The news from this year's Commonwealth gathering of the colonies is joyful as they continue to put the final touches on plans for Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee next year. The only other monarch to spend sixty years on the throne was that other famous hanger-on, Queen Victoria, whose reign lasted sixty three years and seven months. She died in 1901 at the age of 81, the same age Elizabeth will reach in the spring of her Jubilee year.
News media is focussing on how the change in succession rules adopted by the Commonwealth nations to allow first born females to take the throne instead of deferring to later born males, is being heralded as a victory for women and a sterling example of how the monarchy is adapting to the reality of equality of the sexes. While it's a sensible rule to change, it's not the rule that needs changing the most, and it's hard not to speculate that the entire scheme was designed mostly as a smokescreen so we won't notice their glaringly obvious failure to change the Big One.
Elizabeth, who took the throne at age 27, brought with her an heir apparent, young Prince Charles, who was already five years old. He will be celebrating his sixty fourth birthday during the Jubilee year, still waiting to take the throne he has spent his whole life preparing for. His only achievement to date has been his position as the longest serving heir apparent in British history. Have the monarchy tinkerers forgotten entirely about him in focusing on making succession simpler for the unborn children of his son and our next heir-apparent, William?
This situation evokes similarities to that of King Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria, who was sixty when his mother finally vacated the throne by dying on it in 1901. His reign was short lived as he died himself in 1910, as the famous Victorian Era faded and transformed into modern life. No shy prince, he's said to have bedded some fifty five women over his lifetime and was known to revel in the high life of the aristocracy and wealthy sophisticates.
Charles really hasn't been much different. While he had only one big scandal, that of Camilla, who may or may not be a descendant of a child fathered secretly by then Prince Edward, it was a doozie that had huge consequences and brought the Royal Family down off their pedestal rather dramatically. Today he seems to be more settled, just waiting around for his turn. His grandmother, the Queen Mum, lived to be over one hundred, and his mother, Elizabeth, looks perky and healthy as all get-out at eighty. How long will she last, he must wonder at least sometimes.
In the past, monarchs hanging around well past their "best before" date likely wasn't much of a problem. If not killed in battle, or be-headed by some greedy relative, they'd die naturally in what we'd call their middle age, but that was before modern medicine and better nutrition and health developed. Here in the New Millenium, we need a rule about retirement for the monarchy. Sixty years is enough, I say throw them one hell of a party for their Diamond Jubilee, then give them a gold watch and send them off to Balmoral to spend their days fishing for salmon. If all the advisors and minions are too intimidated to suggest this to the Queen, then she needs to take the lead and make the announcement herself, handing over her crown and sceptre to her son now, before he starts collecting his Old Age Pension. It's the only polite thing to do.