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Charles III, from the Prince of Wales to the Royal Throne

Charles III, the oldest heir apparent in British history, has always been able to combine tradition and non-conformism. From young heir to Prince of Wales, through husband, father and now King, Bridgeman Images reviews the life of the new monarch. 


Élisabeth II et le prince Charles (futur roi Charles III)
Elizabeth II and Prince Charles (the future King Charles III), 2017 (photo) / picture alliance / Photoshot / Bridgeman Images


On September 8 2022, King Charles III acceded to the throne of the United Kingdom following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and was proclaimed King two days later, on September 10 2022, by the Council of Accession at St. James's Palace in London.

At 73 years of age at the time of his accession, he is the oldest person to ascend the throne in British history. In April 2011, at the age of 62, Charles also became the longest-serving heir apparent (the previous record of 59 years, two months and 13 days was held by his great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII, heir apparent to his mother, Queen Victoria).

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Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, 1950 (b/w photo)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, 1950 (b/w photo) / Photo © Historic Royal Palaces/Claire Collins / Bridgeman Images


The education of the Prince of Wales, future King Charles III


After private schooling at Buckingham Palace and in London, Hampshire and Scotland, Charles entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1967. He obtained a degree in 1971, the first ever obtained by an heir to the British crown. He also spent a term at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, learning Welsh in preparation for his investiture as Prince of Wales by his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, on July 1 1969, at Caernarvon Castle. He then attended the Royal Air Force College and the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. From 1971 to 1976, he was assigned to the Royal Navy. 


Prince Charles and Lady Diana


On July 29 1981, Charles married Lady Diana Frances Spencer, daughter of the 8th Earl Spencer. The royal wedding was a worldwide media event, broadcast live on television and watched by hundreds of millions of people. The couple's first child, Prince William of Wales, became the second in line to the throne at his birth in June 1982. Their second child, Prince Henry - known as Harry, was born in September 1984.


Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana july 29, 1981 Lady Diana Spencer Lady Di princesse princess
Lady Diana and Prince Charles (future King Charles III), 1981 (photo) / Bridgeman Images


Charles and Diana's marriage was always under the eye of the tabloid press. In December 1992, it was announced that Charles and Diana had decided to separate but would continue to fulfill their public duties and share the responsibility of raising their sons. The couple divorced in August 1996.


Princess Diana and Prince Charles (future King Charles II) with their children in 1985
Princess Diana and Prince Charles (future King Charles II) with their children in 1985 (photo) / Zumapress / Bridgeman Images


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A year later, Diana died in a car accident, and popular sentiment toward her, even stronger in death than in life, helped to shift the traditional form of monarchy that Charles represented. He then devoted much effort to modernizing his public image as heir apparent.


On April 9, 2005, he married Camilla Parker Bowles, with whom he had a long-standing relationship; after the wedding, Parker Bowles took the title of Duchess of Cornwall.


Prince Harry, Prince William, Tom and Laura Parker Bowles (L-R front row) Duke of Edinburgh, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Camilla's father Major Bruce Shand, in the White Drawing Room at Windsor Castle Saturday April 9 2005, after their wedding ceremony.
The Prince of Wales and his bride Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, with their families at Windsor Castle, 2005 (photo) / Bridgeman Images


Charles III, a king aware of environmental problems?


Perhaps the issue that has remained closest to Charles' heart is his concern for the environment, which dates back to at least 1970, when he gave a speech about the "horrific effects" of all forms of pollution and drew attention to the threat posed by "indestructible plastic containers." Since then, he has often stressed the need for swift action against global warming.

He has also been a passionate champion of sustainability, particularly through the efforts of his Prince's Foundation, inspired by his philosophy of harmony: By understanding the balance, order and relationship between ourselves and the natural world, we can create a more sustainable future.


Trooping the Colour 2018
Trooping the Colour 2018 (photo) / Picture Alliance/DPA / Bridgeman Images


During the 2010s, the focus and media attention shifted from Charles to his sons, whose high-profile "royal weddings" put them and their partners in the international spotlight. In 2011, William married Catherine Middleton, and in 2018, Harry married Meghan Markle.


Tensions arose between Charles and Harry when he and Meghan chose to "step back" from their royal duties and, after negotiations, ceased to be active members of the royal family. Their absence from royal affairs added to the burden on Charles, who increasingly supported Elizabeth II in her duties. After the Queen's death on September 8, 2022, Charles became King Charles III. 


What kind of sovereign will Charles III be?


Charles will likely be crowned King in 2023; the coronation ritual requires advance planning, although much of it has already been done. There has not been a coronation since June 1953, when Elizabeth was crowned.

The ceremony will combine ancient funeral and coronation traditions with practical measures to deal with modern realities such as instant communication, traffic control and social media. 


Investiture Ceremony of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle, 1969
Investiture Ceremony of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle, 1969 (photo) / © Mirrorpix


Charles, with his long-standing interest in philosophy and religion, will take the religious significance of his coronation very seriously.

What kind of ruler will Charles III be? Time will tell, but we can make some guesses based on what he has said and done since his investiture in 1969. He will likely continue to champion the causes that he has supported throughout his life, including environmental matters and modernisation of the monarchy.


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