14 Things That Will Happen When Prince Charles Becomes King
The momentous occasion will see a new monarch on the British throne for the first time in nearly 68 years.
The once and future king
Unlike his mother, who unexpectedly became queen at just 25 years old when her father, King George VI, died suddenly, 71-year-old Prince Charles has spent his entire life in preparation to wear the crown. Here are some other things you didn’t know about Prince Charles: He’s the longest waiting heir apparent, and will be the oldest British monarch to ever take the throne—and it’s still uncertain when that will happen. Although Queen Elizabeth II is 93 years old and the longest-reigning British monarch ever, longevity runs in her family: Her father may have died young, but her mother lived to the age of 101. But with recent reports asserting Prince Charles is now taking charge of the monarchy more than ever, could he become king sooner than expected? Let’s explore the different scenarios that may play out when the beloved Queen dies—or maybe even before.
The Queen may still be alive when Prince Charles becomes King
Rumors have been swirling in the British press that as the Queen becomes older, she may pass the crown to her son, who’s fully prepared to take on all the responsibilities of the monarchy, while she is still alive. This would be called a “regency.” But, there are many reasons Queen Elizabeth will never give up the throne. “I think it is unlikely that the Queen will officially retire, or that the Prince of Wales will formally assume the title of regent,” says Carolyn Harris, PhD, historian and author of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting. “In a radio broadcast on her 21st birthday, she vowed to devote her whole life, whether it was long or short, to the service of her people.”
Although comparison has been made to other older European monarchs who have abdicated in recent years, Harris points out they were sworn into office through secular installation ceremonies rather than the Queen’s religious coronation ceremony in 1953, which contained sacred oaths. Even practically speaking, “the Queen is sovereign of 16 Commonwealth realms, and not all of them have a formal provision for a regency,” Harris says. “A regency might complicate the appointment of new Governors General in some of the Commonwealth realms.”
If the Queen is incapacitated, Prince Charles will become Regent
But in the event that the Queen cannot actually act as queen, such as in the case of severe illness of mind or body, a regency with Prince Charles as Regent would be formed. According to the Constitution Unit of the University of London’s (UCL) School of Public Policy, medical evidence is required, and three people out of the following have to agree to declare the sovereign is incapacitated: the Queen’s consort (her husband, Prince Philip), the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Master of the Rolls.
But, this isn’t the most probable scenario. Instead, what will likely happen as the Queen ages? “The Queen will retain her title and certain royal duties, while her son the Prince of Wales assumes a greater number of her public engagements and increased decision-making power behind the scenes,” Harris says. “The Prince of Wales already undertakes overseas travel to the Commonwealth on the Queen’s behalf, and in the coming years, he will assume more of the Queen’s duties in the United Kingdom.”
Upon Queen Elizabeth’s death, Prince Charles will immediately become King
So in all probability, the Queen will retain the crown until she passes. Here’s what will happen when Queen Elizabeth dies: At the moment of her death, Prince Charles will become king. An “Accession Council,” consisting of the group of advisors to the sovereign known as the Privy Council, will convene at St. James’s Palace, London, to formally recognize the transition and to proclaim Charles as the monarch. The King will then take an oath to, interestingly enough, preserve the Church of Scotland (this is because the sovereign is only the head of the Church of England, not the Presbyterian Church of Scotland). Parliament will then be recalled for its members to take oaths of allegiance.
Prince Charles might not be King Charles
“Charles” was an interesting choice for Queen Elizabeth to name her future heir, because the first two King Charles are associated with the 17th-century English Civil War, when the monarchy was ousted for the first and only time in British history. Charles I was beheaded, although Charles II was eventually restored to the throne and well-liked. But Elizabeth, who kept her given name as Queen, was actually unusual in doing so: Most other British monarchs change their names upon taking the throne. For example, Queen Victoria’s first name was Alexandrina. That said, “the Prince of Wales has been known by the public as Prince Charles for his whole life, so it is certainly possible that he will retain Charles as his regnal name as King,” Harris says, making him King Charles III. “Charles also has the option of choosing one of his middle names. If he were to choose George, he would be George VII, with his grandson Prince George of Cambridge likely to eventually become George VIII.”
