EDINBURGH, Scotland — Not far from the historic city center, Anna Torrens and Ben Goddard, both 20, patiently lined up for hours to pay their last respects to their late queen. Self-proclaimed monarchists, they should be an easy sell for King Charles III – who spent a field day here for ‘Operation Spring Tide’, his maiden tour of the UK as monarch.
But as much as they adored Queen Elizabeth II – “She was kind of a mother figure to everyone, wasn’t she,” Torrens reflected. “Everyone loved the Queen,” Goddard added – they see Charles in a more skeptical light.
“He has a lot to prove,” Goddard said, adding that much of what he knows about Charles comes from the Netflix series “The Crown.” “Thinking back to my upbringing, there wasn’t much about the monarchy. Not much on [a future] King Charles. They brushed this off – if anything, because he had a very scandalous life.
Charles, king-in-waiting for 73 years, ascends the throne with one central challenge: securing the future of the House of Windsor, with the downside of being less popular than his mother.
Hardly anyone sees the Queen’s death as the end of days for the British monarchy, the heads of state of these islands and the remnants of a once vast empire. But Britain’s Republicans – a minority who want to abolish the monarchy – nevertheless sense an opportunity with Charles in charge.
For Charles, it raises a question that hijacks the words once spoken by his ex-wife, Diana.
Can he be the king of people’s hearts?
“All the polls show that the majority of English people still want to keep the monarchy,” said Brian Feeney, a political commentator in Northern Ireland, where Charles and his second wife, Camilla, visited on Tuesday. “How far that loyalty is to the Queen, and whether it will be maintained by Charles, is the question.”
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A decade ago, according to YouGov, almost 75% of Britons favored “keeping the monarchy”, a figure that fell to 60 earlier this year. And while the Queen’s personal popularity was still hovering around 81% before her death, support for Charles was far lower, at 54%.
He seemed to win backers in the emotional aftermath of his mother’s death. Pundits have praised him in recent days for showing the allure and seriousness of his royal position. In a new YouGov survey, 63% of Britons said he would be a “good king”, up from just 32% in May.
Yet 1 in 3 – or 35% – also say they would like to see him retire before his death to make way for his more popular son William, compared to 25% who had said his mother should quit sooner. Less than half say he will do a ‘good job as a unifying figure’ for all parts of Britain.
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Charles has started setting the tone for his reign and mounting a sort of charm offensive, in meticulously planned stops this week in each of the UK’s ‘four nations’: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Country of Wales.
He took the royal ‘walkabout’ – first popularized by his mother in the 1970s – to a more tactile level, reaching out to touch people, shaking with both hands. He accepted a kiss on the cheek from an emotional subject on The Mall in London – a breach of royal protocol but possibly a public relations stunt. On Tuesday in Belfast, he patted the children’s heads. He reached for a corgi on the rope, which gave him a lick. He gave the impression that he didn’t want to leave.
The response from anti-monarchy groups within Britain has been muted. A handful of protesters have been arrested or threatened by British authorities – including a man who heckled Prince Andrew in Scotland on Monday – drawing criticism from some politicians, as well as human rights and freedom campaigners. expression.
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Failing to launch a new Twitter hashtag — #notmyking — the Republic group has limited its lobbying efforts. Spokesman Graham Smith said activities would ramp up following the late monarch’s state funeral. He said the organization had seen “thousands” of people sign up since the Queen’s death.
“There’s been a big decline in popularity for the monarchy over the past few years, and that’s while the Queen was on the throne,” Smith said. “Charles is not equipped to turn the tide. Where people were very reluctant to criticize the Queen directly, Charles is not. We now have this completely different monarchy, reduced to fairly unimpressive men , who no longer have their heat shield – the queen.
Although they exist everywhere, royal skeptics in the British Isles tend to be defined by two factors: generation and geography.
In a May YouGov poll, 31% of people aged 18-24 said Britain should have an elected head of state, compared to 33% who supported keeping the monarchy. In contrast, large majorities of older generations largely preferred the current system.
