At the moment of the Queen’s passing on Thursday, her eldest son acceded to the throne as King Charles III, head of state of the UK and 14 other Commonwealth countries.
The King, aged 73, is the oldest monarch to take the crown, as well as the longest-serving heir apparent in British history. Unlike his late mother, who became queen at just 25, King Charles’s life has been one of extended preparation for this moment.
The historic transition from one royal generation to another will be marked by a period of national mourning and what is expected to be a relatively low-key coronation, which will set the tone for King Charles’s reign.
Alongside the ceremonial formalities of succession, the moment of the King’s elevation will also be one of personal loss and grief; he has been beside the deathbed of both his parents in the past 18 months.
“The death of my beloved Mother, Her Majesty The Queen, is a moment of the greatest sadness for me and all members of my family,” he said in a statement on Thursday evening. “We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished sovereign and a much-loved mother.”
Known for his outspoken views and half a century of social activism as the Prince of Wales, the King has made clear he will adopt a different approach to public life once he takes the crown.
While as the Queen’s heir he sought to “make a difference” on long-cherished causes, from the environment and architecture to farming and homeopathy, as king he will not speak out on contentious topics. “I’m not that stupid,” he told the BBC in 2018.
“It’s vital to remember there’s only room for one sovereign at a time, not two,” he said, in remarks that offered a guide to how he would approach his duties. “You can’t be the same as the sovereign if you’re the Prince of Wales or the heir.
“But the idea, somehow, that I’m going to go on in exactly the same way, if I have to succeed, is complete nonsense because the two — the two situations — are completely different.”
ObituaryQueen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II: April 21 1926-September 8 2022
The King has been playing an increasingly prominent role in recent years, both in the management of the institution and by stepping in for the Queen as she scaled back her public duties.
As Prince of Wales he stood in for the Queen at several state occasions, including last year’s Remembrance Day service and the opening of parliament in May. Charles also took on a leading representational role at gatherings such as the G20 summit in Rome and the UN climate summit in Glasgow.
The King faces the formidable challenge of succeeding Britain’s longest-serving monarch, whose popularity helped the royal family endure a period of unprecedented media attention on the crown.
Years of preparation by the King and his royal aides have addressed what could have been sensitive issues for an incoming monarch.
Significantly, the leaders of the Commonwealth announced in 2018 that King Charles would succeed his mother as head of the organisation, a decision taken unanimously at a gathering at Windsor Castle.
The position is non-hereditary and there was informal discussion about the duties being rotated between the Commonwealth’s national leaders, rather than passing automatically to King Charles.
The decision spares the King the need to secure support to lead the organisation, which aims to further the trade and co-operation between the 56 member states of the Commonwealth, representing a population of more than 2.5bn people.