While his personal life is often subject to speculation – including his relationship with his first wife Princess Diana, current wife, Camilla, Queen Consort, and his two sons Princes William and Harry – Charles is also known to be particularly passionate about various causes.
Over the years, this has triggered concern that he would not be able to pick up the apolitical mantle his mother left behind when the time came. This is a condition demanded of the constitutional monarchy, as the royals are considered a source of “soft” diplomatic power – and impartial.
So here’s what we know about King Charles III and how the monarchy could change under his leadership.
This has perhaps been the greatest worry for Palace aides over the decades that Charles has been in the spotlight.
Unlike his mother, Charles has a reputation for pushing back against the government, and expressing his own views.
In response, the Palace said that they would not comment on “supposed anonymous private conversations”, only “to restate that he remains politically neutral” and that “matters of policy are decisions for government”.
During the same month, he came under scrutiny in The Sunday Times for supposedly accepting £2.6 million in “bags of cash” for his own charitable organisation, Prince’s Trust, from Qatar’s former prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani.
There was no implication of illegal activity. Aides later said it was passed immediately to his charities, and Clarence House insisted it was handled correctly.
News agency Reuters then reported that the royal would not accept cash donations again.
Charles is also known for the so-called “black spider memos”, the letters he wrote to ministers over the years supposedly trying to lobby them in one way or another, named after his sprawling handwriting.
The Guardian entered a 10-year legal battle with the government to get just 27 of these letters, written between 2004 and 2005, published. It succeeded in 2015, and the Cabinet Office made them public. They revealed he had tried to petition ministers on the Iraq War, a badger cull and the illegal fishing of the Patagonian Toothfish to name a few issues.
However, his spokeswoman said at the time that he was just raising “issues of public concern and trying to find practical ways to address the issues” rather than taking a party political stance.
He has since laughed off the idea that such letters could be consequential, telling The Guardian in 2018: “Frequently, I’ve written letters to people that pay no attention at all.”
It’s worth noting that Charles has not publicly commented on the political turmoil seen within the UK over the last few years, particularly since Brexit.
Still, he has inherited the throne at a time when Britain is facing rising inflation, a cost of living crisis and a significant period of change.
Charles has been praised for his green credentials since the 1970s, often calling for governments to go above and beyond to avoid a climate crisis and to maintain a sense of biodiversity within the country.
He has pushed for decreasing carbon emissions, and famously has an interest in organic farming, have previously campaigned against genetically modified crops. He once dubbed GM foods as “the biggest disaster environmentally of all time”, which caused a significant stir.
Through public speaking, he has pushed back against climate change scepticism and in January 2021, he launched the Terra Carta (Earth Charter), a sustainable finance charter that asks signatories (usually businesses) to follow a set of rules to becoming more sustainable.
He also warned COP26 last year that the world must be on a “war-like footing” to tackle the climate emergency.
His passion for the environment has also been passed down to his two sons, William and Harry, who have both created their own initiatives to encourage sustainability and tackling the climate crisis.
Now as the monarch, Charles is probably the most high-profile figure to champion action on the climate crisis.
The Queen decided in 2018 that Charles would become the ceremonial head of the Commonwealth when she died. This was not one of her duties which automatically transfers to the heir apparent when they inherit the throne, and so her decision did surprise some.
A few critics wanted a figure not associated with the British Royal Family to lead the Commonwealth instead, although as it was the Queen’s wish, all of the Commonwealth leaders rallied behind her.
Of the 53 nations outside of the UK which are part of the Commonwealth, 13 still have the British monarch as their head of state. However, this may change with Charles’ reign, as more countries may seek a republican status with this changeover of power in the Palace.
Charles has described the Commonwealth as “a fundamental feature of my life for as long as I can remember, beginning with my first visit to Malta when I was just five years old”.
In June this year, he told Commonwealth leaders that keeping the Queen as head of state or choosing republicanism is “a matter for each country to decide”. His comments were seen as an acknowledgement that some countries might go independent, as Barbados did last year.
