I would like to say that the day Queen Elizabeth II died was like any other. But in reality, the United Kingdom was limping through a period of turmoil and uncertainty, without a firm sense of leadership.
The departure of former prime minister Boris Johnson after his resignation in July 2022 was followed by a contest to decide who would be the next leader of the Conservative party and ultimately, the U.K. government.
Liz Truss beat Rishi Sunak in that contest and became prime minister before resigning after a paltry 49 days, making her the shortest-serving head of government in the U.K.
The late queen had an audience with Truss at Balmoral Castle, her Scottish retreat, two days before she died. At the time, pictures emerged of the meeting with Her Majesty looking in bright spirits but unmistakably frail.
By noon local time on Sept. 8, news broke that the queen’s health had taken a turn for the worse and that the rest of the Royal Family was gathering at her bedside. At 6.30 p.m., the death of Queen Elizabeth II was announced and the U.K. entered 10 days of national mourning, which culminated with her funeral on Sept. 19.
One year on, the events of those 10 days are still etched in my memory, and will remain so for many others over the years to come. Thus ended the reign of the longest-serving female monarch and began the rule of King Charles III.
Today, the King is preparing to mark the anniversary of his mother’s death with Queen Camilla at Balmoral. According to a report from Reuters in August, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson confirmed both will spend the day quietly and privately.
While King Charles was met with a number of challenges this past year, it seems as though more lie ahead, including the tasks of modernizing the monarchy and connecting with a public that is facing its own set of obstacles. Helping people find meaning in the monarchy will likely be a key theme over the next year of King Charles’ reign.
PRINCE ANDREW’S ALLEGATIONS AND PRINCE HARRY’S REVELATIONS
His reign has been beset with challenges, mostly from within his own family. Prince Andrew, for example, was stripped of his royal and military titles and has stepped back as a working royal following sexual abuse allegations made against him by Virginia Giuffre. Prince Andrew has denied the allegations and the lawsuit was eventually dismissed after both parties reached a deal.
Despite this, Prince Andrew remains a thorn in the King’s side. According to reports from outlets such as the Daily Mail, it seems as though King Charles wants his brother to leave the 30-room Royal Lodge and move into a more modest home.
Although Prince Andrew remains firmly within the family fold, the King has made sure he takes a back seat at royal events since he is no longer a working member of the Royal Family. This means no balcony appearances or meet-and-greets for the once-beloved prince, despite reports that he has requested the opposite.
Then there is the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who, despite moving to America, are still making waves in the U.K. The Netflix documentary, “Harry & Meghan,” released in December of last year, ranked as the streamer’s largest documentary debut. The series also became Netflix’s second-most successful documentary to date.
It was chock-full, not necessarily of revelations, but of deeper insight into the rift between Prince Harry and his brother, Prince William, as well as how the Duke and Duchess of Sussex took the decision to step back as working royals, and the effect of media intrusion on their lives.
The release of Prince Harry’s memoir “Spare,” ghost-written by J.R. Moehringer, detailed the impact that losing his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, had on his life. Along with describing his time in the armed forces as a helicopter pilot, the prince shared a bucket load of personal details not only about himself, but other members of the Royal Family. The revelations lifted the lid on what might appear to be a not-so-modern monarchy, still steeped in traditions such as taking up the hallowed spaces of massive royal palaces.
Chances are these revelations by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have rocked the royals to their very core, whether they show it or not. They have also likely tarnished the image of a family that wants to appear squeaky clean, and this could be an issue for King Charles.
MODERNIZING THE MONARCHY REMAINS A CHALLENGE
The Royal Family has been at the centre of discussions about race and class in the U.K., some of which have stemmed from comments made by Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. In their interview with TV host Oprah Winfrey in 2021, Meghan Markle said a member of the Royal Family had expressed “concerns” about the colour of her baby’s skin before the couple’s son, Archie, was born.
In response, Buckingham Palace issued a statement saying that while “recollections may vary,” the matter would be addressed privately. Days after the interview aired, Prince William also said the royals were “very much not a racist family.”
However, when the calls are coming from inside the house, King Charles III would do well to listen. If he really wanted to modernize the Royal Family, making sure that it is empathetic to all people is paramount. Addressing issues surrounding the legacy of slavery and offering reparations as well as an apology for the monarchy’s part in it is very necessary.
In order to reinforce the monarchy’s relevance in the 21st century, the Royal Family would also benefit from connecting with residents on issues that matter to them today, one of which is the rising cost of living. High levels of inflation over the last few months have forced many to tighten their belts – it’s possible they may want to see the Royal Family do the same. Perhaps a slimmed-down monarchy is a good idea during this prolonged period of global financial challenges.
Connecting with the younger generation in particular is key, as the Royal Family will need to rely on their support to move forward. This means addressing additional issues that they are concerned about, such as the effects of climate change on the world are inheriting. King Charles and Prince William have been strong advocates of climate action throughout the years, and it appears as though the King is continuing with this work.
In July, he launched the Coronation Food Project, an initiative aimed at reducing food waste and insecurity. The project is his way of attempting to address these issues, as well as the climate crisis as a whole, while remaining politically neutral.
He has also made personal efforts to save resources, such as feeding food scraps to his chickens and modifying his Aston Martin sports car so it runs on surplus wine and whey.
In order to ensure the future of the monarchy, it’s also important that King Charles wields the power of soft diplomacy on the global stage. One of the best ways to do this is by undertaking royal tours, particularly to Commonwealth realms. In 2022, Charles and Camilla, who were Prince and Princess of Wales at the time, visited Canada to celebrate the late queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
According to a report from Australia’s ABC News, Prince William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, along with their children, may be visiting Australia at the end of this year.
These tours remain crucial to the Royal Family, especially at a time where republican feeling is growing across the realms. Jamaica has already decided to surge ahead with removing the monarch as its head of state, and a sizable number of residents in countries such as Canada and Australia have said they support severing ties with the monarchy in surveys over recent years. Allowing these nations to make their own decisions and letting them go gracefully is pertinent.
It’s clear that King Charles has a huge job on his hands, keeping his family and his subjects onside while he works to modernize the monarchy. It’s a work in progress, the success of which we will be measuring for years to come.