Keeping it going is always a struggle. And that is the primary duty, the fundamental role, facing King Charles III. At 73, that senior citizen is the king, not so much a reflection of the future, as a reminder of all the work that must be done in the here and now. His presence is a complicating factor throughout history and the upheaval and empire-building that he symbolizes. He is the white male heir apparent at a time when white male privilege has been vigorous at all levels called into question. He is a symbol of everything inherited. He is a distillation of our contemporary grievances.
That’s not what the world needs to see. Yet, if he is to live up to his duty, he must be seen. eventually.
Charles follows a sovereign who ruled for 70 years, one of the most famous women in the world, the confidant of a long procession of prime ministers and the only woman with a voice in a room often full of male leaders. Maybe he didn’t say enough or didn’t do enough in his life. But still, she was there. She was widely praised for stepping up to a task for which she was only minimally prepared. And she kept on suffering. As long as she was an iconic figure, President Biden said he reminded her of her mother. More than a few of her subjects considered her as the grandmother of the country. These characteristics, perhaps, say more about our relationships with iconic older women—and we need to turn them into a warm and fuzzy stereotype—than her maternal nature.
Popular culture from “The Crown” to “The Queen” produced him as a flawed but determined figure. A woman who evolved in both her role and her symbolism. If princes and princesses are the stardust of fairy tales, then queens are the heroines. On social media, the designation is applied to any woman at the top of her game or the woman who removes the odds. He has been given a series of fire emojis instead of the crown.
But what is a king? what is This King? Charles has been a grandfather several times, but a grandparent is rarely considered the defining or most memorable characteristic of a person. He is not an unlikely hero of a fairy-tale or an example of someone who has won a difficult professional victory. He has not challenged any stereotypes or gone where no one has gone before. He has the time of a lifetime to prepare him for the given role and hence there is no reason to marvel at his readiness, only to be disappointed by any failure.
What we saw on Monday was a man in ceremonial uniform walking seriously behind the Queen’s coffin. He seemed pale and cumbersome, whether from grief, to perform a life-long duty or the simple physical challenge of getting through the day. Perhaps, his painful expression reflected all that.
Television cameras always found him in the crowd, but naturally he was not noticed. He was easy to lose among men in his bright red uniform and his gold top; That Royal Navy serviceman and his accurate choreography. Charles was dwarfed by his eldest son, the Prince of Wales in uniform and Prince Harry in a morning suit. And even Princess Anne, walking in peace with her siblings—back straight and forward, her slender frame in her own polished uniform—looked big.
The gray-haired Charles, his eyes hollow and his mouth in a flat, narrow line, did not add to the glory of the day as much as it seemed profane. Their millennial children are the stars of the current royal soap opera, one in which the obsessive brothers are parsing every conversation to figure out whether they’re really on speaking terms or just putting together a pantomime of fraternal camaraderie, which Have them fret over Prince Harry’s second row seat at Westminster Abbey. All royal fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief that Charles and Camilla, the Queen Consort, have made peace with their public. They seem like a good old couple. She supports victims of domestic abuse. He is an environmentalist. Yet without the light of the gossip, the king comes to soft attention.
But perhaps this near invisibility is for the best, at least for now. In the present day, Charles represents those who are now being asked to listen more than speak, step out of the spotlight so that others can draw little attention. The victim does not wish to state that mistakes were made or that the past was regrettable. They want accountability, but if that isn’t moving forward, a first-person apology would be at least a start. They want to see who they are and what their ancestors could have been if only they had been seen in their entirety.
The new king is the embodiment of so many traditions and injustices that Western culture – stolen land, stolen property, stolen labour, stolen hope – is struggling to come to terms with and among them is the notion of inevitability. Charles has stood as a bridge to generations and generations of essentialism—all the way back to 9-year-old Prince George, someday-king with blond hair and strange energy. If the Queen is commended for comforting her subjects with continuance, Charles comes to the throne at a time when the greatest gift to some may be dissonance, uncertainty, and ultimately possibility.
The questions facing the culture are vast and impossible for an individual. He may be a king, but he is not a god. Nonetheless, they descend at the feet of Charles. They are there for him to consider. The Queen is quoted as saying, “We must be seen to be believed.” It can be accurate.
But it is a fact that is not confined to the monarchy.