LONDON — Prince Charles has been preparing for the crown all his life. Now, at the age of 73, that moment has finally arrived.
Charles, the oldest person to ever ascend the British throne, became King Charles III on Thursday after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. No date has been set for his coronation.
After an apprenticeship that began as a child, Charles embodies the modernization of the British monarchy. He was the first heir not home educated, the first to earn a college degree, and the first to grow up in the increasingly fierce gaze of the media as reverence for royalty faded.
He also alienated many with his messy divorce from the beloved Princess Diana, and by tightening rules that prohibit royals from intervening in public affairs, meddling in debates on issues such as environmental protection and architectural preservation,
“He’s in, if you will, the fall of his life right now, and needs to think carefully about how he projects his image as a public figure,” said historian Ed Owens. “He’s not nearly as popular as his mother.”
Charles must figure out how to generate the “public support, a sense of affection” that characterized Elizabeth’s relationship with the British public, Owens said.
In other words, will Charles be equally loved by his subjects? It is a question that has overshadowed his entire life.
A shy boy with a domineering father, Charles grew into a sometimes clumsy, understated man who is nevertheless confident in his own mind. Unlike his mother, who refused to discuss her views publicly, Charles has given speeches and written articles on issues close to his heart, such as climate change, green energy and alternative medicine.
His accession to the throne is likely to spark debate over the future of Britain’s largely ceremonial monarchy, seen by some as a symbol of national unity and others as an outdated relic of feudal history.
“We know the monarch and certainly the monarch’s family – they are not supposed to have political votes. They are not supposed to have a political opinion. And the fact that he’s flexing, if you will, his political muscle is something he’s going to have to be very careful about… lest he’s considered unconstitutional,” said Owens, who wrote “The Family Firm: Monarchy.” , Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-1953.”
Charles, who will become the head of state for the UK and 14 other countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, has defended his actions.
“I always wonder what meddling is, I always thought it was motivational,” he said in “Prince, Son and Heir: Charles at 70,” a 2018 documentary. worrying about the inner cities, as I did 40 years ago and what was or was not happening there, the conditions in which people lived. If that’s meddling, I’m very proud of it.”
However, in the same interview, Charles acknowledged that as king he would not be able to speak out or interfere in politics, as the role of sovereign is different from that of Prince of Wales.
Charles has said he plans to reduce the number of working royals, cut costs and better represent modern Britain.
But tradition is also important to a man whose office the monarchy has previously described as “the focal point of national pride, unity and fidelity”.
That meant a life full of palaces and polo, and was criticized for being out of touch with everyday life, having been castigated for having a servant who supposedly squeezed toothpaste on his brush.
But it was the breakup of his marriage to Diana that made many doubt his suitability for the throne. As he grew older, his handsome young sons stole the spotlight from a man who had a reputation for being as gray as his Saville Row suits.
Biographer Sally Bedell Smith, author of Prince Charles: the Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, described him as being constantly overshadowed by others in the family, despite his fate.
“I think the frustrations aren’t so much that he had to wait for the throne,” Smith told PBS. “I think his biggest frustration is that he’s done so much and that he’s kind of been massively misunderstood. He’s more or less caught between two worlds: his mother’s world, revered, now loved; and Diana, whose the ghost still overshadows him; and then his unbelievably glamorous sons.”
It took years for many in Britain to forgive Charles for his admitted infidelity to Diana before “the princess of the people” died in a car accident in Paris in 1997. But the public mood softened after he married Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005. and she the Duchess of Cornwall.
Although Camilla played a major role in the breakup of Charles and Diana, her self-mocking style and salt-of-the-earth sense of humor ultimately won many Brits.
She helped Charles smile more in public by tempering his reticence and making him approachable, if not happier, as he cut ribbons, visited places of worship, unveiled plaques, and waited for the crown.
Her service was rewarded in February 2022, when Queen Elizabeth II publicly said it was her “sincere wish” for Camilla to be known as “Queen Consort” after her son succeeded her, answering questions about her status once and for all. the Royal Family.
Prince Charles Philip Arthur George was born on November 14, 1948 in Buckingham Palace. When his mother took the throne in 1952, the 3-year-old prince became the Duke of Cornwall. At twenty he became Prince of Wales.
His school years were unhappy, with the future king being bullied by classmates at Gordonstoun, a Scottish boarding school that prides itself on building character through vigorous outdoor pursuits and educating his father, Philip.
Charles studied history at Trinity College, Cambridge University, where he became the first British royal to earn a university degree in 1970.
He then spent seven years in uniform, training as a Royal Air Force pilot before joining the Royal Navy, where he learned to fly helicopters. He ended his military career as commander of HMS Bronington, a minesweeper, in 1976.
Charles’ relationship with Camilla began before he went to sea, but the romance floundered and she married a cavalry officer.
He met Lady Diana Spencer in 1977 when she was 16 and he was in a relationship with her older sister. Diana apparently didn’t see him again until 1980, and rumors of their engagement circulated after she was invited to spend time with Charles and the royal family.
They announced their engagement in February 1981. Some awkwardness in their relationship was immediately apparent when, during a televised interview about their engagement, a reporter asked if they were in love. “Of course,” Diana replied at once, while Charles said, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.”
Although Diana giggled at the answer, she later said that Charles’s comment “bothered me completely.”
“God, it absolutely traumatized me,” she said in a 1992-93 recording by her voice coach that was featured in the 2017 documentary “Diana, In Her Own Words.”
The couple married on July 29, 1981 in St. Paul’s Cathedral in a ceremony broadcast worldwide. Prince William, now heir apparent, was born less than a year later, followed by his brother, Prince Harry, in 1984.
The public fairy tale soon crumbled. Charles admitted to adultery to a TV interviewer in 1994. In a private interview, Diana drew attention to her husband’s relationship with Camilla, saying, “There were three of us in this marriage.”
The revelations tarnish Charles’ reputation among many who revered Diana for her style and her charitable work with AIDS patients and landmine victims.
William and Harry sat in the middle. While the princes venerated their late mother, they said Charles was a good father and praised him as an early advocate for issues like the environment.
Tensions remain within the royal family, underlined by Harry and his wife Meghan’s decision to relinquish their royal duties in 2020 and move to California. concerns and conversations” about their baby’s skin color before he was born. The explosive revelation forced William to state publicly that the family was not racist.
Charles went on, taking the queen’s place more and more in her twilight. In 2018, he was named the Queen’s successor as head of the Commonwealth, an association of 54 countries with ties to the British Empire. The process gained momentum after the death of her husband, Prince Philip, on April 9, 2021.
When Elizabeth refused, he sometimes intervened at the last minute.
On the eve of the state opening of parliament on May 10, 2022, the Queen asked Charles to preside, delegating to him one of her most important constitutional duties – proof that a transition was underway.
Camilla said in a 2018 documentary that Charles was comfortable with the prospect of becoming king.
“I think his fate will come,” she said. “He’s always known it’s coming, and I don’t think it weighs heavily on his shoulders.”