Charles may change one of his titles
His first name may not be the only part of his title Prince Charles changes when he becomes King. The full title of the current sovereign is “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.” That’s a mouthful, but there’s one part of it—one little word, actually—Charles has an issue with. “Prince Charles has taken a strong interest in interfaith dialog, and there has been speculation that he would prefer the title of Defender of Faiths [or Faith] rather than Defender of the Faith,” Harris says.
Charles has since rolled back his initial statements on the wording, though. “I said I would rather be seen as Defender of Faith all those years ago because…I mind about the inclusion of other people’s faiths and their freedom to worship in this country,” he told the BBC. “And it always seems to me that while at the same time being defender of the faith you can also be protector of faiths.” Charles does have a say in the wording, UCL says, so we’ll have to wait until his coronation to see what he finally settles on. Here’s more on how the most famous royals got their titles.
The coronation may be different
Speaking of the coronation, which as Harris says is a religious ceremony, Prince Charles may adapt this ritual as well. This ceremony is traditionally presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey and takes place several months after the last monarch’s death to allow for a period of mourning. At the ceremony, the new sovereign takes the coronation oath, which includes a promise to maintain the Church of England, and is “anointed, blessed and consecrated’ by the Archbishop,” the royal family’s official website says. It’s one of the fascinating facts about Queen Elizabeth’s coronation: But what about Charles’? “The coronation will continue to be an Anglican service, but finding a place for other Christian denominations and other religions, as happened at the recent royal wedding,” UCL’s Constitution Unit says. “Such people may be invited to give readings; and religious leaders other than Anglicans are likely to be seated prominently, as happened at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee service at St. Paul’s in 2012.”
Camilla may be Queen
Although it didn’t always seem likely, right now the feeling among royal watchers is that Camilla will be named Queen Consort. “The longer the couple are married before Charles’s accession to the throne, and the greater Camilla’s public profile, the more likely she is to be formally styled Queen when Charles becomes King,” Harris says. Why wasn’t it thought previously that she’d be Queen? It had to do with her choice of current title. “Camilla is entitled to be Princess of Wales, as the wife of the Prince of Wales, but she instead uses another one of her titles, Duchess of Cornwall, as the title of Princess of Wales was closely associated with Prince Charles’s first wife, Diana, Princess of Wales,” Harris says. “Camilla’s use of a secondary title prompted speculation at the time of her marriage to Charles that she might be styled Princess Consort instead of Queen when Charles becomes King.” But particularly as her popularity increases, this seems less likely now. Find out 20 things that may surprise you about Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
All eyes will be on Prince William
When Charles becomes King, Prince William will take on new titles, including the traditional styling given to the king-in-waiting. “William becomes Duke of Cornwall when Charles becomes King, and will be invested [formally named] as Prince of Wales,” Harris says. But that’s not the only way William’s role will change: Because his father is already at an advanced age, it might not be long before Prince William takes the throne himself. “As the Prince of Wales will be in his 70s when he succeeds to the throne, there will be a lot of public interest in William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and how William will be preparing to eventually assume the throne,” Harris says. These side-by-side photos show how alike Charles and William are.
Charles will likely be a more outspoken monarch
Here’s one of the things Queen Elizabeth would prefer we not know about Prince Charles: The sovereign is supposed to be above politics, but Prince Charles is actually somewhat of a rebel in his tendency to express his views on social and environmental issues. “In contrast to the Queen, who is careful to avoid expressing strong opinions in public—and instead encourages the people she meets at garden parties, receptions, and walkabouts to speak about their own experiences—Charles is known to hold firm opinions on a variety of subjects including organic farming, architecture, and sustainable development,” Harris says. “Climate change and environmental conservation are key political issues in the 21st century, and Charles will certainly not be seen as an impartial figure on these subjects, as his views are well-known.”