Mental health counselor Annette Schreiber has watched the funeral processions of Queen Elizabeth II and the ascension of King Charles III with a more informed scholar’s eye. The Ocean Acres resident and doctor of psychological counseling has studied the monarchy for more than 40 years.
These past two weeks, clients in her practice, The New Center for Counseling & Psychotherapy, LLC., have often brought up the historic transition because they know Schreiber is an expert on the British royals.
Her near-lifelong study of the monarchy culminated in a doctoral dissertation. As a matter of fact, the treatise examined dysfunction in the royal family through the application of a well-known theory called Bowen Family Systems Theory. It’s a theory of human behavior that defines the family unit as a complex system, in which members’ relationships and repeated behavioral patterns influence each other down through the generations.
Her dissertation is about the size of an encyclopedia and contains more than 250 references. She has been a guest lecturer at Monmouth University’s graduate classes in marriage and family therapy, and also found herself chatting about Royal history in a London china shop.
Since Sept. 8, people have needed to chat, and not just British people. The passing of the Queen and the passing of the crown have entranced millions of Americans. Why do so many in the States feel such emotion?
“Dependability, stability and continuity are what the monarchy represents to the United Kingdom, and the Queen personified that for the entire world,” Schreiber said.
Most people alive today have never known another British monarch, added the Ocean County Board of Commissioners in a press statement to mark the Queen’s passing just hours after her death.
“To put things in perspective, she was queen when Winston Churchill was prime minister,” pointed out Commissioners Chair John P. Kelly, of West Creek. The county observed the 96-year-old Queen’s death with a moment of silence. “She was a reassuring presence in troubled times. It is a very sad day for the entire world.”
Schreiber posed the thought that as such a familiar figure, Queen Elizabeth’s death can also bring back memories of losing a family member or close friend.
“I think what happens when you have someone so well-known die, a lot of people re-grieve old losses,” the psychotherapist elaborated. “It happens when someone famous, such as John Lennon, died. There’s a connection to celebrity that we think we know them, so that when they die it becomes a personal loss.”
The death of Princess Diana falls in that category, Schreiber reminded. “There was this worldwide mourning. I think people connected to her, and I think the same thing is happening now. The Queen was on the throne for 70 years.”
And King Charles now faces the spotlight from the throne, next to Queen Consort Camilla, for better or for worse, depending on who in the Commonwealth is giving their opinion. Time will tell how well he is received, as Diana’s legend lingers but observers note that Camilla provides support.
An initial speculation, “I think they’ll give Charles a chance,” Schreiber said. “I think he will be another steadying presence because he has been there as Prince of Wales throughout most people’s lifetimes. He was three when the Queen came to the throne.”
On social media locally, Schreiber answered a question that arose more than once the very day the Queen died: What if the public felt that Prince William would be a better king than Charles? It doesn’t work that way.
“There were people who don’t know about how it works – you can’t skip over Charles to William. He will become king after Charles. And then thus his oldest son George will become king after him,” Schreiber answered queries last week. Prince George of Wales, age 9, was recently informed of what it means to be second in line of succession, she said.
As a young girl in the 1960s, Schreiber first became captivated with English culture when her father, a merchant marine, brought home Beatles memorabilia fresh from Liverpool as the Fab Four craze was young. That’s part of how she became an Anglophile.
At age 66, she thought about it again and crystallized the reason, “Royals are ‘living history.’
“They meet the brightest and the best, leaders of countries, great statesmen and women, and religious leaders. The Queen received a wedding gift from Mahatma Gandhi, a length of cloth woven himself (Queen Mary, The Queen’s grandmother, sniffed and called it a loincloth). She met Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and received greetings and a gift of a silk prayer shawl from the Dalai Lama. She has met probably every crowned head from around the world, including the emperor of Japan, various Arab kings, sultans and sheiks, and she is related to all the Royal families of Europe. She has met ballerinas, opera singers, actors, pop stars and Nobel prize winners. In times of war or catastrophe, the monarch has always shared in the country’s sorrows (wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and the pandemic), comforting and encouraging.”
Charles’ role as king will be as head of state but not the political leader. Like his mother, the role of the constitutional monarch is to reign but not rule. The Prime Minister and Parliament make the laws. The monarch is bound by law to sign every law passed by Parliament.
“One of the things that a monarchy does, is it protects against a military coup. The military swears allegiance to the king or the queen,” Schreiber explained. If something happened to the Prime Minister, the king would appoint a new Prime Minister, who is chosen by the party in power. The monarch’s three constitutional rights in relation to the government are: the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn. The smart prime ministers listened very carefully, because she had developed relationships with other heads of states over a period of many years.
“Every Tuesday, there is a meeting between the Prime Minister and the monarch where they discuss what’s going on in the country. Those red boxes that the Queen got every day and King Charles will get every day are filled with information about the country and the government. The Queen was always very well informed, and woe betide the Prime Minister who was not prepared to discuss the issues of the day,” Schreiber said.
