As the longest-serving heir in British history, King Charles III brings decades of public service — and personal baggage — to Buckingham Palace.
Now that Queen Elizabeth has been laid to rest, the King will have to prove that he is worthy of the throne he has inherited, as he struggles with his own complicated reputation and renewed scrutiny over the Crown’s continuing role in Canadian civilian life.
Among the many challenges facing the king is his mother’s towering legacy, who – through her personal restraint and faithful devotion to duty – set the standard for the sovereign as a self-denying avatar of authority.
It’s a high bar for the king, who has raised eyebrows in both his private and public life for behavior his critics deem inappropriate for a royal.
But this generation gap can prove to be both an asset and an obligation, experts say, by positioning the king to make changes befitting a modern monarch while preserving the continuity of dynastic power.
“While (the king) has shown modern leanings in some ways, I don’t think we should look at him as someone who will try to thoroughly renew the role,” said Barbara Messamore, a history professor at the University of the Fraser Valley.
“No one else can fill (the Queen’s) big shoes. But there is every reason to think he will seize the opportunity.”
“I encourage people to think beyond the individual and not to slander Charles as king. It’s deeper than our feelings for him and his popularity, as it could be.”
The catastrophic collapse of his marriage to Diana, the Princess of Wales, and her subsequent death has cast a long shadow over the king’s public profile.
But after 17 years of marriage to the queen consort, the king has largely succeeded in restoring his image, Messamore said.
“(Diana) is part of the baggage he carries,” she said. “I think he managed to carry on with some dignity and a sense of duty.”
Some personal views of the king can also be a double-edged sword in the battle for royal respect.
When he first championed environmental issues half a century ago, many of his views were dismissed as marginal, said Andrew Heard, a professor in Simon Fraser University’s department of political science.
The tides have since turned to advance the king’s outspoken advocacy of climate change, organic farming and renewable energy, Heard added.
There were times in his tenure as the former Prince of Wales where his passion seemed too close to politics, but in recent years the king learned from those missteps to exercise discipline and prepare for the “fine line” which he must walk as sovereign, said Heard.
“He will, I suspect, be a pretty passionate advocate behind closed doors, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t use his regular meetings with the Prime Minister to try and raise the issue,” he said.
“But he will also know that in that role that’s all he can do… Then it’s up to the politicians to decide what to do or not do.”
Some observers are waiting to see if the king’s reformist tendencies will go far enough to restore indigenous relations, especially as the royal transfer of power has increased calls for Canada to sever ties with the Crown, which many see as a threat. remnant of colonial violence.
“The Queen’s death has brought back bad memories and highlighted the devastation of our colonial past,” said Mariel Grant, an associate professor of history at the University of Victoria.
“As (the King) steps into this role, I think he will have to advocate for himself at some level and advocate for the preservation of the Crown in our national fabric.”
The themes of indigenous reconciliation and climate change were at the forefront of the King and Queen Consort’s visit to Canada in May. But in his new role, the king must support this outreach with concrete action, said author and community organizer Lynda Gray, a member of the Tsimshian (Ts’msyen) First Nation in northwestern British Columbia.
Gray said she would like the King to accelerate progress made with the Crown in enforcing treaty agreements, and – in his capacity as head of the Church of England – the release of documents related to the Canadian residential school system. would facilitate.
“There used to be a saying that the sun never sets in the British Empire — colonization around the world,” Gray said. “Now it should be, the sun never sets on the British Empire’s responsibility for colonization and its effects.”
As sympathy for the queen’s loss fades, the king will lay the groundwork for what he wants his legacy to look like, said Sarika Bose, a lecturer in Victorian literature at the University of British Columbia.
No king has come to the throne with more experience, Bose said, and his track record has given him an edge on issues of global concern.
Ultimately, the king’s heaviest burden may come down to overcoming his “one-note” public image as the long-suffering prince surpassed by his first wife and mother, she said.
“No matter how hard he works, whatever the facts, if that message isn’t communicated, he has little chance.”
— with files from Cassandra Szklarski
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 20, 2022.