Charles III, the journey of a king

The queen is dead, long live the king. At 73, the eldest son of Elizabeth II, Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor, inherits the British crown. After seven decades of waiting. By succeeding his mother who died at the age of 96, the Prince of Wales chose to refute the rumors which already saw him abdicate in favor of his son William. He offered his first walkabout in front of Buckingham Palace on Friday, before addressing the British and promising to to serve the British all his life, taking over the pledge made by his mother Elizabeth II on her 21st birthday.

With his receding white hair and famous cabbage ears, Charles III becomes the oldest monarch to ascend the throne of the United Kingdom. He must be officially proclaimed king on Saturday September 10, but he will have to wait a few more months before his coronation, warns the Guardian*. That of his mother, 16 months after his accession in 1953, had been followed by heads of state around the world and broadcast for the first time on television.

Elizabeth was 22 when she gave birth to Charles on November 14, 1948. Three years later, she became queen and he was her direct heir. The little boy grew up under the gilded palaces, with a future all mapped out. But the price to pay is high: nannies and governesses replace parents who are often absent, official trips to the Commonwealth oblige. Undemonstrative, Elizabeth “very quickly made the choice to place her duties as a queen before those of a mother”, observes on franceinfo Philip Kyle, expert on the British monarchy. If a bond is woven despite everything, according to the specialist, Charles will seek the affection he lacks from his grandmother, the queen mother.

He always adored his mother, he placed her on a pedestal. But it’s not a mother-son relationship, more of a monarch-subject relationship.

Monarchy expert Penny Junor

at AFP

Charles is the first of his siblings, Anne, Andrew and Edward, to leave Buckingham to go to school. As a teenager, he joined Gordonstoun College, a boarding school for boys attended by his father in the northeast of Scotland. Prince Philip wants to toughen up this sensitive and awkward child. “He had tough parents, whose character had been forged by difficult times. He had very complicated relationships” with them, analysis for franceinfo Isabelle Baudino, lecturer in British civilization at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon.

The eldest of the family remains far from London and enters the prestigious University of Cambridge, where he obtains a degree in anthropology, archeology and history. At the age of 21, in 1969, he inherited a first crown, that of the Prince of Wales, a title traditionally attributed to the first son of the monarch and now owned by William. If the series The Crown, devoted to the British family, forced the line by imagining that he had written his inaugural speech himself after having learned the Welsh language, a story is tied between Charles and this British province. Its integration into the Royal Navy, at the end of its studies, contributes to reinforce its royal stature. He spent five years there and came out in 1977 with a helicopter pilot’s license and the rank of commander.

Queen Elizabeth II places a crown on her son, Prince Charles, during his investiture as the new Prince of Wales at Caernarfon, July 1, 1969. (CENTRAL PRESS / AFP)

Despite everything, Charles did not conquer the hearts of the British. His sentimental life will precipitate the fall of his popularity rating. His arranged marriage in 1981 with Diana Spencer, despite his crush on Camilla Parker Bowles, will turn into a nightmare. Despite the birth of two children, William and Harry, the couple, whose infidelities and domestic scenes made the front page of the tabloids, lived through hell. “We were three in this marriage”, revealed Princess Diana to the BBC in 1995, a year before their divorce. The following year, pursued by the paparazzi, the princess died in a car accident in Paris. “All of this has crystallized the image of clumsy cad of Charles”Write the New York Times*.

There are still staunch supporters of Diana who can’t stand how he treated his wife.

Isabelle Baudino, historian

at franceinfo

Other scandals come to tarnish its image. Considered eccentric and much less reserved than his mother, Charles made headlines when he shook hands with Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe at the funeral of Pope John Paul II. At the same time, he lobbied Tony Blair’s government by writing him handwritten letters, reveals the Guardian*. These notes, nicknamed “Black Spider memos” in reference to the prince’s spider-legged writing, undermine the neutrality of the crown.

Latest case, the opening of an investigation by Scotland Yard, in February 2022, on suspicions concerning donations to the foundation of prince Charles. Revealed last year, it had splashed the heir to the throne. His former assistant valet is suspected of having used his influence to help a Saudi businessman, a generous donor to charities linked to the British monarchy, to obtain a decoration.

