TOBY MELVILLE / AFP
King Charles III ascends the throne at the age of 73, following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, on 8 September 2022.
CARLO III – He must have waited almost 70 years to ascend the throne. Prince Charles became King Charles III on Thursday 8 September following the death of Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 96. Very different from his mother, much less popular, the new king has fixed ideas on many subjects, a man of passions that have sometimes aroused admiration and often criticism.
At 73, Charles III goes down in history as the oldest British monarch at the beginning of his reign. And he is more than ready, especially since over the years he has taken his mother’s place more and more: inaugurations, award ceremonies, state dinners, trips and garden parties have no more secrets for him. He has visited nearly a hundred countries, met many of the greats of this world, shook millions of hands.
“He is a good professional of the monarchy”believes Michel Faure, author of a biography of Prince Charles. “He will be a rather benevolent king (…) very different from his mother”. But he is a ” old man “ ascending the throne, notes Robert Hazell, a professor of constitutional law at University College London. “It will be very difficult for him to take the place of the queen”he told AFP. “Probably the monarchy will go through difficult times”.
Crowned Prince of Wales in 1969
Charles, Philip, Arthur, George became heirs to the throne at the age of 3 and 3 months when his 25-year-old mother became queen in February 1952. At the age of 4 and a half, she attended her coronation in Westminster Abbey between his grandmother and his aunt Margherita. When he was 9, his mother awarded him the title of Prince of Wales.
The eldest of four children, he grew up shy and alone, entrusted to nannies and a housekeeper, then sent to boarding school at an early age, particularly in the very strict boarding school of Gordonstoun in Scotland. He then studied anthropology, archeology and history at Cambridge University. However, his title creates an inevitable distance with this introverted and clumsy prince with bulging ears.
He was crowned Prince of Wales by his mother in July 1969 during a grandiose televised ceremony, did his military service from 1971 to 1976 in the aviation and navy, before devoting himself fully to his duties as heir prince: an indefinite role, “responsible for supporting the queen to ensure the influence of the monarchy”.
A popularity rating lower than that of his grandchildren
The eternal “Prince Charles”, his popularity is not that of Queen Elizabeth. His private life has been scrutinized and he has been the subject of much criticism. After a few marriages and the passing of the years, the heir to the crown agreed in 1981 to marry loveless Lady Diana Spencer, a 19-year-old aristocrat, with whom he would have two children, princes William and Harry. But once his duty was done, he returned to the arms of his childhood beloved Camilla Parker Bowles, who had married another because a few years earlier he had been deemed incompatible with the monarchy due to his lifestyle and independence of him.
During an interview at the event in 1994, Charles confirmed that he had cheated on Diana and had an extramarital affair with Camilla. In the wake of the confession, the British public will show a more understanding moment towards the prince, then have hard teeth towards Charles especially after Diana’s death in a car accident in Paris in 1997. Years later, in 2005, Charles and Camilla said yes during a civil wedding.
The British are sensitive to this loving stubbornness. Gradually her popularity index is increasing, even though Diana’s years have never been forgotten. Prince Charles was in favor of 54% in August 2021, according to a YouGov poll, well behind the Queen (80%), Prince William (78%), her daughter-in-law Kate Middleton (75%) or her sister Princess Anne ( 65%). Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall since their marriage, has reached 43%. What revives the hopes of supporters of an abolition of the monarchy?
His interest in ecology even before it became “one” in the news also earned him criticism. On the contrary, today it could be a way for him to raise the esteem of the British at a time when climate change is one of the great challenges to be overcome and to plunge the monarchy into modernity.
“In the ’70s he was almost a visionary, but he was called an eccentric”points out Penny Junor, author of several books on the British royal family. “He is an activist”believes Michel Faure for his part. “He has ideas, he wants to make them known and convince his subjects that they are fantastic”.
Charles, for example, has created a completely organic vegetable garden and farm on his Highgrove estate in Gloucestershire in the west of England. He also launched the Dukey Originals range of organic food and drink, marketed by high-end Waitrose supermarkets.
Duty of strict neutrality for the king
Defender of rurality, critic of modern architecture – in the 1980s he derailed an expansion project for the National Gallery – he created two small towns in south-west England on his land, Poundbury in 1993 and Nansledan in 2013, based on his ideas of traditional architecture and sustainable development.
Since 2007 it has published its ecological footprint (3,133 tons of CO2 in 2020 compared to 5,070 in 2019). And plant trees he talks to: this admission in the 1980s caused a lot of ridicule. In 2008, it proposed a global fund to combat the destruction of tropical forests. He also has an electric jaguar, usually skips lunch and only eats meat on certain days.
In the 2000s he wrote to the Blair government ministers to talk about health, education, but also about the war in Iraq or the illegal fishing of the Patagonian toothpick, at the risk of being accused of political interference. Now king, now he will have to respect strict neutrality. In 2018 he assured the BBC that he was aware that he should refrain from taking any position: “The role of the monarch and that of the Prince of Wales are totally different. I will not be a pushy king. I’m not that stupid. “
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