‘Prince Charles could be the last King’

Heir today: The Prince faced terrible opinion polls on last year’s anniversary of Diana’s death.

Can the monarchy survive without the Queen? Tomorrow Commonwealth heads are likely to confirm Prince Charles as their new leader when the Queen dies — despite his rapidly waning popularity.

Queen Elizabeth II strolls around the gardens of Buckingham Palace with celebrated naturalist and fellow nonagenarian David Attenborough. They laugh, exchange quips about Donald Trump, health and safety… and the hearts of the nation melt.

“Perfection,” one viewer declared. The outpouring of public affection that followed this week’s television broadcast of The Queen’s Green Planet showed that the British sovereign is as popular as ever after 66 years on the throne.

But she is also an elderly woman. As Commonwealth heads meet this week to decide her successor, many are privately expressing deep concern over whether even so revered an institution as the British monarchy will last long without its steadfast figurehead.

A major issue is the relative unpopularity of her heir, Prince Charles. His disastrous marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales, damaged his reputation even among ardent royalists. In recent polls, only 36% of the British public say he has made a positive contribution to the monarchy, and more than 50% would prefer the crown to pass directly to his son, William.

But it is his tendency to meddle in politics that could prove fatal for the monarchy. In 2015, 27 scrawled letters known as “black spider memos” were published following a decade-long legal battle. These showed Charles lobbying politicians on subjects from the Iraq war to alternative health therapies.

Britain tolerates a hereditary monarchy in a modern democracy because it is seen as “harmless” and apolitical, but many historians believe the country might not be so forgiving of an interfering king.

Things look sunnier for the younger family members. Princes William and Harry were recently voted the most liked members of the Royal family in modern times.

But as society becomes more egalitarian, the public may tire of watching young princes and princesses growing up in lives of subsidised privilege.

Most today cannot remember a time before the Queen’s reign, so her death is bound to be a moment of massive national upheaval.

But will it signal the end of the monarchy?

We are not amused

No, say some. Prince William and his family have shown that the monarchy can stay relevant and have thereby ensured the institution’s survival. Besides, no one really wants a president. A constitutional monarchy provides stability and a balance of power. This won’t change after the Queen’s death.

Yes, others argue. The monarchy is a symbol of inequality that has no place in modern Britain. We’ve allowed the institution to limp on out of a fondness for the Queen, but what next? Prince Charles is widely disliked and Prince William has said he doesn’t really want to be king, so it’s time for something new.

You Decide

  1. Is the Royal family still relevant to British society?
  2. How would the UK be different with an elected president?

Activities

  1. Who is your favourite living member of the Royal family? Write a list of three things that make them a good member of the royal family.
  2. Research a British king or queen from history. What was the biggest crisis they faced? Were they ever close to losing the crown? Write two pages on your findings.

Some People Say...

“As far as we’re concerned… we are a normal family.”

Prince William

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Prince Charles will become king immediately after the Queen’s death, but he probably won’t be crowned for a number of months. Queen Elizabeth II reigned for 16 months before her coronation in June 1953 to allow time for nation to mourn her father, George VI. Parliament and the Palace have detailed plans in place for the weeks following the Queen’s death under the code name “London Bridge”.
What do we not know?
How the nation will respond to Prince Charles as king. While polls show he is less popular than his mother and son, his reputation has gradually improved since Diana’s death. We also do not know what Charles’s name will be when he becomes king. He may choose to be called George VII to avoid being associated with Charles I, who was beheaded in the English Civil War.

Word Watch

Nonagenarian
Someone between 90 and 99 years old.
The Queen’s Green Planet
A documentary broadcast on ITV on Monday. It told the story of the Queen’s efforts to create a global network of protected forests.
Commonwealth
An intergovernmental organisation representing 53 countries that are mostly former colonies of the British Empire. The Queen is the head of the Commonwealth.
Lobbying
When someone attempts to influence decisions made by legislators or businesses. Prince Charles has written many letters to politicians to persuade them to agree with him on political matters.
Apolitical
Not interested or involved in politics.
Subsidised
A form of financial aid. The Queen will receive more than £76 million from the government this year to pay for the upkeep of royal households and various other expenses. However, the Royal family also generates money through tourism.

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