The same statement from Buckingham Palace announcing the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday declared that her son Charles had succeeded her as king. And just like that, this unelected man became the head of state for millions around the world. The former Prince of Wales, whose life has been riddled with controversy, is now the strongest argument for ending the archaic institution of the monarchy.
He now assumes not only the throne but becomes the head of the Church of England – another inherited role that should be discontinued.
The queen’s demise ended a reign spanning seven decades and the terms of 14 U.S. presidents and 15 British prime ministers. She was heir to, and in turn passes on, a chain of rule defined by the brutality of the British Empire as it conquered and exploited people around the world. As a British-born Iraqi who grew up in London, it still pains me to visit the British Museum and see what was plundered from the nation during a ferocious colonial rule.
Charles, too, has benefited from this self-interested and abusive conduct, and some of the most odious royal traditions continue under him. For starters, in a country suffering from worsening inflation, a collapsing health service and rising poverty, King Charles III and his family will still enjoy an annual payment from the British government known as the “Sovereign Grant.”
The grant cost British taxpayers £86.3 million ($100.12 million) in 2021 and was further increased by £27.3 million ($31.67 million) over the next two years to help cover a 17% rise in spending by the royals. The grant has been used for a variety of items, from the upkeep of many palaces to £32,000 (more than $37,000) for a chartered flight for Charles to attend a James Bond movie premiere (despite his years of pro-environment advocacy). Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s famous line about the British monarchy in the age of Alexander Hamilton remains true: “Essentially, they tax us relentlessly. Then King George turns around, runs a spending spree.”
Despite this guaranteed income from taxpayers, Charles has reportedly invested millions in offshore tax havens. According to a set of leaked documents known as the Paradise Papers, The Guardian reported that Charles had invested private money in a Bermuda-based sustainable forestry firm. Given his environmental stances, the revelation sparked allegations of a conflict of interest. Charles’ investment team said, however, that he did not have “any direct involvement in the investment decisions.”
In June, The Sunday Times reported that Charles had previously accepted €1 million ($1.16 million) in cash for his foundation in a suitcase, part of €3 million ($3.48 million) in total, from a former Qatari prime minister. The charity was later found to have accepted millions from Osama Bin Laden’s family as well.
In February, Scotland Yard announced a probe into the circumstances under which an aide to Charles allegedly accepted donations to a foundation set up by Charles from a Saudi national in exchange for help to obtain British citizenship and a knighthood. Clarence House once again said that Charles had “no knowledge” of a cash-for-honors scheme.
On political matters, though the British monarch is supposed to stay strictly neutral, Charles as prince lobbied the British government for various policy shifts through handwritten letters that were dubbed the “black spider memos”; the letters were obtained by The Guardian after a legal battle. A spokesperson for Charles responded that he was only “raising issues of public concern, and trying to find practical ways to address the issues.”
The memos include a letter to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair urging a change in herbal medicine policy from the prince, who later went on to set up an alternative medicine company. Charles said at the time that Blair had asked him for his opinion on new European Union rules on the products. Other of his lobbying efforts were far more sinister, including one letter to Blair expressing concerns that British troops didn’t have the necessary resources while waging the Iraq War, which had already claimed thousands of Iraqi lives.
In the modern world, placing such power in an unelected individual can’t be a birthright. For a country that claims its Parliament is “one of the oldest continuous representative assemblies” in the world, having an unelected monarch marred with controversies as head of state is by no means democratic.
Charles also has no claim to moral leadership, negating any argument that the monarchy remains important as a sober ceremonial force in society. Charles famously engaged in an extramarital affair with Camilla Parker Bowles while being married to “People’s Princess” Diana. He now assumes not only the throne but becomes the head of the Church of England — another inherited role that should be discontinued.
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Of course, the arrogance of Charles presuming to be a religious figure was passed down for generations within the British monarchy. The Church of England was first established because in 1534 King Henry VIII, frustrated by Catholicism’s prohibition on divorce, established a new branch of Christianity, made himself the head and promptly permitted divorce. Without Henry’s entitled precedent, Charles would not have been able to divorce Diana and still have a claim to the crown.
When you add in the treatment of Prince Harry’s wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and the behavior of Charles’ brother Andrew, the standing of the British royal family is only further degraded. To expect us to instantly refer to Charles as “His Majesty,” as if he is automatically a man of dignity, is laughable. The monarchy should have ended years ago. With Charles at the helm, it most certainly should end now.