When it comes to the throne (no, not that throne), there is one theory that rules above all others: The notion that Prince Charles will be passed over in favor of his elder son, Prince William, as Queen Elizabeth‘s successor.
The longstanding speculation popped up again this month, with headlines claiming that Queen Elizabeth herself has decided to skip over Charles in the line of succession and name Prince William and Princess Kate the next King and Queen.
However, despite what some royals fans may hope, this rumor is completely false. Prince Charles will be the British monarch (barring any unforeseen circumstances). To start, the Queen doesn’t have the power to choose her successor on a whim. The 1701 Act of Settlement is the act of Parliament that determines the succession to the throne, and requires that a monarch’s heir must be his or her direct successor (and a Protestant). That’s Charles, not William. And as the Queen doesn’t truly have any political power, it’s not up to her to change a law — instead, it would have to be taken up in Parliament, and it wouldn’t be a quick and easy process.
Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine tells PEOPLE, “the Queen herself doesn’t have the power to make those sort of decisions.”
Could Charles ever opt to abdicate? Highly unlikely. Some may point to King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in 1936 after just 11 months because of his desire to marry a divorced woman, Wallis Simpson — something the Church of England didn’t approve of, as both of Simpson’s former husbands were still alive. (The Prime Minister wasn’t thrilled either.) Charles himself is divorced, as is his second wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and it is public knowledge that he was unfaithful in his first marriage to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, with Camilla. Why is the situation different?
Short answer: It is no longer 1936. In 2002, the Church of England relaxed their position on remarriage if a former spouse is still alive. Though this has changed, Charles and Camilla were still not allowed to marry in the Church of England (they instead had a civil ceremony), because their relationship played a large role in the breakdown of Charles’s marriage to Diana. But even if the Church didn’t give Charles and Camilla their full blessing at the time of their wedding, societal attitudes toward divorce have evolved as well. In fact, divorce has become relatively commonplace in the royal family: Three of the Queen’s four children have been divorced, as was her late sister, Princess Margaret.
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At this point, Charles and Camilla have been married for more than 12 years — even as the public has been slow to warm to her. (A recent poll found that only 14 percent of Britons want Camilla as Queen.) Still, Charles’s biographer Sally Bedell Smith believes that Charles will make Camilla his Queen, not his Princess Consort, as was originally announced when the couple tied the knot in 2005.
There is yet another important factor to keep in mind: Prince William likely does not yet want to be king. According to his brother, Prince Harry, no one wants the throne — at least, that’s what he recently told Newsweek. It’s safe to assume he’s also referring to William, who, up until a few weeks ago, even had another job as an air ambulance pilot. This fall, he’ll transition to full-time royal status as he, Princess Kate and their children relocate to London. Though he knows that the job is his destiny, for now, his family is his priority.
As a father, Charles “wants his son to have the chance of a family life before he takes up the burden of kingship – a King has no family life as it is so restricting,” Seward says. And William agrees. She adds: “William doesn’t want to be King before his father, no way.”
Charles, on the other hand, is consistently one of the family’s most active members every year. (He and his sister, Princess Anne, are always neck-and-neck for undertaking the most engagements annually.) He has been first in line to the throne since he was four years old — and has been prepping for the job ever since, working as a full-time royal for decades. And as Queen Elizabeth gets older (she’ll celebrate her 92nd birthday next year), Charles is taking on more and more of her responsibilities. If anyone in the world is prepared to be King, it’s Charles.
And yes, while William and Kate are more popular than Charles and Camilla, the throne is not a popularity contest. To the Queen, this a duty that has been given to her by God for the rest of her life — whether it be long or short, as she said in her now-famous 21st birthday speech in 1947. And it’s one that she’ll hand down to her son.
“It’s not a job like being a truck driver,” Seward says. “We have an inherited monarchy and it passes from generation to generation and you have no choice in the matter. It passes down through the generations — only stalled by death. It is the natural order of things.”