How King Charles III and the Royal Family Are Really Doing Without the Queen

With King Charles III's coronation approaching, a look at how losing Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Williams' rift with Prince Harry and changing times have affected the state of the monarchy.

By Natalie Finn Apr 21, 2023 10:00 AMTags
Watch: Royal Website Updates Line of Succession With Archie & Lili's Titles

A year ago, the British monarchy was on unfamiliarly shaky ground.

The millennium-old institution has always had its detractors, but Prince William had found himself in the new position of being asked to answer for his ancestors' colonial sins as he and Kate Middleton embarked on a royal tour of the Caribbean. Echoing remarks his father, then-Prince Charles, gave in newly republican Barbados in November 2021, William told an audience at the Jamaican governor general's residence that slavery was "abhorrent" and "never should have happened."

But the resistance that even the glam next-generation royals received from the heads of Commonwealth nations such as Jamaica—which expressed opposition to Queen Elizabeth II's enduring status as its head of state—was seen by some as a harbinger of much more resistance to come. Because if these countries didn't want to recognize Her Majesty in that role anymore, they were unlikely to change their position when Charles became king.

Which he did on Sept. 8 when the queen died. The Platinum Jubilee marking Elizabeth's record seven decades on the throne last June ended up being the last chance the United Kingdom—and her own family, for that matter—had to come together to celebrate her while she was alive. 

And while it was never as if the monarchy was just going to crumble into the sea after the queen was gone, with the passing of the torch to King Charles III automatic and the minutely detailed plans for the occasion of her death (dubbed Operation London Bridge) drawn up years in advance, the family has had a rather eventful time of it in the seven months since. 

Members of the Royal Family Attend Easter Church Service 2023

In a way, life has gone on seamlessly for the senior royals, now featuring Queen Camilla and starring William and Kate as the Prince and Princess of Wales. Charles' coronation is scheduled for May 6 and it's going to be as full of pomp, circumstance, heavy crowns, swords and golden orbs as any monarchist could possibly wish.

It's also sometimes easy to forget that the queen, who would have turned 97 on April 21, isn't still cozily ensconced at Buckingham Palace (or Windsor Castle, or Sandringham, or Balmoral), so historically long was her reign.

"It's the end of one era," royal expert Sharon Carpenter told E! News after Charles' first televised address as king, "but I think King Charles showed us today that there is a silver lining here and he does certainly seem like he is up for the job steering the country in the right direction and towards a place of healing."

Getty Images/E! Illustration

But as longtime royal watcher Tina Brown noted in an update to her 2022 state-of-the-monarchy book The Palace Papers, "The question of how the buffeted institution can maintain its mythical stature after the Queen's death has yet to be answered." 

And that was before the premiere of Harry & Meghan on Netflix, let alone the release of Prince Harry's rift-deepening memoir Spare and his revealing press tour.

All About King Charles III's Reign

Ironically, Harry was once seen as one of the royal family's secret weapons, an internationally popular figure (we Yanks especially love our English rogues) who would pound the pavement as a senior royal—as he did for some years out of loyalty to his grandmother. But his marriage to Meghan Markle and the sort of scrutiny the British press routinely levels at its royals proved a toxic combination for the couple, who basically resigned their positions within the family-as-Firm in January 2020.

Word circulated for years that, when the time came, Charles planned on presiding over a slimmed-down, more financially self-sustaining monarchy in which fewer people would be considered working royals and titles would only go to heirs to the throne and their immediate family members. William was always said to be onboard with his vision.

"So what we might see in the coming years," Carpenter predicted, "is a much tighter version of the royal family. What's going to be interesting is seeing what he decides in terms of duties and who has what responsibilities with his siblings, as well."

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

As Harry has since recounted (to Oprah Winfrey, on Netflix, in his book), he and Meghan wanted to continue to serve the queen, just not totally within the confines of the U.K. and not entirely on the crown's dime, but his family made it clear that it was full-time or no-time. Not the streamlining Charles was looking for, but so it began. (Or continued, Charles' disgraced younger brother Prince Andrew having already had no choice but to step down from senior royal status in 2019.)

Princess Diana, King Charles and Baby William Seen in Rare Photos

The most recent report on Charles' staff and expenditures came out last June, so it will be a few more months before any cost-cutting (or increasing) measures become public, but the 2022 report showed that he employed upward of 100 people to manage his household and public duties. He and Camilla are still based at London's Clarence House while the monarch's residence at Buckingham Palace is being renovated, and their estimated move-in date is sometime in 2027.

Charles' packing list has apparently always been fit for a king, with Brown writing in The Palace Papers that he takes his own mattress and toilet seat, among other things, whenever he's staying the night on the road. He also travels with a breakfast box that, as late royal chef Graham Newbould once detailed, contained "six different types of honey, some special mueslis, his dried fruit and anything that's a bit special that he is a bit fussy about."

William and Kate's fulltime staff is said to be substantially smaller, but they don't exactly travel light: Hello noted 15 staffers in their entourage when the pair visited the Caribbean. Over their nearly 12 years of marriage, they've hung their hats in Wales, where William was working as an air-ambulance helicopter pilot, at Kensington Palace and at their Norfolk estate, Anmer Hall. But in recent months they've relocated to Adelaide Cottage in Windsor (which, like "Apartment 1A" at Kensington Palace, doesn't exactly describe the scale of the property) to be closer to Lambrook School, where Prince George, 9, Princess Charlotte, 7, and Prince Louis, who turns 5 on April 23, started going in September.

Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Meanwhile, Harry and Meghan's rep confirmed to E! News last month that the couple had been "requested to vacate" Frogmore Cottage in Windsor. After moving into the newly renovated residence ahead of son Archie's birth in the spring of 2019, they lived there less than a year before deciding to relocate to the U.S. As part of their exit agreement from the queen's service (and under fire in the press for leaving after spending roughly $3 million in taxpayer funds on home upgrades), the couple reimbursed the Sovereign Grant, the money the U.K. government allocates to the monarchy, for the full amount.

Harry still has a legal challenge pending against the U.K.'s Home Office for its refusal to let him pay privately for police protection for him and his family when he's in town, the 38-year-old having shared on multiple occasions that he and Meghan lost their government-funded security detail after their departure in 2020. The office countered in a court filing last year that "personal protective security by the police is not available on a privately financed basis."

In Spare, Harry wrote that "the question of how to pay for a home and security kept Meg and me awake at nights," and he stressed that they took so much on—Netflix, Spotify, corporate partnerships, etc.—in no small part to pay for protection.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Kids Appear in Harry & Meghan

Despite the never-ending scrutiny of royal finances, support for the monarchy remains strong in the U.K.: According to NBC News, 52 percent of Gen-Zers polled after Spare was published in January said an elected head of state should replace the monarchy, but 67 percent of those polled overall were in favor of keeping the institution around.

More pressingly at the moment, perhaps, was that YouGov's quarterly assessment of Charles' popularity found that, after the first three months of 2023, 55 percent of the British public were still into the king.

But since the queen's passing, so much dirty laundry has been aired (from Harry and Meghan's side, that is, the rest of his family remaining characteristically quiet while the types of unnamed sources Harry lambasted in his Netflix series proclaimed to know how they were really feeling), it was unclear whether Charles' younger son and his wife would even be invited to the king's coronation.

NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

It wasn't until April 12 that it was confirmed Harry will be attending on his own while Meghan stays home in Montecito, Calif., with Archie and Lili, who now hold the titles of prince and princess due their elevated status as grandchildren of the reigning monarch. However, the plan doesn't exactly indicate that tensions are easing.

"Harry being at the coronation is going to be a distraction of some sort," ITV News royal editor Chris Ship said on the April 13 episode of the Royal Rota podcast. "Any photograph or television image of him with his brother is going to be analyzed and pored over, and also you've got to think about what he said about his stepmother Camilla, to be known as the Queen from the date of the coronation going forward."

Having Meghan there might be, "perhaps, for the family, just one step too far," Shipp added—though he stressed that it was Harry who spilled all that piping-hot tea this year, including his recollection in Spare of he and William pleading with their father not to marry Camilla.

The Crown: Royal Family Reactions

In any case, Ship continued, it's unclear "whether that olive branch is coming from the palace to California or whether it's coming from California to the palace. But either way, for the king, having both his sons there will mean something." 

Last but not least, thrown into all this precariousness after the queen's death was the fifth season of The Crown, featuring the implosion of Charles and Princess Diana's marriage and Charles pondering the idea of his mother abdicating her throne (which was strongly denied by former Prime Minister John Major, who's depicted in the Netflix series as entertaining Charles' thoughts on the subject). 

This season of the critically lauded drama, with its depiction of not-very-ancient history, garnered the most criticism yet from those concerned it would be mistaken for biographical fact, and Netflix acquiesced in part this time, putting a reminder that it was a "inspired by real events" but a "fictional dramatization" on the official trailer.


"I've said for a while that I really think [the whole series] should carry a disclaimer and I think that is a feeling that is quite common over here particularly, in Britain," royal biographer Katie Nicholl, who has reported that Camilla is a Crown watcher, said on Vanity Fair's Still Watching podcast after the 10-episode season dropped in November. "It doesn't discredit the program in any way, it doesn't detract from the content in any way. I think it would just serve as a reminder to people that you're not watching a history lesson."

Nicholl also called the plot point about Charles and Majors plotting to oust the queen "ludicrous." And she totally understood why Majors spoke out against it, noting, "The royals can't really do that."

Seemingly ever since Diana expressed her own, personally clouded reservations about Charles' fitness for the job in the mid-1990s, there has been chatter that perhaps Charles would agree to step aside so that William could just go ahead and be king once the queen was gone. There was never any sign whatsoever from father or son that that was anything other than a media-fueled conversation, and Charles—who was 4 when his mother became queen at 25—assumed his birthright accordingly. William is now first in line, followed by his eldest son, George.

Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Nevertheless, a YouGov poll conducted in November when The Crown's fifth season premiered put William, 40, and Kate, 41, at the top of the popularity chart, garnering respective 81 and 75 percent positive impressions. Princess Anne, 72, was third, followed by Diana, and 74-year-old Charles came in fifth, with 67 percent positive opinions, ahead of the 60 percent positive perception of the monarchy in general.

But as far as appearances, speeches, new portraits, Christmas cards, the littlest kids stealing the show and everything else we've become used to goes, all has been chugging along accordingly since the U.K. lost its longest-reigning monarch ever in September. Without the queen, nothing will ever be the same. And yet it's also very much the same.

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