LONDON (AP) — As the United Kingdom mourns a beloved queen, the nation is already wondering how King Charles III will reign and whether his monarchy will stray from his mother’s traditions.
If his first full day on the throne is any indication, Charles seemed set to chart at least a slightly different path.
When Charles drove to Buckingham Palace for the first time as the new king on Friday, his limo meandered through a sea of onlookers, then stopped outside the palace gates before getting out and shaking hands of sympathizers. Charles looked more like an American president on the campaign trail than the last steward of a 1,000-year-old hereditary monarchy.
It’s not that Queen Elizabeth II hasn’t met her subjects. She did, often. But it felt different – a little less formal, a little more relaxed and personal. Charles spent nearly 10 minutes waving to people pressed against crowd control barriers, smiling, waving, accepting condolences and the occasional bouquet of flowers as the audience burst into a chorus of “God Save the King.”
After inspecting the tributes to his mother lined up outside the palace, he waved again and walked through the doors with Camilla, the queen consort.
“It was impressive, touching, a good decision to come out in front of the crowd,” said Ammar Al-Baldawi, 64, a pensioner from Hertfordshire who was among the crowd outside the palace. “I think that’s where the royal family needs to communicate with people now.”
Charles’ efforts to engage more intimately with the public reflect the fact that he needs their support. There are tough issues ahead, the most pressing being how the 73-year-old king will fulfill his role as head of state.
The laws and traditions that govern Britain’s constitutional monarchy dictate that the sovereign must stay out of partisan politics, but Charles has spent much of his adult life speaking out on issues close to his heart, especially the environment.
His words caused friction with politicians and business leaders who accused the then Prince of Wales of meddling in issues he should have kept quiet about.
The question is whether Charles will follow his mother’s lead and stifle his personal opinions now that he’s king, or use his new platform to reach a wider audience.
In his first speech as monarch, Charles sought to put his critics at ease.
“My life will of course change as I take on my new responsibilities,” he said. “It will no longer be possible for me to devote so much of my time and energy to charities and the issues that are so close to my heart. But I know that this important work will continue in the trusted hands of others.
Ed Owens, historian and author of ‘The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-53’, said that while Charles will walk a cautious path, he is unlikely to suddenly stop talking about change climate and the environment. — issues for which there is a broad consensus on the urgency of action.
“To not do so would not be true to the image he has developed up to this point,” Owens said.
John Kerry, the US special envoy for the climate, said he hoped Charles would continue talking about climate change because it is a universal issue that does not involve ideology. Kerry was in Scotland to meet the Prince of Wales this week, but the session was canceled when the Queen died.
“That doesn’t mean he’s involved in the day-to-day hubbub of politics or speaking out for any specific bill,” Kerry told the BBC. “But I can’t imagine him not… feeling compelled to use the important role of the monarch, with all the knowledge he has about it, to speak out and urge the world to do the things that the world must do.”
Constitutional lawyers have debated for years whether Charles pushed the boundaries of conventions designed to keep the monarchy out of the political fray.
His so-called Black Spider Memos – named after his spider-like handwriting – to government ministers have been cited as evidence that he would not be neutral in his dealings with Parliament.
The debate has also spilled over to fiction.
In the 2014 play “King Charles III,” playwright Mike Bartlett imagines the new king, unsure of his powers and moved by his conscience, causing a constitutional crisis by refusing to sign a new law restricting freedom of the press.
It is an illustration of the tensions inherent in a system that has evolved from an absolute monarchy to one in which the sovereign plays a largely ceremonial role. While Britain’s unwritten constitution requires legislation to receive royal assent before becoming law, this is seen as a formality the monarch cannot refuse.
In an interview for a 2018 documentary to mark his 70th birthday, Charles said he would behave differently when he becomes king because the monarch has a different role than the Prince of Wales.
Even so, he questioned the criticism he has received over the years.
“I’ve always been intrigued if it’s meddling in inner cities, like I did 40 years ago, and what was or wasn’t happening there, the conditions in which people lived people,” he asked. “If it’s interference, I’m very proud of it.”
On another issue facing the new king, Charles has made it clear that he intends to cut the number of working royals and cut spending as he seeks to ensure the monarchy represents better modern Britain.
Robert Lacey, royal historian and adviser on Netflix series ‘The Crown’, said the move highlights the important role of Prince William, who is now heir to the throne.
William has already made the environment one of his main issues, and he is likely to play an even bigger role in it now that his father is king, Lacey told the BBC.
But there’s another clue to the new king’s plans for his reign, and that’s his choice of name.
Before Elizabeth’s time, there was a tradition that British monarchs would choose a new name when they ascended the throne. Charles’ grandfather, for example, was known as Bertie before he became King George VI. Some thought Charles would choose to be known as King George VII in honor of his grandfather.
But Charles rejected the idea and kept his own name. It is a “clear message” that the King will continue to champion the causes he supported as Prince of Wales, Lacey said.
It was her father, Prince Philip, who identified ways in which the neutral monarchy could champion youth development and the environment – “really important causes that they could advance without being accused of partisanship. “, did he declare.
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