What kind of King will Charles be? Will he be able to resist meddling? What will he do with Edward and Anne? And can he ever heal the rift with Harry and Meghan? RICHARD KAY and GEOFFREY LEVY look forward to our next monarch’s reign

  • King Charles III is now the British monarch and is the oldest person ever to assume the throne at 73
  • He has a history of being passionate about causes such as the environment, foxhunting and the NHS
  • There are concerns he may struggle to remain as calm and steady as his mother Queen Elizabeth II

It is not hard to imagine the confusion of emotion and anticipation flooding through our new King’s mind today.

Sadness and grief at the loss of a mother whose love he only came to really fully understand in the latter half of his life; but also the enormity of the challenge in following the most successful sovereign in British history.

She was 25 and a young mother when she came to the throne. Charles is 73 and a grandfather. Understandably, what most weighs on his mind is that time is short for him to make his mark as monarch, something crucially important to this student of royal history.

Above all, he is acutely aware that for him there will be no succession of celebratory jubilees that have so symbolised his mother’s reign.

Her universal popularity was based on reigning as a calm and steady monarch, hovering above — and detached from — the political turmoil, and on being a good listener who kept her opinions to herself. Always.

It is not hard to imagine the confusion of emotion and anticipation flooding through our new King’s mind today

Sadness and grief at the loss of a mother whose love he only came to really fully understand in the latter half of his life

The Queen with her eldest son Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall ahead of the annual Order of the Garter service at St George’s Chapel on June 13, 2022

Charles has continually ensured that his opinions have been heard. Advisers and friends have long been uneasy that his penchant for trying to get things done, or get them changed, could be hazardous for the long term well-being of the monarchy itself.

And at his age, a relatively short reign could magnify his desire to make his mark.

So there is more than a little anxiety in official circles, where it is feared that — despite his protestations to the contrary in recent years — the writer of so many passionate ‘black spider’ letters (so-called because of his scrawled handwriting) to government ministers may find it hard to ensure that he is not seen as a ‘meddling’ monarch.

His greatest challenge — and legacy — will be in maintaining the popularity of the monarchy in his mother’s image, making sure it is as secure now as when the time comes for him to hand it on to his son, William.

Charles acknowledges that he is ‘no longer young’, but reflects on the words of his late mentor and friend, the South African-born philosopher and writer Sir Laurens van der Post. He assured the Prince that as every decade passed, one was not ten years older but ‘ten years wiser’. Indeed, one of Charles’s favourite phrases continues to be ‘the wisdom of old age’.

These words have given him much comfort as the years have passed and he began to fear that when he finally ascended the throne, he might be ‘too old to make much of a difference, if any difference at all’.

But then, what difference will he want to make?

The Queen is seen with her eldest son Prince Charles on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations

The royal family walk their corgis at Balmoral on September 18, 1957 – from left: Philip, Anne, the Queen and Prince Charles

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, kisses his mother as she arrives to attend a 90th Birthday Celebration show at Windsor Castle on May 15, 2016

The Queen and heir to the throne Prince Charles, dressed in full military uniform, welcomed a small number of healthcare professionals to the ornate confines of Windsor Castle on July 12

Catherine Mayer who wrote an unauthorised biography of Charles in 2015, forecast that he will ‘never be remote and impartial like his mother’ — using words that, perhaps, show a misunderstanding of the delicate role of the modern monarchy. But then, could this ardent Prince, often working on so many projects that he would be found asleep at his study desk after midnight with discarded Post-it notes stuck to his face, ever be a ‘remote and impartial’ King?

In recent times Charles has been talking of compensating for the relative shortness of his reign with a six-month sprint of activity after his coronation. He has come up with a string of ideas unrelated to his usual hobby-horses of the environment, architecture and agriculture.

What he has been suggesting, say friends, are modernising areas of public life such as the honours system, ideas that carry no political risk and, he feels, would have universal approval.

These ideas include dropping the outdated word ‘Empire’ in, for example, the OBE, and replacing it with the word ‘Excellence’.

Another more personal change would be renaming the Royal Victorian Order as the Royal Elizabethan Order. This would be in tribute to both his mother and his beloved grandmother — the Queen Mother — who was 101 when she died in 2002.

