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Could the Queen retire?

Amid the scandal swirling around Prince Andrew, other rumours have been running rampant, including speculation about whether Queen Elizabeth might ultimately step further back from her role in the not-too-distant future.

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Queen Elizabeth visits the new headquarters of the Royal Philatelic Society in London on Nov. 26, 2019. (Tolga Akmen/Reuters)

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Amid the scandal swirling around Prince Andrew, other rumours have been running rampant. In a year that may rival Queen Elizabeth's "annus horribilis" of 1992, there has been speculation about who's been making the decisions at Buckingham Palace, and whether the 93-year-old monarch might ultimately step further back from her role in the not-too-distant future.

Headlines in the U.K. in recent days suggested she might give up the throne in two years — at age 95.

While other European monarchs have abdicated in recent years in favour of the next generation, there is little to indicate Elizabeth might follow suit.

But might the gradual passing of some duties to heir Prince Charles, which has been carefully and deliberately unfolding in recent years, pick up its pace, even a little?

"I think given the Queen's age, she probably is planning to hand over more to Charles," royal author Katie Nicholl said via email.

But Nicholl can't see her "bowing out" until after her platinum jubilee, which would mark 70 years as monarch, in 2022.

"Even then, I can't see her retiring while she's in good health and capable. She has always said this is a job for life," Nicholl said.

Prince Charles, who has already gradually assumed some of his mother's duties, wears a traditional cloak as he is greeted by Nadia Galvish during a visit to Waitangi treaty grounds in Waitangi, New Zealand, on Nov. 20, 2019. (Tracey Nearmy/Reuters)

Royal author and biographer Penny Junor thinks it's "perfectly possible" Elizabeth might be looking to step back significantly from her duties within a couple of years, with Charles, in ways, becoming the de facto monarch.

"He has already taken over quite a lot of her workload, including lengthy foreign tours, and although I don't see her abdicating, it would make very good sense for him to take over her day-to-day duties," Junor said via email.

Those day-to-day duties in recent weeks have played out in the shadow of considerably more controversy than usual for the House of Windsor, as critical headlines mounted around Prince Andrew and his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Even with Andrew stepping back from royal duties, the morass continued this week, as the BBC broadcast an interview with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, an American woman who says she was forced at age 17 to have sex with him. Andrew has said he has no recollection of meeting Guiffre, and a palace spokesperson "emphatically denied" that Andrew has had "any form of sexual contact or relationship" with her.

As Andrew stepped back, however, there was speculation about who was calling the shots at Buckingham Palace. Is it the Queen? Or Charles? Or a combination?

Junor said she doesn't think the Queen has ever "been good at confrontation."

"I imagine the lead has been coming from Charles."

U.S. President Donald Trump, second from left, and his wife, Melania, greet Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, during a reception at Buckingham Palace to mark 70 years of the NATO alliance on Dec. 3, 2019. (Geoff Pugh/Reuters)

Nicholl said she thinks the Queen has shown "effective and decisive" leadership since Andrew's own interview with the BBC, which was widely seen as a trainwreck, with him coming off as aloof and out of touch, and not showing any empathy for Epstein's victims.

"She may be 93, but she's very much shown herself to be the boss of the family and still very much at the helm and in control," said Nicholl, who noted palace staff say there is no talk of stepping down or retiring.

"She summoned Andrew to the palace and told him he had no choice [but] to resign, which as a mother must have been very hard indeed."

Behind the scenes, Nicholl said there will have been support from Charles and Prince Philip, along with guidance from her experienced advisers.

"The Queen has always ruled by the mantra 'duty before self,' and this was a classic example of that."

Junor sees the Queen acting "swiftly," along with Prince Charles and Prince William, in removing Andrew from royal duties and taking away his office at Buckingham Palace.

"They have acknowledged the seriousness of what has happened and distanced themselves" from someone who has always been arrogant, shown poor judgment and been seen as a rather insignificant member of the family, Junor said. 

"The Queen, Charles, Camilla, William and Kate are the ones who really matter and they are all well-respected and seen to be honest and hard-working."

Princess Anne's moments

Princess Anne talks to guests during a reception at Buckingham Palace in London on Dec. 3, 2019. (Yui Mok/The Associated Press)

For a royal living well beyond the limelight, it really was a moment.

Princess Anne found herself at the centre of an unlikely social media whirl this week, when many who watched a bit of video out of Buckingham Palace thought maybe, just maybe, the only daughter of the Queen was snubbing U.S. President Donald Trump.

Turns out that wasn't the case, but it didn't stop some outside palace walls from hoping they were getting a peek at what a member of the Royal Family really thinks.

Queen Elizabeth gestures to Princess Anne as U.S. President Donald Trump greets royals 0:20

"The Royal Family presents a very diplomatic front when receiving world leaders," said Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal author and historian.

"I think the public is fascinated by any hint of what the feelings of members of the Royal Family are behind the scenes."

There's a great interest, Harris suggests, in even the smallest gesture. Hence the interest this week in Anne's shrug.

"The public likes to imagine that whatever feelings they have … maybe that's what members of the Royal Family are thinking privately."

All this comes as Anne is having something of a cultural moment, fuelled particularly by the portrayal of her in the third season of Netflix's popular drama The Crown.

This combination of photos shows actress Erin Doherty portraying Princess Anne in a scene from the third season of The Crown, left, and Princess Anne arriving at the Royal Opera House in London on Feb. 29, 1968. (Netflix/The Associated Press)

Erin Doherty has been lauded for her performance as the young, no-nonsense royal, and as Tim Teeman wrote in the Daily Beast, "showing the edge behind the dutifulness that has always characterized Anne."

Over the years, Anne has gained a reputation as a hard-working royal, routinely supporting numerous charities and carrying out more engagements than most — if not all — other members of the family. 

There's a sense the 69-year-old is much in the mould of her matter-of-fact father, doesn't suffer fools and isn't overly consumed by outward appearances or current trends. She's just fine wearing clothes that were fashionable decades ago, and has little interest in hugging people or stopping for a selfie with a royal fan.

And there hasn't been a lot in the way of controversy. Sure, there was her romance with Andrew Parker Bowles before he married Camilla, now her brother Charles's second wife. And there were some headlines around the breakdown of her first marriage to Mark Phillips, but nothing in the vein of the tabloid attention on the disintegration of the first marriages of Charles and Andrew.

Anne mingles with the crowd of about 1,000 in attendance on May 4, 1971, as she officially opened the new Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island's west coast. (Bill Clark/The Canadian Press)

Harris wishes there was a full episode of The Crown focused on Anne. While she may be lower profile, her life has had its dramatic moments, particularly an attempted kidnapping in 1974.

Anne, of course, was having none of it.

"She faces an armed kidnapper and is refusing to get out of the car," said Harris.

Given her brother Andrew's retreat from royal duties, there's every possibility Anne's public profile will rise.

"We may well see Princess Anne and the Earl and Countess of Wessex taking on some of Andrew's charities," said Harris. "Not necessarily the ones tied directly to Andrew's interests but, more widely, some of the charities not as personally associated with Andrew himself."

Keeping up with the priorities

Prince William, fourth from right, talks to a member of the staff at Jahra Pools Nature reserve, near the Kuwaiti capital of Kuwait City, during a beach-cleaning operation on Dec. 2, 2019. (Yasser Al-Zayat/AFP via Getty Images)

While much royal focus recently has been on Andrew, the Queen, Charles and briefly Anne, two other high-profile members of the family were reinforcing what appear to be key priorities for them.

Prince William's international travels continued this week, with a four-day solo trip to Kuwait and Oman. The visit was yet another example of the soft diplomacy the British government looks to the more senior royals to provide.

It also gave William the opportunity to focus on issues of interest, including environmental concerns — in this case, the value of recycling and picking up litter.

"A lot of people lead busy lives … but we need to be more conscious about it in the future," he said after meeting with litter pickers on a beach in Kuwait, according to The Telegraph. "We all need to shift our mindset."

William's wife, Kate, was on her own solo mission recently, as she spent two days shadowing staff in the maternity department of a London hospital.

While the visit was made public only after it had taken place, it was another example of her intent to focus on the well-being of young children.

Royally quotable

"It's a strength to be able to talk about mental health, mental fitness, rather than a weakness."

— Prince William, during a recent visit with the West Bromwich Albion football team, as he continues to promote the Heads Up campaign to encourage more men to feel comfortable talking about their mental health.

Royals in Canada

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, who died in Toronto in 1960, served as a nurse during the First World War. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)

While the House of Windsor dominates the royal connections to Canada, members of other royal families routinely visit. Occasionally, they have called Canada home.

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, the last member of the Russian Imperial family to hold that title, lived in Canada from the late 1940s until her death on Nov. 24, 1960, at age 78, in Toronto.

Olga, the youngest daughter of Czar Alexander III, trained as a nurse and did charitable work during the First World War, said Harris. She fled from Russia during the revolution with her second husband and two sons, living for a while in Denmark, where her cousin was King Christian X.

"Then with World War Two, she was concerned with the proximity of the Soviet troops," said Harris. Olga and her family eventually emigrated to Canada in 1948.

"It provided an opportunity for the life Olga wanted to have," said Harris. "She was interested in farming. She is someone who had always loved the countryside."

Olga lived on a farm west of Toronto, keeping a relatively low profile, devoted to her family, her farm and her interest in art.

"She lived a fairly quiet life," said Harris. "It was only during visits by the Royal Family that it was clear who she was to the wider public," most notably when she was invited aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia during a visit by the Queen and Prince Philip to Toronto in 1959.

Olga's death in 1960 attracted a lot of attention the following year, said Harris, particularly from the exiled Russian community. "She was seen informally as a community leader." 

Olga is buried in York Cemetery in North York.

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About the Author

Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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