Charles III has now been properly coronated at Westminster by the Archbishop of Canterbury and is king of the Kingdom of Britain, which consists of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. He has been crowned and given the oath that binds him to the rules of the British Constitution. In all of the thousand years of British history, none of his predecessors have waited as long as he has to ascend the throne – seventy years. During that time, he has been under the microscope of the British press and public, and as such, he is not an unknown figure. A recent poll showed that 3 out of 5 Britons think he will be a good king and this is what matters.
While there has been quite a slew of reporting on the wealth of Charles III and his funding from the State at a time when Britain is experiencing severe economic challenges, most Britons believe that the monarchy contributes more than what is spent on them. There is the symbolic value in having a figure who is above the modern, nasty, and fractious politics that is ripping apart formerly “mature” democracies like the US and even in Britain itself. At a more mundane level, there is the drawing power of the monarchy for the tourist revenue that is so important for the economy.
While most of the world has moved away from the monarchy as a form of governance, in Britain, the role of the monarch has been severely modified into a titular figure with very few real powers. Part of that modification originated from the execution of his namesake, Charles I in 1649 for stymieing efforts of Parliament to reduce his powers. While it is said that “Britain does not have a written constitution”, that only means that the rules under which the country is governed are not in a single book. There are documents such as the Magna Carta and legislation and judgments by the courts, etc. The Magna Carta of June 1215, for instance, was the first document to put into writing the principle that the king and his government were not above the law.
This “unwritten constitution” is actually a plus since it offers flexibility in interpretation that reduces confrontation over explicit rules. As such, Charles III’s most important function will be to represent stability in the British Government in a world that is changing at breakneck speed. He is Commander of the Armed Forces and Supreme Governor of the Bank of England: The Prime Minister and his Government serves in his name. By custom, he will be consulted by the Prime Minister at a weekly meeting and it is here that through moral suasion more than anything else, he will be able to exert some influence over Government policy.
So, what can we expect in this new reign? Nothing revolutionary for starters: Charles III would have learnt from his mother that this emphasis on graduated change is necessary for his own survival and his country. Charles is a very known quantity, being in the spotlight all his life. He is very passionate about the environment and this interest predates the current COP-dominated discourses about saving the planet from global warming. In the early days, he was spoofed for that “hugging trees” disposition. Closer to home, he has been a patron of our Iwokrama Forest conservation project and has visited Guyana in that role. As Britain transitions from fossil fuels to renewables, her Prime Ministers will find a friendly and knowledgeable ear in Buckingham Palace.
On a matter that is very much on our and the Caribbean’s agenda – reparations for slavery, Charles III has indicated he has commissioned a study to indicate the linkages between the British Crown and slavery. Since Charles I issued the authorisation for British merchants to trade with Africa and Charles II later sold the right to trade in slaves, there is no question that the nexus will be verified. This should add pressure on the Government to at least offer an apology.