How Queen Elizabeth II Prepared Charles to Be King

Queen Elizabeth II was the longest-serving monarch in British royal history. She sat on the throne for 70 years — but she never took for granted those who would come after her. She was determined that her oldest son, Charles, would succeed her. And it was imperative that he continued her promise of lifelong duty and service to the crown. Here’s how Queen Elizabeth prepared Charles to be king.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles — now King Charles III — during the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster on October 14, 2019 in London, England
Then Prince Charles with his mother Queen Elizabeth II in 2019 | Paul Edwards – Then Prince Charles with his mother Queen Elizabeth II in 2019 | Paul Edwards – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth made a personal request that Charles succeed her on the throne

The role of the monarch in the United Kingdom is not hereditary, but King Charles has lived almost his entire life as the heir. Queen Elizabeth made her wishes clear of who should succeed her back in 2018 when she made a personal request at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. 

“It is my sincere wish that the Commonwealth will continue to offer stability and continuity for future generations – and will decide that one day the Prince of Wales will carry on the important work started by my father in 1949,” the queen said in her statement.

Just before Her Majesty spoke, Charles told the group that represented 53 nations that “the Commonwealth has been a fundamental feature of my life for as long as I can remember.”

At the time, the queen was 91 and starting to have mobility and health issues. She proceeded to appoint Charles as her successor, with support from various heads of government in the Commonwealth — then reduced her own public appearances. 

King Charles spent decades preparing for his new role as monarch

Charles has been the heir to the throne since he was three years old, and he’s been preparing to be king ever since. Now at age 73, Charles is the oldest monarch to ascend to the throne in British history.

King Charles is now the head of the Commonwealth, a postcolonial group formed after the end of the British Empire that features 54 independent countries and 2.4 billion people. He is also the head of state in 15 of those nations, including Canada and Australia.

Charles was born at Buckingham Palace into a world of immense wealth and privilege. Royal expert Sally Bedell Smith says that right away he “officially became public property,” per CNBC

He didn’t have an easy childhood, according to royal historians, because his parents were rarely present. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip missed Charles’ first two Christmases and his third birthday because they were touring the Commonwealth.

Because he was a “very sensitive and emotional young man,” his “alpha male” father sent him to Gordonstoun — a rough, spartan boarding school in Scotland — so he could toughen up. Royal biographer Tina Brown says that this was “absolutely the story of his life.” Charles’ family was “constantly trying to shove him into this mold — because he was the future king — that he just didn’t fit.” Charles later described his education as “a prison sentence.” 

Queen Elizabeth gave her oldest son the freedom to forge his own path

At the age of 21, Charles admitted to a BBC radio program that realizing he would one day be king was “something that dawns on you with the most ghastly, inexorable sense.” That was in 1969 when he was invested as Prince of Wales and formally began his public duties.

For the past five decades, Charles has had full-time royal duties — going on royal tours all over the world, opening hospitals and museums, making speeches about climate change, and creating the largest charitable network in Britain. 

During Queen Elizabeth’s later years, King Charles started representing his mother more and more both at home and overseas. Just weeks before the queen’s death, Charles opened Parliament on her behalf for the very first time.

Now, King Charles is preparing his oldest son Prince William — and his grandson Prince George — for their future role as king.

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