A version of this story appeared in the November 18 edition of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly dispatch bringing you the inside track on Britain’s royal family. Sign up here.
When King Charles III celebrated his birthday earlier this week, the headlines focused on the new monarch taking on a new park ranger post previously held by his father, Prince Philip.
Then there were, of course, the military bands performing “Happy Birthday” outside Buckingham Palace at the changing of the guard. And many of the family posted celebratory notes and photographs to official social media accounts. All of this will have probably helped make the day a memorable one.
But separately, the King also moved to address a dilemma that has remained unresolved since long before Queen Elizabeth II’s death.
On Monday, Charles asked the UK Parliament to allow his siblings, Princess Anne and Prince Edward, to become Counsellors of State. The move would empower them to step in for him temporarily when directed to do so. The King said in a message read out in the upper chamber, the House of Lords, that maintaining the smooth running of the government was behind the request.
“To ensure continued efficiency of public business when I’m unavailable, such as while I’m undertaking official duties overseas, I confirm that I would be most content should Parliament see fit for the number of people who may be called upon to act as Counsellors of State under the terms of the Regency Acts 1937 to 1953 to be increased to include my sister and brother, the Princess Royal and the Earl of Wessex and Forfar, both of whom have previously undertaken this role,” the King wrote.
The same message was also read out in the lower house, the Commons.
At present, by law, the group of royals who can fill in for the sovereign numbers five – limited to the monarch’s spouse and the first four family members in the line of succession over the age of 21. Two counselors can be appointed to act on the monarch’s behalf through a letters patent and help keep the state ticking over. Currently, that means the cohort includes Queen Consort Camilla as well as the Prince of Wales, Duke of Sussex, Duke of York and Princess Beatrice.
Experts have long suggested the existing pool of counselors is too small, while public debate on the topic grew toward the latter part of the late Queen’s reign as she became increasingly frail. Charles and William were authorized to act as counselors on occasion when the Queen was unwell. But it was not lost on many that her other two counselors were Princes Harry and Andrew, despite no longer being working members of the family – albeit for very different, well-covered reasons.
Normally, the machinations of royal duties would remain behind palace walls. But the topic re-emerged with Charles’ accession, and because any changes to the Regency Act require legislation, the discussion was broached in the House of Lords for the first time late last month.
Labour Peer Viscount Stansgate challenged Andrew and Harry’s regency powers, remarking that the Duke of York “has left public life,” while the Duke of Sussex “has left the country.” He queried if it was time “to approach the King to see whether a sensible amendment can be made to this Act?” In response, the Lord Privy Seal, Lord True, said he wouldn’t divulge “any private conversations” he may have had with the King or the Royal Household but that “the government will always consider what arrangements are needed to ensure resilience in our constitutional arrangements.”
The King’s moves this week confirm that the palace has been thinking about the dilemma and the options available. And adding to the group of official stand-ins is not unprecedented, having previously been done for the Queen Mother in 1953 after Elizabeth II came to the throne.
Practically, it seems there is a desire within Parliament to resolve the issue quickly. A day after Charles’ request, members of the Lords replied to the monarch, assuring him they would act “without delay” and “will provide such measures as may appear necessary or expedient for securing the purpose set out by His Majesty.”
And the Lords weren’t kidding when they offered expedience, with the Counsellors of State Bill 2022-23 whipping through the Palace of Westminster at breakneck speed. It was given its first reading by Tuesday afternoon and is set to have its second reading and be debated next week.
Expanding the group of royals who can deputize for the King in his absence is an elegant solution to a potential constitutional crisis. It provides for more flexibility while probably going some way to avoid family awkwardness and shields the two dukes from the public embarrassment that might have arisen had they been stripped of their positions. Charles’ approach means both are still technically counselors on paper but firmly puts an end to speculation over whether Harry or Andrew will ever be called upon.
ROYAL TEA MOMENT
William sends England squad off to World Cup in style.
The Prince of Wales visited the England soccer squad on Monday at St. George’s Park, the team’s HQ, ahead of their departure for the World Cup in Qatar, which kicks off this weekend. Just before the Three Lions swapped the drizzly winter weather for the heat of Doha, William was on hand to wish the team well. “I’m really here to point out that the rest of the country is behind you,” he told the squad, as he presented each player with their shirt number. “We are all rooting for you, enjoy it.”
