King Charles III Has Big Shoes to Fill

Sofia Krzewicki, Staff Writer

On Thursday, Sept. 8, Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-living and longest-reigning British monarch, died at age 96 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Ruling for seven decades, the Queen has been the only constant in a constantly changing world. Her popularity has survived political, economic and social upheaval endured by her nation and respective Commonwealths, as well as the successive challenges posed by her children and their spouses.

The most famous challenge of the Queen’s reign is her son, the now-King Charles III, whose life is already riddled with controversy and scandals, such as his relationship with the late Diana, Princess of Wales (the “People’s Princess”), the Saudi cash-for-knighthood scheme and the treatment of his daughter-in-law, Meghan Markle. 

Not only will King Charles III still live in the shadow of his late mother, Britain’s late and beloved Queen, but his reign will certainly be defined by his past behavior and contribute to the monarchy’s unpopularity. 

In the Queen’s obituary provided by the London Times, she is described as “the woman who saved the monarchy” in Britain. She was Britain’s North Star, a symbol of unity and pride. The article continues, “[S]he came to stand for those old-fashioned virtues that are in such short supply these days: service, duty, modesty, self-sacrifice and hard work.” Such values and such virtues arguably are not represented or will not be represented with King Charles III on the British throne. 

King Charles III’s reign is crucial to the continued existence of the monarchy, which is based on Britons’ respect and acceptance of this tradition. 

Although the Queen was pain-stakingly neutral on important issues from Apartheid to feminism, Britons had a soft-spot for her. The same, at this moment, can not be said for the new King. This is partly because Charles will always be associated with the Queen’s ‘annus horribilis’ of 1992—the year Diana, Princess of Wales, struck back with Andrew Morton’s tell-all, “Diana: Her True Story,” and their separation. 

Four years later, in August of 1996, she would be dead. 

Her death deeply influenced the lives of those she touched, but most specifically, the institution to which she exposed in her biography and BBC interview with Martin Bashir. She famously remarked about her marriage to then-Prince Charles and his affair with his now-Queen Consort Camilla Parker-Bowles: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” 

The ‘annus horribilis’ was the year that British subjects no longer saw their monarchy as the fairytale they were being fed. Nevertheless, the anger lie (mostly) with the younger generation of royals, with the then-Prince Charles at the head, not the Queen. 

Now, the poster child of the ‘annus horribilis’ is at the helm of this long-standing, respected British tradition, tasked with both honoring the legacy of his late-mother and creating a new image for himself and the monarchy. 

It is his past and his selfish choices made as Prince of Wales that stand in his way. 

As an older monarch, King Charles III has little time to make Britons forget about his past and to sweep the controversy and the scandal under the rug. And he will never be able to do so. 

What he can and should do is to follow the inspiring example” of his mother, as he said in his first address as King of the United Kingdom, to an extent. The world is rapidly changing. If King Charles III wants his title and his ancestral tradition to last, then he, too, must change with the times. He must redefine the qualities, the virtues and the values that his mother, the Queen, represented. But, he must also redefine himself and consider the type of monarch he wishes to be remembered for. 

He lives in the shadows of many. He has great shoes to fill. Then again, heavy is the head that wears the crown.