What Will Happen When Prince Charles Becomes King?
When the Queen passes, will Prince Charles become king? Here's what to know about the Prince of Wales' eventual ascension to the throne.
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Prince Charles, the future king
Unlike his mother, who unexpectedly became queen at just 25 years old when her father, King George VI, died suddenly, 73-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 he 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 95 years old and the longest-reigning British monarch, longevity runs in her family: Her father may have died young, but her mother lived to the age of 101.
Will Prince Charles become king?
Prince Charles is next in line to the British throne. He will become king after the Queen passes. Let’s explore the different scenarios that may play out when the beloved Queen dies—or maybe even before.
If the Queen is incapacitated, Prince Charles will become Prince Regent
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 Prince Regent would be formed. According to the Constitution Unit of the University College 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 (which was her husband, Prince Philip, who passed in April 2021), 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,” says Carolyn Harris, PhD, historian and author of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting. “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 in London to formally recognize the transition and 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 Charleses 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. In another notable decision, Elizabeth kept her given name when she became Queen, which was unusual: Most other British monarchs change their names upon taking the throne. Queen Victoria’s first name was Alexandrina, for example.
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.” Whatever Prince Charles decides, the choice will be his own. The royal family has evolved since the end of Charles’ first marriage. We spoke to a body-language expert who analyzed photos of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and revealed the signs the doomed couple had been sending for years.
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—that 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 engage in this ritual as well. The 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. In the service, 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.
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 royal wedding [of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle],” 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, the current feeling among royal watchers is that Camilla will be named Queen Consort. “The longer the couple is married before Charles’s ascension 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. “As the wife of the Prince of Wales, Camilla is entitled to be Princess 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. Learn more about what will happen to Camilla’s title when Prince Charles becomes king.
All eyes will be on Prince William
When Charles becomes king, Prince William (the Queen’s third-eldest grandchild) 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.
Charles will likely be a more outspoken monarch
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.”
But he may temper his opinions
Prince Charles noted in a BBC interview, though, that his vocal manner will be toned down when he becomes king. “The idea somehow that I’m going to go on in exactly the same way, if I have to succeed, is complete nonsense,” he said. “I do realize that it is a separate exercise being sovereign.” But he also expressed that the line between charitable works and “meddling” in politics isn’t always clear; for example, when he created the Prince’s Trust in 1976 to help underprivileged youth. “I’ve always been intrigued, if it’s meddling to worry about the inner cities as I did 40 years ago,” he said. “If that’s meddling, I’m very proud of it.”
Plus, the Prince’s candidness may only be unusual when compared to the current monarch. “Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for such a long time that her approach to her duties has become synonymous with constitutional monarchy in the popular imagination—her predecessors sometimes expressed open political opinions, but the Queen has been careful to remain above politics in the United Kingdom,” Harris says. Even so, “Charles will likely moderate his own approach to public duties to follow the Queen’s example, as the public expects the monarch to remain above politics.”
The monarchy may shrink
Another change the Prince of Wales reportedly will institute that has had royal watchers buzzing: He may trim down the monarchy in terms of the number of royals actively carrying out official responsibilities. “Prince Charles favors a more streamlined royal family with fewer people undertaking public duties,” Harris says. “In the Queen’s reign, her cousins the Duke of Kent, the Duke of Gloucester, and Princess Alexandra undertake public duties, and the entire extended family gathers for pre-Christmas lunch and at Trooping the Color in June. In Charles’s reign, there will be a strong focus on the monarch’s immediate family—his sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren—and less of a public role for the extended royal family.” Yes, the royals do work: Here’s what the British royal family actually does.
The Prince’s brother may get the ax as well
The notion of trimming down the monarchy gained steam after the Queen’s second son (and Prince Charles’ brother), Prince Andrew, gave a disastrous interview about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The brothers had reportedly already been on the outs over the idea of a streamlined monarchy since 2012 when only Prince Charles’ family stood on the Buckingham Palace balcony following the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
In wake of this public scandal, Andrew made the announcement that he would “step back from public duties for the foreseeable future” in 2019. In January 2022, Prince Andrew was stripped of his military affiliations and Royal patronages and faced a sexual assault civil lawsuit in the U.S., which was settled out of court in February 2022. This means he will no longer be called His Royal Highness, although he still has the title of Duke of York.
Britain’s sights and sounds will be different
In accordance with the normal changes that occur when a new British monarch takes the throne, certain differences will be apparent in the United Kingdom—including the wording of the national anthem. Instead of “God Save the Queen,” the wording of the national anthem will be “God Save the King.” The royal family’s official website states that although there’s no authorized version of the national anthem, “words are a matter of tradition…substituting ‘Queen’ for ‘King’ where appropriate.”
In addition, the royal cypher (basically a fancy monogram), which appears on England’s iconic red postal boxes, will change from “ER” for “Elizabeth II Regina” to the new royal cypher. The Postal Museum notes that this will only happen when new postal boxes are added; old ones won’t change. In addition, new stamps and banknotes will bear the King’s likeness.
Pool/Samir Hussein/Getty Images
Archie and Lilibet may finally get titles
Son of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor is seventh in line to the British throne—and his younger sister, Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, is eighth in line. As we learned in the interview between Harry, Meghan, and Oprah Winfrey, Archie is currently not considered a prince and doesn’t have a title like his first cousins, and the same rings true for Lilibet. This will change when Prince Charles becomes king. Archie will be able to use the title of prince and Lilibet will be able to use the title of princess. This is because Harry’s children will have moved up from being the great-grandchildren to being the grandchildren of the current monarch.
- Carolyn Harris, PhD, historian and author of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting
- Royal.uk: “The Royal Family”
- The New York Times: “In Prince Andrew Scandal, Prince Charles Emerges as Monarch-in-Waiting”
- Daily Mail: “Charles the Prince Regent? Amid major palace shake-up, is the Queen preparing to ‘abdicate’ and make Charles the king in all but name?”
- The Constitution Unit: “Planning the next Accession and Coronation: FAQs”
- The Guardian: “Prince Charles expresses alarm about radicalisation in Britain”
- BBC: “Prince Charles won’t speak out when he becomes king”
- BBC: “Prince Andrew: Who is he and what titles is he losing?”
- The Postal Museum: “Spotting a Royal Cypher”
- People: “Baby Lilibet and Archie Will Inherit ‘Princess’ and ‘Prince’ Titles When Charles Becomes King”