Sunday night’s news that Prince William tested positive for coronavirus earlier this year has raised questions as to why the British public was not told that the second-in-line to the throne had been ill during the pandemic.
According to a report in the Sun newspaper – which the palace has not denied – William told an observer at a function that he chose not to go public with his diagnosis because “there were important things going on, and I didn’t want to worry anyone.”
The Sun noted in its report that the Prince took a seven-day break from calls and video messages from April 9 to April 16.
During that period, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was off work recovering from his own bout of Covid-19, which was so serious he had to be treated in intensive care, leaving his Foreign Secretary to run the country. Several other members of Johnson’s government and his advisors had also tested positive for the virus.
The Prime Minister being out of action while the virus was circulating in the corridors of power would certainly count as “important things,” but it doesn’t fully explain why the palace would keep this information quiet during a public health crisis.
In March, the royal family deemed it necessary to let Britons know that Prince Charles, William’s father and the first-in-line to the throne, had tested positive for Covid-19, and was self-isolating.
The prospect of both the first- and second-in-line having a potentially deadly disease raises an important question about succession.
“If the unthinkable had happened and the Queen, Charles and William all passed away, the next in line would be Prince George, who is seven years old,” says Kate Williams, a leading Royal historian and professor of public engagement with history at the UK’s University of Reading. “He would not rule as King in the traditional sense until he was 18, but a ‘Regency Council’ would be appointed who would carry out duties in his name.”
The question would then be: Who would sit on that council? It would be assumed that George’s mother, the Duchess of Cambridge, would play a big role, but after that things get somewhat tricky.
The two most senior adult Royals in terms of succession would be Prince Harry, who stepped down from royal duties earlier this year, and Prince Andrew, who is embroiled in a scandal over his friendship with convicted child trafficker and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Conversations concerning a regency council or a constitutional crisis would normally be discussed with the government. CNN asked government sources if they knew about Prince William’s illness, or had been in discussion with the palace, but they declined to comment.
At a glance, it’s easy to see how it could have created a storm if these conversations had gone ahead in the public eye following William’s diagnosis. It is possible that it was deemed unnecessary to have this discourse in public, given the fact that the Queen was not ill with the virus, and was carrying out her duties.
“There was no constitutional crisis. Yes, the Queen was shielding because of her age, but she was doing her work with no problem. A crisis is when there is no succession line and there was – George would have had a regency,” says Williams. “This is more of a question of how much we should know about the health of the royal family.”
As private citizens, royals are entitled to privacy concerning their health as much as any other Briton.