The Queen is dead. God help the King.
I know that the proper phrase is “God SAVE the King.” In view of the current circumstances, however, I think the headline version is more appropriate.
We can first focus on one overarching fact. Queen Elizabeth II is a hard act to follow – virtually possible. She was the most respected and belove head-of-state in the world – arguably in history. And like a fine wine, her reputation and belovedness improved over time.
There is no way that King Charles III can live up to the standard set by his mother. First, he is a man. With elements of the contemporary progressive community suffering from testosterone-phobia, he is being judged with disdain by radical feminists. If you do not believe that you have not been following the ladies on the news. One left-wing lady on the telly already lamented that the next two generations of British monarchs are males of the species. No more queens at least until 9-year-old George – second in line to the throne — completes his future reign in the early 22nd Century.
Not only is Elizabeth a hard act to follow, but she is also the ONLY comparison by which Charles will be judged. Most of the people in the world have no adult recollections of any other English monarch than Elizabeth. In America, we can make comparisons of past presidents because we personally experienced their years in office. For example, I have lived through 13 presidencies and have significant memories of 10 of them. For my British counterparts, it is ONE — on the cusp of the second.
There is a notable difference, however. While Elizabeth is the head-of-state, she is not the leader of the nation politically. The United Kingdom has a hybrid system – a constitutional monarchy. That would be an oxymoron if it was a bit of both. In reality, the constitutional side is where all the power lies. The monarchy is largely symbolic – sort of a reality show.
One of the reasons for Elizabeth’s popularity is that she was above the political fray – and she made no attempt to enter it. She never offered an opinion on political issues. He never revealed her conversations with other heads-of-state. She never endorsed candidates for public office. And amazingly, in 70 years as the Queen, she never consented to a one-on-one news media interview. No press conferences. The only known recording of a one-on-one discussion was her teatime chat with Paddington Bear.
Charles, on the other hand, has gotten involved in controversial issues – most notably green climate change issues. He has been available to the press. Whether he will curtail that now that he is King is an open question – whether he can walk away from years of comments and opinions will be a challenge.
The fact that Elizabeth did not have any serious constitutional powers does not mean she did not have influence. Being as liked and respected as she was gave her words impact – privately and publicly.
World figures considered her extremely well informed on world events – and often sought her counsel, even if the advice would not be made public. She was able to bring the people together in a sense of patriotic unity – something no recent American president have been able to do. She was a comforter in times of sadness and tragedy – and cooled the passions in times of unrest. While she could not command, she could inspire.
Unlike his mother, Charles has been the subject of controversy. He came out looking bad in anything that had to do with Princess Diane. His storybook marriage became marred as he was deemed to be an inattentive husband … a philanderer, whose salacious phone conversations were made public … and a good or bad father, depending on who was talking. Prince Harry and Duchess Markel intimated racism in the royal family — excluding only the Queen.
Elizabeth had a lifelong romance with her beloved husband, Prince Phillip. For most of her 70 years on the throne, it was a romance-novel matching. While the issue of Camila has been settled, there are many Brits who see the Queen Consort as a homewrecker.
Charles will face serious issues. By force of personality, Elizabeth had been able to keep the lid on the Scottish independence movement and the Northern Ireland border issue. These are likely to gain some steam under Charles.
Then there is the very future of the monarchy. Many British subjects would like to end the monarchy. As long as it was the loveable Elizabeth on the throne, that movement had little gravitas. It is much easier to track the cost and meaning of the monarchy under Charles – who, unlike his mother – has a reputation for lavish spending. She was often seen in a trench coat and babushka. He seems comfortable weighted down in regal Medieval garments festooned with sashes and jewels.
Elizabeth was able to remain the loving mother and grandmother even as the family was shattered by infighting, ugly divorces and controversies. Apart from his own contribution to that situation, Charles must deal with his younger brother’s sexual indiscretions, a son and daughter-in-law at odds with the family – personally and institutionally.
Both in length of service and style, the modern Elizabethan Era cannot be matched – or even closely emulated. It was a beautiful thing to experience – but, alas, it is over. Elizabeth owns the past 70 years of the British monarchy – but she cannot bequeath it to Charles. He will need to find his own way – and it will not be easy.
Perhaps King Charles III’s greatest asset in maintaining the importance of the monarchy is that it is great for the tourist business – even better than its closest rival, Disneyland.
So, there ‘tis.