Charles promises to stop meddling when king

Duty calls: Prince Charles has been heir for longer than any monarch-in-waiting in history.

Is this the right decision? Prince Charles has championed many social and environmental causes as heir. But in a BBC film last night, he vowed to stop speaking out when he becomes monarch.

Climate change, education, genetically modified crops, architecture, homeopathy, badgers… Throughout his long tenure as monarch-in-waiting, Prince Charles has been outspoken on all these topics and more.

Sooner or later, however, this will have to change. In a BBC documentary broadcast last night, he claimed it was “nonsense” to think he could keep speaking out as king. Asked if his campaigning would continue while on the throne he said: “No, it won’t. I’m not that stupid.”

The role of Britain’s monarchy has changed remarkably since the days of Richard the Lionheart or Henry VIII — when kings had absolute power over the country. Now, the modern monarchy is ceremonial. The Queen signs off new laws, but has no influence in making them and must remain politically neutral.

Prince Charles insists that he will respect the same “constitutional parameters” imposed upon him when he becomes king.

Whether he keeps his promise remains to be seen, particularly given his track record.

Between 2004-05, the Prince wrote secret notes to senior government officials and Prime Minister Tony Blair, urging action to be taken on a range of issues. Uncovered by The Guardian in 2015, the letters are known as the “black spider” memos — so-called because of the Prince’s scrawling handwriting.

In one memo he asks Blair to improve the equipment available for troops fighting in the Iraq War. Other letters discuss the availability of herbal medicine, encourage the culling of badgers, and urge action to save the Patagonian toothfish from extinction.

The Prince’s attempts to directly influence government policy caused controversy, and since then he has focused his energies on environmental campaigns.

Last year he released a new Ladybird book to raise awareness of the dangers of global warming. He also took to Radio 4, warning listeners that “technology won’t solve climate change”, and lamenting how we have “abandoned our connection with nature”.

Should Prince Charles stop “meddling” when he becomes king?

Charles in charge

Of course, some argue. Using his position to pressure politicians would be an abuse of power and could fatally undermine the monarchy. Protocol and duty are more important than personal passion projects. The Queen has set the perfect example in remaining poised and politically neutral; Charles is right to do the same.

Wrong, other respond. The credibility of the monarchy depends upon the campaigning that Charles wants to give up. Climate change, mental health, environmental destruction — Charles and the younger royals have an admirable record in raising awareness for these important topics. If the royals stop trying to make a difference, what are they for?

You Decide

  1. Will Prince Charles make a good king?
  2. Should the monarchy be abolished?


  1. Do you think the monarchy has a positive impact on British society? Discuss in pairs or small groups. Write down three positive things about the monarchy, and three negative things. Share your ideas with the class. Now take a vote: should the monarchy be abolished?
  2. It is time to write your own “black spider” memo to the prime minister. Choose an important topic that you care about. What changes can the government make in relation to that issue? Write a short letter to Theresa May persuading her to make these changes.

Some People Say...

“All the time I feel I must justify my existence.”

Prince Charles

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The documentary Prince, Son, Heir: Charles at 70 was produced to coincide with the Prince’s 70th birthday. He has been heir to the throne for 66 years — the longest of any British monarch-in-waiting. He has had a rocky relationship with the British public, primarily thanks to his divorce from Diana, Princess of Wales. A poll last year found that 60% of people want his son, Prince William, to be the next king instead.
What do we not know?
How long the monarchy will continue in its current form. Last year Prince Harry caused a stir with these comments: “Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time.” Similarly, Prince William has previously stated he does not “lie awake waiting to be king”.

Word Watch

Controversial alternative medicine in which sick people are given very small amounts of a substance that, in healthy people, would produce the same symptoms as the disease.
Charles has been heir to the throne since 1952.
Richard the Lionheart
Richard I of England, he ruled from 1189 until his death 10 years later. His nickname comes from his fierce reputation as a military leader.
Henry VIII
King of England, 1509-47. He is famous for having six wives and sparking the English Reformation.
Signs off
The monarch signs their name to every Act of Parliament before it can become law. No monarch has refused Parliament’s wishes for over 300 years.
Iraq War
Invasion of Iraq led by the US to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. Thousands of soldiers were killed along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. It is one of the most controversial wars in modern history.
Badgers are culled to stop the spread of tuberculosis among livestock.

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