The grandson of a flight attendant became heir to the British throne this week, ushering in what may be a generation of change. His mother, the Duchess of Cambridge, known throughout her middle-class upbringing as Kate Middleton, is the first mother of a royal heir in 1,000 years who was born without an aristocratic title.
The baby, clad now in little more than swaddling blankets, is expected to become the first king of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms to live into the 22nd century. But his welcome into this world could not have been more traditional. Bells rang out from the towers above Westminster Abbey, and the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, dressed in ceremonial uniforms, marked his arrival with a 41-gun salute a few yards from Buckingham Palace.
For the first time since 1894, there are three direct descendants to the throne living at the same time: Charles, the Prince of Wales; William, the Duke of Cambridge; and now the Prince of Cambridge. Both Charles and William are in line to the throne before the newest heir is ready for his coronation.
If William rules until his late 80s, the Prince of Cambridge won’t assume the throne until around 2070, giving rise to the question, what kind of country will he inherit? We asked a number of experts and writers to share their predictions; their edited responses are below.
Barring royal self-destruction, war, or economic collapse, the monarchy is likely to survive into the reign of the child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The British people are chary of hazardous constitutional experiments and desire stability, which customary monarchy helps to sustain. Other things being equal, old institutions are those that retain the greatest reverence, which new institutions must win.
Moreover, as Walter Bagehot observed it in The English Constitution, a family on the throne is an attractive idea that disguises the complexity of government to the ignorant and heedless. As he put it, as long as the human heart is strong and human reason weak, monarchies will persist, for they appeal to diffused feeling rather than to understanding. In a world of conflicting global sovereignties in which British politics will become more unintelligible and tawdry, the monarchy is well placed to be one of the few institutions in Britain able to retain its dignity, if only because it is symbolic of something beyond politics.
Of course, the monarch in the future will reign over a rather different country: more crowded, competitive, and diverse—and probably less confident. In a world of declining natural resources and accelerated social change, in which nation-states have lost much of their independence to global institutions, the monarchy is set to continue to provide an oasis of stability—and the charm of distracting ceremonial events.
But the Crown is a political convenience, and any future monarch will need to remain above the political fray, remembering that Britain has long been a republic with a hereditary president.
Count Nikolai Von Bismarck, European aristocrat and descendant of Otto von Bismarck:
The greatest issue for the child is the question of succession in this age of longer life expectancy. The world already seems to have three near-immortal rulers: Robert Mugabe, Fidel Castro, and Her Majesty the Queen. Their power is in their longevity—the ability to reign while ignoring the hands of time.
Where will this celebrated new arrival fit into the equation? It seems very clear to me. He will be at least 94 when he takes to the throne. By then, perhaps, the strength of the British monarchy will have returned to an era of genuine power; more likely it will be a distant, far-off Disneyland. This new king will conduct his coronation for the benefit of global television audiences, dribbling in a wheelchair as his scepter rattles uncontrollably.
The Brits are chary of hazardous constitutional experiments.
Stephen Bayley, cultural critic:
2070? The Rolling Stones, sponsored by a Cambridge biotech business, a world leader in cryogenics and cell replacement, celebrate their 107th-anniversary concert in the Islamic Republic of Leicester. Mohammad Ismail, the prince regent, is in attendance. Scotland has long since devolved and is only ever visited by North Korean single-malt fetishists and Mexican fly-fishers. Wales has returned to the Dark Ages, which it only ever reluctantly left. London, meanwhile, has become an independent state, the second-richest community on earth after Tajikistan. Its mayor in perpetuity, Boris Johnson IV, styles himself an urban brand manager. In the capital, the royal family—the House of Middleton—occupies a role identical to that of the Vatican in Rome: isolated in irrelevant splendor.
Meanwhile, in the provinces, following the Revolution of 2048—when the bankers were all exiled to Zhangzhou and the National Health Service sold to Hyundai—there is a cautious return to manufacturing. In Stoke-on-Trent, the spirit of Wedgwood is revived to popular approval: local pride, the dignity of labor, and a sense of place are all exuberantly rediscovered. The crumbling motorway network has been turned into a linear park, and London’s 15 flights a week are served by an airport floating in the Bristol Channel. Heathrow is a paddy field.
Institutions? The British Museum has returned every exhibit to its spiritual home and is now shut, but the Victoria and Albert Museum flourishes as a department store since it was bought by the French government, a luxury-goods conglomerate called Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Children say their prayers again, but address them to the shades of George Orwell.
Victoria Arbiter, CNN contributor and daughter of the queen’s legendary press secretary Dickie Arbiter:
On one hand, 57 years is a mere drop in the ocean for a monarchy dating back over 1,000 years—but in this unimpressionable, Twitter-tastic world in which much of the queen’s speech has been reduced to verbal acronyms, one can’t help but speculate whether the monarchy will even still exist in 2070.
I get hives at the notion of Trump-ing-ham Palace Resort and Casino, Posh Spice’s pout on the £10 note, and Simon Cowell’s profile on the first-class stamp. So let’s not even go there.
In my opinion the monarchy will be thriving in 2070—and it will still matter. We may be a nation of cynics, but give us Brits a royal event, and we’ll roll out in droves regardless of the inevitable downpour. That’s not to say, however, that the country won’t have witnessed some dramatic changes within British Monarchy Inc.
It’s possible that King William V will have dispensed with much of the Old World formality while hopefully retaining the traditions on which the monarchy was founded. He will have set a precedent for being a down-and-dirty, fully engaged sovereign as opposed to a ribbon-cutting, plaque-unveiling figurehead. He will have struggled with his desperate desire to lead a “normal” life while also serving as head of state. But perhaps his greatest achievement will have been his hands-on approach to fatherhood, raising a well-adjusted, much-loved heir to carry the monarchy into the 22nd century. Will we still be saying “Diana would have been so proud”? Probably.
Lucie Greene, a forecaster at the Future Laboratory:
Brands will have supplanted state funding for the royal lifestyle. Expect luxury brands from emerging economies to endorse the royal family in order to underline their authenticity. There’s a trend that we have been tracking called renaissance retail, where luxury fashion houses and brands are buying into world heritage sites, restoring decaying architectural landmarks, and repurposing them into flagship stores. Think of Burberry refurbishing and then opening a pop-up in Buckingham Palace.
By royal appointment couturiers will have moved with the times to use 3-D printing and biofacture to clothe the monarchs in bespoke pieces that defy the conventional parameters of royal style cues. Crowns that are grown rather than forged, cloaks that are printed rather than sewn—performance wear for the sovereigns will have embraced the third industrial revolution.