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King Charles III’s Controversial Past And Why He’s Unpopular

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

His coronation and the mourning of his mother will define him as a king. However, it is worth looking at his many years of controversy to see how they might act as sovereigns.

His infidelity during his marriage to Princess Diana made him and the Queen consort deeply dislikable. He is still less respected than other Royals, even though he managed to gain some support from the British public.

According to an Ipsos survey, nearly 50% of Britons thought Charles should make his son Prince William the next king. And YouGov polling ranks him as the seventh most popular royal—behind his mother, daughter-in-law Kate, son William, father Prince Philip, sister Princess Anne, and niece Zara Tindall. He is 12th in the Millennial age group.

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Recently, his donations to charity have been the subject of controversy. He was arrested in July. Sunday Times of London reported that the half brothers of September 11th terrorist Osama bin Laden made a $1.2 million donation to the Prince of Wales’ Charitable Fund back in 2013. Charles’ official office Clarence House said the royal did not personally solicit the donation.

However, the first major brush with disapproving public opinion came amid his marriage to Princess Diana—the 25th anniversary of whose death the world recently marked. HBO has a new documentary The PrincessShows archival footage from the couple’s tour of Australia, which suggests that he envied her popularity.


Prince Charles and Princess Diana attend a banquet at The Blue House, Seoul, South Korea on November 3, 1992. This was their final official trip.

Tim Graham Photo Library—Getty Images

The dam broke when she called him out for having an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, Charles’ now-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.

His well-respected charity stewardship has been criticized. Charles’s efforts to save the environment, and raise awareness about climate change have been widely praised. But scientists are also concerned about some of his other advocacy. For example, in 2019, after becoming a patron of a group focused on ​​homeopathic medicine, the Good Thinking Society, which promotes evidence-based science, called him “anti-science.”

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Robert Lacey is a biographer and historical consultant for the Netflix show. The Crown The royal is careful with the causes that he gets involved in, because he faced the difficult task of being in the wings for seventy years and then making a name for himself. Lacey, who spoke to TIME prior to Queen Elizabeth II’s death, believes Charles steered clear of “politically contentious areas” by concentrating on issues that have to do with the countryside, ecology, and British heritage.

Charles is also being accused of trying influence the British government, perhaps because he’s king. In 2015, it was revealed that Charles received confidential papers on the inner workings of the British government that even elected ministers had not seen, prompting a senior Member of Parliament to call him Britain’s “best informed lobbyist.” The Guardian received 27 memos—dubbed the ’black spider memos’ because of Charles’ scrawl—that showed the royal engaged in personal lobbying efforts to senior politicians about a range of issues from orders of military helicopters during the Iraq War to “illegal fishing of the Patagonian toothfish.” At the time, Clarence House said it’s typical for heirs to the throne to be briefed on political topics, but critics argued that members of the royal family should stay out of politics.

It remains to be seen if King Charles III, given his political activism, will be a politically outspoken ruler. James Vaughn from Chicago is an expert on British History. Politico, “The question mark would be: Would he try and use his role in the unwritten constitution to have more influence over policies and thinking of [the British government] than probably his mother was ever willing to try to do?”

Charles’s scrutiny as King will continue to grow. But a comment he made to TIME in a 2013 profile of the royal could be directed toward anyone who questions whether he deserves his reign and is up to the job: “If you chuck away too many things,” he told the magazine, “you end up discovering there was value in them.”

Read More From Time


Send an email to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com.

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