The Prince Becomes King

By Vicki Belovski

King Charles III during the Accession Council at St James’s Palace, London, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, where he is formally proclaimed monarch. (Victoria Jones/Pool Photo via AP)

Few people are blessed to have both parents still alive when they reach their early seventies. Until last year, King Charles III was among them, but in his case the situation was complicated by the fact that he could not take up the role for which he had been prepared since he was a small child until after his mother had passed away. While generally one might look forward to a new role, particularly one as significant as this, for Prince Charles it was a “moment he had been dreading,” coming as it did packaged with the loss of his mother.

The U.K.’s new king was the heir to the throne for 70 years — longer than most monarchs reign. During this period, he grew into adulthood, developed a set of ideas and a mode of interacting with the public, reviewed both — and, through trial and error, found a path that works both for him and for those he meets. When the previous Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, a close personal friend of the Prince, retired, Charles spoke at the official dinner. The two men were the same age, and he joked that they had reached the official age of retirement, saying, “I do hope yours is going to be a bit more realistic than mine.”
Yet this incredibly long apprenticeship has mellowed the King, as has his very obviously happy marriage to his now-Queen Consort Camilla. The public perception of the couple, and the King in particular, has moved from suspicion to affection, as has been evidenced in the way they have been greeted over the last few days, since the death of the Queen.

Challenges Ahead
Nevertheless, the new monarch is sure to face challenges ahead. Not the least of these is his grueling schedule up to and including his mother’s funeral. Traveling back and forth between Scotland and London, visiting Wales and Northern Ireland, having dozens of official meetings, and attending several memorial services and a state funeral, not to mention the impromptu walkabouts, would be tiring and stressful for anyone, let alone a 73-year-old man who is mourning the loss of his mother.
To compound the situation, the Prime Minister has been in post only two days longer than the King, and she appointed most of her senior ministers during those two days. When the late Queen ascended the throne, she was able to rely on Sir Winston Churchill to guide her through her early time in the role, and, more recently, inexperienced Prime Ministers have benefited from the Queen’s wise counsel and astute political knowledge, at the moment. Today, both the King and the Prime Minister are settling into their new roles and will have to learn on the job.

The King is undoubtedly the more politically experienced, but as the constitutional monarch, he is expected not to voice opinions, but merely to offer advice. As Prince of Wales, he caused a few political rows by expressing his opinions in a way that was regarded as too close to lobbying or even meddling. He has already publicly pledged to “uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation,” which was seen as implying he will now be more restrained in expressing his ideas.

Paradoxically, in many of those ideas, the King was ahead of his time. He grew organic produce on his estate in Cornwall well before it was widely fashionable, and his concern for the environment dates back some 50 years — again, well before most people had picked up on this concern.

Tony Juniper, head of Natural England and previously Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, described him as “possibly the most significant environmental figure of all time.” Now that much of the world has caught up with him, the King will need to advise and support environmental initiatives from a backseat, rather than as a leader or developer.

Charles’ fondness for alternative medicines, such as herbal or homeopathic remedies, is widely known, and equally widely criticized and mocked. As one writer said, “Complementary medicines are splendid if the medicine you’re complementing is, like Charles’, the best taxpayers’ money can buy.” His patronage of the Faculty of Homeopathy drew derision and concern that by taking this role, he was strengthening the hand of those who denied other aspects of science. In his first speech after becoming King, Charles said that he would no longer be able to support as many charities as he had done until now, but that he hoped that others would take up these duties. It will be interesting to see whether any of the Royal Family is prepared to pick up this one.

Britain’s King Charles attends the presentation of Addresses by both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall, inside the Palace of Westminster, following the death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, in central London, Britain September 12. (Joe Giddens/Pool via REUTERS)

On a more serious note, the United Kingdom is in possibly the worst economic crisis for decades, with soaring energy costs driving inflation ever higher. The news of the Queen’s sudden decline last Thursday came as Parliament was debating a new energy bill.

Prime Minister Liz Truss, despite having campaigned on a no-handouts platform, had just announced a new energy cap which should keep most families’ annual bills to a more manageable level. However, the rest of the day’s events prevented the discussion from continuing, and the government, which was just getting going again after the summer recess and a period of inertia following former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation, has once again paused most of its functions until after the Queen’s funeral.
The rolling news about the formal mourning process, combined with coverage of the national outpouring of grief, have pushed the energy crisis out of the headlines. Rail and postal strikes that were called for this week were canceled out of respect for the Queen and her family, but when the country returns to normal after the funeral, there will surely be a return to economic concerns.

