During his many decades as Prince of Wales, Britain’s new king earned a reputation for his strongly held views on subjects ranging from climate change to his commitment to interfaith dialogue.
Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September at Balmoral Castle at the age of 96, the world will be watching to see whether Britain’s newly-proclaimed monarch, King Charles III, will maintain his high-profile interventions on the wide range of issues for which he has a passion.
In the 64 years that he spent as Prince of Wales, Charles Windsor went further than showing an interest in these subjects — he was not shy about promoting them.
Over the decades, the world became familiar with his passion for architecture, the arts, the environment, organic farming, homeopathy, as well as his rather idiosyncratic habit of talking to his plants.
These wide-ranging interests meant that senior ministers in the British government were regular recipients of letters written by the then Prince Charles — known in political circles as the “black spider memos” because of his impenetrable handwriting — in which he lobbied strongly for them to consider his opinions on a wide range of views.
Now that he is on the throne, however, there is a general expectation that, as king, Charles will rein in his controversial interventions in British politics.
Instead, he is likely to adopt an approach more akin to that of his late mother, whose ability to conceal her views on issues about which she felt strongly — including Scotland claiming independence from the United Kingdom — made her the model of discretion.
More diplomatic approach
The first indication that the king was adopting a more diplomatic approach to his royal duties came with the announcement that he would not be attending last year’s Cop27 summit at the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheik, hosting only a reception beforehand.
As climate change and the environment are two of the issues closest to the new king’s heart, he had planned to attend the summit to continue his long-standing campaign to persuade world leaders to take action against global warming.
His commitment to environmental causes and climate change was evident at the previous Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow, where he made what was widely seen as a controversial speech in which he called for the world to go on “war-like footing” to act on climate change, warning that “time has quite literally run out.”
But following the intervention of Britain’s then prime minister, Liz Truss, the king withdrew from the forthcoming event. According to British press reports, Truss made it clear during her weekly audience with the king that she was opposed to his plans to address world leaders at the summit.
A statement issued by Buckingham Palace said the decision for King Charles not to attend had been made on the government’s advice.
It certainly provides a clear indication that he will now adopt a more nuanced, and less activist, approach to his royal duties, which is deemed essential if he is to fully fulfil his duties as both the head of the United Kingdom and the leader of the Commonwealth.
An elite activist
This change of direction by the king will not come easily for a man who has spent the past four decades carving out a unique position for himself as an elite activist, tirelessly lobbying and campaigning to promote his concerns.
He has spread his ideas through his writings and speeches, his charities and allies and, behind the scenes, in private meetings and correspondence with government ministers.
He, himself, has used the phrase “mobilising” to describe his activities; his critics call it “meddling” and interventionism. They view his involvement in political matters as an abuse of the unspoken understanding that the royal family should merely symbolise power, not wield it.
It is hardly surprising that Charles — a mature man of 73 — has had plenty of time to develop interests and commitments and a privileged position from which to vocalise his views.
He has waited longer to succeed than any previous heir to the throne.
His reign will necessarily be different to that of Queen Elizabeth, who secured acceptance of the constitutional monarchy, in part, through her strict silence on political affairs.
“A quiet constitutional revolution is afoot,” his friend and biographer Jonathan Dimbleby said last year: “I predict that he will go well beyond what any previous constitutional monarch has ever essayed.”
The king has already said, however, that he will step away from his interests.
In his first speech as King Charles III, he said: “My life will, of course, change as I take up my new responsibilities. It will no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energy to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply. But I know this important work will go on in the trusted hands of others.”