Philip’s death leaves Prince Charles as patriarch of royal family

Analysis: Prince of Wales will be increasingly at Queen’s side as he takes role at a time of internal divisions

An indisputable truth of hereditary monarchy is that promotion to the “top job” is accompanied by deep personal loss. So it will be for the Prince of Wales, who will eventually take the throne as he mourns his mother.

But the death of his father will have had no less profound an effect on Prince Charles. And, though on any official level it does not alter his royal status, it does change the family dynamic.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s death, as the Queen expressed, has left “a huge void”. Philip was the patriarchal head of “the firm”. This is the mantle Charles will now assume. This role was most symbolically underscored when Charles was the only family member to visit his father during his recent spell in hospital.

He spent 30 minutes at the duke’s bedside at King Edward VII’s hospital in London in February. What words were exchanged between father and son can only be guessed at, and are unlikely to ever be made public. But it was a sombre Charles who emerged with, according to photographers waiting outside, tears glistening in his eyes.

When the Queen attends the funeral of her husband of 73 years, then marks her 95th birthday four days later without him, Charles will be increasingly at her side.

“As his mother, he will be very mindful of her finding herself in a very different position now her partner is not there,” said one aide. “It’s more about those quiet moments, in anybody’s life, which would previously have been filled by your partner. And he will be thinking, how can I help in those spaces, for my mother, not for my head of state.”

Any changes in the professional roles of Charles, or Prince William, would be “organic” and probably almost imperceptible, said the aide. When Philip retired from public life in 2017, his responsibilities, his military and other patronages were redistributed.

The Queen manages her diary alone, with the help of a revolving door of royals when required. Charles and William now perform all overseas engagements. If necessary she consults, for example in the handling of the crisis over the Duke of York’s friendship with the financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, when she consulted both Charles and William.

Philip chose to spend his retirement at Wood Farm on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, until the Covid pandemic led to him shielding with the Queen at Windsor Castle. She had got used to him not being a constant at her side – though she visited him in Norfolk regularly, and they were said to have spoken daily on the phone.

Charles assumes the role of patriarch at a time when the royal family appears as divided as it has ever been. He will undoubtedly be anxious that Philip’s death offers an opportunity to heal rifts, especially between his sons, Harry and William.

Though Charles’s vision is of a “slimmed-down” monarchy, the royal historian Robert Lacey said Philip’s death “is just a reminder, that without him and Harry” they needed extra people.

Charles’s siblings may take some time to adjust to his new role. “It will be difficult for them to see him the way they used to see their father,” said Joe Little, the managing editor of Majesty magazine. “In my opinion, though, Charles has been pretty much the head of ‘the firm’ for quite some time. With the general decline in the Duke of Edinburgh’s health, it was a natural progression.”

“And Charles is fully consulted in all manner of things he never used to be,” added Little. “In many ways, Charles has already become his father.’


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Queen says Prince Philip’s death has left ‘a huge void’
Duke of Edinburgh’s family say his death was ‘peaceful and gentle’ as they prepare for funeral on Saturday

Caroline Davies

11, Apr, 2021 @2:51 PM

Article image
Sophie and Edward: what key role after death of Prince Philip could mean
Sophie, who updated public on grieving royal family, and Edward look set to take on increasingly high profiles

Caroline Davies

19, Apr, 2021 @3:32 PM

Article image
Horse comb and corn doll among gifts given to royal family last year
Published list reveals an eclectic mix of items received by the Queen and others

Caroline Davies

23, Apr, 2020 @4:48 PM

Article image
Prince Philip: William and Harry to walk apart as Queen sits alone at funeral
Brothers will be separated by cousin Peter Phillips as they walk behind coffin, Buckingham Palace reveals

Caroline Davies

15, Apr, 2021 @5:26 PM

Article image
Flip-flops and tartan rugs: royal family reveals 2018 gift list
Duchess of Sussex receives 90 soft toys while Queen acquires collection of horse statues

Caroline Davies

05, Apr, 2019 @4:11 PM

Article image
Prince William: Queen shielded us from public grief after death of Diana
In BBC film, Prince Harry seems to confirm Charles broke the news, and William says he was thankful for ‘the privacy to mourn’

Caroline Davies

23, Aug, 2017 @10:14 AM

Article image
Was there a secret deal between royal family and Murdoch’s media empire?
One of the sensational claims in Prince Harry’s legal case against News UK appears difficult to prove

Jim Waterson Media editor

25, Apr, 2023 @6:24 PM

Article image
Prince Philip funeral: all eyes on William and Harry and the Queen
Body language experts will aim to dissect estranged princes’ movements and the Queen will pay silent tribute to her husband

Caroline Davies

16, Apr, 2021 @11:52 AM

Article image
Forget the Queen. This is a diamond jubilee for royal PR | Tanya Gold

Tanya Gold: The royal family is embracing the global brand ethos with alacrity (and Catherine's big hair)

Tanya Gold

15, Dec, 2011 @8:50 PM

Article image
Prince Philip to stay in hospital for several more days
Duke of Edinburgh, being treated for an infection, is not expected to leave for several days, says palace

Caroline Davies

23, Feb, 2021 @3:41 PM