LONDON (AP) — As the United Kingdom mourns a beloved queen, the nation is already wondering how King Charles III will rule and whether his monarchy will deviate from his mother’s traditions.
If his first full day on the throne is any indication, Charles seemed poised to at least chart a slightly different course.
When Charles first traveled to Buckingham Palace as the new king on Friday, his limousine wound through a sea of onlookers, then stopped just in front of the palace gates before disembarking and shaking hands with benefactors. Charles looked more like an American president on the campaign trail than the newest steward of a 1,000-year-old hereditary monarchy.
It’s not that Queen Elizabeth II hasn’t met her subjects. She did, often. But this felt different – a little less formal, a little more relaxed and personal. Charles spent nearly 10 minutes greeting people pressed against the barriers, smiling, waving, accepting condolences and the occasional bouquet of flowers as the audience erupted into a chorus of “God Save the King.”
After viewing the tributes to his mother in front of the palace, he waved again and walked through the gates with Camilla, the queen consort.
“Coming to the crowd was impressive, moving, a good move,” said Ammar Al-Baldawi, 64, a pensioner from Hertfordshire who was with the crowd outside the palace. “I think the royal family needs to communicate with the people there now.”
Charles’ efforts to engage with the public more intimately reflect the fact that he needs their support. Difficult issues await us, especially how the 73-year-old king will fulfill his role as head of state.
The laws and traditions governing Britain’s constitutional monarchy dictate that the sovereign must stay out of partisan politics, but Charles has spent much of his adult life voicing issues important to him, especially the environment.
His words have caused friction among politicians and business leaders who have accused the then Prince of Wales of meddling on issues on which he should have been silent.
The question is whether Charles will follow his mother’s example and mute his personal opinions now that he is king, or use his new platform to reach a wider audience.
In his first speech as monarch, Charles tried to reassure his critics.
“My life will of course change as I take on my new responsibilities,” he said. “It will no longer be possible for me to devote so much of my time and energy to the charities and causes I care about so much. But I know this important work will continue in the trusted hands of others.”
Ed Owens, historian and author of “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-53,” said that while Charles will tread a cautious path, it is unlikely that he will suddenly stop talking about climate change and the environment — issues on which there is broad consensus on the urgent need for action.
“Not to do this would be inconsistent with the image he has developed thus far,” Owens said.
John Kerry, the US special envoy on climate, said he hopes Charles will continue to speak out on climate change because it is a universal problem with no ideology involved. Kerry was in Scotland this week to meet with the Prince of Wales, but the session was canceled when the Queen died.
“It doesn’t mean he’s involved in the daily bustle of politics or speaking for any specific piece of legislation,” Kerry told the BBC. “But I can’t imagine that he doesn’t … feel compelled to use the important role of the monarch, with all the knowledge he has about it, to speak out and urge the world to do the things the world wants. has to do.”
Constitutional lawyers have debated for years whether Charles has pushed the boundaries of conventions designed to keep the monarchy out of political battle.
His so-called Black Spider memos — named for his arachnid handwriting — to government ministers have been cited as evidence that he would not be neutral in his dealings with parliament.
The debate has also turned into fiction.
In the 2014 play ‘King Charles III’, playwright Mike Bartlett imagines the new king, unsure of his powers and moved by his conscience, who creates a constitutional crisis by refusing to sign a new law restricting press freedom.
It illustrates the tensions inherent in a system that has evolved from an absolute monarchy to one in which the sovereign plays a largely ceremonial role. While Britain’s unwritten constitution requires legislation to receive royal assent before it becomes law, it is considered a formality that the monarch cannot refuse.
In an interview for a documentary that aired on his 70th birthday in 2018, Charles said he would behave differently if he became king, as the monarch has a different role than the Prince of Wales.
Still, he questioned the criticism he received over the years.
“I’ve always been intrigued when it’s meddling to worry about the inner cities, as I did 40 years ago, and what was or was not happening there, the conditions in which people lived,” he wondered. “If that’s meddling, I’m very proud of it.”
On another issue facing the new king, Charles has made it clear that he intends to reduce the number of working royals and cut costs while making sure the monarchy better represents modern Britain.
Robert Lacey, a royal historian and advisor to the Netflix series ‘The Crown’, said the initiative underlines the important role played by Prince William, who is now the heir apparent.
William has already made the environment one of his main concerns and is likely to play an even more prominent role in this area now that his father is king, Lacey told the BBC.
But there is another clue to the new king’s plans for his reign, and that is his choice of name.
Before the time of Elizabeth, there was a tradition that British monarchs would choose a new name when they ascended the throne. For example, Charles’ grandfather was known as Bertie before he became King George VI. It was thought that Charles would choose to be known as King George VII in honor of his grandfather.
But Charles rejected the idea and kept his own name. That is a “clear message” that the King will continue to fight for the causes he supported as Prince of Wales, Lacey said.
It was his father, Prince Philip, who identified ways the neutral monarchy could advocate for youth development and the environment — “really important causes that they could push through without being accused of bias,” he said.