Unless the situation improves drastically, it will be hard to justify the huge expense of a lavish coronation ceremony next year, having already footed the bill for a state funeral, including all the necessary security arrangements for hundreds of thousands of people to pay their respects, and hundreds of foreign heads of state to visit.

The new King will face some personal challenges, too. His younger son, Prince Harry, and Harry’s wife have had a strained relationship with the family for some time. Harry’s memoir is due to be released this year, and there have been concerns that it will contain revelations that are damaging to the Royal Family. They must be hoping that the release will be delayed out of respect to the Queen.
Charles himself has faced allegations around cash donations to his charities, which were dismissed by the Charity Commission.

On a broader scale, the death of the Queen will reopen discussions about the role of the monarchy in modern society, particularly in Commonwealth states. Australia and some of the Caribbean nations in particular are considering whether to become republics. King Charles may be the last British king to rule over quite so many countries.

A Unique Style
King Charles has had plenty of time to develop his own style of interactions with the public. Those who have met him in recent years have been favorably impressed by his charm and knowledge of their personal circumstances. He has developed the ability to project both a serious persona, as was evidenced by his speeches since his accession, and a more informal, approachable one, seen during the impromptu walkabout when he and the Queen Consort arrived at Buckingham Palace on Friday.
The King’s speeches on the occasions of his mother’s jubilees were very popular and showed the deep love and respect he had for her. The Queen captured the nation’s heart as a young girl, and many people who are not ardent royalists had a soft spot for her, particularly in later years, when she projected as “the nation’s granny.” It is hard to see that Prince Charles will be afforded the same affection, but he has made a surprisingly good start. His accession speech was regarded as spot on in tone and content and bodes well for the future.

Relationship With the Jewish Community
As mentioned above, as Prince of Wales, the King had a very close relationship with Chief Rabbi Sacks, and attended the installation of his successor Chief Rabbi Mirvis, wearing his own kippah, embroidered with the Prince of Wales’ feather emblem.
He is a patron (and donor from his own funds) of World Jewish Relief (WJR), as well as other Jewish charities such as the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (having taken over from his mother), the Jewish Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade and the Jewish Museum. Inevitably, as he said in his accession speech, some of these patronages will have to be passed on to other family members, but one hopes that he will retain his strong connections to the community.

The King’s connection with WJR is particularly strong. In 2002, during a visit to Cracow, he was moved by the plight of elderly Holocaust survivors living in Poland. When he returned to London, he contacted WJR to see what could be done about it and made a substantial personal donation toward building a new Jewish community welfare center in Kazimierz, the former Jewish area of the city. In 2008, he and his wife returned to Cracow for the opening ceremony of the new building. Speaking at the event, Tadeusz Jakubowicz, president of the Cracow Jewish community, said, “Many people come and promise us a future, but the Prince and World Jewish Relief promised and … also delivered.” The then-president of WJR Nigel Layton echoed his words, saying, “His support of WJR has been truly exceptional.”

The King, in common with his late mother, has met and listened to Holocaust survivors, assisting them to find some sort of closure to their trauma. He wrote a foreword to Lily Ebert’s memoir, and earlier this year, he commissioned portraits of seven U.K.-based survivors, of whom she was one, as a way of perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust. Prior to the pandemic, Prince Charles hosted a reception at Buckingham Palace for representatives of the Jewish community and Jewish organizations, to honor them for the work they do for the community and the country as a whole. In the speech he gave then, he highlighted not only prominent historical British Jews, as well as his wider family’s connection with the Jewish community, but he also spoke about the contribution of the Jews to Britain.

The Prince referred to the United Kingdom as “a community of communities which is enriched by the diversity of its constituent groups.” He described the relationship between the Crown and the Jewish community as “something special and precious” and concluded by saying that the Jewish people have brought “immense blessings … to this land and, indeed, to humanity.”

The new King has been entrusted with a very difficult role. His late mother was unique and will be a hard act to follow. We are confident that King Charles will be a worthy successor. We send him our condolences on his personal loss, together with our wishes and prayers that he will be successful and fulfilled as he takes up the mantle of sovereignty. In the words of the formal prayer: “May Hashem guard him and deliver him from all trouble and sorrow … May He put a spirit of wisdom and understanding into his heart and into the hearts of all his counselors, that they may uphold the peace of the realm, advance the welfare of the nation and deal kindly and justly with all the House of Israel.”

G-d save the King!

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