The British Monarchy is facing a long-dreaded question: can the Crown still feel as culturally important without Queen Elizabeth II, or is the new King Charles already doing irreparable damage to its relevance? The public grief over the Queen that poured out over the Queen’s death spoke to widespread admiration for how she did her duty, and had an almost grandmotherly relationship with the nation. It’s an understatement to say the Queen’s firstborn son, King Charles, has never enjoyed the same popularity. Prince William and his future Queen Consort Kate, are far more popular, but what could happen to the institution in the time until they succeed Charles? And will Harry and Meghan being away from the UK hurt this picture – or according to some recent suggestions, actually help things?
The British Monarchy is facing a long-dreaded question: can the Crown still feel as culturally important without Queen Elizabeth II, or is the new King Charles already doing irreparable damage to its relevance? What is the future of the Royals in the public’s eyes and hearts? The public grief over the Queen that poured out over the Queen’s death— even from people who aren’t ardent royalists — spoke to widespread respect and admiration for how she did her duty, and had an almost grandmotherly relationship with the nation. The public grief over the Queen that poured out over the Queen’s death— even from people who aren’t ardent royalists — spoke to widespread respect and admiration for how she did her duty, and had an almost grandmotherly relationship with the nation.
Her much-watched depiction as the young Queen in The Crown tells the story of someone who had this heavy role thrust upon her too early – but who, against all odds, surprised everyone with her graceful resilience, aptitude for the role, and knack for neutrality that added to the Crown’s mysterious aura and sense of being above petty worldly politics.
It’s an understatement to say the Queen’s firstborn son has never enjoyed the same popularity. And as the new King Charles, he’s already been memed for petulantly getting angry about a fountain pen, and angrily gesturing that an aide clear a table for him while he was signing documents. Boos greeted the proclamation of God Save The King in Edinburgh, and protests marred his arrival in Cardiff. He’s also caused huge controversy by bringing the disgraced Prince Andrew back into the fold — allowing him to wear his military regalia at the Vigil of the Princes as he symbolically guarded his mother’s coffin.
The next in line for the throne, Prince William and his future Queen Consort Kate, are far more popular and relatively modern-feeling, so many look forward to their ability to carry the monarchy into a future era. But what could happen to the institution in the time – potentially decades – until they succeed Charles? And will Harry and Meghan being away from the UK hurt this picture – or according to some recent suggestions, actually help things?
Here’s our take on the future of the Royal Family, what the Queen had that Charles doesn’t, and what comes next.
“I just hope to goodness that Prince Charles is going to try at least to follow in his mother’s footsteps, which those are some big footsteps.” - AP News
CHAPTER ONE: WHY THE QUEEN WAS SO SUCCESSFUL
The descriptions of the Queen in the wake of her death pointed to an idea of her as almost apolitical. She was perceived as a blank canvas that people could project notions of national identity onto, and the fact she reigned for such a long time meant people almost saw her as this reassuring constant in an ever-changing world.
“Whatever crappy things that were happening in the world, there was something about the way she dealt with those things and express the mood of the nation” - Independent News
But this image was carefully cultivated. When Elizabeth ascended onto the throne in 1952, the image of the monarchy was very different from what it is now. A poll around the time of her coronation found that three out of ten people still believed she embodied the archaic idea of the “divine right”, which imbues the King or Queen with a kind of mysticism and unknowability. The Crown spends a lot of its early seasons underlining how the monarchy protects this idea. The fact that even-tempered Elizabeth is able to embody this more distant, impersonal aura creates tension between her and her more individualistic, charismatic younger sister, Princess Margaret. While Margaret herself believes she’d make a more exciting Queen, over time it becomes clear that it’s exactly Margaret’s effervescence and charms that make her unsuited to the role. As Elizabeth learns through navigating her new title and her new responsibilities, a clear distinction has to be made between her identities as a person, and as a monarch. She’s not there to stand out and shine, but rather to embody something greater than herself, and do her duty diligently and respectfully.
In the wake of his mother’s death, Charles popularity has risen, but it’s widely known that the public has always been cool on Charles. Many say they wish the Crown could go straight to his more popular son, Prince William. And the fact that Charles has already had cringe-worthy public moments in his first weeks as King seems to reinforce his existing image as someone who is out of touch with the general public. In 2005, Charles’ former secretary revealed that he never read the letters people sent him, watched television, or read newspapers, in stark contrast to his Mother. Tom Bower’s biography Rebel Prince painted a portrait of a man who spends lavishly, but at the same time would continuously complain about the hand he’d been dealt in life, describing his role as Prince of Wales as being “utter hell.” And of course, his unpopularity and unrelatability was exacerbated by the extreme popularity of his former wife, Diana Princess of Wales, whom the public felt Charles terribly mistreated.
The Crown’s episodes about Charles also underline his streak of individualism. While Charles has never been as charismatic as Margaret, he has always shared her desire to be front and center, and to express his personality to the public. In contrast to his mother’s talent for remaining strategically politically neutral, Charles has often weighed in on divisive political topics. When then Prime Minister Tony Blair was trying to ban the sport of fox hunting, he lobbied him not to, calling the sport “romantic. During the war in Iraq, he questioned whether the British military had enough resources, and regularly lobbied education secretaries to prevent any modernization to the British schooling system. All this led to a perception of Charles as a meddler – not the soft power a modern Monarchy was meant to embody, but instead real, unelected political influence. In the present, it’s unfortunate timing for Charles to be crowned as Britain (like much of the world) is going through a major cost of living crisis. The lavish, opulent optics of Royal processions clash with news stories about the collapsing economy, and people not able to afford energy prices.