While William serves as president of England’s Football Association, many Welsh fans on social media suggested the visit was tactless for the holder of the Prince of Wales title and questioned his loyalties.
William has never been shy about being a passionate England fan, as we mentioned last week. And he has been a presence in the Wembley stands, along with his son, George, cheering the team on at previous tournaments. However, he sought to address the criticism mid-week during a trip to the Welsh Parliament in Cardiff. “I’m telling everyone I’m supporting both, definitely. I can’t lose,” he said. “I’ve got to be able to play carefully with my affiliations because I worry otherwise if I suddenly drop England to support Wales then that doesn’t look right for the sport.”
William continued that while he was growing up, Wales didn’t qualify for many football tournaments and so he picked England. But he’ll be cheering both teams on in their first games on Monday and more broadly, he’s found a way to back both countries over the years. “I’ve supported England [football] since I’ve been quite small, but I support Welsh rugby. That’s kind of my way of doing it.”
This year’s tournament is Wales’ first World Cup in more than half a century. The two teams are set to clash in the group stages on November 29.
WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING?
King Charles shares ‘concern’ after Australia floods.
The King sent a letter to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese late last week to express his concern after flash floods devastated parts of Victoria, a state in the southeast of the country. “Our heartfelt thoughts are with all those affected and for the losses that have been suffered,” Charles wrote. “It has been particularly inspiring to see how communities have pulled together to protect homes and livestock and to support each other during this appallingly difficult period,” he added. The floods are the latest threat caused by climate change that Australia has faced in recent years – after battling wildfires for months in 2020. According to PA Media, Albanese said in September that he would be “very comfortable” with the King expressing his views on the “importance of climate change. It is about the very survival of our way of life,” he said.
Kate visiting Ukrainian refugees who have resettled in the UK.
The Princess of Wales visited Reading Ukrainian Community Center on Thursday, to meet with displaced Ukrainian families who have arrived in the United Kingdom following Russia’s invasion of their home country. After hearing the stories of these families – whose lives at the end of the year are unrecognizable from how they were at the beginning – Kate joined Ukrainian children taking part in an art session. Kate’s visit followed a virtual roundtable meeting she hosted last week, where she discussed with the First Lady of Ukraine how best to provide mental health support to Ukrainians amid the ongoing conflict.
Harry pens deeply personal letter to bereaved military children.
Prince Harry may not have been in the UK for last weekend’s Remembrance Day but he found his own way to mark the occasion. The Duke of Sussex wrote a letter to bereaved military children through the British charity Scotty’s Little Soldiers, offering his sympathies and sharing how he has navigated his grief. “We share a bond even without ever meeting one another, because we share in having lost a parent. I know first-hand the pain and grief that comes with loss and want you to know that you are not alone,” he wrote. The charity supports children whose parents have died in service of the British armed forces. On Remembrance Sunday, dozens of these brave children marched through London wearing the charity’s black and yellow scarves. Harry also wrote knowingly of the “difficult feelings” acts of remembrance can stir. “Whenever you need a reminder of this, I encourage you to lean into your friends at Scotty’s Little Soldiers,” he said. “I couldn’t be more grateful and relieved that you have amazing people walking beside you throughout your journey.” Over in the United States, Harry commemorated Veterans Day by attending a remembrance service at Pearl Harbor, while on his Archewell foundation’s website, he and wife Meghan praised the “brave men and women” who have “made tremendous sacrifices and embody duty and service.” Read Harry’s full letter here.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Getting grilled about his footballing allegiances was not William’s principal reason for going to Cardiff. The Prince of Wales visited the Senedd Wednesday to meet representatives of the Welsh Parliament and hear about the issues of the greatest importance to the Welsh people. William also met the Welsh Youth Parliament, whose members opened up about topics concerning their generation of future leaders.
Charles III led Britain’s annual Remembrance Sunday service for the first time as monarch last weekend. The King attended the service alongside Camilla, the Queen Consort, and other members of the royal family at the Cenotaph monument in central London. The new monarch laid a wreath, the design of which paid tribute to the wreaths of his grandfather, King George VI, and his mother, the late Queen. Camilla was joined by other senior royals including the Princess of Wales to view the moment from the balcony of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which looks out onto the war memorial. A wreath was laid on the Queen Consort’s behalf for the first time. Find out more in our story.
The speech during the reception at Buckingham Palace on Thursday was the first time Camilla had publicly spoken in her role as Queen Consort.