Why King Charles III was an unpopular heir

King Charles III has succeeded Queen Elizabeth II to the throne after a lifetime of scrutiny as Britain’s longest-serving heir to the throne.

While the period of national mourning for his mother and his coronation in the coming months will help him define his image as king, examining his decades of controversy may offer some clues about how he might conduct himself as sovereign.

The revelations of infidelity in his marriage with Princess Dayana left him, and now the queen consort, deeply unpopular. Although he has managed to regain some positive sentiment in the British public, he remains less respected than many other members of the royal family.

Indeed, an Ipsos survey showed in April 2022 that almost half of Britons think Charles should allow his son Prince William to be the next king. And The YouGov survey ranked it as the seventh most popular royal – after her mother, her sister-in-law Kateson Williamfather Prince Philip, sister Princess Anne and niece Zara Tindall. Among British millennials, he is in 12th place.

Read more: Mourners pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II

More recently, he has been embroiled in controversy over donations to his charities. In July, Sunday times of London reported that the 9/11 half-brothers were terrorists Osama bin Laden made a $1.2 million donation to the Prince of Wales’ Charitable Trust in 2013. Charles Clarence House’s official office said the royal did not personally request the donation.

However, the first major encounter with disapproving public opinion came during his marriage to Princess Diana –25 years since his death the world recently noted. New HBO documentary The princess shows archival footage of the duo on tour in Australia, suggesting he was jealous of how much more popular she was.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana attend a presidential banquet at the Blue House on November 3, 1992 in Seoul, South Korea, on their last official trip together.  (Tim Graham Photo Library—Getty Images)

Prince Charles and Princess Diana attend a presidential banquet at the Blue House on November 3, 1992 in Seoul, South Korea, on their last official trip together.

Tim Graham Photo Library—Getty Images

The wall broke when she called him out for having a relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, Charles’ current wife, whom he met in the early 1970s. “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” Diana said in her famous 1995 BBC interview.

Even his well-known stewardship of charitable causes is not without criticism. While he has been praised for his efforts to protect the environment and speak out on climate change, scientists have also raised concerns about other issues Charles championed. For example, in 2019, after he became patron of a group focused on homeopathic medicine, the Good Thinking Society, which promotes evidence-based science, called him “anti-science”.

Read more: The death of Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral has major implications for Scotland

But Robert Lacey, a biographer who was a historical consultant on the Netflix show The crown, claims the royal has been careful about the causes he’s gotten involved with, as he’s had the challenge of waiting seven decades and carving out a career for himself in the meantime. Lacey, who spoke to TIME before Queen Elizabeth II’s death, believes Charles avoid ‘politically contentious areas’ by concentrating on issues relating to the countryside, the environment and British heritage.

Perhaps most relevant now that he is king, Charles was also accused of trying to influence the British government. In 2015, it was revealed that Charles had received confidential documents about the inner workings of the British government that even elected ministers have not seen, prompting a senior member of parliament to call him “Britain’s best-informed lobbyist”. The guard got 27 notes – named “notes of the black spider” because of Charles’ scribblings – it showed the royal had engaged in personal lobbying efforts with senior politicians on a range of issues from military helicopter orders during the Iraq war to “illegal fishing for Patagonian toothfish”. At that time Clarence House said it is typical for the heirs to the throne to be informed on political topics, but critics argue that members of the royal family should stay out of politics.

Given his activism on political matters, it remains to be seen whether King Charles III will be a politically outspoken monarch. As James Vaughan, an expert on British history at the University of Chicago, says, said A politician“The question mark would be: Will he try to use his role in the unwritten constitution to have more influence on the policies and thinking of [the British government] than his mother probably ever wanted to do?

Now as king, control over Charles will only intensify. But a comment he made to TIME in a 2013 profile of the royal could be aimed at anyone who doubts whether he deserves his reign and whether he’s up for the job: “If you throw away too many things,” he said told the magazine, “I finally discovered that there was value in them.

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman c [email protected].

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