King Charles: The prince who was first in line to the throne for seven decades
The Elizabethan era is over and Prince Charles, formerly the Prince of Wales, has ascended the throne to become King Charles III.
Following the announcement of the monarch’s death on September 8, 2022, it was promptly announced by Buckingham Palace that the prince, who has waited his entire life to inherit the throne, will become King of the United Kingdom and 16 Commonwealth realms.
Charles has been first in line to the throne for seven decades and heir apparent since the age of three.
Throughout his life he has remained vocal about subjects he has been passionate about – notably the environment – but now as King he will have to shift his style.
Since he was a toddler, there was never a moment in his childhood or adolescence when he was not a heartbeat away from the throne.
Born at Buckingham Palace on November 14, 1948, he was christened as Charles Philip Arthur George a month later.
He became heir apparent at the age of three when his mother inherited the throne upon her father’s, King George VI, death.
Aged just four, he watched his mother’s Coronation in Westminster Abbey on 2 June, 1953 sandwiched between his grandmother, The Queen’s mother, and aunt, Princess Margaret.
Charles was front and centre at a moment of history when the Queen stepped out on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to greet the huge crowds that waited below – the four-year-old stood next to younger sister Princess Anne and watched in awe at the scenes around him. Scenes that will soon be mirrored when he steps out on the same balcony as King Charles III.
The young prince was educated at Hill House school in west London from 1956 and then Cheam School, a preparatory school in Berkshire, from 1957. It was while he was studying at Cheam that the Queen created him The Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester when he was just nine-years-old.
Under the guidance of his father, he began his first term at Gordonstoun, a school in Scotland which The Duke of Edinburgh had attended. Despite reports he felt intimidated by other students and home-sick at the school, he persevered and became head boy in his final year.
He went on to study archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge University, but changed to history for the second part of his degree and in 1970 received a 2:2 degree.
At the age of 20, he was invested as Prince of Wales by the Queen at Caernarfon Castle and he even gave his address in Welsh – having spent a term at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth.
From there, it was a military career that beckoned, first as pilot in the Royal Air Force where he trained as a jet pilot and then the Royal Navy, following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and both his great-grandfathers. He qualified as a helicopter pilot in 1974, and ended his career as a commander of a minehunter.
Expressing public opinion on matters that interest him is something Charles has not held back on, however as the new Head of State, he will have to change his style to become politically neutral and steer away from any controversy.
His comments in the past on environmental activism have been the most forthright, telling world leaders at the COP21 climate summit in Paris in 2015: “Your deliberations over the next two weeks will decide the fate not only of those alive today but also of generations yet unborn.
“So I can only urge you to think of your grandchildren, as I think of mine, and of those billions of people without a voice.”
Charles was early to the debate on genetically modified foods, organic farming, improved land use and sustainability.
Even as he took on more responsibility from the Queen, he did not shrink from high profile, environmental tours, whether with penguins in the South Atlantic, releasing turtles on a beach in Malta or feeding endangered orangutans in Borneo.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2020 he launched the Sustainable Markets Initiative, which calls on businesses and consumers to take steps towards sustainable practices.
The Terra Carta, or Earth Charter, was launched in January 2021 to encourage the private sector to adopt sustainable practices and it pledged a £7.3 billion fund of ‘natural capital’ which will be committed to reforestation and landscape renewal schemes.
His enthusiasm for the subject will not wane as King but perhaps such activism and meetings with activists may be toned down in line with the Crown.
The man who is now the head of the Church of England had said he wanted to change the title, first adopted by Henry VIII, of Defender of the Faith, to Defender of Faith, to include other religions widely practiced in multicultural Britain.
Speaking in 2009, he said: “All I have ever wanted to do is build bridges that can span these chasms and unite us with the patterns of Divine Harmony in our souls and within the world's soul.”
He will now use the original title after all, but the belief that his role goes beyond the Church of England to incorporate all faith is still strongly held.
The belief of incorporating and helping all spanned to his charity work, as the Prince of Wales he set up the Prince’s Trust with his severance pay from the navy.
It was set up to help young people further their careers, helping people who face homelessness, are unemployed, or had trouble with the law. The charity runs training programmes for 11 to 30-year-olds and provides them with practical and financial support.
“Part of my cunning plan has really been to invest in the future in the lives and the abilities and the talents and the potential of so many young people. And now, you see, we have a growing number of remarkable young ambassadors,” Charles said.
King Charles ascends to the throne with the woman long considered to have been the love of his life – Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
It has been confirmed that Camilla will take the title of Queen Consort.
They married on 9 April 2005 in a civil ceremony at the Guildhall in Windsor and were joined by around 800 guests at a service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Despite the strong partnership between the two, it is easy to forget how close Charles’ love for Camilla came to undermining the monarchy and thus the succession.
Before his marriage to Camilla, he married Lady Diana Spencer in a seemingly fairytale wedding at Westminster Abbey, watched by a global television audience of 750 million in 74 countries - the couple appeared a perfect match.
The Archbishop of Canterbury who officiated over the wedding said: “Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made—the prince and princess on their wedding day.
“Our [Christian] faith sees the wedding day not as the place of arrival, but the place where the adventure really begins.”
The Prince and Princess of Wales had two sons, Prince William, born on 21 June, 1982 and Prince Harry, born on 15 September, 1984.
However, a fairytale marriage it was not, and it broke down.
They both staged rival interviews, with Charles admitted adultery in a TV interview in 1994, saying he remained faithful to Diana until the marriage had “irretrievably broken down, us both having tried.”
While Diana declared in a BBC Panorama interview with Martin Bashir in 1995 that “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”.
The BBC later issued an apology for the circumstances in which the interview was obtained, and donated a sum of £1.42 million from proceeds derived from its sales.
After the couple divorced in 1996, Charles sought to redefine his role, but that process was barely underway when Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris.
The repercussions of her death were profound.
His sensitive and sympathetic response to the death of Diana, the love and care he so visibly gave to their two sons, brought public opinion back to his side and with time and great tact gained acceptance for his choice of partner and ultimately wife.
Charles and Camilla will reign together, and she will provide the all-important support and guidance as he navigates the business of kingship.
The monarchy will look and feel very different, but the new King's greatest concern will not be the look or style or manner, it will be continuity.
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