What Does the Queen Do?

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II during her walkabout in Guildford High Street

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Given that she intends to remain firmly at the helm, where will she steer the monarchy now? The polls reveal some directions in which imperceptible change — or more — is needed. Asked whether the monarchy reflects today's multifaith Britain, only 21% agree; 49% disagree. The palace already works to include more ethnic minorities and representatives of non-Christian faiths in the Queen's events, but can be expected to do more of this. Another area the Queen can develop is what Frank Prochaska, a Yale historian, calls the "welfare monarchy": the royal family assisting charities and groups that help the disadvantaged. British monarchs have been doing this since at least Victoria; the Queen is already patron of 620 voluntary organizations. The trick for the royals here is to avoid a patronizing air of noblesse oblige, as well as political controversy. But "they're very good at it, and very good about doing it, but they don't get credit for it," says Worcester. More focus here will help the broader strategy of keeping the royals' work in public view: "The more familiar people are with them, the more favorably they feel."

And what, in the end, does she want as the legacy of her Elizabethan Age? In the way of monarchies, one part of the answer is already determined: Charles, then William. At this stage they appear to be a good bet. But, as the 1990s proved to the Windsors, human bloodlines can be as fickle as horses'. "Self-destruction is their biggest problem," says Prochaska; and that, in the end, will depend on choices the future Kings themselves will make. As for the institution of the monarchy, the Queen's track record reveals what she wants to leave behind: a Crown relentlessly pragmatic enough to stay popular.

Prince Andrew says the legacy question is simply foreign to his mother. It is not in her nature, he says, to intellectualize, to consciously design what her reign will mean. She did not ask for the duties that fell to her, but she has done them, conscientiously, and she will keep doing them for as many days as she is given. "Today is reality. Yesterday is history. Her desire is not to change the future, but to be there, today. Today is what we've got."

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