What kind of king will Charles III be? His background and controversies explained as he succeeds Elizabeth II

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From writing the “black spider” letters to Tony Blair to describing the Rwanda asylum policy as “appalling”, as the Prince of Wales, Charles was never afraid of getting involved in political affairs.

King Charles III will in the next few days be officially crowned the new sovereign of the United Kingdom.

He first ascended to the throne on 8 September 2022 when his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, “died peacefully” at Balmoral Castle - but his highly-anticipated coronation on 6 May 2023 will mark the formal start to his reign.

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As the late Queen was the longest-reigning monarch in British history, the new King has been waiting for the crown longer than any royal heir before him. He has then, undoubtedly, been preparing for this moment his entire life - and will want to prove himself a worthy king.

At the age of 73, Charles III is also the oldest monarch to ever ascend the throne, which means the public already know him - and his history, controversies, and achievements - very well.

So, as we finally near his coronation, it’s finally time to answer the question that has been floated for years - what kind of monarch will King Charles III be? Here’s what we can predict.

King Charles III is the new monarch of the United Kingdom. Credit: Getty ImagesKing Charles III is the new monarch of the United Kingdom. Credit: Getty Images
King Charles III is the new monarch of the United Kingdom. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

An experienced royal

King Charles III, formerly Prince of Wales, is keenly aware of royal protocol.

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He has long attended royal engagements, and always joined his mother on the famous Buckingham Palace balcony for events such as her various jubilee and birthday celebrations.

Prince Charles on a visit to New Zealand, in March 1970. Credit: Getty ImagesPrince Charles on a visit to New Zealand, in March 1970. Credit: Getty Images
Prince Charles on a visit to New Zealand, in March 1970. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

As former heir to the throne, he often represented the Queen at official occasions - for example, by welcoming dignitaries to the UK, attending state dinners, weddings and funerals, and representing the monarch on overseas visits and tours.

In 2010, Charles represented the Queen at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India. In 2013, he stood in for his mother at a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

King Charles III conducted many royal trips and visits when he was Prince of Wales. Credit: Getty ImagesKing Charles III conducted many royal trips and visits when he was Prince of Wales. Credit: Getty Images
King Charles III conducted many royal trips and visits when he was Prince of Wales. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

In more recent years, the then Prince of Wales laid the Queen’s wreath at war memorial The Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, and took her place when she had to pull out of the COP26 climate change conference in 2021.

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Perhaps most noteworthy however, was when Charles read Queen Elizabeth II’s speech at the State Opening of Parliament - one of the monarch’s most important royal duties - in May 2022, as his mother experienced episodic mobility problems.

Then Prince Charles stood in for the Queen at COP26 in November 2021. Credit: Getty ImagesThen Prince Charles stood in for the Queen at COP26 in November 2021. Credit: Getty Images
Then Prince Charles stood in for the Queen at COP26 in November 2021. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

He was accompanied on the occasion by the Imperial State Crown which was carried on a cushion, and symbolised the Queen in her absence.

So he will not be a young royal figure trying to find his footing. He will be a prepared new head of state, and in that way, the transition should be somewhat seamless.

A controversial figure

But it will not be that easy for King Charles III. Because he is a prepared royal, he is also a well-known public figure - and many have already formed opinions of him, both good and bad.

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One of the parts of his life which drew the most spotlight was his affair with Camilla, formerly the Duchess of Cornwall, who on 6 May will be crowned Queen.

Charles and Diana married on 29 July 1981. Credit: Getty ImagesCharles and Diana married on 29 July 1981. Credit: Getty Images
Charles and Diana married on 29 July 1981. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

The affair took place while he was married to Diana Spencer, a beloved figure affectionately known as “the people’s princess” and with whom he had his two children - Prince William and Prince Harry. While it was reported that she too engaged in extramarital affairs, it was widely felt that Diana was the victim in the situation.

Even before the marriage Charles was seen to burst the fairytale bubble when the couple was asked whether they were in love in their engagement interview. A young Diana, who was 12 years his junior, replied “of course”, while Charles responded with “whatever love means”.

Diana was known as “the people’s princess”. Credit: Getty ImagesDiana was known as “the people’s princess”. Credit: Getty Images
Diana was known as “the people’s princess”. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

Things became increasingly messy when notorious phone calls between Charles and Camilla were leaked, and in 1995, after the two had separated, a widely-watched interview between Diana and journalist Martin Bashir was broadcast on the BBC’s current affairs show Panorama.

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During the interview, Diana famously said “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”. This interview proved to be the tipping point needed to allow a legal separation, and Charles and Diana divorced in 1996.

What happened next was unexpected by all, and a tragedy for the nation. Princess Diana died in a car crash in 1997, prompting widespread public mourning. The images of 15 and 12-year-old William and Harry walking behind their mother’s coffin are still remembered by many.

Prince William and Harry at Princess Diana’s funeral. The occasion was watched by millions. Credit: Getty ImagesPrince William and Harry at Princess Diana’s funeral. The occasion was watched by millions. Credit: Getty Images
Prince William and Harry at Princess Diana’s funeral. The occasion was watched by millions. Credit: Getty Images | AFP via Getty Images

It was perhaps this moment that for some cemented the vilification of Charles, and of Camilla.

The now King and Queen Consort finally married in 2005, and since then, have for many transformed their image and won over the British public.

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Prince Harry himself did much for Camilla’s characterisation when he previously described her as a “wonderful woman” who “has made our father very, very happy, which is the most important thing”. He added: “William and I love her to bits.”

However, he later made several critical remarks about Camilla in his bombshell memoir ‘Spare’, claiming that he and Prince William had pleaded with their father not to marry again - and revealing he had wondered whether Camilla would be cruel to him, like a “wicked stepmother”.