The favorite hobbies of this dandy in a three-piece suit, or gentleman farmer, do not reconcile him with his subjects. Interested in architecture, he shocked public opinion by comparing to a “monstrous wart” an extension project for the National Gallery, London. This lover of polo, hunting and watercolors also developed a passion for botany and organic farming. “In the 1980s he was seen as a nature lover, which was not a compliment at the time”reminds franceinfo Anna Whitelock, historian specializing in the monarchy.

The Prince of Wales at Kew Botanic Garden in west London on February 24, 2003. (ODD ANDERSEN / AFP)

However, ecology is “perhaps the subject that will define the reign” of Charles III, believes the professor at the City, University of London. It is indeed a long-standing commitment of the monarch, who creates a foundation for the protection of tropical forests, calls for greener investments at the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos*, promotes sustainable urban planning and publishes its annual carbon footprint since 2007*.

Seizing on an essential problem on a planetary scale would give another dimension to his reign.

Anna Whitelock, historian

at franceinfo

The environment is not the only fight invested by Charles III. Throughout this life spent waiting to become king, he “fought to forge an identity as Prince of Wales”raise it New York Times*. This notably involves intense charitable activity: he chairs or supports more than 400 organisations, including the Prince’s Trust, which has “helped nearly a million underprivileged young people”according to the American daily. “Charles tried to show that he was more than a fashionable dilettante, but that he was also a monarch in the making, dignified and humane”says journalist Tina Brown in her book The Palace PapersQuoted by The world.

At the same time, the future king manages to have his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles accepted. The couple wait two years after the death of Lady Di to make their first public appearance, and another six years before getting married in 2005. She gains popularity with the British, until in 2022 the eighth member of the most popular royal family, according to France 24*. Charles even sees one of his dearest wishes come true: Camilla will be crowned “queen consort” alongside her husband, with the blessing of Elizabeth II.

[Charles] has grown in stature in recent years. He looks much more confident, happier.

Penny Junor, historian

at the “New York Times”

The Prince of Wales is getting comfortable, and his duties are getting thicker. Charles gradually began to supplement the Queen in her duties, replacing her in particular for official trips abroad, and to accompany her to her traditional speech at the opening of the parliamentary session. Her responsibilities increased further as Elizabeth II showed herself to be increasingly weakened after the death of Prince Philip. In May 2022, he must thus deliver the speech from the throne in Parliament, a solemn appointment that his mother has only missed three times in 70 years of reign.

What will the reign of Charles III look like? The successor of Elizabeth II has already delivered some leads, even before being enthroned. “He said he was in favor of a monarchy a little behind”, recalls the historian Isabelle Baudino to franceinfo. The new king wishes in particular to reduce the number of active members of the royal family, responsible for representing it at official events.

He wants a monarchy that is clear and that people know why, in a way, they are paying for the royal family.

Philip Kyle, expert on the British monarchy

at franceinfo

We do not know, however, how Charles III will distinguish himself from his mother. Will he continue to express his opinions openly, breaking with the reserve expected of the monarch? “He will perhaps have more direct relations with politicians, but it will be behind the scenes and not on the front of the stage”assures Isabelle Baudino. “I’m not that dumb”he slipped to the BBC in 2018.

The new king will indeed have to ensure a form of continuity of the monarchy. Especially since the crown was shaken by the break between Harry and Megan Markle and the royal family, even if he expressed “his love” for the couple during his speech, or by the accusations of sexual assault against Prince Andrew, younger brother of Charles. Britain’s imperialist past could also be called into question, if Commonwealth countries decide to follow Barbados’ example and become a republic.

The British royal family gathered around Queen Elizabeth, November 9, 2019, at the Royal Albert Hall, in London.  (CHRIS JACKSON/POOL/AFP)

One of the stakes of the reign of Charles III, destined to be much shorter than that of his mother, will be “play a unifying role” for his family and his country, summarizes the American site Vox *. A crucial role as the UK faces the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and the consequences of Brexit.

* article in English

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