The monarchy has constantly evolved to stay relevant while at the same time presenting itself as a force for national unity and stability. It is quite a trick. “I always say the monarchy is like the design on a jar of Marmite,” one of the Queen’s former communications secretaries, Simon Walker, once told me. “Everyone thinks it is still exactly the same but when you look at it closer, you realise it has changed quite dramatically over the years.”
For much of that time, the Royal Family has pulled it off effortlessly, but every now and again the Firm gets hurt – often in the aftermath of personal tragedy.
After her children’s divorces and the Windsor fire, the Queen referred to 1992 as her “annus horribilis”, and the death of Princess Diana in 1997 had far-reaching implications around the world.
After being dragged into a constitutional crisis over Brexit, the Queen is currently going through another rocky period. A scandal involving Prince Andrew also threatens the reputation of the monarchy and there is turmoil behind the scenes over the actions of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have had a good few days – celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Invictus Games Harry founded and Meghan’s return from maternity leave to launch a clothing collection for the charity Smart Works.
But behind the scenes, several sources have claimed the 93-year-old monarch has been “disappointed” with the way that Harry, 34, and Meghan, 38, have behaved since their marriage in May last year.
Their open hostility towards the media and refusal to heed royal aides’ advice on matters such as their son Archie’s christening have reportedly troubled the Queen.
Indeed their refusal to release details of Archie’s godparents has put the Royal Household at risk of legal action after the Church of England’s lawyers concluded there was no exemption under a church law that requires such details to be made available from the register.
The Queen has asked the couple to be her representatives to young people around the Commonwealth and has placed a good deal of faith in their ability to do that.
Their showbiz approach to royal duties, support for liberal “progressive” causes and Meghan’s mixed-race heritage have certainly won them an army of younger fans.
But by publicly supporting “forces for change” – the title chosen by Meghan when she guest edited British Vogue magazine – the couple have risked upsetting traditionalists in the heartland of Middle Britain who also resent being dictated to by royals who fail to practise what they preach – on climate change, for example.
Last month, nobody at Buckingham Palace could quite explain how the Sussexes championing a feminist website that urged women to “bury the patriarchy” sat with the monarchy’s mission statement of acting as a force for continuity and stability.
Meghan’s decision to champion liberal-minded women – such as Michelle Obama and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – as “icons” in Vogue also risked political controversy.
Imagine the outcry if she had chosen Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May, Diane Abbott or Priti Patel.
By refusing to listen to their advisers, she and Harry have echoed the mistakes of Prince Andrew.
His staff expressed concern about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein years before the tycoon was convicted of procuring a 14-year-old girl for prostitution.
Andrew, 59, has admitted it was a mistake to stay friends with Epstein after his 2008 conviction – and has emphatically denied claims he slept with one of the financier’s teenage “sex slaves”.
Epstein hanged himself in prison last month awaiting sex trafficking charges. Police in Britain and the US have shown no signs of wanting to interview Andrew, even though he has let it be known he is happy to talk to help clear his name.
But though innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law, in the eyes of the public he will be forever tainted by his link to Epstein.
The Queen has shown support for Andrew – reportedly her favourite son – but in the sensitive #MeToo era, every time he is pictured with a young person presents a public relations problem.
Senior royal aides claim that when Prince Charles accedes to the throne, he is likely to put Andrew into retirement and stand him down from official duties – but that could be years away.
Can he continue in public life with this hanging over him?
The biggest problem facing the Queen, however, is Brexit. The monarch is said to have become increasingly concerned by the polarisation of Britain and how politicians have failed to heed her advice to search for compromise.
In her 2018 Christmas broadcast, she said: “Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding.”
The Queen reinforced her message of the need to seek common ground over Brexit in a coded speech to Sandringham Women’s Institute earlier this year.
Instead, she finds herself at the centre of a Supreme Court hearing next week into whether she approved an unlawful suspension of Parliament and was misled by Boris Johnson.
As an unelected head of state, she is supposed to be above politics but is duty-bound to act on the advice of her Prime Minister.
The current political crisis has prompted questions about whether the conventions of Britain’s unwritten constitution are fit for purpose when the PM can no longer command a majority in Parliament.
The monarch has the constitutional right to be consulted, to encourage and warn her ministers.
But if none of that helps, it risks shaking faith in the monarchy.
These are dangerous times for the Queen and her family.