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Charles waited some 70 years to become king, but what does a monarch actually do? While there are many perks, the job comes with some daunting responsibilities. Charles will not only perform a slate of traditional duties, but he must also handle the many challenges threatening the crown. His actions will help define the role of a modern monarch and will likely redefine the monarchy.
What Does the Monarch Do?
|It’s important to note that the British sovereign doesn’t rule. And we mean that literally. The king or queen reigns, which reflects the fact that the monarch is not involved in day-to-day governing. Wielding powers that are largely ceremonial, the monarch is expected to be politically neutral. However, the sovereign does have a number of duties.|
- Appoint the prime minister: Following a general election, the sovereign formally invites the leader of the winning party to form a government. In cases of resignations, the invitation is extended to the controlling party’s new leader.
- Summon and dissolve Parliament: The sovereign opens a new session of Parliament with a ceremony in which the monarch gives a speech outlining the government’s policies and plans. In addition, before a general election, the monarch dissolves Parliament.
- Approve legislation: Every bill that passes Parliament requires royal assent. However, this has become largely symbolic, as no legislation has been rejected since 1708.
- “Encourage” and “warn”: Although expected to be politically neutral, the monarch can consult with the prime minister and make general observations. Every day the sovereign receives government documents, which are placed in the famous red box. In addition, he or she regularly meets with the PM. This was something that Charles’s mother, Elizabeth II, did with the 15 prime ministers who served during her reign.
- Head the Church of England: The sovereign is the Defender of the Faith and takes an oath to maintain England’s national church.
- Bestow titles: The monarch is known as the “fountain of honour,” since he or she has the sole right to award various titles. In addition to the peerage (dukes, earls, etc.), the sovereign bestows MBEs, CBEs, and other honorifics.
- Rule the animal kingdom: The sovereign has some rather odd powers when it comes to animals. He or she technically has dominion over all “royal fish”—which include sturgeons, whales, and dolphins—in British waters. In addition, the monarch is the de facto owner of all mute swans in the open waters of the country..
Did You Know ?
Monarchs never have to worry about the department of motor vehicles (known in the U.K. as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency), because they don’t need a driver’s license. And they can travel abroad without a passport.
A Reign of Change?
As the longest-serving heir apparent, Charles is arguably the most prepared British monarch in several centuries. And he will likely need all his skills—and more—to deal with the issues facing the monarchy.
Colonialism and the Commonwealth. The British monarch traditionally serves as head of the Commonwealth. The organization features 56 countries, many of which are former colonies. In recent years, the British monarchy has seen its influence within the Commonwealth wane. Among the contributing causes are growing protests over the crown’s colonial legacy of exploitation, repression, and slavery. A number of former colonies have demanded reparations and called for a formal apology from the British government. Protesters turned the 2022 Caribbean tour of Prince William and Catherine, duchess of Cambridge, into a PR nightmare.
Did You Know ?[/size]
In addition to the United Kingdom, 14 countries are constitutional monarchies that recognize Charles as monarch and head of state.
The Rise of Republicanism. The monarchy’s colonial legacy has also played a role in the rise of republicanism. In 2021 Barbados was the latest constitutional monarchy to drop the British monarch and become a republic. More countries, including Jamaica, are expected to follow suit. And even those countries that are likely to remain constitutional monarchies have distanced themselves. Notably, Australia announced it was dropping British royalty from its banknotes in 2023.
.A Monarch with Too Many Views. British royals are expected to stay neutral on political matters. However, while prince of Wales, Charles frequently spoke out on a variety of topics. While perhaps best known for his environmental activism, he also has privately lobbied for other causes. For example, in the 1980s he (unsuccessfully) pressured Margaret Thatcher to change her government’s policies on urban renewal. Some have expressed concerns that King Charles will attempt to push the boundaries of a constitutional monarchy, wielding considerable power for an individual not elected to office.
Did You Know ?
To maintain political neutrality, British monarchs traditionally do not vote.
Low Approval Ratings. Perhaps one of the biggest problems for the crown is Charles himself. Crucial to a monarch’s success is the support of his or her subjects. Elizabeth was widely beloved, and her popularity arguably shielded her and the monarchy from the kind of intense scrutiny experienced by her son. Charles’s various scandals have alienated a large number of Brits. Can he win them over? The answer will be crucial to his reign.
Who Should Foot the Bill? According to estimates, the royal family is worth about $28 billion. Yet the British people pay many of the royal family’s expenses. The publicly funded Sovereign Grant provides an annual payment to cover the crown’s official costs, such as the upkeep of its many properties. In 2022–23 the grant was about $100 million. Taxpayers also pay for the security provided by the Metropolitan Police, and the monarchy’s various tax exemptions have resulted in lost revenue for the government.
When everything is factored in, the total cost of the royal family has been estimated to be more than $420 million annually. While the royals generate millions for the British economy, many feel the family should shoulder more of its financial costs. Charles has acknowledged the issue by expressing an intent to streamline the monarchy.
Did You Know ?
Charles III is exempt from the country’s 40 percent inheritance tax. That means he avoided paying $173 million on the queen’s personal assets, which were valued at an estimated $433 million.
In tomorrow’s newsletter, we’ll provide a handy guide to all the royals you need to know.
Written by Amy Tikkanen.
Fact-checked by The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica.