The death of the beloved Queen Elizabeth II in early September prompted an outpour of love and support for England’s longest-reigning monarch. British mourners waited in headline-making lines nearly 5 miles long to pay their final respects at London’s palace of Westminster. Floral tributes piled up in the thousands outside Windsor castle as mourners cried openly at the loss of their most devoted leader. In the chaos and confusion, many missed the ascension of the queen’s eldest son, Charles III, to the throne.
Only three years old when he became heir apparent, the King has spent 70 years preparing for this role and has shown a great deal of enthusiasm and desire to be a good, responsible monarch. However, despite his best efforts, the British people simply dislike Charles. According to YouGov polling, Charles receives only a 42% approval rating, ranking him as the 7th most popular royal. As King, his popularity still ranks behind that of his daughter-in-law and title-less niece, a true testament to the nationwide disapproval. Another poll from Ipsos revealed that nearly half of Great Britain believe that Charles should abdicate, letting his son become King instead.
This unpopularity and outright hatred of Great Britain’s newest king stems back nearly half a century, largely due to his unsuccessful marriage to the late Princess Diana. Their tumultuous and tragic marriage began when Diana Spencer, a schoolteacher from a well-off family, was only 19 years old. Charles, 32 at the time, was allegedly reluctant about the union but faced pressure from his family which caused him to propose. Contrary to Diana’s knowledge, Charles had already fallen in love at the age of 23, with Camila Parker Bowles. However, the royal family had rejected the match since Parker Bowles was not seen as a “suitable” future queen.
Nearly immediately after the wedding, problems arose. The future King allegedly had never ended his relationship with Parker Bowles, and his extramarital affairs were well-known to his wife. Princess Diana also suffered postpartum depression after the birth of their first child. She described this period of her life as one of her worst: “You’d wake up in the morning feeling you didn’t want to get out of bed, you felt misunderstood, and just very, very low in yourself.” However, while the couple suffered in private, they thrived in public. Diana was dubbed “the people’s Princess,” often outshining Prince Charles with her charm and likeability.
After the birth of their second child, Prince Harry, the couple’s relationship was already beyond repair, infidelity and jealousy causing their divorce in 1996. The press and public were largely on Diana’s side, and she conducted a shocking BBC interview revealing “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” (referring to Camilla Parker Bowles). Tabloids and newspapers aired out every dramatic detail of the messy divorce, and months of public scrutiny followed. Unfortunately, in 1997, Diana was killed in a car accident in Paris, France. Her death shocked the world, with some claiming the accident was part of a larger conspiracy with the royal family. Diana died a martyr, and she remains one of the most loved royals to this day, in stark contrast to her ex-husband.
In time, the public hatred for Charles subsided. He married Camilla Parker Bowles in a small ceremony in 2005, which the queen did not attend and apparently disapproved of. Years passed and the controversy was forgotten. However, in 2019, decades after the initial scandal, a Netflix show called “The Crown” reopened the controversy. The show became incredibly popular, as an entire generation fell in love with the onscreen portrayal of Diana, the people’s princess, and witnessed the heartbreak of their unsuccessful marriage.
Beyond his ill-fated relationship, Prince Charles has been criticized to be petulant and moody by both royal biographers and his own family. Some of his private rants and tantrums have been made public, and he’s suffered a few unfortunate moments during his first couple of weeks of reign. For example, in early September, his pen started leaking ink while signing documents, and he had a meltdown, losing his temper and storming out of the room as he exclaimed, “Oh God, I hate this, I can’t bear this bloody thing!”
This incident was not the only official royal duty that Charles lost control of. While Queen Elizabeth preferred to stay uninvolved in politics, leaving it to the politicians and remaining fairly impartial, her son has done quite the opposite. King Charles has frequently expressed controversial opinions on issues like climate change and immigration. Violating the monarchy’s ceremonial and neutral role in politics, Charles wrote a series of letters in 2004 and 2005, now infamously called the “black spider memos.” These private letters were published, revealing that he had been lobbying directly to government ministers on a matter of issues, and the British public was largely angry with this meddling in political matters.
However, despite the unpopularity that he faces, King Charles remains on the throne alongside his Queen Consort, Camilla. His reign might not be catastrophic, but it will be testing, and it is unlikely the monarchy will be able to replicate the popularity that his mother’s reign did.