In the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death on Thursday, Prince Charles ascended to the throne and assumed the title of King Charles III. In 2022, he will begin to define his position as monarch and, most crucially, determine whether he will continue his activism from the throne.
Prince Charles of Wales did not hedge his statements about global warming. This year he said, “The globe is on the brink, and we need the mobilizing urgency of a war-like footing if we are to win.” As King, he will have to walk a fine line between political advocacy and the throne. How he deals with his activist tendencies will undoubtedly affect his popularity in Britain. In addition to the Commonwealth.
If Charles keeps up his active activities, he risks losing not just the respect of the American public (which is already tarnished by the memory of his affair in the 1990s) but also the interest of the American people in the British monarchy.
There is little risk that this will damage the special relationship that the United States and the United Kingdom have built up over the years through mutual support, the sharing of trade secrets, and the two countries shared command of English.
The loss of this interest, however, would mark the end of a British instrument that has held a position of quiet influence in the United States for the better part of the last century and helped strengthen what is arguably the most critical transatlantic alliance.
Even though Americans waged war to free themselves from British domination two centuries previously, the Queen not only courted presidents but also charmed the U.S. populace. In a May 2022 YouGov poll, 72% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans said they had a favorable impression of the queen. Former Bloomberg and Newsweek editor Stryker McGuire, who has written about Britain’s post-Elizabethan identity, attributes this fascination partly to the country’s enjoyment of “all the panoply and pageantry” surrounding the royal family.
The family’s “permanent celebrity” status is a big part of their attractiveness. Famous people are transient, as noted by James Vaughn, a historian of Britain at the University of Chicago. “Pop stars fade; entertainers, television stars, movie stars fade,” he writes. On the other hand, the royal family continues to hold firm.
The Queen was admired on both sides of the Atlantic because she remained above the partisan maelstrom and did so consistently throughout her reign. According to Vaughn, there is “sneak adoration” for how British politics divides the roles of prime minister and prime minister.
The Prime Minister of England does not occupy the royal palace but a townhouse on Downing Street. According to Elisa Tamarkin, author of Anglophilia: Deference, Devotion, and Antebellum America, “our White House is more like a palace than a townhouse, and our President can act more like an imperious king than any Prime Minister ever could.” The saying goes, “the monarchy in England is there for show only.”
Queen Elizabeth II “took very, very seriously” her position as head of state, as remarked by Vaughn. The Queen was a “blank slate,” like an oyster, in that she never said anything provocative. Fans have the freedom to project their fantasies onto celebrities’ “blank slates.” That person can represent anything to them.
He is now performing in much larger venues. During his 2008 address to the European Parliament, he warned lawmakers that the “doomsday clock of climate change is ticking” and urged them to form the “biggest public, private and NGO partnership ever.” He also urged world leaders to heed the “despairing voices of young people” at COP21, COP26, and the 2021 G-20 meeting in Rome. We could continue this list indefinitely.
The vast network of nonprofits that Charles directs is equally significant to his legacy. The Prince’s Trust is the most well-known organization of its kind, and it works to improve the lives of disadvantaged people between the ages of 11 and 30 by providing them with access to training and employment. One of the lucky ones was Idris Elba. He received £1,500 from the National Youth Music Theatre while he was a kid living on an estate (public housing) in Hackney, London.
His public activism and dedication to causes like the environment and charity work are both admirable and politically contradictory. He came from a very wealthy family and grew up in a very traditional institution where the motto “never complain, never explain” was introduced by the Queen Mother herself.
Indeed, the Prince’s political activities weren’t shielded from scrutiny: in 2005, Rob Evans, a writer for the left-leaning Guardian, used the Freedom of Information Act to acquire copies of letters that Charles had addressed to top government officials over the previous two years. The so-called “black spider” memoranda were leaked after a decade-long court struggle and a £400,000 government expenditure to prevent their distribution, revealing Charles’ lobbying for better equipment for Iraq War troops and speaking out against the “illegal harvesting of the Patagonian toothfish.”
Despite this criticism, Charles’ invitations to key international political conferences show that the monarch-common-strategy activist is gaining support. That doesn’t say much about how well he’ll be received in the United States, where people worship the Queen for her bland diplomacy and where opinions are more divisive than in Britain on issues like climate change that Charles is passionate about (nearly half of Americans were reported having an unfavorable view of Charles in a February 2022 poll.)
Royal observers speculate that the public’s distaste for Charles stems less from his politics than from the lingering effects of his marriage to Diana. She was widely admired in the United States. But if he keeps being straightforward as King, he risks fueling that resentment. Vaughn explains that because his mother “simply played it flawlessly,” the President “would lose that protection of being a head of state above the fight.”
Gonna be impossible to say the words King Charles without adding the word Spaniel on the end I’m afraid
— Mollie Goodfellow (@hansmollman) September 8, 2022
Brian McKercher, author of Britain, America, and the Special Relationship Since 1941, Charles might be used as a political weapon in the United States if “anti-environmental elements decide to target him.” A Democratic or Republican administration with environmental goals may use him as a “convenient cudgel to whack them with.” Indeed, I believe that to be a distinct possibility.
The environmental urgency of Charles’s pleas might be received differently in the United States than Britain. The reason is that a 2019 YouGov study found that whereas 51% of the British public believes the climate is changing and that human activity is primarily responsible, only 38% of the American public shares this view. Similarly, while only 5% of Britons hold such a view, 15% of Americans hold it either because they do not believe the climate is changing or because they believe human activity is not responsible for the observed changes.
This subject is pretty divisive in several countries, with the United States being one of them. North American and European countries including Canada and the United Kingdom. “There is polarization in the United States and Australia, but it is not nearly as severe,” says Matto Mildenberger, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
In light of this, Charles will likely have to decide whether he wants to pursue his climate politics or maintain the bipartisan appeal his mother earned in the United States. Tamarkin claims the king has been working to revitalize the monarchy and restore its relevance to contemporary political issues.
in order for me to recognize Prince Charles as King Charles I’ll first require 2 letters from different psychiatrists who have been treating his king status for over a year if not more, stating that he is indeed a king and that it isn’t a fetish or a fad or him faking it
— Molly (@mollyesbian) September 8, 2022
But loyalty to the monarchy, whatever role it may play in society and culture, has always hinged on the fact that it has been historically irrelevant. The public’s focus on Charles may draw attention to pressing political issues, but it may come at the expense of the monarchy.
That may be a moot matter in the end. Charles has intimated that, as King, he will change course from the environmentalism that has been his shadow for decades. A documentary from 2018 questioned whether he planned to keep up his activist work. I’m not that dumb,” he said in response. If you’re the Prince of Wales or the heir apparent, you can’t have the same powers as the sovereign.
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