While the rule of primogeniture states that right of succession goes to the firstborn, Charles’ unpopularity due to his treatment of Diana has always been a cloud over his head, Schreiber related.
“A lot of people still dislike the fact that he and Camilla were together while Charles was married to Diana, and they saw Charles as being an adulterer, and really being old beyond his years,” Schreiber noted. “He has finally caught up with the way people perceived him … he has grown into the role, but he does not have the popularity of the late Queen. Charles’ personality is very different from his mother.
She concluded, “Everybody knows him; they have seen the good, the bad and the ugly with him, and right now in the last several years, with his relationship with Camilla, he is obviously happier with her. I think everybody is going to give him a chance. The Queen trained Charles to take her place. He grew into the role as he got older and, particularly after Prince Philip retired and eventually died, taking over more of the Queen’s official ceremonial duties and world tours.
The title Queen Consort refers to one who marries the king, a Queen Regnant is one who is queen by birth. “The Queen not that long ago made the announcement that she wanted Camilla to be known as Queen Consort when, “in the fullness of time, Charles becomes king” in recognition of her support of Charles and the monarchy, and her hard work.”
The rules were changed in recent years to allow previously divorced individuals to hold royal title.
“In the interests of the survival of the monarchy, they started bending the rules,” Schreiber said. Such grace had not happened for divorcee Wallis Simpson to marry King Edward VIII, who famously abdicated, or Princess Margaret to marry her beloved Peter Townsend.
Charles, even though he was a widower after he and Diana divorced, could not marry Camilla, who was a divorcee, while the Queen Mother (Elizabeth II’s mother) was alive because she was so against divorce,” Schreiber recounted. “After the Queen Mother died, in the interest of the monarchy, they bent the rules.
Until very recently, divorced persons were not permitted to remarry in the Anglican denomination. Nor were those who were in the line of succession permitted to marry in a civil ceremony. However, Charles and Camilla, both divorced, were permitted to marry in a registry office, and have a church blessing.
“It’s a crown of more than a thousand years and there has always been a lot of family dysfunction. The institution of monarchy, and its survival, is paramount, and therefore triangulated into every relationship: parents and children, spouses and siblings. Everything else is secondary to ensuring that the monarchy survives.”
When it came time for Schreiber to write a doctoral dissertation, she integrated her interest in the Royal Family with Family Systems Theory. “A Transgenerational Psychobiography of the British Royal Family: From Victoria to Charles and Diana” was written in 2002.
Giving the country time to grieve Diana, Charles had focused on his sons but “gradually he started introducing Camilla back into the public,” Schreiber said. “In the palace and his office there was a campaign to rehabilitate her image and Charles’ … and really they have done very well as a married couple together.
“She has never sought the limelight and her role has always been to support Charles. When they go on a royal tour, she has chosen to champion certain charitable causes, one is literacy and reading. She is a patron of the Osteoporosis Society in England because her mother died of osteoporosis.”
Earlier, some of Diana’s causes had been more controversial – “to get involved in normalizing how we treat people with HIV and AIDS – she was the first public person to shake hands with an AIDS patient,” Schreiber pointed out. “She did a lot of very important things.”
Prince Harry believes that the press “hounded his mother literally to death,” Schreiber said.
“And I think that’s one of the reasons why they decided to leave – they were beginning to see history repeating itself. The British press is vicious. He did not want his wife and his child to be hounded by the press when they were not getting appropriate security.”
Believing Meghan Markle was “kind of pushed out by the institution,” the counselor said, “I’m probably one of the few people who really understood what Meghan was saying in that interview with Oprah – I think that it was ill-advised – but it was that they were pretty much forced out of the palace.
“The royal institution that surrounded the royal family did nothing to address the lies, and you can say anything in the newspapers over there. They would say things for Kate in her favor, but they would let any lie, exaggeration, horrible racist comment about Meghan go by and say, suck it up.”
Prince Andrew “is another interesting dynamic from a family systems perspective,” Schreiber added.
“Dysfunction comes down through the generations not equally. You oftentimes have one member of the family who has psychological issues, addiction issues, what have you. Unfortunately, Andrew is the most dysfunctional of the Queen’s four children.”
Among licenses and certifications, Schreiber is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Board Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor, and holds a Diplomate of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, Specialist in Trauma Counseling.
Since our talk with Schreiber, a USA Today poll showed that a majority of Britons “are in favor of continuing with the monarchy, although support for it has steadily declined over the past decade,” the article said. “About 6 in 10 Britons – 62% – think Britain should continue to have a monarchy in the future, with only 22% saying the country should move to having an elected head of state instead,” according to a survey published by YouGov, an online research firm, in June, before the queen died.
— Maria Scandale