King Charles III

The UK has a new figurehead.

Slate has half a dozen articles devoted to him on its front page alone. One that caught my interest was Imogen West-Knights‘ “King Charles Has a Problem Queen Elizabeth Never Had. He Did It to Himself.” There’s quite a bit of rehashing of the various scandals and weirdnesses Charles has manifested over the years but this insight was useful:

Charles is, by default really, the most modern king the U.K. will have had. He’ll be the first monarch to have been to school. He’ll be the first monarch whose life has been subject to tabloid scrutiny, whose failures and foibles are already well known to the public before he ascends the throne. Elizabeth II had an appeal that extended beyond people who would consider themselves royalists—she was a fixture in national life, thought of by many as a sort of benign grandmotherly figure and, based on the very little information people ever got about her, quite widely liked in the U.K., as monarchs go. She intentionally kept her private self hidden. Unlike Charles, she almost never gave a televised interview, and although she agreed to let a BBC crew chart the lives of the royal family in 1968, she reportedly felt when the subsequent documentary came out that it had opened too wide a window on the inner lives of the royals. She is said to have personally had it scrubbed nearly out of existence, other than in a few physical archive locations. By contrast, if you want to, it’s all too easy to find out perhaps too much about the king’s intimate personal history via, for example, Googling the words “Prince Charles” and “tampon” together.

Charles won’t be allowed to express his opinions on things anymore, but in some ways that doesn’t matter. It’s too late. We already know them. And his conduct before taking the throne will probably dictate his popularity during his reign more than anything else. Opinion polls have consistently shown him to be less popular than Queen Elizabeth II, or his son Prince William. Anti-monarchist protests are now a fixture at his public events. He’s been egged. Charles III may be a more modern monarch than his mother was, but he will be ruling over a very different country than the one she looked out on at her coronation in 1953—and the judgment of his reign has been underway for most of his lifetime.

The monarchy is an anachronism, seemingly kept alive mostly for its value as a tourist attraction. Charles’ mother lived an extraordinarily long time and was, in human terms, an incredibly strange figure. It’s truly weird to be simultaneously among the most famous people in the world and essentially unknown. She had weekly audiences with every prime minister from Churchill through Truss and yet had to maintain the illusion she had no political opinions.

As a theoretical matter, it was Charles’ duty as the heir apparent to maintain a similar illusion. But I can’t imagine the self-discipline it would take for an intelligent, well-educated man to go through his first seven decades expressing no opinions. Regardless, Charles certainly didn’t possess it.

As King, I suspect he’ll do his duty and stay out of politics. But, as West-Knights notes, the prime minister will bloody well know what he thinks because he’s been a public figure for so long.

FILED UNDER: World Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Two things. First he doesn’t seem very happy in that picture and the costume, particularly the crown seems too large or perhaps, he’s too small to fit them.

  2. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    To be fair, it behooves Charles and Camilla to maintain a rigidly solemn demeanor. They can’t start grinning and giggling.

  3. Sleeping Dog says:


    But solemn demeanor isn’t looking miserable.

  4. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    On occasions such as this, most royals look as if they’re suffering from acute indigestion, don’t they? 🙂

  5. Sleeping Dog says:


    Who has the Rolaids?

  6. Tony W says:

    I do wish the queen would have let Charles marry Camilla in the first place and not bring poor Diana into it.

    It was an early morning at our West Coast home watching the pageantry. Those Brits do know how to put on a show!

  7. CSK says:

    @Tony W:

    I think it was Earl Mountbatten who persuaded Charles not to marry Camilla, since he desperately wanted one of his granddaughters to be the next Princess of Wales. Mountbatten had a huge influence over Charles, more so than his parents.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    You’ve heard the phrase, ‘hat on a hat?’ How about hat on a twat? Which only rhymes with an English accent.

  9. Scott F. says:

    It is inevitable that Charles will be a minor, sad figure in the history books. He‘s in his seventies, while Elizabeth was in her twenties when she became Queen. His reign will last 1/10th as long as hers, if he‘s lucky.

    Make the most of the moment, King Charles. Today‘s coronation is likely to be the pinnacle of your time on the throne.

  10. Kathy says:

    It feels like they’re play acting in a pre-Renaissance fair.

    It also strikes me as too much for a mere figurehead. The remaining European monarchies are far less ostentatious.

  11. DK says:


    It also strikes me as too much for a mere figurehead. The remaining European monarchies are far less ostentatious.

    The remaining European monarchies also aren’t being talked about, blogged about, gossipped about, posted about, paparazzied, dissected, televised, and commented on.

    “The Firm” knows what it’s doing. The continued survival of the Windsors — and their cultural currency and cultural reach unrivaled by any other royal family — is not an accident. If Charles really were “just a figurehead” this post would not exist. He just took over the lead role in the Western world’s longest-running and most popular soap opera. Of course they’re going to put on a show for this ‘very special episode.’

