The role of the Royal Family is often debated. Many that are against the monarchy argue that royals serve no purpose. While purpose is a layered and complicated notion, one must remember that the royals' place as leaders is ruled by a lot of things.
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For instance, they cannot meddle or influence political conversations. Indeed, the British monarchy is a constitutional monarchy meaning that the King or Queen is ‘restrained’ and cannot rule ‘according to their own wishes’. In practice that means that the monarch welcomes a new Prime Minister instead of choosing it. It also means that the monarch has to accept the result of the elections whether they like it or not.
Queen Elizabeth II was very good at this and throughout her very long reign she rarely made comment on political matters. She worked with governments from both sides. Now, it appears that King Charles is stepping away from his mother’s path and choosing to address a political crisis.
King Charles and Prince William comment on Israel
On Saturday 7 October, Hamas, a terrorist group based in Gaza, launched an attack on Israel. Since then, Israel and Hamas have been at war. The people of Gaza are now having to deal with the consequences of Hamas’ attacks as Israel has cut out their access to electricity or water.
This unexpected attack from Hamas triggered a wave of reactions from the international community, with world leaders expressing anger, disgust and support. While Presidents and Prime Ministers are expected to make such comments, royals aren’t.
King Charles, through a spokesperson, chose to break tradition and express his thoughts on the situation. The spokesperson relays:
His Majesty is appalled by and condemns the barbaric acts of terrorism in Israel.
His thoughts and prayers are with all of those suffering, particularly those who have lost loved ones, but also those actively involved as we speak
King Charles is not the only royal to comment. The Prince and Princess of Wales released a statement saying:
The Prince and Princess of Wales are profoundly distressed by the devastating events that have unfolded in the past days.
The horrors inflicted by Hamas’s terrorist attack upon Israel are appalling; they utterly condemn them.
As Israel exercises its right of self-defence, all Israelis and Palestinians will continue to be stalked by grief, fear and anger in the time to come
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex also released a statement saying:
Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, stand against all acts of terrorism and brutality. We are supporting our partners and organizations on the frontlines in Israel to provide the urgent aid needed, and to help all innocent victims of this unconscionable level of human suffering
What would Queen Elizabeth have done?
These statements are quite a drastic change for the Royal Family as during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, no comments on current affairs were made. Only a handful of times throughout history did Queen Elizabeth comment on current events.
In 2016 Independent listed 5 times the monarch ‘dropped the veil’. These five times included reasons why she thought the UK no longer had control of the US. In July 1976 she said:
We lost the American colonies because we lacked the statesmanship to know the right time and the manner of yielding what is impossible to keep
Even though she was never generous when it came to expressing her political view, Queen Elizabeth II was known to always be informed. This allowed Buckingham Palace to always release statements expressing sympathy and thoughts towards victims of violence and war crimes. Furthermore, in October 2023, former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the late monarch loved ‘political gossip’. This is something she shared with her son.
However, her son, King Charles, is known to meddle in politics. In 2015, The Guardian was finally granted access to memos he wrote to the Prime Minister and members of the government. After his accession to the throne King Charles III said that he would stay out of any political discussion.
A commentator on GB News on 12 October brought up an interesting question:
Were King Charles and William ‘acting on government instructions’ or were they behaving ‘in a freelance manner’?
This commentator argues that Queen Elizabeth would have gone with the personal angle leaving out politics. He also believes that King Charles and Prince William’s statements were ‘highly inappropriate’.
The Telegraph: Royals condemn Hamas attacks as terrorism
Independent: Queen's birthday: Five times Elizabeth II dropped the veil of neutrality and revealed her political opinions