In His First Speech, Charles Defines How He Sees the Role of King

·3 min read
Photo credit: WPA Pool - Getty Images
Photo credit: WPA Pool - Getty Images

It is hard to overstate the significance of the moment that the new King Charles found himself in when he addressed the nation and commonwealth following Queen Elizabeth II's death. He knew that many people have said, and will say, things about his mother in the coming weeks and months. But he also knew that his were the words that the world was waiting to hear, and the ones that will be most repeated whenever this historical moment is retold.

His speech lasted for nine and a half minutes. It was approximately 1,000 words long. It was recorded in the Blue Drawing Room of Buckingham Palace next to a posy of sweet peas and mixed with rosemary which represents Remembrance. It ended with a quote from Hamlet; May "flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest."

Really, this was a speech in two parts—which very much reflects the situation we now find ourselves in. First, it was a tribute, summing up "a life well lived," mentioning, of course, Queen Elizabeth's "service," "duty," and "dedication." But then it was also about the future, which due to the seamless system of constitutional monarchy, is now already upon us. The reign of King Charles III was not formally proclaimed until today, but it began the moment his mother's reign ended.

Charles used his speech to explicitly define how he saw the role of king, spelling out that his life "will of course change" and that much of the charity work that defined his time as Prince of Wales will "go on in the trusted hands of others." He also provided clarity on the new titles for William and Kate, who are now Prince and Princess of Wales. A source close to them quickly shared following the announcement that Kate appreciated the history associated with the role that was once Princess Diana's but understandably wanted to look to the future. Despite the fact that they have walked away from the system of monarchy, Charles did not leave Harry and Meghan out. Just as the Queen repeatedly did when she was at the helm of the firm, he expressed his love for them as family members.

The speech also straddled the professional and personal—a balance the royal family will be striking for the next days and weeks as they mourn a beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother at the same time as fulfilling their very public roles. There was reference to the many positions he now takes on and the "precious traditions, freedoms and responsibilities" of the parliamentary system and his role within it. Yet, clearly also understanding that people wanted to hear from him as a son at a time like this, Charles outlined the personal qualities of his "darling mama."

Touchingly, he encouraged people to remember her "unerring ability always to see the best in people." Perhaps most crucially though, the speech did not just address the people but was also about the important part the public play, with Charles expressing "sincere and heartfelt thanks" for the public's condolences that "mean more to me than I can ever possibly express."

Queen Elizabeth's approach to her role was characterized by the fact that she made people feel she was there for them; she listened, understood the importance of being among people in their own communities, and never forgot that her position was one of service. Whether King Charles will prove to be as adept a reader of the public mood as she was remains to be seen. But this speech told us that he shares his mother's astute understanding to never forget that ultimately his legacy lies in our hands.

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