King Charles III begins his reign questioning his impartiality


The death of Queen Elizabeth II marked the end of an era for the monarchy in more ways than one. He was the last major king of a generation that will soon seem foreign to modern monarchists.

During her 70 years on the throne, Elizabeth gave only one media interview, which was limited to the subject of the coronation. He never publicly expressed a strong opinion on any matter that could be considered political or controversial. He avoided any public intervention in how UK public institutions should be run.

In fact, the most controversial political times during Elizabeth’s reign came from the indiscretions of others.

Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the Queen “squealed” with joy when Scotland voted to remain part of the UK in the 2014 independence referendum. The Sun speculated in 2016 that the Queen supported Brexit, something former Buckingham Palace communications director Sally Osman was quick to dismiss when interviewed on CNN. earlier this week.

Contrast this with the monarchs leading the monarchy into a new and more certain future. Elizabeth’s eldest child, the current King Charles III, embarrassed the family when letters he wrote to former Prime Minister Tony Blair between 2004 and 2005 were published.

Although the letters seemed rather innocuous – focusing on subsidies for farmers and, amusingly, the merits of publishing such private letters – the first in line was only too happy to express political opinions to his superiors. the minister stressed to those who supported the convention that the monarchy is apolitical.

Charles has also controversially agreed to use public money to provide Homeopathy in the UK’s state-funded National Health Service. NHS England said it would not fund homeopathy in 2017 because “there was no evidence of its effectiveness to justify the cost”.

Although knowing Charles’ views on these matters is irrelevant, it is worth remembering that throughout her reign we knew almost nothing about Elizabeth’s personal views, let alone how she thought government funding should be distributed.

“The monarchy has a lot of indirect power because it can influence public opinion on an issue, which is arguably more important than lobbying ministers,” says Kate Williams, professor of public relations and senior royal historian at the University of the United Kingdom. of reading

Queen Elizabeth II said at the time that Scottish voters should “think carefully about the future” as they left church services in Scotland ahead of the 2014 referendum. the referendum can be seen by both sides as an acceptance of the rejection of independence,” Williams added.

While remaining apolitical, the seemingly irreconcilable confusion of a monarch sharing views on such matters becomes murkier as she distances herself from the former queen by generations.

The Prince and Princess of Wales, like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, were very public campaigners for mental health. William, who will succeed Charles to the throne, has spoken in the album about his struggles with mental health, particularly after the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.

William has also used his platform to speak against racism in footballat a time when there was a lot of controversy in the sport by saying that he supports players who take a knee before matches, an issue that has caused a lot of backlash from many UK football clubs.

And the front-runner has had a difficult relationship with the British media, particularly the BBC, after it was revealed that one of its reporters, Martin Bashir, had used nefarious methods to secure an interview with his mother when she was very vulnerable after the divorce. from Charles

William, Prince of Wales leads his brother Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, behind their cousins ​​before holding a vigil around the coffin of their grandmother Elizabeth II on September 17, 2022.

Right now, support for the monarchy is high. We have seen an outpouring of grief for the late Elizabeth and sympathy for the new King, taking the role of his life in grieving his mother. But that doesn’t mean support will be high forever.

Charles, in a BBC documentary filmed on his 70th birthday in 2018, promised not to get involved in controversial affairs after becoming king. Asked if he would continue his campaign, he said: “No, it won’t be. I’m not that stupid.”

He added: I have tried to make sure that what I do has been non-partisan, but I think it is essential to remember that there is only room for one sovereign at a time, not two. So you cannot be equal to the sovereign if you are the Prince of Wales or the heir.’

However, the problem for the king and his successor is that they cannot bottle these comments. And the existence of these opinions will inevitably affect their relationship with the public in the following years, as they move away from the era of the invisible Elizabeth.

That said, republicanism has never been very popular in the UK. Even last week, during official events, the protests were mostly limited to a small group of people, many of whom only held up pieces of paper. A disproportionate police response, in which some protesters were arrested, caused some media coverage and outcry, but has not significantly moved the anti-royalty brand.

Elizabeth was a particularly popular monarch. Most public inquiries into the matter show that the older monarchists believe that his relative silence, compared to his successors, was dignified and preserved the integrity of the Crown.

Many of these traditional supporters, however, have historically been skeptical of Carlos and would prefer to follow in his mother’s footsteps.

On the contrary, the late queen was popular among the young monarchists, despite her silence. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but it’s probably just a byproduct of Elizabeth always being on the throne and younger people not knowing any different.

What is clear, however, is that the young monarchs approve of the royal family talking about topics that would have been considered too controversial for the former queen.

“It’s entirely possible that there’s a generation that thinks the Royals need to keep a stiff upper lip and not talk about issues like women’s rights and mental health,” says Joe Twyman, director of political research organization Deltapoll.

Prince William, King Charles III, Princess Anne and Prince Harry follow the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II in a procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall on September 14, 2022.

“For people of a certain generation, the idea of ​​bowing to your grandmother every time you see her for being queen seems crazy,” he added, referring to the row Meghan Markle described after her interview with Oprah Winfrey last year. how surreal he found royal life at times.

This conflict over the precise role of the monarch is important because the institution lives or dies on whether the public thinks it deserves it or not.

There are likely to be traditional monarchists who will defend his every action if he is not always evolving or modernizing. They tend to be the most ardent supporters.

However, this group will likely become a minority before William takes the throne. If Charles lives to be 99, as his father did, William will not become king until 2048. No credible social scientist can tell you for sure what the public’s attitude will be by then on anything, be it the royal family, climate change or racial equality.

The fact that the King and his successor have already said things on these issues will significantly weaken their ability to be neutral on issues that arise in the future, no matter how serious this issue is, which is expected of the sovereign.

The point is that perceived opinions on any of these issues, even if based on past comments, will continue to influence public opinion and therefore politics. If William’s dim view of the BBC leads more Britons to think they should withdraw public funding in the coming years, how will politicians respond to the pressure?

The monarchy has not had to deal with these issues for a long time, because during Elizabeth’s time on the throne, the public view of the family and its role was largely stable.

That time is truly over. Now, Charles and William must navigate less certain times, balancing old and new visions of who they are against the pressure of being an apolitical head of state. And, unlike Elizabeth, they will do so knowing that the reputation they rely on will be no more guaranteed than at any point in the monarch’s 70-year reign.