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The Man Who Would Be King: From Diana to Andrew to Harry, Prince Charles's complicated, uncertain game of thrones

'It'd be like, 'Who wants Charles to be our head? We're stuck with Charles',' Martin Wiener, a research professor, says
UPDATED MAY 23, 2021
Prince Charles poses for an official portrait (Getty Images)
Prince Charles poses for an official portrait (Getty Images)

Following the demise of Prince Philip, his son and heir-apparent to the British throne Prince Charles has been seen stepping up in a big way as he prepares to take over the reins of the monarchy in the event of his mother Queen's Elizabeth's death or abdication. But is the United Kingdom prepared to accept him as their next king?

Soon after the funeral for the 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh took place on April 17 at Windsor Castle, newspapers across England began carrying the headline declaring Prince Charles a ‘quasi-king’ which basically meant that he would have the powers of a king, but not the official rank or title of a king. As a result, Charles will represent the Queen for her appointments but he will not be addressed as the King. This comes in the light of the current monarch's advanced age of 95. While many have originally speculated if the Queen would abdicate the throne following the death of husband — which is the only way Charles could sit on the throne while his mother is alive — she has not shown any such intention thus far. 


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Prince Charles (Getty Images)

Robert Jobson, who has published several books including, 'Diana: Closely Guarded Secret and Prince Philip’s Century' told Omid Scobie on ABC’s podcast The Heir Pod, that  “there is a scope for change”, after Charles will become a ‘quasi-king’. “The Prince of Wales will step up, in a way he’s already been doing that for the past five years, but now he truly is the patriarch of the family because the Duke of Edinburgh is dead. I mean I say quasi-king, but they’d hate that of course, but you’ve got to try and spell it out to a wider audience,” Jobson said.

King Charles or King William?

And a significant change in the royal family has been seen recently. There has been a shift in dynamic when it comes to shouldering a greater chunk of the responsibilities of The Firm. The Queen doesn’t do state visits anymore, and as a result, Charles has had to stand in her place. In fact, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall attended the first royal engagement this year, which was visiting the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham in February.

Prince William and Prince Charles attend the National Service Of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Westminster (Getty Images)

However, royalty largely depends on popularity in the 21st century and the image of Charles which has gone from a cheating husband to a questionable father over the last few decades has not really had the scope to redeem itself. As a result, a YouGov polling in 2020 put Elizabeth’s approval rating at 69%, way above Charles, who stood at just 40%. Another YouGov poll from last year on who should take over for the queen, showed favorable results for William with 40 percent while Charles polled at 32 percent. In addition, one in eight adults, which was 12%, was of the opinion that Charles will have the biggest effect on the direction of the royal family. 

Royal family prepared for fallout

Detractors In the UK, on the other hand, are convinced that succession will bring increased resistance to the institution. "When people think about the monarchy, they think about the Queen or Philip and the link back to the past, the war and so on," Graham Smith, chief executive of Republic, an anti-monarchy campaign group told NBC News. "Charles will inherit the throne, but he won't inherit the deference or respect his mother has."

Apparently, the members of the royal family are already braced for the fallout that Charles' succession to the throne might bring with itself, royal expert Daisy McAndrew said. "One of the first things that is planned" when Charles takes over "is a 100-day tour of Great Britain, going all over the country. They will be trying to create a buzz around the accepted new monarch," she said. "That will be a make-or-break moment for Prince Charles to get the country behind him."

Prince Andrew's loss became Charles' gain

Prince Andrew, and Prince Charles (Getty Images)

In 2019, Charles had the brief moment to shine and score brownie points with the masses after Prince Andrew's scandal involving disgraced billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein came to light. Instead of waiting for the tabloid to get bored of fishing for details involving his links to the convicted sex offender, the Duke of York made it worse by giving what has been described as a “car crash” television interview with the BBC. He was forced to step down from public duties, saying the controversy had caused major disruption to the royal family’s work. 

“The scandal surrounding Andrew and Epstein gave Charles an opportunity to step in to show that he can run The Firm. No one is bigger than the institution of the royal family. Not even Andrew, the Queen’s favorite son. Charles recognized that and acted decisively — like the king he may well soon be. This was the moment when Charles stepped up as Prince Regent, the Shadow King," a source told the Sun

How Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tarnished Charles' image

However, Charles' brief moment in the sun soon faded after the monarchy started getting embroiled in one controversy after the next, following Megxit, the loose term used to describe Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepping down from their positions as senior members of the monarchy in January 2020. The latest jibe came this year in March, during the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey. Prince Harry mentioned feeling "let down" by his father, adding that there was a time when Charles stopped taking his calls.

Prince Harry and Meghan  (Getty Images)

Anna Pasternak, author of 'The Real Wallis Simpson: A New History of the American Divorcee Who Became the Duchess of Windsor', told Vanity Fair that given the way Harry and Meghan have exposed the cracks in the royal family, she's "not 100 percent sure that we will see Charles ascend to the throne." "The Sussexes have sparked something so fundamentally incendiary in this country that it is changing the face of Britain, and I think the monarchy as an archaic institution may well topple," she said.

Adding that although altering the succession plan seems unlikely, she said, "it may be that there is such a groundswell of public opinion against [Charles] that it's deemed by the firm preferable for William to ascend then because he's younger, more relatable." “It may be that there is such a groundswell of public opinion against [Charles] that it’s deemed by the firm preferable for William to ascend then because he’s younger, more relatable,” she explained.

England 'stuck' with Charles?

Public opinion of Charles also took a hit following Season 4 of 'The Crown', which refreshed people's memories about his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles while still being married to Princess Diana, who till date, holds a special place in the hearts of the people in the UK. 

Martin Wiener, PhD, a research professor at Rice University specializing in British history also predicted that without the Queen, "It'd be like, 'Who wants Charles to be our head? We're stuck with Charles'." Diane Abbott, the first Black female member of British Parliament and former shadow home secretary, told Vanity Fair that the monarchy "as we know it will last as long as the queen is alive." According to Abbott, after the queen's death, "I think there will be a big public debate…and I think what the royal family and their advisers did with Meghan will be part of the argument for change."