The king’s speech, delivered to the nation by King Charles III soon after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was the most important address of Charles’s life.
Speaking from the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, where the queen addressed the nation for many of her Christmas messages, the new king was understandably emotional. It had been barely 24 hours since his beloved mother had passed away peacefully at Balmoral, the Scottish residence she so loved and where she wanted to die.
A brilliant orator—even at times of heightened emotion—thanks to many years of royal training, Charles—the most experienced king this country will ever have—gave an address that was perfectly pitched; a moving and heartfelt tribute to his ‘darling mama’ and a genuine thank-you to the nation for its support through the moment he confessed he had been dreading.
It was also an important insight into the future—from his decision to end his speech with a line from Hamlet, to his announcement that he had conferred the title of Prince of Wales to his eldest son, William (meaning Kate Middleton is the Princess of Wales), to the olive branch in expressing his love for Harry and Meghan Markle.
And we can deduce from his comment about duty that he plans to reign his entire life, quashing any speculation that he might hand over the reins to his son: “As the queen herself did with such unswerving devotion, I, too, now solemnly pledge myself, throughout the remaining time God grants me, to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation.”
As the royal family and the world come to terms with the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the gaze inevitably turns to the future. And while it appears King Charles III has the support of his people, his path is not guaranteed to be a smooth one. Consider Charles’s woes.
Closest to home are: his youngest son and daughter-in-law’s familial abdication and the complete disgrace of his brother Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who has been stripped of his honorary titles and royal role. Charles is said to desperately want to reconcile with his son Harry, but it remains to be seen if the rift which caused the queen so much upset will ever be truly resolved. Charles and William, however, are unified in the decision that Prince Andrew will never represent the family on the public stage again.
And there’s the Commonwealth. Charles’s accession is the moment when many countries and realms will consider, and possibly reconsider, their own futures. As sovereign of those realms, the queen was venerated, celebrated. But there are many people in countries like New Zealand and Australia who feel the need for a hereditary monarchy, with its seat thousands of miles away on another continent, dies with her.
Charles is acutely aware that the future of this voluntary group of nations is uncertain, and he has said it is “‘a matter for each member country to decide.” But what worries him more than any of this, according to my sources, is the existential threat to the United Kingdom posed by the Scottish independence movement.
“His absolute preoccupation is keeping the union intact,” according to a close friend. “His view is that if he ends up being the King of England, then the kingdom would be diminished and it would become a huge issue in terms of our global status.” In so many ways, this could hardly be a more perilous period for the new Charles III.
It is why after Charles was officially proclaimed king by the Accession Council, he conducted a tour of the four corners of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, where the queen lay in state at St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh for around 24 hours before her body was flown home to England.
It was significant that by Charles’s side at his accession was his heir apparent, who observed every moment diligently knowing that his turn would be next.
In contrast to Charles, who is already well into his 70s, William is likely to begin his reign in midlife, with Kate by his side. Along with George, Charlotte, and Louis, the family presents a more youthful and vibrant vision of monarchy, just as the young Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip once did.
No royal documentary is complete without throwback snaps or grainy footage of the original royal superstars and their children. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, they could be seen larking about with toy carts at Balmoral, burying each other in the sand of Holkham Beach near Sandringham, and skidding along waterslides on the deck of the Royal Yacht Britannia.
“Harry suggested that they use a mediator to try and sort things out, which had Charles somewhat bemused and Camilla spluttering into her tea. She told Harry it was ridiculous and that they would sort it out between themselves.”
It will be down to the Waleses to find a way to reawaken that deep old magic, offering a sense of continuity along with their modernity. Showing off their photogenic family, as they are doing more and more, is one way of accomplishing just this.
George, Charlotte, and Louis, who had starring roles at the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June, are being raised by their parents with an awareness of their positions and the roles they will one day carry out in support of the monarchy. George knows that like his papa, he will one day be king, while Charlotte will likely juggle the role of being the spare with a career. Louis could well be a private citizen undertaking occasional royal duties, like William and Harry’s cousins Zara Tindall and Peter Phillips, as well as princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
Inevitably, because he is an heir, there will be more pressure on George, something William and Kate are acutely aware of. Kate is said to admire the way Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, are raising their children—Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn—in the bosom of the royal family but prepared for life in the real world.
William and Kate, who has an in-depth knowledge of childhood through her early years work, have insisted on creating as normal an environment as they can. They recently downsized, moving from Kensington Palace into the much smaller and more discreet Adelaide Cottage in Windsor Home Park and moving their three children into the private Lambrook School in Berkshire this month.
Their next move, I am told, will be into Windsor Castle. Their incarnation of British royalty looks more like today’s Spanish royal family with King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia on the throne, or perhaps Denmark’s, where Crown Prince Frederik and his Australian-born wife, Crown Princess Mary, are poised to succeed. And the appealing prospect of King William and Queen Catherine with Prince George next in line may quell any rumblings of discontent in a country reigned over by an aging King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla.
As the world comes to terms with the death of Queen Elizabeth II, attention will soon turn to King Charles’s coronation, which is expected to take place in the spring or early summer. So what do we know of the plans, reportedly code-named Operation Golden Orb? Well, his coronation is expected to be shorter and less expensive than his mother’s, and the new king wants the public to witness the experience just as they did his accession.
The ceremony will likely highlight the line of succession, with William, Kate, and their children featured more prominently than other members of the family. Camilla will reportedly wear the Queen Mother’s crown, made for King George VI’s coronation in 1937, with its bewitching central diamond, the 105.6-carat Koh-i-Nûr (meaning “mountain of light” in Persian). In this way Charles will align his wife with his beloved grandmother, the last queen consort to be crowned in the UK, whose memory is still treasured by many Britons.
However, the Commonwealth will require more than royal hopes and history to hold it together. Charles is the third head of the Commonwealth and will not want to see its demise. “I imagine it is important to Prince Charles that the Commonwealth won’t die with him,” notes constitutional expert Alastair Bruce.
“No one wants to be holding the institution when a significant part of its profile is taken away. That’s not going to happen in the next reign, but it’s up to the Commonwealth where it goes in the longer term.”