  12. grumpy realist says:

    Just as the “Star Wars” franchise is used to sell tons of posters, plastic light-sabres for little children to swing around, and Chewbacca masks, so is the “British Royal Family” running show used to sell coronation goblets, porcelain figures, and innumerable coffee-table books pouring over the most minute piece of House of Windsor history. Oh, and tea-cloths. Can’t forget the tea-cloths.

    If the royals don’t play their part in the pageant, the amount of cash flying their way to prop up the whole circus might get cut off. Hence the “well, the show must go on/stiff upper-lip” attitude.

    Look–this whole coronation shindig (and all the rest) is happily entered into by at least some Brits because it allows them for at least one day to pretend that they’re still monarchs of the waves and not a rain-soaked island off the coast of France that is sliding down the hill economically and won’t ever be at a pinnacle of history ever again. Poor sods.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    I sometimes argue that the U. S. became a democracy under a theory of popular sovereignty because, having just overthrown royal rule, they had to find something besides monarchy. They couldn’t just point to, say, George Washington, and say he’s the king, sovereign of the United States. When I do this, I slide over the fact that the Brits had, not so long before, done exactly that in the Glorious Revolution.

    Paul Campos at LGM has a fun piece on this,

    I know this kind of a spectrumy question, but what exactly is the legal theory by which the House of Hanover/Saxe-Coburg-Gotha/Throat Warbler Mangrove or whatever it’s currently called has sovereignty over the United Kingdom? I honestly have no idea what the answer is to this question, which is a bit embarrassing given that I teach classes based on the inherent legitimacy of the entire Common Law system, inherited by America from Merrie Olde England.

  14. Sleeping Dog says:


    The Times this AM has wasted a few column inches on Ferdinand Habsburg

    If the Austro-Hungarian Empire still existed, 25-year-old Ferdinand Habsburg would eventually be its ruler. Instead he’s a racecar driver.

    Best commentary is that to visit the family estate or the family’s tomb, where he’ll some day be interred, he needs to pay the admission fee like anyone else. The article gives you the feeling that he appreciates the irony.

  15. Kathy says:


    There was a pretty big scandal with Spain’s royals some years ago, which got a lot of press. I don’t know the details because I didn’t pay attention. It ended with the king abdicating, and the accession of Letizia’s husband to the throne.

  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    I hear from reliable sources that he’s going to call himself ‘K-Chuck’ to be down with the kids.

  17. DK says:

    @Kathy: Dramaaaaaa!

  18. JohnSF says:

    The UK is the only one with an anointed monarch as well.
    We do it our way. 🙂

  19. Liberal Capitalist says:

    figurehead – noun (PERSON) – someone who has the position of leader in an organization but who has no real power.

    So, he’s a pet. Albeit a very expensive one.

  20. JohnSF says:

    On the topic of the Kin’s political views, I thing Professor Joyner is mistaken, a bit.
    Certainly his view on modern architecture are known (aggin’ it) or environmentalism (for it) but in terms of core party-political issues he’s always been discreet.
    Never uttered a peep on, for instance, tax policy, or state ownership of industries, or EU membership, or most others of the common currency of political hot-topics, that I am aware of.

  21. JohnSF says:

    Dammit, edit function!
    Not actually a relative, LOL

  22. CSK says:


    Oh, darn. I was so hoping you were really H.R.H. Prince John.

  23. JohnSF says:

    My reign would be cruel, but unfair.
    Tyranny mitigated only by idleness and incompetence.
    (Hang on, what’s that…, oh. Right. Vladimir say’s that post is already taken.)

  24. CSK says:


    There’s always Trump waiting in the wings.

  25. JohnSF says:

    He hasn’t got the bottle, to use the Cockney.

    Lord knows, we’ve had some monarchs who were bad, or useless, or both.
    But most were far more capable personally than Trump ever was.
    They had to be.
    (Apart from those who actually suffered clinical mental breakdowns, e.g. George III and Henry IV)
    Take, say, the actual King John.
    He’d have chewed Trump up and spat him out.

  26. Ken_L says:

    The monarchy is an anachronism, seemingly kept alive mostly for its value as a tourist attraction.

    Kept alive, I suggest, because replacement arrangement would inevitably alter the political power structure not only in Great Britain but also in several other countries where the king is nominal head of state, including Canada and Australia. Any proposal to eliminate the monarchy would generate furious controversy and opposition, as we discovered in Australia in 1999. A replacement arrangement would almost certainly bring unanticipated consequences.

    Much safer just to leave things as they are.

  27. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: What was the Monty Python quote? “Women lying around in ponds handing out swords is no basis for legitimate representation!”