The coronation of King Charles on Saturday, May 6, will mark the official start of a new era for the British monarchy, and it could spell a shift for the Commonwealth nations around the world.
Peter Harris, an associate professor in the Colorado State University Department of Political Science, is an expert on international relations and U.S. foreign policy. He was born in the U.K. and says the pageantry surrounding the coronation distracts from the crux of what it represents.
“I still say the biggest issue that people in the U.S. and the U.K. and elsewhere should be focusing on is the existence of the monarchy at all in the 21st century,” Harris said.
He spoke to SOURCE about how the death of Queen Elizabeth II changed public perception of the royal family, what will change during the King Charles era and what the future of the monarchy could hold.
SOURCE: What, if anything, is going to change after Saturday?
Harris: The coronation is just a ceremony. King Charles has been in this role since his mother died. People are hearing “God Save the King” instead of “God Save the Queen” — getting his face on the currency is in the works.Everything’s already set into motion, and nothing will really change after Saturday other than people saying: “Oh, we’re stuck with this guy now.” I’m sure people will enjoy the ceremony, but that’s not the same as supporting his reign.
What will make the King Charles era different from the Queen Elizabeth era?
Queen Elizabeth was uniquely easy to be deferential to because she was an elderly woman who wasn’t offensive and did her job very well. With Charles it’s different: He and Camilla have this history, this baggage. They haven’t been treated well in the tabloids in the past, and now they’re in the headlines for the troubled relationship with Prince Harry.
I wouldn’t be surprised that after an initial boost in popularity, his “approval ratings” decline and with it, support for the monarchy. Obviously, monarchs have the luxury of not having to get elected so in a sense, it doesn’t matter if people approve of Charles or not. But the long-term future of the monarchy depends on people tolerating him on the throne.
King Charles is coming into this role at 74 years old, which means he’s had decades to establish a reputation – and it hasn’t always been very good. He’s been accused of using his previous position as the Prince of Wales to advance certain agendas, including reports that he has tried to influence legislation in some inappropriate ways. That stuff could come back to bite him.
He’s known to be passionate about environmentalism and certain types of architecture — sustainability is a big issue for him. And while many people might agree with these policy positions, he’s not supposed to wield any influence whatsoever over these types of issues. He might say: “Now I’m the monarch, I won’t be engaging in any type of political activities.” But the question is whether people can have confidence that this is true.
What can you share that you think will make people smarter about the British monarchy?
In all the discussion of the gossip and pomp and circumstance surrounding the coronation, there’s not as many discussions about how having an unelected, hereditary head of state might be at issue with the open, inclusive, multicultural Britain.
King Charles taking the throne could also have interesting ramifications for the U.K.’s international relations. Heads of state were often excited to meet with Queen Elizabeth because of her history and reputation – will King Charles have the same kind of gravitas?
The British press plays a big role in how people perceive the royal family. What can you see changing with King Charles?
The monarchy and press have a symbiotic relationship. The press gives them attention and credibility and legitimacy, and perpetuates the notion that the royal family is different from others and worthy of our attention. The media needs the royal family to sell newspaper and drive traffic to their websites.
In the 1990s, there was a very hostile relationship between the media and the royal family, with the conflict between Princess Diana and Charles in the headlines, as well as some high-profile divorces within the royal family, as well as other scandals. At the time, the media really went after the royal family, including the queen.
More recently, Prince Andrew has been the subject of intense criticism for his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. But toward the end of her life, at least the Queen had an air of stability and respectability; the media was less likely to criticize her directly. With Charles, they’ll have a field day — there’s so much for them to write about — but it likely won’t happen around the coronation ceremony.
What do you think the future of the monarchy could look like?
The U.K. is unlikely to get rid of the monarchy anytime soon – that would take an act from both houses of parliament and likely a referendum on the issue.
However, some of the commonwealth realms are highly likely to ditch the monarchy and become republics now that Queen Elizabeth II is no longer head of state. I’d be looking at some of the realms in the Caribbean and other parts of the world.