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“I understand the story of [the monarchy], and I understand how important that is in society,” said Katie Ford, a 19-year-old university student who queues to pay her respects at Elizabeth’s coffin in Edinburgh. “But at the same time, it’s hard for me to say it’s a good idea because, you know, something that costs so much money is happening when there are so many people struggling.”
Polls suggest the monarchy enjoys less support in Scotland than in Britain as a whole. Scottish nationalists have declared they will retain the crown in the event of independence from the United Kingdom. But some wonder if Charles will exert the emotional hold the Queen had on the people of Scotland.
Elizabeth’s suggestion that Scots ‘think very carefully’ in the 2014 independence referendum was seen by many as swaying hearts and minds to keep them in the union.
“I feel like we stayed because a lot of people love the queen and felt something towards the queen,” Torrens said. “But I’m not entirely sure, if they were to do another vote in a few years, with Charles.”
The monarchy – an institution steeped in the tea of colonialism – is even more polarizing in Northern Ireland.
“All political scientists who study Northern Ireland identify it as a political and ethnic conflict caused by colonialism,” Feeney said. “The north…is the last part of [British colonial rule in Ireland]. This is why there continue to be political and ethnic divides, with conflicting identities and allegiances. People in Northern Ireland who are not British do not see themselves as part of the same regime.
There was a warm welcome for the new king in Belfast on Tuesday. Northern Ireland Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey, a Sinn Fein politician who was once jailed for his links to the Irish Republican Army, paid tribute to Elizabeth as someone who “showed how a small but significant gesture, a visit, a handshake, crossing the street, or speaking a few words of Irish, can make a huge difference in changing attitudes and building relationships.
The Queen’s 2012 handshake with Martin McGuinness, then Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and former IRA commander, marked a historic moment in the peace process.
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Yet as Northern Ireland’s political leaders gathered to honor the late Queen this week, a Brexit-related boycott by the Democratic Unionist Party has prevented the formation of a new power-sharing government since elections in may. Meanwhile, Sinn Fein, now Northern Ireland’s largest party, still does not recognize the authority of the British monarchy.
Based on a changing political and demographic landscape, Charles can reasonably expect Northern Ireland’s drift from the United Kingdom and the movement towards Irish unity to accelerate during his reign.
Charles also takes over at a delicate time in wider British politics – when the country is facing its worst bout of inflation since the 1970s and energy bills have soared. He may find increased resistance to the use of taxpayers’ money to support royal estates and activities.
Royal watchers expect him to push for a lean and somewhat modernized monarchy. Experts say that could mean fewer royals on official duty and possibly even opening up parts of Buckingham Palace for public events.
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It will be a fine line in a country that is known for – and apparently revels in – exceptional pomp and circumstance and where royalty enthusiasts seem to shudder at the thought of continental Europe’s more laid-back ‘cycling monarchies’ , where the Royal Family can often be found cycling rather than riding in Bentleys.
“I think what Prince Charles has already indicated is that the monarchy will be smaller. It will look more like a Scandinavian monarchy in the future, but not in a bad way – more informal,” the official said on Sunday. former Prime Minister David Cameron to the BBC. “He stopped on entering Buckingham Palace and spoke to people in the crowd, and that was a signal he was sending that he wanted people to feel that he was approachable.”
Charles has gone through decades of public rehabilitation since the years of his disastrous marriage to Princess Diana. He has received praise for his charity work and his prescient warnings about species extinction and climate change. He also benefited from a reassessment of his adultery, gaining some sympathy for apparently being forced into marriage while in love with another woman: Camilla, now the queen consort.
But Charles is still carrying luggage. And within Britain, at the heart of some people’s reluctance towards the new king, there is not so much a distaste for hereditary privilege or the shadow of colonialism, but the ghost of Diana.
“I’m not a Camilla fan. I was a Diana fan,” said Belfast bartender Pamela McMurray, 37. “Obviously you don’t know the person personally, but you have certain loyalties, that’s so where it comes from.
Ferguson reported from Belfast.