Charles and Camilla married in 2005. They are now King and Queen Consort, as per the long-term wishes of Queen Elizabeth II. Credit: Getty ImagesCharles and Camilla married in 2005. They are now King and Queen Consort, as per the long-term wishes of Queen Elizabeth II. Credit: Getty Images
Charles and Camilla married in 2005. They are now King and Queen Consort, as per the long-term wishes of Queen Elizabeth II. Credit: Getty Images | AFP via Getty Images

But even if some are now fans of King Charles III, it does not necessarily mean that everyone has forgotten the earlier events of his life.

He has also been involved in a few other controversies in his time in the spotlight, from the ‘Black Spider’ memos - which consisted of 27 letters he sent to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other government officials lobbying for the policy changes he hoped for - to the ‘cash for honours’ scandal in 2021.

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Michael Fawcett, chairman of Charles’ charity the Prince Foundation, was accused of bribing a Saudi billionaire with knighthood and UK citizenship if he donated to the foundation. The investigation is still ongoing.

An activist

While royals are allowed to be involved in philanthropy, and Charles himself has many charities which aim to “transform lives and build sustainable communities”, members of the royal family are not allowed to get involved in politics.

And that is one thing which has always been a key point of difference between Charles and his mother, Queen Elizabeth II - the fact that Charles has not remained politically neutral. In fact, many have come to see his “environmental activism” - and his strong opinions on climate change - as a key part of his character.

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The new King is considered by many an environmental activist, and has often spoken out about climate change. Credit: Getty ImagesThe new King is considered by many an environmental activist, and has often spoken out about climate change. Credit: Getty Images
The new King is considered by many an environmental activist, and has often spoken out about climate change. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

Speaking to world leaders at COP26 in November 2021, he said it was time to implement "systemic shifts" in the world economy in order to reward environmental protection.

He thanked world leaders, who had struck an agreement to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030, for their “bravery, courage and commitment”. It came after he told a conference in Italy days before COP26 that the world was in the "last chance saloon" for taking climate action.

He said: "It is surely time to set aside our differences and grasp this unique opportunity to launch a substantial green recovery by putting the global economy on a confident, sustainable trajectory and, thus, save our planet."

Labour’s shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said: “He has been an extraordinary warrior on the issue of the environment, long before it was fashionable. And when I was climate change secretary, I always thought of him as an extraordinary national asset on this issue, and he remains so.”

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Experts say Charles will have to abandon his “activism” for his “royal duties” now that he is King. Credit: Getty Images Experts say Charles will have to abandon his “activism” for his “royal duties” now that he is King. Credit: Getty Images
Experts say Charles will have to abandon his “activism” for his “royal duties” now that he is King. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

The former Prince of Wales also reportedly called the government’s Rwanda asylum plan “appalling”, in a break from typical royal tradition.

But this, according to Robert Blackburn, professor of constitutional law at King’s College London, will have to change now he is a monarch - whose duty is to not be involved in matters of “political concern”.

Mr Blackburn said: “He will be required to subordinate his private views to his public duties. He must suppress his personal views and only ever express them with utter discretion, so the public is kept unaware of his own personal and true feelings.”

Monarchs must remain politically neutral. Credit: Getty ImagesMonarchs must remain politically neutral. Credit: Getty Images
Monarchs must remain politically neutral. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

But it will undeniably be difficult for King Charles III to subordinate his views, for the simple fact that we all already know them, with many wondering whether he will look to change the monarchy - and change it to allow him to give his thoughts on matters in ways he previously would not have been allowed to.

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The new King himself rejected these ideas in a television interview to mark his 70th birthday, telling the BBC that his “campaigning” would not continue. He said: “I’m not that stupid. I do realise that it is a separate exercise being sovereign. So of course I understand entirely how that should operate.”

A difficult task

It is clear that Charles has a somewhat challenging task ahead.

Notwithstanding the fact that we already know his views and opinions, and the darker parts of his past, Queen Elizabeth II was for the majority of the nation the only monarch we have ever known - and she was so widely loved and respected that she will be difficult to succeed.

Queen Elizabeth II was the longest-serving monarch in the history of the United Kingdom. Credit: Getty ImagesQueen Elizabeth II was the longest-serving monarch in the history of the United Kingdom. Credit: Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II was the longest-serving monarch in the history of the United Kingdom. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

Her character, style and general manner is for many synonymous with what it means to be the sovereign, and King Charles III will therefore feel strange and unfamiliar to many.

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But he has still for some come far from his earlier reputation. Today, as he was driven into Buckingham Palace as King for the first time, he was greeted with cheers and chants of “God save the King!”

And too, as we must not forget, he is a royal who has already conducted various official visits and met with key leaders across the world, so will be an easy figure to welcome and assimilate into the life of a monarch.

King Charles III was greeted with cheers and affection when he arrived at Buckingham Palace today (9 September). Credit. Getty ImagesKing Charles III was greeted with cheers and affection when he arrived at Buckingham Palace today (9 September). Credit. Getty Images
King Charles III was greeted with cheers and affection when he arrived at Buckingham Palace today (9 September). Credit. Getty Images | AFP via Getty Images

For now we will have to wait and see, whether, as predicted by some, he will change the rules (he has made no secret for instance of his desire to reduce the number of working senior royals), or continue as things were.

King Charles III will likely want to put his own stamp on the monarchy, and we will perhaps have a clearer vision of what that is after, in his own words, the “period of mourning and change” which will be “deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world.”

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In his official statement after his mother’s death, the new King also said his family will “be comforted and sustained by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection in which The Queen was so widely held” - which is something he will surely aspire to during his time as king.

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