He has also long felt that the contribution of philanthropists on whom his charitable work has heavily relied — not without some controversy in recent months — has not been sufficiently recognised with honours.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip with their children Prince Charles and Princess Anne at Sandringham in 1970

Another of his ideas is to turn investitures into more of a celebration. Says a friend: ‘Charles finds it a shame that after receiving an honour at the palace, a big day in anyone’s life, recipients simply leave. How much more appropriate for everyone it would be for the occasion to be marked by a party.’

The unanswered questions, however, are: who would pay for such parties; and could such expenditure ultimately lead to fewer investitures and honours?

No one seriously expects Charles to abandon his longer-held interests and views. After all, issues on which he has lobbied ministers in various governments, including such burning topics as foxhunting, the NHS, the role of grammar schools, genetically modified food and healthy school lunches, have always resonated well with the public.

Rural life is another passion, especially the plight of hill farmers, as well as raising concerns about bovine tuberculosis and illegal fishing. In a famous exchange of letters with former Labour Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine, the Prince once rubbished the Human Rights Act, suggesting it was ‘only about the rights of individuals (I am unable to find a list of social responsibilities attached to it) and this betrays a fundamental distortion in social and legal thinking.’

In another letter to Derry Irvine he expressed his fears that the Act ‘will only encourage people to take up causes which will make the pursuit of a sane, civilised and ordered existence ever more difficult’.

He added: ‘I, and countless others, dread the very real and growing prospect of an America-style personal injury culture becoming ever more prevalent in this country.’

Charles knows he could never write another letter like that as King. As he said on his 70th birthday about making his views known when he ascends to the throne: ‘I’m not that stupid. I do realise that it is a separate exercise being sovereign.’

Can anyone doubt, however, that his views won’t be trenchantly put in private to the Prime Minister of the day in their weekly Tuesday evening audiences? And not only then. He is hardly likely to hide what he thinks from other ministers at the regular Privy Council meetings at Buckingham Palace.

‘Just being King cannot stop Charles being passionate about what he believes in,’ says one figure close to him. ‘He is, by nature, a lobbyist.’

The Queen and the then Prince Charles are seen out walking in Balmoral in October 2021. It was one of the last times the mother and son were pictured together

Holding such intense instincts in check — instincts that, as Prince of Wales, he felt able to air — is only one of the problems facing the new King. His in-tray is bulging. What on earth, for example, does he do about The Firm?

Ever since the death of Princess Diana in the summer of 1997, Charles has been talking about slimming down the monarchy.

To some extent the family has slimmed itself. Prince Harry has retired from the royal round and Prince Andrew is excluded from it.

Who could forget the Platinum Jubilee flypast when the Queen was flanked by just Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and their three children George, Charlotte and Louis.

How empty the Buckingham Palace balcony looked compared with previous national celebrations when generations of royals crowded into view. But this is Charles’s vision of the royal future: a monarchy revolving around himself as King and his successors, with few peripheral figures.

He could never have dreamt, of course, that this slimmed-down vision would not include his youngest son, daughter-in-law Meghan and their children Archie and Lilibet.

What must be said is that his sleeker, more finely focused monarchy is not intended to be self-serving. His rationale is the protection and survival of the monarchy itself, and cost has become a major factor in Charles’s thinking — especially how the precious institution is perceived by the people.

He is well aware that a hard-pressed public are anxious to see value for money in the monarchy as they are in any other areas of national life.

So will this mean the new King pensioning off much-loved family figures? What does Charles now do, for example, with his youngest brother Edward?

Faced now by what he has long advocated, does Charles write to Edward and tell him his ribbon-cutting services are no longer required? That would certainly be a difficult letter to pen, not least because Edward’s wife Sophie was so close to the Queen.

And even as King, would he dare tell his sister Princess Anne, who has worked harder for the royal Firm than anyone over the years, to ‘naff off’?

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and their children Anne, Edward and Charles in Windsor in April 1965

March 9, 2020: The Queen and Charles attend the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on Commonwealth Day

In these days of social change when ‘teamwork’ is being emphasised as the solution to so many issues, surely, King Charles will see how important to his reign the support of the royal team can be. But the Harry issue — his absence — remains a problem. Charles is painfully aware of the burden that now rests solely on William’s shoulders as effectively an only royal son. How dearly King Charles would love to find a way of reuniting them all as a family.

