Charles III, a lifetime to become king

The prince of Wales, who has clearly voiced his opinions on all the big issues of his times, must now learn the neutrality that characterized Elizabeth II

Charles next to his mother, Elizabeth II, during a parliamentary session in 2019.
Charles next to his mother, Elizabeth II, during a parliamentary session in 2019.VICTORIA JONES (AFP)

“The death of my beloved Mother, Her Majesty The Queen, is a moment of the greatest sadness for me and all members of my family,” said Charles III, the new monarch of the United Kingdom, in an official statement this Thursday. “We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished Sovereign and a much-loved Mother. I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world. During this period of mourning and change, my family and I will be comforted and sustained by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection in which The Queen was so widely held,” he continued.

Unlike his mother, who kept her opinions about the United Kingdom’s polemical issues a mystery until her death, Charles III takes the throne as an open book to the British people. Many years waiting for his turn to arrive, and a restless character, caused the Prince of Wales to find himself in trouble more than necessary. But he also showed that, in certain issues, like the fight against climate change or the need to save urban centers from decay, he was a man in touch with the times, and often ahead of his peers.

Walter Bagehot, the legendary editor of The Economist and author of The English Constitution, observed that “the only fit material for a constitutional king is a prince who begins early to reign.” Charles, at 73 years old, has become an anomaly among monarchs of the 21st century, who have sought to create an image of youth and modernity. Meanwhile, as the queen saw her health deteriorate, the heir has had plenty of time in recent years to stand in for his mother in public events, allowing the British to become accustomed to his presence.

Time has forgiven Charles’ errors. His tempestuous relationship with Lady Di, and his infidelity, have long been pardoned. Gone, too, is the phone conversation with the woman who would become his wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles, in which he yearned to explore her anatomy in the form of a tampon. It was not the British monarchy’s most dignified moment – the Italian press referred to Charles as “Il Tampaccino”– but it never became sufficient cause to question the legitimacy of his accession to the throne.

His snobbery and intellectualism has, at times, irritated the British. Their practical spirit and passion for individual liberty combines poorly with the transcendental mission with which Charles has spoken of his future reign. “My entire life has been so far motivated by a desire to heal the dismembered landscape and the poisoned soul,” he told an audience in 2002, “to heal the divisions between intuitive and rational thought, between mind and body and soul.”

Little by little, as the moment he had awaited his whole life approached, he began the task of convincing his fellow citizens that he understood the role of a king and the necessary neutrality he must maintain. “Clearly I won’t be able to do the same things I’ve done as heir,” he admitted in an interview with the BBC to celebrate his 70th birthday. But causes for which he fought before they were popular – such as the fight against climate change, the damage of plastic waste, the quality of public health services and the need to preserve traditional trades – are today at the forefront of public interest. Now the new king steps into another plane, adopting the institutional neutrality that he has spent his lifetime preparing for.

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