Can the British monarchy survive without its queen?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

The death of Queen Elizabeth II, who ruled the United Kingdom for 70 years, sparked an outpouring of condolences and affection from around the world while also raising major questions about the future of the royal family in the absence of the only monarch most Britons have ever known.

The formal steps are clear. The queen’s eldest son, Charles, is now the king. Her grandson William has moved to first in the line of succession. Plans for the transition of rule, the queen’s funeral and the coronation of the new king have been in place for years.

But Charles has taken charge of a monarchy that has changed radically since his mother assumed the throne in 1952, when she was just 25 years old. Though the queen herself was a symbol of remarkable stability, during her historically long reign she oversaw a period of extraordinary change in which the global reach of the British Empire shrank significantly, the royal family became the source of endless gossip and scandal, and a number of other countries either shed their royal leaders or saw the roles of them downsized considerably.

Why there’s debate

Polls taken earlier this year suggest the majority of Britons still believe the country should keep its monarchy, but it’s unclear how much of that sentiment was rooted in affection for the queen — by far the most popular royal — rather than support for the institution itself. It also remains to be seen whether the queen’s death might fuel long-simmering independence movements in Scotland and Wales or in countries like Canada, Australia and Jamaica that still formally fall under the British crown.

Many experts say that even if the official position of the monarchy remains unchanged, the public’s view of the royal family appears destined to diminish substantially without the queen as its figurehead. Some say that Queen Elizabeth’s steady presence on the throne may have prevented Britons from questioning whether the royal family — with its extraordinary wealth, frequent indiscretions and brutal colonial legacy — truly has a place in the modern world.

But others believe Charles is well positioned to guide the monarchy into a prosperous, if slightly different, era. They argue that after decades of watching his mother rule effectively, he understands the need for the royal family to modernize its role while still maintaining the air of pageantry that makes the Windsors the source of so much fascination around the world. There’s also hope that Charles, and eventually William, will harness the power of the throne to promote important causes that will benefit all mankind — specifically the fight against climate change.

What’s next

The queen’s death has initiated an official period of national mourning in the U.K. that will last until about a week after her funeral, which has not been scheduled. Though Charles became king at the moment of his mother’s passing, a coronation ceremony will be held at some point in the coming months to commemorate his ascension to the throne.


The last unifying symbol of British life is gone

“The queen’s death has removed perhaps the only fixed, shared point in the national imagination.” — Denis Staunton, Irish Times

The monarchy will be just fine

“Royal fans and nonfans alike can be sure that neither Charles nor William is the type to send shockwaves through a century-old institution. They will not be rocking the boat. I will miss the queen’s side eyes, quick wit, steely willpower and amazing fashion, among so many other things. I am grateful she was able to be with us for so long, and I am grateful that the hands of the monarchy, an institution I thoroughly enjoy and admire, will continue for at least two more generations.” — Carli Pierson, USA Today

The realities of living under royal rule will be harder to ignore

“Elizabeth’s character, stamina and skill persuaded her subjects to suspend any possible disbelief in the divine right of a mostly German family to reign over the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Will they have such faith in Charles? In William? … After Elizabeth, the British monarchy will find itself in rising waters and struggle not to be swept away.” — Eugene Robinson, Washington Post

The only reasonable future is one without the monarchy in it

“The queen’s very longevity made it easier for outdated fantasies of a second Elizabethan age to persist. She represented a living link to World War II and a patriotic myth that Britain alone saved the world from fascism. … Now that she is gone, the imperial monarchy must end too.” — Maya Jasanoff, New York Times

The royal family will shrink into purely ceremonial roles

“Charles now inherits a title and lands. He will grant his leave for new governments to form after the next election. But it will be done in the shadow of his mother and with the knowledge that what acts he takes are all, in a sense, playacting. The crown and scepter will be costuming, allowing him to uphold the illusion that the monarchy still has a role to play in a modern constitutional republic.” — Hayes Brown, MSNBC

Charles could provide the monarchy with a meaningful purpose it has lacked for decades

“Charles’ long and well-known dedication to environmental causes will certainly mark out his reign. … A green King Charles is likely to be welcomed in a period when tackling climate change has become a top priority of most advanced nations, and when the subject is regularly first on the list of concerns for younger generations.” — Tony Wright, Sydney Morning Herald

The royal family’s refusal to modernize is what has allowed it to thrive

“The miracle of the monarchy is how it has survived in a democratic and egalitarian age. Everything it stands for — inheritance rather than merit and ascription rather than election — is the antithesis of everything we hold dear as a civilization. Yet the British monarchy has not only survived, it has thrived.” — Adrian Wooldridge, Bloomberg

If Charles follows his mother’s example, the monarchy will be in good hands

“How the British monarchy adapts and prospers under Charles, in our intense media age, will depend in no small part on how much he has learned from the example of his mother. The United Kingdom can count itself fortunate that it had Queen Elizabeth’s self-effacing leadership when it did.” — Editorial, Wall Street Journal

The queen’s death will accelerate the shrinking of the crown’s global reach

“What of the Queen’s other great love, the Commonwealth? It has already agreed to let Charles inherit his mother’s leadership. But how long can such an institution really survive? In an era of Black Lives Matter and imperial guilt, can an African child once again be pictured kneeling before some distant European monarch, as happened for the Queen’s diamond jubilee, in 2012?” — Tom McTague, Atlantic

The monarchy’s position won’t change, but some of the magic will be gone

“It is the end of an era, and yet we will see and feel few tangible changes. No foreign or domestic policies of the United Kingdom will change. The “special relationship” with the United States is intact. King Charles — boy, do those words sound strange to the ears — may irritate some with his vocal views about climate change and what must be done to combat it, but his will be just one voice in a loud, wide-ranging, and contentious debate.” — Jim Geraghty, National Review

Is there a topic you’d like to see covered in “The 360”? Send your suggestions to

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: The Print Collector/Getty Images, Kirsty O'Connor-WPA Pool/Getty Images, Michael Ukas - Pool /Getty Images