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 work.
On some 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 allow abdication at any time. Tellingly, he referred to her promise to the people of all countries of the Commonwealth in 1947 that “my whole life, whether long or short, shall be devoted to your service.” One of the king’s main priorities is to keep the Commonwealth together.
“As the queen herself has done with such unwavering devotion, I now also solemnly pledge myself, during the remaining time that God bestows upon me, to constitutional principles at the heart of our nation.”
The key phrase here is “the time remaining”. Charles, 73, knows he can’t hope for a historic reign as long as his mother became queen at age 25. It was a nod to that reality that he developed further later in the speech when he spoke at length about the important roles of William and Catherine.
“Over the past 70 years we have seen our society become one of many cultures and many religions. In turn, the institutions of the state have changed.” And he said: “Whatever your background or beliefs, I will try to serve you with loyalty, respect and love.”
These two sentences were a clear acknowledgment of a new era in which he will rule over an increasingly ethnically and religiously diverse nation. Charles has for decades shown a tremendous interest in religions such as Islam and their related cultures and seems keen to present himself as a guardian of religious and cultural diversity, as well as of the established Church of England, of which he is a part.
Here he alludes to setting aside the causes—such as climate change, classical architecture, alternative medicine, youth work, and interfaith dialogue—that have sometimes sparked public controversy. But he does so in the knowledge that Prince William, whom he has anointed Prince of Wales, has already picked up the batons on the issue that concerns him most: climate change. He also hinted that he wants them to include a note about inequality, when he said the new Prince and Princess of Wales would “bring the marginalized to the center where vital aid can be given”. An apparent gesture of acknowledgment of the cost of living, perhaps.
Here was an olive branch for his youngest son and daughter-in-law whose departure from royal life was marked by continued bitterness, including Meghan’s claims that someone in the royal household had been questioning their baby’s skin color before it was born. It was one of many displays of overt emotion during the speech in which the king also said, “I count on the loving help of my dear wife, Camilla” and ended with an emotional nod to his “darling mama” whenever he wished: “May Angel Flights Sing You To Your Rest,” a quote from the end of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.