An old and unloved king, a challenge to the British monarchy

Never has a British sovereign waited so long. The accession of the old and unloved Charles III. opens a delicate period for a monarchy that, under its mother, was able to withstand the crises.

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In 1953, Elizabeth II was crowned at the age of just 25, in an atmosphere of national enthusiasm in a country still recovering from the trauma of World War II. She remained a very popular and respected figure throughout her life.

The reception for his eldest son promises to be quite different. At 73, an “old man” will ascend the throne, says Robert Hazell, professor of constitutional law at University College London.

“It will be very difficult for him to take over the Queen,” he told AFP. “The monarchy will probably go through difficult times.”

Born in 1948, Charles married Diana Spencer in 1981, with whom he had two children, William and Harry, before their marriage broke up and public revelations about their respective infidelities led to their divorce.

After Diana’s tragic death in 1997 in a car accident in Paris, followed by paparazzi, Charles married his former lover Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005.

The new king has long attracted attention for his controversial and sometimes ridiculous statements on subjects such as agriculture or modern architecture (which he dislikes). Though his environmental concerns are now widely shared, he must adhere to foolproof neutrality, scrutinizing and commenting on every word the sovereign says.

In 2018 he assured the BBC he was aware he should refrain from any position: “I’m not that stupid”.

Such neutrality promises to be “very difficult” to maintain, particularly given Scotland’s desire for independence while at the same time preserving the monarchy, notes Mr Hazell, who, however, underlines “the very strong sense of public service and public duty” underlined by Karl.

Charles approaches his rule much less lovingly than his mother. According to a 2021 YouGov Institute poll, just over a third of those polled thought he would make a good king, while more than 70% had a positive opinion of the queen.

Enough to reignite the hopes of those in favor of abolishing the monarchy in favor of a republic, an idea only 15% of Brits have backed in recent years.

Charles “is not protected by the same almost impenetrable aura as the Queen,” said Graham Smith, director of the Republic movement.

In order to preserve the institution, Robert Hazell considers it “conceivable” that Charles abdicates in favor of his very popular son William, who was born in 1982, an option that Elizabeth II still rejects.

But for Graham Smith, “he’s not going to give up.”

In the face of growing criticism of the royal family’s lifestyle, scholars lend Charles a desire to reduce the number of its active members, to live at the expense of the crown, and to devote time to public engagements. You are currently ten.

The trend has already been hurt by the withdrawal of Prince Andrew, brother of Charles, who has been hit by his friendship with the late American financier Jeffrey Epstein, accused of trafficking in minors, and his son Harry’s departure for California.

For Robert Hazell, the interest in continuing on this path is not only in financial terms, but above all in limiting the risks of a member of the royal family “slipping”.

It is up to Charles to distribute the titles and to decide, for example, whether to pass on the Prince of Wales, which he has borne since 1958, to his son.

The royal family has indicated that Camilla should bear the title ‘princess consort’ rather than ‘queen’ so as not to offend the public. But from a legal point of view, notes Mr. Hazell, she “automatically” became queen.

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