Today I woke up to the news that King Juan Carlos of Spain has decided to abdicate his throne. By doing so he joins the company of other recent former monarchs, including King Albert of Belgium and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
Like King Albert II's of Belgium, King Juan Carlos' reign has been mired by scandal and he is ill. Juan Carlos is also not popular amongst his subjects. In his place comes a younger, fresher and more glamorous royal family. Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia. Their daughter Infanta Leonor becomes, for now, the youngest heir to a European throne. Belgium and the Netherlands have experienced similar changes, with vibrant and glamorous royal couples and their photogenic children in effect, breathing new life into their monarchies.
There are some that look upon abdication as a sign of weakness, of quitting and in comparison to Queen Elizabeth II, not having the same level of dedication to their roles. I disagree. I would wager a guess that they are more dedicated because they put aside hanging on to power in favor of the future. Reading the abdication speeches of these monarchs a common thread amongst them is handing over the reigns because it is in the best interests of their monarchies to do so. I also think there is an acknowledgement of reality in these decisions. Kings and Queens are mortal and they are also not martyrs.
Something that seems to be forgotten in this issue is that the Queen herself owes her current position to the abdication of her uncle King Edward VIII in 1936. While it was a crisis at the time, it was also seen as a relief. Someone who many considered to be ill suited to the role had vacated the position. If the new King and Queen were not seen as nearly as glamorous, they radiated stability and dedication and with young Princess Elizabeth, a renewed sense of optimism in the future of the monarchy. It may have been a crisis, but no one could argue that good didn't come out of it.
Whenever a monarch abdicates it inevitably raises the question, will Queen Elizabeth II follow suit? For most people the response is a resounding NO. Articles supporting this viewpoint including quotes from her 21st birthday speech where she made her solemn declaration, dedicating herself to her subjects. We are also reminded of her sacred anointment at her Coronation and the oath she took. As if this is supposed to be the end of the discussion. However quoting a speech from 67 years ago ignores the ever present reality that the Queen is 88 and proving mortal by the minute. She has more than lived up to expectations.
Maybe now is the time to adjust ours.
© Marilyn Braun 2014
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