Meanwhile, the public is entitled to ask how well his slimmed-down monarchy will work and question whether or not the royals extraordinary portfolio of houses needs to be slimmed down as well.

Apart from Buckingham Palace, he now has Windsor Castle, Sandringham House in Norfolk, Balmoral and nearby Birkhall in Scotland and, of course, his own homes in London and Gloucestershire, Clarence House and Highgrove.

He is understood to want to open up some royal homes to the public, not for just two months of the year as Buckingham Palace currently is, but all year round.

Yet among such modernising flourishes, some traditions are destined not to change in the court of new King — such as curtsying. Charles is understood to want to continue this ancient formality.

But like the Queen, who dispensed with the need for servants to wear powdered wigs when she came to the throne in 1952, he may well in time relax aspects of the liveried dress code.

One matter that has already been clarified is the title his wife Camilla will now use.

This would not have been a completely happy King unless the former Mrs Parker Bowles was crowned Queen at his side.

March 9, 2020: (From left) The Queen, Prince Charles, his wife Camilla, Prince William and Kate at Westminster Abbey

It was, of course, the late Queen who changed everything with that unexpected intervention on the anniversary of her 70th year as monarch when she made clear it was her wish that rather than Princess Consort as originally planned, Camilla would be Queen Consort when Charles acceded to the throne.

Comparatively straightforward will be changing his monarchical role as Defender of the Faith to Defender of Faith, a move he first proclaimed decades ago in a changing Britain and about which Charles feels stronger than ever.

While he has flirted with and studied other religions, he remains, like his mother, a practising Christian. But he will want his coronation to be an ecumenical statement; a triumph of togetherness at which every faith in the land will be represented.

As for where he will live, although no more fond of the vast and chilly Buckingham Palace than his mother was, it will (at least to start with) be the official seat of the monarchy and the palace will continue to be used for all official functions, investitures and summer garden parties.

Clarence House, on which £6 million was spent (£1.5 million of his money and £4.5 million from taxpayers), will remain a royal residence. If William doesn’t want to move entirely from his London office at Kensington Palace, it may be mothballed for Prince George or become a home for the Royal Collection of art and treasures.

One thing unlikely to change is Charles’s daily routine — he is an early riser and at his desk by 8.45am. Unlike his mother, he rarely eats lunch, preferring to go for a brisk walk.

On days when he doesn’t have engagements — and there’ll be very few such days from now on — he remains at his desk until 5pm with a break for tea (usually a blend of lapsang souchong). He will then work through his correspondence until 8pm and dinner (he has two meat-free and two fish-free days a week).

In future, of course, he will now have to deal with the red boxes of government papers that arrive in the late afternoon.

All in all, from now on he won’t have quite so much time to spend in his favourite red velvet monogrammed slippers.

This has more significance than at first sight. For it is only now that Charles will really feel the pressure that weighed so heavily on the Queen when she was a young mother.

He has been surprisingly open about those days, describing how she was a rather remote figure in his early life. In his authorised biography, he told author Jonathan Dimbleby that he recalled a childhood during which he spent more close time with the nursery staff, rather than his ‘emotionally reserved’ parents.

The Queen’s oldest friend and cousin, the late Margaret Rhodes, said the criticisms hurt the Queen very much.

‘He simply misunderstood the situation,’ said Mrs Rhodes. ‘The Queen adored all her children but was often away on tours especially when Charles was young. She always felt it best to leave him in a warm nursery with nanny rather than drag him half-way round the world.’

However, in recent years Charles and the Queen became increasingly close, as he grew to understand the wisdom of Mrs Rhodes’s words. And now that he occupies the throne himself, with its onerous responsibilities, he will fully appreciate what his mother managed.

Not long ago Charles was recalling a boyhood incident when he was being driven past Buckingham Palace and saw crowds coming out to cheer his mother.

Ever prone to introspection about his own popularity, he gloomily remarked: ‘They’ll never come out for me.’

Surely they will now.

Source: Read Full Article