“While we’re struggling to heat our homes, we have to pay for your parade. The taxpayer pays 100 million for you, and what for?” - TRT World.
CHAPTER TWO: CHANGING WITH THE TIMES
As much as her superpower was channeling that ancient royal mystique, the Queen did change with the times, in response to changing perceptions. A little over a decade after her coronation, the public began to slowly turn on the royals with polls rating their irrelevance beginning to climb. To combat this she started to show more of herself to her subjects – becoming the first monarch to walk in among her subjects on royal visits, rather than view them from a safe distance. And she embraced film and television as a window to allow the public to see more into her life. She was the first monarch whose coronation was televised for the public – her husband Prince Philip’s idea – and starting in 1957 she began delivering her annual Christmas messages on TV.
This humanization went a long way in cementing the link between the Monarchy and the collective idea of Britishness, and maintaining that link even as that idea has evolved. We can see this in her skits with James Bond at the 2012 Olympics and Paddington Bear as part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Bond is all classic British elegance, duty and sophistication, but he also evokes courage and strength and links those values with an older idea of the British empire. Paddington meanwhile is a nostalgic, comforting fixture, who in recent years has come to embody a tolerant, multicultural Britain. The Paddington films play up his status as an immigrant, and champion values of kindness and community, creating an almost utopian vision of what a future Britain should be.
As recent history also shows, for the monarchy to survive, it does have to change to keep up with the times. So perhaps Charles bringing a new approach to the role doesn’t have to be bad.
The Crown explores the positive potential of Charles’ individualism and desire to have a voice in an episode when, as a young man, he takes language lessons from a Welsh Nationalist to prep for his investiture as Prince of Wales. The young Charles’ sympathy for the Welsh nationalist cause is portrayed as admirable in many respects, even though his mother sees it as weakness.
Yet this more open and empathetic Charles that’s depicted in earlier episodes doesn’t line up totally with the later Charles who – in The Crown, Spencer or real-life accounts – seems to wallow in pity for himself, resent Diana for being more beloved than he is, and avoid taking responsibility for his affair with Camilla as the primary reason his marriage never had a chance. As Charles passed the Prince of Wales title to William, this resurfaced old resentments about the meaning of this title. And to make matters worse, King Charles’ visit to Wales after bestowing the title came on Owain Glyndwr day – which is celebrated by Welsh nationalists in honor of the last Welsh Prince of Wales, who led a rebellion against the English monarchy.
So far, it just doesn’t seem that Charles possesses the self-awareness and restraint to mold his personality to this role that requires an exceptionally impersonal gravitas.
CHAPTER THREE: THE FUTURE OF THE MONARCHY
Overall, support for the monarchy is declining, particularly among young people. Recent polls suggest pro-monarchy sentiment is at an all-time low, even with Charles’ recent bump. Viewing figures for the Queen’s funeral peaked at 29 million, which was fewer than the audience for the final of the 2020 European Championships.
Lindsay Hoyle: “We should not allow anything to overshadow the most important event the world will ever see, and that’s the funeral of her majesty.”- Sunday with Laura Kuennsberg
The future of the Monarchy is also tied to the future of the Union in the United Kingdom – and it’s notable that the largest protests against the Monarchy during the period of mourning were in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (all of which have movements to leave the UK).
Meanwhile, the next in line to the throne, William, along with his wife Kate, have both remained pretty popular in the eyes of the British public. This is despite rumors of William’s affair with Rose Hanbury, and William and Kate’s rift with Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. In fact, Harry’s and Meghan’s relative absence from the scene in the UK might be one thing working in on the monarchy’s favor. While their previous criticisms of the Crown have done damage – and Harry and Meghan are still huge in America – there’s some suggestion that the British public are falling out of love with them. Of course, the British tabloids have long been hostile to the pair, but there are also hints of a broader shift in public perception that the couple seems to be reacting to. The narrative in the press is that the couple has been doing some PR damage control – with Harry attempting to make last minute rewrites to his upcoming memoir, removing anything that people may deem insensitive, and Meghan making similar edits to episodes of her Archetypes podcast.
Russell Meyers: “If there is any chance of repairing these relationships then you can bet your bottom dollar that this will be a real big problem if they start firing off any bombs.” - Lorraine
Even if the public today is excited about William and Kate as the future King and Queen consort, it could be a while before that comes to pass – even over two decades if the 73-year-old lives to an age similar to his mother. A lot can and will change in public attitudes by then, shaped by Charles’ actions and shifts in culture that no one can fully predict.
“Every British person has grown up with the queen, so it’s gonna be a really big change.”
One of the main things the Queen had in her favor was longevity. Charles, meanwhile, is the oldest monarch to ever take the throne, so his expected reign is going to be comparatively short in the historical scheme of things. Sources even say that he himself considers himself a “caretaker” of the monarchy to be passed down to William and then George.
But looking at what’s to come, it’s unlikely that another monarch will reign for 70 years any time soon. And the newness of King Charles almost puts too big a spotlight on the institution, particularly at a time of huge inequality in the UK. To survive and continue to be relevant, the monarchy has to change. But given the person in charge is famous for being petulant, stubborn, and out of touch, maybe it’s he who has to undergo some changes first.