Can King Charles show self-restraint and reshape British royalty for a new era? – The Guardian

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Camilla, the Queen Consort, once said that King Charles’s destiny didn’t “weigh heavily on his shoulders at all”, but he accedes to the throne with a country in crisis and a monarchy seeking to reshape its role for the modern age.
Over what has been described as a “50-year apprenticeship”, King Charles has championed his causes and concerns, from better training and opportunities for young people to pollution and the climate crisis. He has lobbied UK ministers with letters described as “black spider memos” because of the scrawled handwriting, rallied business leaders and urged action on the international stage.
Royal observers say that, for the court of King Charles to succeed in the face of formidable challenges, one of his most crucial attributes will need to be self-restraint. He said in 2018 that as king he would stop speaking out on issues on which he feels strongly, because he is “not that stupid”.
In his address to the nation on Friday evening, he said: “I now solemnly pledge myself to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation.” He said his new life would mean he could not give so much of his time and energies to the charities and issues that he cared so deeply about.
Sir Jonathon Porritt, who was co-founder of the Prince of Wales’s Business & Sustainability Programme, and advised the prince on the environment, said: “He’s never going to resile from the ideas and passionate convictions, but the way he will bring them into his role as a constitutional monarch will be completely different.
“I have a sense that history will judge us fortunate to have had someone with a very deep perspective on those issues because he’s thought about them more than any other politician I have come across.”
Despite King Charles’s pledge to operate within “constitutional parameters”, Ed Owens, a royal historian and commentator, said King Charles is still at risk of being at loggerheads with his government over climate change. He said: “Charles is not going to give up the platform on climate change because it is so integral to his public image, and he will continue to talk about it. We now have Jacob Rees-Mogg in the cabinet as business and energy secretary, who has expressed scepticism about fighting climate change. It’s potentially extremely problematic.”
King Charles presides over a royal household in quiet upheaval. In the finale of the Queen’s platinum jubilee in June, just seven members of the royal family – King Charles with the Queen Consort and Prince William and his family – appeared on the balcony with the Queen.
It is this inner circle of the royal family – dubbed the “magnificent seven” – who are now the key figures. There has been an acknowledgement among senior courtiers for some years that the public does not want to foot the bill for a huge monarchy.
The funding of the royal family was reformed in 2012 with a new sovereign grant paid out of a proportion of the profits from the crown estate, which manages the public estate of the monarch. The new system meant the royal household was subject to the same audit scrutiny as other government expenditure, by the National Audit Office and the parliamentary public accounts committee.
The operations of the royal property portfolio from Buckingham Palace to Balmoral will be under review under the new king. One visitor said Buckingham Palace was a money pit that in some parts looked like “a three-star hotel in a suburban town where nothing had ever been thrown out”.
It has been reported that King Charles and the Queen Consort may move into an apartment in Buckingham Palace, similar to the arrangements in Downing Street, like a “flat above a shop”. One option likely to be considered in any review is whether there may be increased public access to the palace and gardens.
King Charles is likely to benefit from a surge in public support in the aftermath of the Queen’s death, but royal experts say a reshaped monarchy will present its own risks. The visibility of the monarchy and the public relations image of what is often described as “the firm” rely on the often humdrum, daily rota of royal duties, from opening civic buildings and infrastructure to attending charity events. In 2017, the Queen carried out 296 engagements in the UK; the Duke of Edinburgh 131; Prince Harry 139; and the Duke of York 220, according to an analysis by Tim O’Donovan, which he publishes each year in a letter to the Times. The number of royals on frontline duties is dwindling.
It was not envisaged when the royals moved towards a more streamlined operation that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would move overseas, withdrawing from royal duties and firing broadsides from across the Atlantic. One royal observer said: “Charles is in a bind. He needs more royals who appeal to young people.”
Perhaps more serious for King Charles are the controversies over the fundraising activities of his charitable operations. The Metropolitan police said in February it had launched an investigation into his charity, the Prince’s Foundation, after allegations of offers of honours or British citizenship for donations to his charities. The charity’s chief executive, Michael Fawcett, a former valet to King Charles, resigned in November 2021. Clarence House has said previously that King Charles had no knowledge of the alleged offers.
In June, the Sunday Times revealed that King Charles had accepted cash donations totalling about £2.5m that had been made to the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation. The Charity Commission said in July that it had no concerns about the governance of the charity and was not launching an investigation.
Tom Bower, author of the biography Rebel Prince, said King Charles is facing very tough challenges. “He will struggle because to follow the Queen is impossible, and to shake off his controversial past will be monumentally difficult.”
Porritt said the controversies involving the charities were linked to fundraising that he would no longer be involved in: “It was difficult for him as Prince of Wales because he had an incredible range of commitments, and he had to raise the money. You do need to step very carefully.”
The country and global community would now benefit from King Charles’s “instinct for bringing people together”, said Porritt, adding: “He’s often hosted initiatives where he has brought people together with dramatically divergent views. People who would never have sat in a room together. He is always seeking to establish common ground.”
At 73, Charles is the oldest person to ascend to the British throne. Porritt added: “I never heard [from him] anything other than a feeling that this was what he was going to do at some point and he wanted to bring all the energy, care and foresight that he could to it. I imagine he will be thinking, ‘OK, well it’s happening now’.”
Bob Morris, a former civil servant and honorary member at the Constitution Unit at University College London, said the test of the new king would be continuing the royal family’s success in adapting to change: “We are a very different society from what we were in 1952. It’s a massive change, and the royal family has done the right things and has adjusted. It has been sink or swim, but they’ve shown shrewd judgment.”


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