On Friday, the British royal family will experience mixed emotions as they mark both the first year of King Charles III’s reign and the one-year anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing.
The late monarch peacefully passed away at the age of 96 at her Balmoral retreat on September 8 last year, following her historic Platinum Jubilee celebrations, which commemorated her 70-year reign on the British throne.
Currently, King Charles III is at Balmoral, the cherished royal estate in Aberdeenshire, where his mother traditionally spent her summer vacations. There had been questions about whether he would continue this tradition, but his recent arrival put those speculations to rest. In the meantime, various family members have been seen coming and going from the Scottish residence. However, according to a royal source, all of them will have departed by Friday, and no public events are planned at the location.
King Charles III has chosen to observe this deeply personal day by staying out of the public eye, except for a brief appearance after attending church. This approach is reminiscent of his mother, who often spent her own Accession Day in private at Sandringham House, the place where her father, King George VI, peacefully passed away in his sleep in 1952.
The King has recorded a brief audio message in honor of his mother’s “devoted service” on the occasion of the first anniversary of Her Late Majesty’s passing and his own accession. In his message, the King expressed, “As we mark the first anniversary of Her Late Majesty’s passing and my ascension, we fondly remember her lengthy life, unwavering service, and the profound impact she had on so many of us.”
“The love and support that have been shown to my wife and me during this year as we strive to serve you all has made me incredibly appreciative as well.”
In addition to the audio message, Charles has also released a cherished photograph of his mother, captured by Cecil Beaton in 1968, previously exhibited for the first time. The photo portrays the Queen at the age of 42, dressed in her Garter robes, standing with a smile. She is adorned with the Grand Duchess Vladimir’s Tiara, an exquisite piece made up of 15 interlaced diamond circles.
Meanwhile, the Prince and Princess of Wales will mark the day by participating in a small private service in Wales, dedicated to commemorating the life of the late matriarch. Prince Charles is expected to speak on behalf of the family during this event.
The couple will visit St. Davids Cathedral in St. Davids, Britain’s smallest city located in Pembrokeshire. St. David has been a place of pilgrimage and worship for over 1,400 years, dating back to the sixth century when David, the patron saint of Wales, established his monastic community there.
During their visit, Prince Charles and Princess Diana will interact with members of the local community, including some who had previously met Queen Elizabeth II during her visits to the city.
Prince Harry also paid tribute to his grandmother, highlighting her strong sense of duty during a charity event in London on the eve of the anniversary. At the awards ceremony for the UK charity WellChild, which assists children with serious health issues, Prince Harry said, “As you know, I was unable to attend the awards last year as my grandmother passed away. She would have been the first person to insist that I still join you all instead of being with her.” He added that he believes she is looking down on them, happy that they are together and continuing to support such an incredible community.
Prince Harry’s visit to the UK for this organization, of which he has been a patron for over a decade, is brief. He is not expected to reunite with his immediate family during this visit, as he will soon depart for Germany to attend the opening ceremony of his Invictus Games in Dusseldorf on Saturday.
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, did not accompany her husband to London but is anticipated to join him in Germany shortly after the games commence.
The anniversary of the late Queen’s passing signifies the conclusion of the transition period and the beginning of the Carolean era in earnest. Many royal experts believe that King Charles III has spent the past 12 months blending the two reigns and strengthening the monarchy.
Vernon Bogdanor, a prominent UK constitutional expert and historian, notes that the hallmark of Charles’s first year has been stability and continuity. Charles has been sensitive to the UK’s status as a multinational state with devolution in four parts, having visited each part of the UK after his accession. He is also attuned to the multicultural nature of British society, making him a “modern King” who may be more sensitive to these newer aspects compared to the late Queen.
Craig Prescott, a constitutional law expert and lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, adds that Charles’s first year on the throne has gone remarkably well. There were concerns about how the new monarch would adapt, but Charles closely followed the template set by his mother, resulting in a year of continuity rather than radical change.
Recent polls in the UK show that the majority of respondents feel that King Charles is doing a “good job” in the year since his accession. However, there is a generational divide on the issue of whether Britain should continue to have a monarchy, with support decreasing among younger respondents.
Craig Prescott acknowledges that King Charles III has adopted a slightly sharper approach since ascending the throne, actively addressing public apathy by carefully making adjustments while still exploring the full scope of his new role. He cites examples like the King’s blending of the traditional coronation service with modern British elements, including contemporary musical choices and the composition of the invited congregation. Additionally, there have been several engagements focusing on diversity and inclusion.
Vernon Bogdanor highlights that the challenge for the King is to garner support for this age-old institution in modern Britain, especially among younger generations. The monarchy must evolve with the times, striking a delicate balance to avoid losing support by either moving too far or not moving at all.
Bogdanor emphasizes that Charles is tasked with this continuous process of modernization, and he benefits from his position as the Prince of Wales, which aids in modernizing efforts. However, much of this ongoing modernization occurs behind the scenes, away from the public eye.