King Charles's first year as monarch: Pomp, ceremony and conflict

The monarch ascended to the throne after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II

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Prince Harry has dominated newspaper headlines regularly during King Charles III's first year as monarch – something that has proved a distraction for the new reign – and now on the eve of the anniversary of his father’s accession, he is likely to do so yet again.

The Duke of Sussex is expected to return to the United Kingdom on September 7 to attend the awards ceremony for the charity WellChild, the day before the first anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's death.

The UK’s longest-serving monarch died at the age of 96 at Balmoral, her beloved Scottish country estate, instantly making Prince Charles, as he was then, king of the UK and 14 other realms.

The 74-year-old monarch is expected to mark the September 8 anniversary privately, with no plans to hold a family gathering or public event to commemorate her passing.

“The first anniversary of a reign is always a period where a previous monarch has died, so it is sombre,” the royal expert Richard Fitzwilliams told The National.

“The Queen always marked the anniversary of her father’s death by remaining at Sandringham. It’s a sombre occasion.”

King Charles III was the longest-waiting heir in history and the oldest monarch to take the throne when he did so at the age of 73.

He had been a very vocal heir, on topics including homeopathy and architecture, but his accession speech made it clear he would be a different monarch, Mr Fitzwilliams says.

“His accession speech was the very significant moment, because he made it clear that he realised as Prince of Wales, you create your own role, and he created one that included work as an activist.

“There is no doubt he was provocative at time to time as well. He made it clear that the job as monarch is very different.”

And with the exception of the “curious case” of a controversial meeting with Ursula Von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission, which the government and palace each placed the onus for on the other, “he’s done exceptionally well”, Mr Fitzwilliams says.

His first overseas trip to Germany in late March was a success, and in May the country marked his accession in a lavish ceremony in London.

But the year did not come without its challenges, which, since the outset, have been dominated by his youngest son, Prince Harry, who complained about his wife Meghan not being allowed to accompany him on his trip to Balmoral to see his dying grandmother.

“There is no doubt that he has a certain understanding of what the role undoubtedly involves, with of course as the Queen had in her final years, the difficulty of Harry and Meghan and how you deal with a couple who are so unpredictable,” Mr Fitzwilliams says.

Prince Harry and Meghan had been problematic for the royal family for some time. In 2020, they stepped down as senior royals and moved to the US. The following year they sat down with chat-show host Oprah Winfrey, providing unprecedented – and somewhat shocking insights – into life in the royal family.

But their revelations only escalated during the first year of King Charles’s reign, starting in December with the release of their Netflix documentary.

In the six-part series the duke and duchess shed light on their troubled life within the royal family, accused Kensington Palace of lying to protect Prince William, and Prince Harry's father of lying at the Megxit summit.

That was quickly followed by the release of Harry’s autobiography, Spare, the following month, and accompanying media rounds, which shared further painful revelations.

“There is no doubt the response to Spare and those interviews, which involved attacking Camilla, was to evict them from Frogmore, was a positive statement. It was the one thing the family could do as a statement," Mr Fitzwilliams says.

“They couldn’t go point by point.”

Prince Harry’s HRH title has since been removed from the website because he and Meghan are no longer working royals.

He did attend his father's coronation, without his wife, but Prince Harry has undoubtedly been a problem for the new monarch.

“I think he has dealt with it as well as anyone could have,” Mr Fitzwilliams says.

But it has left a damaging hangover. Polling among 18 to 24-year-olds is now “consistently bad” he points out.

“The figure has plummeted and remained low,” Mr Fitzwilliams says.

And that is a direct result of the bad publicity created by Prince Harry and Meghan, says Catherine Meyer, the royal biographer and writer of Charles: The Heart of a King.

“There is a real sea change in the younger generations they need to capture to survive,” she said earlier this year.

“Although William and Kate are basically the same age as Harry and Meghan, Harry and Meghan appeal to a younger demographic, as William and Kate are already very sort of middle aged in their aspect.

“And their children are very young, so there is no one to capture the imagination there.”

She says the king’s relationship with his son, or apparent lack of, has created a situation in which the monarchy is, if not in crisis, now under “a lot more pressure than it has been for a really long time.

“But that does not mean it is the beginning of the end for the monarchy. I don’t think the downfall of the monarchy can be as fast as you think it can be.

“But one of the things Charles is already looking at, and you can see that with the different plans for Buckingham Palace, which is they have to find ways to reassert their value. He was already talking about slimming down the number of family members,” Meyer says.

That is not going to be easy, however, because there are already not that many of them.

“The idea of a slimline monarchy is constantly being quoted, but in reality, as Princess Anne made clear, there are so few of them.

“You couldn’t slim them down. And there are only four under 70, the senior working royals. You can’t, it’s a fact,” Mr Fitzwilliams says.

Looking ahead, the king and queen will finally visit France later this month for a trip that was postponed in the wake of widespread demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron's retirement age reforms.

The couple had planned to tour Paris and Bordeaux in March as part of their debut on the world stage as monarch and queen consort. But the trip was shelved after nationwide protests rocked France, and Germany, which was originally intended to be the second leg of the journey, became the royals' first destination instead.

A state visit to France will now take place from September 20 to 22.

It is not known whether the King will see Harry when he is in the UK, but experts say he remains one of the monarch’s greatest challenges, both personally and potentially reputationally as a risk to the institution as a whole.

“At the moment their emphasis would appear to be elsewhere, not fortunately on attacking the royal family. That’s one thing and it’s to be welcomed,” Mr Fitzwilliams says.

“But on the other hand they are unpredictable. There is a four-book deal with Random House, if so, what about the other three books? We had this Netflix Harry and Meghan, what comes next?

“We simply don’t know. But we know enough to distrust them.”

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Updated: September 07, 2023, 8:09 PM