King Charles needs to project an air of stability and reassure people of the ongoing relevance of the British monarchy, a leading historian has said on the eve of the Queen’s funeral.
As the world continues to pay tribute to Britain’s longest-serving monarch Queen Elizabeth II, many are wondering how the succeeding King Charles III will continue his mother’s legacy against a backdrop of Britain’s worsening cost of living crisis and mounting calls for the country to reckon with its colonial past.
The Queen, who died last week at the age of 96, is being buried today in Windsor Castle. She became Queen at the age of 26 in 1952 after the relatively short-term reign of her father George VI and the unprecedented abdication of her uncle Edward VIII.
Dr Cindy McCreery, senior lecturer in history at the University of Sydney and the director of the Modern Monarchy in Global Perspective research network , said Charles’ biggest challenge will be preserving the monarchy’s stability and grappling with increasing national anxiety.
There are incredibly anxious months ahead for British people as they look at the fuel prices, especially going into their winter.
“The change to a new monarch is always important, but it’s particularly important when you change to a monarch after a 70-year hiatus between the last transfer of sovereign,” Dr McCreery said.
“There are incredibly anxious months ahead for British people as they look at the fuel prices, especially going into their winter.
“Charles will really want to make sure that people feel reassured that, at least when it comes to the institution of the monarchy, that it’s business as usual.”
Charles’ coronation, which is expected to take place next year and will solidify the King’s religious commitment to his subjects, will likely become one of the largest media spectacles in history. It comes at a time of mounting criticism of the £100 million ($170 million) annual cost to the British taxpayer to support the monarchy, as ordinary members of the public deal with a doubling of their energy bills, with winter approaching.
Dr McCreery said the coronation will offer the monarchy a crucial opportunity to celebrate Britain’s racial and ethnic diversity, which is becoming a public priority in the years following the global Black Lives Matter movement.
“As we all prepare to say our last farewell, I wanted simply to take this opportunity to say thank you”
King Charles has issued a message of thanks to the nation on the eve of the Queen’s state funeral. pic.twitter.com/tmda9N9pqj
— The Royal Family Channel (@RoyalFamilyITNP) September 18, 2022
He has already met with religious leaders from across the faiths in Britain, reassuring them of his “personal duty to protect the diversity of our country”.
Dr McCreery said: “We will see a recognition of the diversity and the multicultural aspects of Britain, which is so different from the Britain of 1952 and 53, when the Queen came to the throne.
“There’ll be a real effort of inclusivity, making sure that people of colour, people from Britain’s vast array of migrant communities are very much a part and feel welcome. I think that will be the real focus of the event.”
Over her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth was forced to grapple with a collapsing British empire, which had covered over a quarter of the earth’s surface when she came to the throne.
The monarchy moves at a slower pace than society, but it’s not stopping. It stops to consider, to think about things, and then moves forward.
Now with growing pressure for a reckoning with colonisation, Dr McCreery said the public will likely become more critical of the monarchy’s imperial role once mourning for the Queen’s death has subsided.
“The conversation about colonialism will be more public, I think there has been a great sense of restraint and deference to the Queen given her age and her long service, but I think there will be more open discussion of that,” said Dr McCreery.
“There will need to be some time to allow people to mourn, to grieve, to respect the Queen, before the conversation of an Australian republic gets going, but I do think it will happen.”
However, despite the hope that Charles’s reign will herald a more open and progressive monarchy, political historian Dr Zita Rohr highlighted the new restrictions that will inhibit Charles’ previous activism, especially his advocacy for greater climate action.
“Charles is the constitutional monarch. It’s very clear what the boundaries are, and he now has to take advice from the government, not the other way around,” Dr Rohr said.
“Charles said, ‘I’m handing over my interest to my son, my heir’, which means he’s actually indicating that he’s not going to scare the horses by continuing to campaign overtly, because he can’t.
“The monarchy moves at a slower pace than society, but it’s not stopping. It stops to consider, to think about things, and then moves forward.”
Main image of Prince Charles by Commonwealth Foundation/Flickr.