King Charles III’s first speech to the nation as sovereign contained telling passages showing how he hopes the public, in the UK and abroad, will see his forthcoming reign and how he wants the royal family to operate.
The King said: “Queen Elizabeth’s was a life well-lived; a promise with destiny kept and she is mourned most deeply in her passing. That promise of lifelong service I renew to you all today.”
On one level this was a simple reminder of the continuity the King intends to project with his mother who was widely admired for her focus on service rather than rule. He, like the Queen, does not countenance abdication at any time. Tellingly he referenced her pledge to the people of all Commonwealth countries in 1947 that “my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service”. One of the King’s key priorities will be keeping the Commonwealth together.
“As the Queen herself did with such unswerving devotion, I too now solemnly pledge myself, throughout the remaining time God grants me, to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation.”
The key phrase here is “the remaining time”. Charles, 73, knows he cannot hope for a historic reign as long as his mother who became Queen aged 25. It was a nod to that reality which he further developed later in the speech when he talked extensively about the important role of William and Catherine.
“In the course of the last 70 years we have seen our society become one of many cultures and many faiths. The institutions of the state have changed in turn.” And he said: “Whatever may be your background or beliefs, I shall endeavour to serve you with loyalty, respect and love.”
These two sentences projected a clear recognition of a new era, in which he will reign over an ever more ethnically and religiously diverse nation. Charles has for decades shown a huge interest in faiths such as Islam and their related cultures and appears keen to present himself as a guardian of religious and cultural diversity as well as the established Church of England, of which he is a part.
“My life will of course change as I take up my new responsibilities. It will no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply. But I know this important work will go on in the trusted hands of others.”
Here he alludes to setting aside the causes – such as climate change, classical architecture, alternative medicine, youth work and interfaith dialogue – that have sometimes caused public controversy. But he does so in the knowledge that Prince William, whom he anointed the Prince of Wales, has already taken up the cudgels on the issue that concerns him most: climate change. He also hinted he wants them to take on a brief perhaps relating to inequality when he said the new Prince and Princess of Wales would “bring the marginal to the centre ground where vital help can be given”. A feint gesture of recognition of the cost of living crisis, perhaps.
“I want also to express my love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives overseas.”
Here was an olive branch to his youngest son and daughter-in-law whose departure from royal life has been marked by continuing acrimony, including claims by Meghan that someone in the royal household raised questions about the skin colour of their baby before it was born. It was one of several expressions of open emotion during the speech in which the King also said: “I count on the loving help of my darling wife, Camilla” and finished with an emotional sign off to his “darling Mama” when he wished: “May ‘flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’,” a quote from the ending of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.