, however, that the Queen will indeed abdicate.
“The announcement of Philip’s retirement does foreshadow changes that are inevitable,” he says, “What we are witnessing are the first steps in the final stage of a plan that will culminate in the end of an era, and the beginning of a new and radically different reign.
“It is a process, carefully drawn up by the mysterious “Men in Grey” (that’s what Diana called them) who actually pull the strings at Buckingham Palace, and a series of events that I have been predicting for years,” he tells the Daily Beast.