Prince Charles was the longest-serving heir apparent in British history, a role he took on at just three years old when his mother became queen in 1952. Following Queen Elizabeth II’s death on Thursday, Sep. 8, he automatically succeeded her as king of the United Kingdom, taking the name King Charles III.
Here’s what to know about Charles’s accession to the throne:
When does Prince Charles become king?
Immediately. The throne is never vacant, and passes on as soon as the monarch dies. According to The Guardian, succession plans dictate that Charles will make his first address to the public as head of state on the evening after Elizabeth’s death and will be officially proclaimed king at 11 a.m. the following day at St James’ Palace in London.
Meanwhile, the U.K. parliament will gather within 24 hours of the queen’s death so that lawmakers can swear allegiance to the new head of state.
King Charles’ coronation will likely not happen for at least several months because of the tradition that holding celebrations such as a coronation during a period of mourning is seen as disrespectful. Queen Elizabeth II waited 16 months after her father King George VI’s death in February 1952.
Does Prince William have a chance of becoming king after the Queen’s death?
Before the Queen’s death, Prince William, 40, was second in line to the throne. He won’t become king until his father’s death. At 73, Charles is older on his accession than any monarch in British history (the previous record was held by King Edward VII, who was 59 when he succeeded his mother Queen Victoria in 1901). Some polls suggest that almost half of Britain want Charles to step aside and allow his elder son to take his place.
But royal experts say this is very unlikely to happen. Charles has spent his entire life preparing to be king, and only one British monarch has ever voluntarily given up his throne; King Edward VII. The Queen’s uncle abdicated in 1936 because he wanted to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson, causing a crisis for the monarchy. The result of that abdication was, ultimately, that King Edward’s niece became Queen Elizabeth II.
What will Charles do right after the Queen’s death?
Within in hour of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, King Charles released a statement:
After his proclamation ceremony, Charles will immediately start a tour of the four nations that make up the U.K.: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. He’ll meet leaders of their devolved governments, as well as local people. Many expect the style of Charles’ public engagements will be designed to be more down-to-earth, showing “it is about the people rather than just the leaders being part of this new monarchy,” an adviser to the prince told The Guardian in 2017.
What will the coronation ceremony involve?
According to British tabloids, a secret committee called Golden Orb—in reference to a small golden orb that sits inside the crown—has been planning Charles’ coronation for more than a decade. Plans are likely already meticulously laid out, but closely guarded.
There is debate in the U.K. over how grand and how religious Charles’ coronation should be. Queen Elizabeth II’s ceremony was steeped in the traditions of Anglican Christianity—including anointment with holy oil and the taking of communion. It was meant to signify the conferment of God’s grace on the monarch, who is also head of the Church of England.
Many want to see that religious tradition retained. But in 2018, the Constitution Unit, a think tank at University College London, released a report arguing that the coronation ceremony should be secular given the country’s diversity. It pointed out that more than half of the U.K.’s population have no religious affiliation, while two-thirds of those who attend religious ceremonies are not Anglican Christians. “A secular ceremony could celebrate the nation’s diversity in ways that an Anglican service cannot,” it says.
Read More: Who Is the Longest Reigning Monarch?
However religious it is, the ceremony will likely be a far smaller affair than the Queen’s in 1953, which was attended by more than 8,000 guests and featured a procession of 40,000 troops and 24 military bands. Given that the British government pays for the coronation as a state occasion, there will likely be pressure to reduce costs this time around, in an era of heightened scrutiny of royal finances and economic difficulties facing many Britons amid rising energy costs.
How will Charles be known?
The new king has chosen the name King Charles III.
Queen Elizabeth II famously broke with royal tradition by keeping her regal name the same as her birth name. A statement from the Royal Family confirmed that Charles followed in her footsteps and is now known as King Charles III.
Prince Charles, whose full name is Charles Philip Arthur George, could have chosen any of these for his new title. The British press previously speculated that he would choose a different name because of the negative associations of Charles in British history—Charles I was executed for treason, while his son, Charles II, was known for his “cavorting lifestyle.”
Other experts felt that a name change would help Charles take a step away from his past, amid decades of scandals— including a long standing affair with his now wife Camilla Parker Bowles, and recent claims that he accepted £1 million from Osama Bin Laden’s family.
Charles’ legacy is no doubt complicated. Current YouGov poll figures mark his popularity as relatively low, as the seventh most popular royal family member, even trailing behind his sister, Princess Anne. Nearly a quarter of the UK says they dislike him, with another 30% feeling neutral towards him.
What about Camilla?
Camila becomes Queen Consort.
When Charles married Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005, she became Duchess of Cornwall, choosing not to be Princess of Wales because of the title’s association with the late Princess Diana.
In February 2022, the Queen released a written message expressing her “sincere wish” that Camilla take on the title of Queen Consort when Charles became king, meaning the duchess will also be crowned and anointed.
The statement counters previous suggestions by Clarence House, Charles and Camilla’s official residence, that Camilla would become “Princess Consort.” Royal observers say the move reflects the monarchy’s awareness of growing public support for Camilla.
What about the Commonwealth?
As well as her role as the U.K.’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth II was Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, a group including the U.K. and 53 other countries that are mostly former territories of the British Empire and account for some 2.4 billion people. The stated aim of the Commonwealth Secretariat—the central institution of the Commonwealth of Nations—is to help member countries “achieve development, democracy, and peace.”
The title of Head of the Commonwealth is not hereditary—though it has only previously been held by the Queen and her father—and in recent years there had been speculation it could pass to another nation’s head of state and then rotate around the group.
But at a biannual summit in April 2018, Commonwealth leaders announced that Charles would indeed take on the role, which is largely symbolic.
— With reporting by Solcyre Burga.
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