LONDON – The death of Prince Philip, the staunch consort of Queen Elizabeth II for more than 70 years, comes at a time when the royal family is under intense public scrutiny.
It brings the next generation of royals into focus, with observers wondering how the traditional institution might take shape in younger hands.
The modernization of the monarchy may mean fewer kings working. more virtual engagements that began during the coronavirus pandemic; Carolyn Harris, a royal historian and author, said that gathering ceremonies for royal calendars are receiving less attention, in line with trends in other European royal households.
“The monarchy has existed for over a thousand years and has reinvented itself multiple times over the centuries to accommodate changing social norms, political conditions and public opinion,” Harris told NBC News.
She added that Philip’s death would likely “hasten” and elevate the public duties of younger kings and put more focus on Prince Charles and his son Prince William – both heirs to the throne.
The last few years have been tough for the UK.
After the 2016 Brexit referendum and the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe, the company has seen a messy and drawn-out separation from the European Union and is now mourning a high-ranking king who dented and reformulated the collective national identity.
The Queen, 94, is seen by many as a stabilizing figurehead defined by her silent custody of the institution through controversy and crises.
But with the death of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, the departure from the old guard can also bring about a change in royal attitudes and values.
“The younger generations of the royal family are more inclined to voice their opinions and prioritize their personal life in addition to their royal duties,” Harris said.
She noted that Prince Charles has been criticized for speaking out on issues such as climate change, city centers, and homeopathic medicines, in contrast to the undisturbed and sheltered private person who shaped Elizabeth’s reign.
Public quarrels among younger kings – including between Prince William and his wife Catherine and exiled Prince Harry and his wife Meghan – which made headlines in the British and American press, have also scrutinized the family.
William and Kate could also seek a more holistic balance between their public duties and family life with their three children, Harris said.
Unlike the Queen and Philip, who married in 1947, the couple often took their young children with them on trips abroad, such as their 2016 visit to Canada, a trend that could continue. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have also taken shorter international trips and done more virtual royal engagements, changes that could become more permanent.
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But for some, although the family itself may accept change, the depth of royal institutions will remain firmly entrenched.
“The old guard will still be the old guard. Prince Charles is older,” said Marlene Koenig, author of European and British royal biographies.
“He [Charles] is what I call a transition. The real focus is on William and Catherine, “she added.
Koenig said the fact that the monarchy even knew how to develop was due in part to Philip, who, much like Queen Victoria’s husband Albert, had transformed the institution by being open to new ideas.
Philip endorsed the 1953 television broadcast of Elizabeth’s Coronation, which allowed the masses to tune in. He also advocated the formal abolition of upper-class debutants in court – a practice he called “stupid” that ended in 1958. Instead, he set up an annual summer garden party at Buckingham Palace to get to know and recognize the achievements of everyday people.
Years later, he was also the driving force in a rare BBC documentary about royal life behind the scenes from 1969 that made the family more accessible to the public.
In an early form of reality television, the show sparked British curiosity about life behind palace walls, a fascination that continues to this day when millions heard an Oprah Winfrey interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2021. The life of the royal family also led to the worldwide success of the Netflix drama “The Crown”.
Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, the 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh learned to adapt to social media and Zoom calls. In a lighthearted interview in February, Harry told TV presenter James Corden that his grandfather would often slam his laptop shut to abruptly end online family calls.
Too “powerful but funny” in front of the cameras, Philip was “someone who was ready to give his opinion,” said Koenig. She admitted that this made him often prone to gawking and criticism, which in her opinion humanized him.
As the royal family institution evolves, things may change in the Commonwealth, too, where Caribbean countries like Jamaica and Barbados have recently expressed an interest in becoming republics – an issue that future monarchs will have to grapple with.
For now, “the monarchy will continue to reinvent itself,” said Harris. It “will last” in the UK for the foreseeable future.