New era begins for UK’s longest serving heir

Kiss goodbye: Charles (left) and Philip had a good relationship after a troubled start. © Getty

Will the British monarchy change with Prince Charles as deputy head? After Prince Philip’s funeral tomorrow, many believe the Queen’s closest adviser will become her son – the future king.

The eyes of the world will be on Windsor Castle tomorrow.

Just before 3pm, bells will toll and guns will fire. Prince Philip’s coffin, draped in a flag, will make its final journey in a modified Land Rover. Members of the Royal Family will process solemnly behind the vehicle, dressed in black and with their heads bowed.

Their destination? St George’s Chapel, where the Queen will bid farewell to her beloved husband.

For each of the 30 people attending tomorrow’s service, the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh is deeply personal.

For Princess Anne, he was a “leader, supporter and critic”. For Prince William, he was the “extraordinary man” who dedicated his life to serving the Queen. Prince Harry put it more simply – his grandfather was a “master of the barbecue”.

But for the Duke’s eldest son, the funeral will mark not only a moment of profound personal grief but also a new era of responsibility.

For 73 years, the Duke of Edinburgh stood beside the Queen’s side, accompanying her as she led the monarchy into a new millennium. Now, with Philip gone, it will be Prince Charles who becomes the Queen’s closest confidant.

“Prince Charles is stepping up into the role of family patriarch now,” writes royal journalist Emily Nash. “It is a big moment for him.”

So what will Charles’ new unofficial role mean for the monarchy?

Those looking to predict the future will not be short of clues. Prince Charles is the longest ever serving heir to the British throne. In his 69 years as King-in-waiting, he has promoted everything from traditional architecture to interfaith dialogue. He is also a committed environmentalist – last year, Charles revealed that in the 1970s, many thought he was “mad” for discussing climate change.

But Charles has faced bigger scandals. In the 1990s, the Royal Family was rocked by the public breakdown of his marriage to Princess Diana.

His relationship with his father could be strained. Indeed, despite their shared passion for the environment, Charles and Philip had vastly different personalities.

“He is a romantic and I’m a pragmatist,” declared Philip in 1999. “That means we do see things differently.”

Now, it is his youngest son who Charles appears to have fallen out with – last month, Prince Harry told Oprah he felt “let down” by his father.

These fraught relationships mean more than just a family crisis. With an approval rating of just 38%, many Britons are sceptical about Charles’ role as second-in-command.

In one 2014 play, King Charles III, playwright Mike Bartlett even imagined a future in which Charles is forced to abdicate by a scheming Duchess of Cambridge.

But not everyone is so pessimistic. “It is easy to identify Charles’ faults,” wrote journalist Mark Hastings in March. “But he is sober, serious, conscientious about duties, happily married to the love of his life – and the only Prince of Wales we have.”

Will the British monarchy change with Prince Charles as deputy head?

Stepping up

It is most likely, say some. Charles’ character is very different to that of the Duke of Edinburgh or even the Queen. Unlike his parents, he is open about many of his opinions and principles – including on important issues such as climate change. With the Queen now turning to her son for support, rather than to Prince Philip, it is possible we will see changes at the top of the Royal Family.

Definitely not, say others. For now, the Queen remains in charge. Her style of leadership has not changed for nearly 70 years, and it will not change now. She will not do anything that may risk her support amongst the public – especially when her approval rating stands at 59%. The monarchy may well modernise when Charles becomes King, but not before.

You Decide

  1. Is being born into a royal family a blessing or a curse?
  2. Will Britain still have a monarchy in 50 years time? What about in 100 years?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are a news reporter interviewing Prince Charles. What five questions would you ask him?
  2. Divide into two groups and hold a class debate on the motion: “The Duke of Edinburgh’s death received too much media coverage.” Use the expert links to help you.

Some People Say...

“Something as curious as the monarchy won’t survive unless you take account of people’s attitudes. After all, if people don’t want it, they won’t have it.”

Prince Charles (1948 – ), heir apparent to the British throne

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that Prince Charles’ relationship with his father had improved in recent years. Charles once described Philip, a former naval officer, as “hectoring” and “harsh”, and he reportedly hated Gourdonston, the tough boarding school the Duke of Edinburgh sent him to. However, the Queen’s former Press Secretary Dickie Arbiter says the two men became closer in later years. And when Philip spent a month in hospital earlier this year, it was Prince Charles who visited him.
What do we not know?
One area of debate surrounds whether Philip’s funeral will provide an opportunity to mend the rift that has formed between Princes Harry and William following Harry’s decision to step down as a senior Royal. Earlier this week, former Prime Minister John Major said the two princes should use their “shared grief” to end any “friction”. But others point out that as Harry must stand two metres away from his brother due to Covid-19, there will be limited opportunities to mend the relationship.

Word Watch

Land Rover
Prince Philip’s coffin will be carried by a modified Land Rover, which he designed himself especially for his funeral.
People
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the plans for the funeral had to be scaled down. Mourners will wear masks and stand apart in their household bubbles.
Confidant
A person with whom you can share private thoughts or feelings.
Patriarch
Male head of a family.
Interfaith dialogue
Charles has called for religious freedom and tolerance on many occasions. In 2015, he called Islamic State a “brutal misrepresentation of Islam”.
Princess Diana
Charles and Diana separated in 1992, before divorcing in 1996. Both gave highly publicised television interviews discussing the split.
Pragmatist
A person who is guided by practical considerations rather than ideals.
Oprah
In an interview with the American talk show host, Prince Harry said his father had at one point stopped answering his calls.
Sceptical
Not easily convinced, or having doubts.
Abdicate
When a monarch formally steps down. Bartlett’s play imagines a crisis brought about by King Charles’ principled refusal to sign a government bill he disagrees with.

Subjects

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