Today the Queen was today seen leaving Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle with her faithful Dorgi on her lap. She travelled there a week earlier than usual to spend time in self-isolation over Easter, and was joined by Prince Philip, who was helicoptered from Wood Farm in Sandringham.
Earlier this week Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people over the age of 70 will be told to self-isolate, even if they do not have symptoms, in a bid to stem the spread of the disease and protect the most vulnerable in society.
Given the Prince of Wales, 71, and Her Majesty, 93, are within this age group, as third-in-line to the throne the Duke of Cambridge may be required to provide a ‘physical presence’ of the monarchy.
It is also possible that Princess Beatrice, who is ninth-in-line to the throne, may be appointed a Counsellor of State during these uncertain times, while Prince Harry – who is officially no longer a working royal from March 31 – may also step in to provide assistance, according to experts.
Nigel Cawthorne, author of Call Me Diana: Princess Diana on Herself, told FEMAIL: ‘It is entirely sensible for Prince William to act as placeholder for the Queen.
‘There has to be a physical presence to the monarchy, not just a virtual one. He’s third-in-line to the throne and in robust health like his brother, and COVID-19 is unlikely to be any serious threat for him or his wife or children. He will do a great job.’
Royal commentator Robert Jobson told FEMAIL it is the ‘natural thing to happen’ for the Duke of Cambridge to act as placeholder for his grandmother.
And Grant Harrold, who was a royal butler between 2004 and 2011, explained: ‘It is possible that if the Queen and the Prince of Wales are in isolation, then Prince William as second-in-line would take a more active role during this period.’
Nigel added that, should the Duchess of Cambridge fall pregnant during the pandemic, the Palace would have to go ‘on bent knee to Prince Harry to ask him to act as placeholder’.
‘I am sure he would come back and be delighted to help out, too, and do anything to protect his father and grandmother,’ he said.
Though that could be difficult given Prince Harry is currently self-isolating in Canada with wife Meghan Markle and their son Archie, who turns one in May.
Nigel acknowledged that it is unlikely there are any social gatherings left on the court calendar where Prince William would need to step in, as the Queen has scaled back her events due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
However, he added, there are ‘classified informal meetings on matters of state, and the monarchy is an enormous machine with many employees staying in touch with people, cities and charities across Britain and the world’.
Nigel continued: ‘Some of these will be routed through secure communications. But this creates a risk of sorts and some of them will just require face-to-face meetings where Prince William can decide what is so essential that it needs to be managed up to the Queen or to his father.
‘The organisation supporting the monarchy can’t just stop. It would create an enormous backlog. Nor can a courtier stand in for the monarch and make all the decisions that are required to be made.
‘Also, the government will always want the head of state or a representative to be available when dealing with visiting foreign or diplomatic dignitaries. It always helps as the history of the British Royal Family is unparalleled.’
If the Queen is temporarily unable to perform her constitutional duties, normally there are five Counsellors of State available to fill in for her – Prince Philip, 98, Prince Charles, Prince William, 37, Prince Harry, 35, and Prince Andrew, 60.
Counsellors of State are made up of the consort of The Queen and the first four people in the line of succession who meet the qualifications – one of which is having reached the age of 21, which rules out Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis and Archie Mountbatten-Windsor.
However, the unprecedented impact of the coronavirus may cause the Regency Act 1937 to come under immense pressure to create a sixth Counsellor, reports Royal Central.
At any one time, two or more Counsellors of State must be presiding at any one time – which could be problematic when the self-isolation rules regarding the over 70s comes into force.
The Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles would both have to be quarantined, while Prince Harry and Prince Andrew are no longer working royals – though that is not a requirement for the role of Counsellor of State.
The Duke of Sussex announced he was stepping down as a senior member of the Royal Family in January, while the Duke of York withdrew from his duties following his involvement in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.
While the pair could still act as Counsellors of State, it would undoubtedly provoke controversy, which leaves Prince William as the sole Counsellor who is still a working royal and not likely to be forced to self-isolate.
If two Counsellors are required and only one is available, parliament may have to amend the Regency Act to enable the next eligible royal to carry out duties of the sovereign – which would be Princess Beatrice.
Tasks include granting royal assent, appointing judges and Queen’s Counsel and issuing royal proclamations.
Royal historian Marlene Koenig said there is a precedent of sorts for additional Counsellors of State to be appointed – however, she claimed it is unlikely to happen with Princess Beatrice.
She told how in 1944, when Lord Lascelles (the elder son of Mary, Princess Royal – the only daughter of King George V) was taken as a prisoner of war, he was briefly removed as a Counsellor of State and replaced with Princess Arthur of Connaught.
‘However, this was not actually legal because the Regency Act does not allow for a replacement,’ she told Royal Central.
‘Princess Elizabeth turned 18 in April 1944 – and she replaced Princess Arthur, the Countess Southesk’s older sister.
‘But with Lord Lascelles taken prisoner in June 1944, the King issued a Letters Patent that August putting Alexandra back on the list, even though it was technically not allowed.
‘So there is precedence, sort of, but in case of the Queen being ill, I think they would have to make do with the group they have.’
Princess Beatrice and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi have cancelled their wedding reception plans which were to be held on May 29 this year in the Buckingham Palace Gardens because of the coronavirus.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Hayley Richardson