How Prince William Is Stepping Up amid an Unprecedented 'Assault on the Monarchy'

Royal historian Robert Lacey exclusively writes in this week’s PEOPLE about how the charismatic future king is "paving the way forward" after a challenging few years for the royals

Royal historian Robert Lacey, author of the best-selling Battle of Brothers, exclusively writes this week's PEOPLE cover story, offering insights on the state of the monarchy, the Queen's legacy in action, and William and Kate's eye toward their future on the throne

Following the death of his grandfather, with family scandals afoot and growing cries to abolish the monarchy, Prince William's role within the royal family has never been more critical.

"Following the April death of Grandpa [Prince] Philip, William has stepped up to become one of the top three family figures, adding the ginger of youth to royal strategy," Robert Lacey, a veteran royal historian and author of the best-selling book Battle of the Brothers, writes in an exclusive cover story for PEOPLE. "It's a crucial inflection point — this heir-in-waiting is under pressure like none before in recent history."

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Prince William and People cover.

While Princess Diana famously suggested that her firstborn son become king over his father in her 1995 BBC Panorama interview, Prince William now stands side by side with his grandmother Queen Elizabeth and father Prince Charles as a leader within the monarchy. In the past few years, many have stepped away from royal life — Prince Harry and Meghan Markle relocated to California after stepping back as senior royals, while Prince Andrew's scandals have forced him out of the spotlight — leaving William and his wife Kate Middleton, both 39, front and center.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (R) shows Britain's <a href="https://people.com/tag/queen-elizabeth/" data-inlink="true">Queen Elizabeth</a> II (L) and Britain's <a href="https://people.com/tag/prince-william/" data-inlink="true">Prince William</a>, Duke of Cambridge, around the 'Back to Nature Garden' garden
Queen Elizabeth, Prince William and Kate Middleton. GEOFF PUGH/AFP via Getty Images

Following the Queen's "never complain, never explain" strategy has earned him favor. Lacey cites a U.K. poll rating Prince William at 80% popularity, second only to the Queen at 85%.

<a href="https://people.com/tag/prince-william/" data-inlink="true">prince william</a> and queen

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But Prince William also has a more outspoken side, which Lacey credits to Princess Diana's influence. William recently condemned the BBC after an investigation found that Martin Bashir used deceit, such as falsifying documents, to obtain his 1995 interview with Diana.

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"The BBC's failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her," William said.

"After nearly five decades of studying the British monarchy I have learned to be wary of words like 'survival.' Headline writers thrive on crises that 'threaten the very existence' of the crown," Lacey writes. "The British throne has survived beheading, exile and enough scandal to stock entire libraries. Now a new leader — William, not Charles — is paving the way forward."

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