What will the reign of King Charles III mean for the UK and its monarchy? Our panel of experts explains

King Charles III is set to become the 40th reigning monarch crowned in Westminster Abbey since 1066 (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
King Charles III is set to become the 40th reigning monarch crowned in Westminster Abbey since 1066 (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

With just days to go before the coronation of King Charles III, The Independent brought together a panel of experts to discuss what his reign means for the UK and the future of its monarchy.

News editor Natalie Crockett hosted the virtual event and was joined by The Independent’s associate editor Sean O’Grady, historian and senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University Jonathan Spangler, and US royal commentator and author Kristen Meinzer.

The ceremony – itself a mingling of solemn religious rites and royal pomp – will see Charles become the 40th reigning monarch crowned in Westminster Abbey since 1066. And the day of spectacle, pageantry, and formality will feature customs that go back more than 1,000 years.

Our panel looked at how the day might unfold and, from that point on, how the monarchy will navigate its future, both in the UK and wider Commonwealth.

Mr O’Grady first laid out his vision for the reign of King Charles.

He said: “I think, without being indelicate, it will be a short-ish reign. Certainly compared to his mother and some of his antecedents, even though he’s got rather good genes for that sort of thing. And I think what he will try to do – or what he must try to do – is make sure he carries the consent of the people for the institution and the job that they do.

“There has been a long-term decline in the trend of popularity for the monarchy since the Queen’s coronation in 1953. It reached a real low point after the death of Diana in 1997 and recovered after that. The Queen’s long reign helped it recover and the jubilees also helped.

Mr O’Grady then went onto explain how he believes the Royal Family might stay relevant to modern society.

“It still needs improvement,” he said. “I think he and his family need to sort out what they do, how they’re financed, what they spend. They have to make themselves useful, as Prince Philip used to say.

“I think someone once asked him [Philip] if he thought the monarchy would survive, and he replied: ‘Well, as long as people find us useful.’ They have to find a role in this changing society. They have to find of way of trying to reflect the country as is changing and will continue to change.”

In his closing remarks on the matter, Mr O’Grady also suggested Charles “really has to make an effort to retain the Commonwealth role”, and to also live up to the promise he made several years ago to not “voice opinions” for fear of “dragging the institution into politics.”

Attention then turned to the matter of Harry and Meghan, whose soured relationship with the Royal Family has been the subject of front pages in light of the Sussexes’ now notorious interview with Oprah, the release of their excoriating Netflix docuseries, and the publication of Harry’s much-discussed autobiography, Spare.

Ms Meinzer said: “Charles has never been the most popular member of the royal family in the US and abroad – and part of the reason is there is still such great fondness for Diana. A lot of people still see Charles as the one that brought a third person into that marriage and broke Diana’s spirit.

“But there’s also the sadness of Harry and Meghan. Why didn’t he do more to protect Harry and Meghan in the face of racism?

“The ‘never complain never explain’ motto may work for skirt lengths or whatever tiara someone wore to an event. But should we really be silent in the face of racism? In the US, we don’t really think we should be; we don’t see that as political. We just see that as the right thing to do.

To see the event in full watch the recording below

On the Duchess of Sussex choosing not to attend the coronation, Ms Meizner said: “I think that was a brilliant decision on the part of Harry and Meghan. They’re splitting the difference. Modern American families do this all the time. We have to split things up sometimes. Sometimes there’s a private event and then there’s a work event. This is kind of a combination of a work event and a family event.

“The main benefit of going to the coronation for Meghan, I think, would be just showing allegiance – the optics of it. But it is also, I imagine, hard to show loyalty to a family who hasn’t always shown loyalty to you.”

Several questions during the panel event were centered on the matter of how the royal family might evolve to keep up with the rate of change in British and Commonwealth society.

Mr Spangler said: “For me, in any dynastic system – whether it’s today or 500 years ago – is that it is the chief role of any monarch to pass on what you have inherited to the next generation. I’m sure Charles is aware of that, so the key thing for me is to make sure that a bigger role is given to William.

Since William is more popular than his father, Mr Spangler explains, Charles must tell him: “You step up and you heal this rift with your brother, and you deal with the post-colonial issue, and you talk with people in the Commonwealth and see what it’s like to be one of the people in the realms. I [Charles] will stand here and represent the past, and you represent the future.”

Mr Spangler then looked to how the crowning of a new British monarch could change in the future, suggesting alternative models used by other European monarchies.

“They don’t have coronations, none of them,” he explained. “They have simple swearing-in ceremonies. Maybe there will be a throne, maybe there will be a crown. In some cases, not even that. Some people might say: ‘Well, if they can do it on a shoestring budget, why can’t the British royal family do the same?’”

King Charles III will be coronated on Saturday 6 May, 2023, alongside his wife, Camilla, Queen Consort.