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In Defense of Prince Charles

The queen does retain important “prerogatives,” which the politicians must respect. These have been described as the monarch’s four rights: to be informed, to be consulted, to warn and to encourage. The queen can and does read all state papers1, including the most top secret. If not satisfied with what she reads, she has the right to ask for explanations.

~ Robert T. Elson, Life Magazine, April 6, 1964

Prince Charles gets a hard time from time to time for speaking his mind. Even when he does not do it in public, pundits rise and attack His Royal Highness, as did Brendan O’Neill back in March: There is a very good reason that royals are prevented from trying to “influence opinion” (as Charles’s private secretary said the prince tried to do) — because we recognize that it’s profoundly undemocratic for a royal to hold sway over any elected parliamentarian. I’ll tell you what: that it’s undemocratic is more an argument for it than against it. Brendan O’Neill goes on: Those who encourage Charles to use his “considerable influence” today to challenge the government threaten to undo these historic gains. In effect, they are pushing the prince to do their dirty work — and in the process they grant a future king the kind of political and moral authority over government ministers that we stripped from them, for very good reason, many, many years ago. Really? What is it these anti-Charles pundits are afraid of? Some vocal corrective? Do they seriously believe that the utterances from the Prince of Wales in any way can be compared with monarchs with real power? Politicians who cannot stand criticism from an alternative authority have only one thing to do: get out of the political kitchen! Walter Bagehot asserted that a “constitutional monarch” has the right to be consulted, to encourage, and to warn. If the Prince of Wales tells politicians to pull themselves together, is he not exercising the right to warn? The Prince of Wales is not yet monarch, but is he not entitled to practice? He may make statements in public, and the critics of the Prince may have a point when they say the royals are not to state opinions in public, but keep the differences behind the scenes — at least if we stick to the strict “Bagehot monarchy” and the belief in the unifying role of a monarch. However, the critics of Prince Charles don’t stick to criticism against public statements. The Prince makes statements in private correspondence and in private journals and diaries as well. As for those statements not made in public, are not those who take the Prince’s statements to the media the guilty ones for making public what is not meant for the public? Although the Prince of Wales does make statements that are meant for the public, he should not be held responsible for statements reaching the public when they are not meant for the public. By the way, giving advice to ministers is exactly what Walter Bagehot recommended, and I would say this is what he is doing when he writes letters to these ministers. Have we come so far that a “constitutional monarch” is not even to have the “Bagehot rights”? It seems quite obvious that some of the anti-Charles pundits want a totally emasculated monarchy of the Swedish type, if not formally at least in practice. They cannot stand any check whatsoever on the power and authority of Parliament. We refer again to Brendan O’Neill for an example of this stand: Royals are meant to turn up for the launching of ships or opening of hospitals merely to smash a bottle of champers on the ship’s hull or to cut the ceremonial ribbon. Do they want the Queen to stop reviewing state matters? Do they want Her Majesty to stop reading state papers? One could wonder then what the point is with this “constitutional monarchy” if even the mentioned three or four rights of the modern British monarch are no longer to be. I would say an heir to the throne who writes travel journals like this — with characteristics of democratically elected politicians, in the words of a blogger, “almost worthy of Professor Hoppe himself” — is quite fit for the role of giving politicians a piece of his mind when necessary. I suspect Boris Johnson, MP and former editor of the Spectator, to some extent would agree. It should also be noted that Boris Johnson as an MP does not seem to mind being “held sway over by a royal.” If the Prince of Wales were not to have thoughts of his own, we should really have reason to worry, because then the politicians would meet no opposition at all in the monarch when that time comes. Mr. Mark Warby of the Mail on Sunday is completely far out when he attacks the Prince. According to Caroline Davies of the Telegraph, he said: He cannot unilaterally change the constitution without the will of the people. One of his predecessors lost his head for doing that. We’ll mostly leave the issue of Charles I and his trial here. Suffice it to say that comparing a monarch with real powers with the expression of opinions by an heir to the throne in an emasculated monarchy, especially when they are made in a travel journal, only demonstrates lack of sense of proportions. By the way, although the constitution has been changed quite a lot over the years by politicians — not unilaterally, but with the expectation that the monarch does not hinder the amendment process — it would perhaps be appropriate that the royals do a little amending on their own. Maybe we can start with an amendment which William John Hagan suggests as the first act of the next Conservative Prime Minister: [T]o repeal the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949, as well as the House of Lords Act. Britain needs the corrective that Prince Charles represents. As one good example I would say His Royal Highness’ practical way of saying that something is wrong with the British educational system is not too bad. I don’t agree with everything Prince Charles says. I would recommend sending a copy of The Ultimate Resource 2 and The Skeptical Environmentalist to Clarence House. However, Prince Charles’ concern for the environment suggests farsightedness. Now, democratically elected politicians are concerned about the environment as well. Is that a sign that they are farsighted? Not necessarily. They at least have an interest in increasing their power, and environmentalism can be used to serve this interest. When you have politicians who potentially may use environmentalism to increase their powers, or do what seems to be right in the eyes of a whole lot of people in order to give the impression that they are actually doing something or bringing the world forward, it might just be a good idea to have a corrective who is concerned, but does not have the interest of power or of giving an impression of doing something. Her Britannic Majesty recently turned 80, and if the Queen has the longevity of her mother, Prince Charles will not be King Charles III or King George VII for another 20 years or so. However, the nominal head of the Principality of Wales might before that time comes — just mentioned as a possible scenario — have the opportunity of being a reigning — and perhaps even ruling — Prince of Wales. Being a ruling Prince of Wales Prince Charles would join the principalities of Liechtenstein and Monaco as head of the House of Mountbatten, and three’s company. Well, if that doesn’t happen, maybe King Charles III or George VII can start removing the mace from the Chamber of the House of Commons a bit more often. Those are my thoughts for this Bastille Day. Only time will tell what comes of them. In any case, at least keep those three or four rights. Note

  1. Due to the limits on human capacity I have reason to doubt that this was actually possible even in 1964.