End of an Era for the Monarchy

The death of the Queen Mother, who represented so much of what Britons liked best about the royal family, cuts a final link with the old-style monarchy that was deeply imbedded in British life.

The modern monarchy of Queen Elizabeth II followed the tide of 20th century social change slowly -- and sometimes painfully. Three of the queen's children joined the rising national divorce statistics in highly publicized marital breakdowns that badly tarnished the monarchy. 

In the 21st century, with a hard-working 75-year-old queen marking her 50th year on the throne, questions are often raised about the future of the monarchy. 

"After the sadness has subsided, the question will be whether the monarchy can continue without the Queen Mother," Harold Brooks-Baker, publishing director of Burke's Peerage, said Saturday. "This is certainly the day that the House of Windsor and the nine remaining European monarchies have dreaded." 

The queen's many admirers may disagree. Her approval rating has ups and downs but she has always managed to hold the support of many. 

For years, there has been a small but vocal republican movement campaigning for an end to the monarchy. But the idea never gets very far with the public, even when they seem disenchanted with members of the royal family. 

A MORI opinion poll published last month said 48 percent of young people were more interested in the lives of "The Simpsons" on TV than in the royal family; 55 percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed in December thought the royals were extravagant, and 70 percent said they were "out of touch." 

Still, 70 percent of the respondents wanted to keep the monarchy and two-thirds rated the queen and her family hardworking and highly respected. And 80 percent said they were important to Britain. 

Politicians are well aware of this contradiction and generally steer clear of anti-monarchist ideas. Although Prime Minister Tony Blair opposed inherited privilege and removed most of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords two years ago, he has been a strong supporter of the queen and the monarchy. 

Prince Charles's divorce from Princess Diana and his relationship with the divorced Camilla Parker Bowles brought serious criticism, and questions are raised periodically about his suitability as the next monarch. 

The public have made it clear -- so far -- that they would not accept Parker Bowles as queen. But Charles has slowly regained popularity, and his obviously warm relationship with his sons has helped win back much of the favor he had lost. 

But any change of sovereign may be a long way off. The queen, who seems in robust good health, has said she would never step down.