Other notable actions
Charles’ interest in architecture led him to set up a traditionalist, sustainable town near Dorchester, Poundbury, now home to around 4,000 residents. It will now be passed onto his eldest surviving son, William.
One particular cause Charles has championed – which has not landed that well – is his support for homeopathy and alternative medicines. However, he has tried to shake off accusations that he supports dangerous methods to maintain wellbeing. One of the FAQs on his official website even debunks it directly.
Charles has also been a keen defender of fox hunting, despite the ban on the activity, and is a philanthropist, he has even reportedly given his state pension to a charity for the elderly.
So – will Charles be apolitical?
The monarch has prompted fears that he would be “activist king” for years, but when he was the heir to the throne, Charles tried to squash any claims that he would not be able to remain neutral.
During his first speech as sovereign, the King seemed to acknowledge that it was time to drop his pet projects.
“My life will of course change as I take up my new responsibilities. It will no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply. But I know this important work will go on in the trusted hands of others,” he said.
Asked if he would stay outspoken upon taking the crown, Charles told the BBC in 2018: “I’m not that stupid. I do realise that it is a separate exercise being sovereign.”
Robert Lacey, author and historian, told The Guardian: “I think he would be a safe king now, but I don’t think perhaps, that could have been said 20 years ago.”
It’s a stark contrast from a claim coming from Jonathan Dimbleby in 2013. A friend of the royal’s and a biographer, he previously alleged that a “quiet constitutional revolution is afoot” for when Charles takes the crown.
Why does this matter? Well, the monarchy is a form of soft power, used to wine and dine foreign leaders, including former US President Donald Trump, in ways that political governments can not. If it starts becoming political, the whole concept of the constitutional monarchy could become even harder to maintain.
What about the future of the monarchy?
Charles has been preparing for the role of King for a long time – 70 years. The longest period of waiting any heir, British or other, has endured, in fact.
Unsurprisingly, speculation about how he would go about moulding the monarchy has surfaced over the years as a result – particularly the idea that he would introduce a “slimmed-down monarchy”.
This would involve reducing the publicly-funded members of the Royal Family to just its “core players”, mainly the monarch and their immediate heirs.
The Royal Family has to adapt with the times to keep up with the public – and so, Charles may introduce serious measures to make the royals appear less traditionalist too.
He is known to work closely with his own heir, Prince William (likely to be declared as the Prince of Wales in the future) about how they can make sure the monarchy stays relevant, and keeps evolving.
Charles has already upended a few traditions. He fought to make his second wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles, his Queen Consort, even though they have both been married before and got divorced. Normally, only the first spouse is seen in the eyes of the Church of England as the official consort of the monarch.
But, his mother accepted this in February 2022, announcing that it was her “sincere wish” for Camilla to take this title.
As The Daily Express’ Royal editor Richard Palmer tweeted: “Inevitably, there will be changes with a new reign. Some may take time to become apparent.”
Equally, Charles has been increasing his workload while his mother’s health gradually decline, meaning it might not be such a large transition behind Palace walls.
For instance, he was able to read the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening Of Parliament back in June for the first time ever. It will now, of course, be known as the King’s Speech.
It’s worth noting that Charles’ grandchildren now automatically become princes and princesses. These titles were already bestowed on WiIliam’s children, George, Charlotte and Louis (as their father is high up in the line of succession).
Despite leaving the Firm in 2020, Harry and Meghan’s children, Archie and Lilibet, now share those titles too – unless Charles seeks to change protocol.
The new King will also have to square off the luxury life of royalty, and the traditional ornate coronation, with the fact that the UK is facing a cost of living crisis set to peak this winter.
As Onyeka Nubia, a historian at the University of Nottingham, told Vox:“There will be moments of uncertainty, and those uncertain moments will be in every field where the monarch has a position. There will be uncertainty politically, uncertainty perhaps culturally, perhaps uncertainty socially.”