“Never complain, never explain” has been the mantra of the British royal family for over a century – a useful motto that has survived all manner of crises. And just this week it showed its durability, following the news that King Charles III has begun treatment for cancer.
THE statement from Buckingham Palace On Monday, he did not identify the type or treatment the 75-year-old king was receiving, saying only that he had made his decision public to “prevent speculation” about his health and that he remained “totally positive” about to his prognosis.
This statement would have seemed ordinary at any other time. But the cancer was discovered a few weeks ago during treatment for the king’s enlarged prostate – a subject on which he has been particularly open and received much praise. Having vowed to modernize the monarchy, this overture seemed proof of his commitment: the kind of transparency on a sensitive subject that no previous royal figurehead had come close to.
With this diagnosis, the king could know the limits of the future he envisioned. No public figure should be expected to flaunt his woes, but he has already received some positive comments on social media and elsewhere on sharing his cancer diagnosis. Yet Buckingham Palace’s statement was opaque, lacking details about his illness which is likely to become more significant in the coming months. This appears to signal a rapid contraction of its era of openness, highlighting the tricky public relations space in which the monarchy resides.
Despite 1,200 years of reign of monarchy, when it comes to health transparency, the king has little to exploit. A biography published in 2022 claimed that Queen Elizabeth II had been fight against myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer, in the months before his death – a diagnosis that, if true, was not made public. A earlier biography, published in 2009revealed that she had been treated twice for cancer: she had a colon tumor removed at the age of 66 (officially described as abdominal surgery to remove a partial obstruction) and in 1984 had undergone an operation for breast cancer (while it was said that she was in hospital for “tests”).
The queen’s silence was learned behavior. His father, King George VI, had a lung removed in 1951 as part of a procedure to correct “structural anomalies” according to the authorities, it was in fact a carcinoma. He died suddenly five months later from coronary thrombosis, although speculation has since followed that the cause was complications related to the spread of his cancer.
At least a fortnight ago, King Charles seemed to be doing things differently. At the time of her coronation in May last year, there was much talk of bringing the monarchy in line with current mores, “reducing” the number of Windsors enjoying extensive birth privileges and demonstrating soft power. a less grandiose way than before. . State visits have taken senior royals to the United States, France, Kenya, Kuwait, Sri Lanka and beyond in recent months, helping to maintain a continued global presence .
The recent health problems of the King and Catherine, Princess of Wales, who underwent abdominal surgery last month (around the same time as the King’s prostate treatment), have been cause for concern – but have contributed to their popularity. by new survey, seeing them increase by three percentage points each since May. It seems that publicity about common health issues makes royals seem more popular, or at least more well-liked.
Yet the King’s latest update introduces even more uncertainty. An extended break from royal duties, while the king naturally undergoes treatment, will certainly not be what he wanted his first full year of reign to look like. An absent figurehead, even through no fault of his own, is not what the crown needs in the midst of an identity crisis.
The longer Britain continues to run without its head of state – which of course it will – the harder it will be to prove the importance of the palace in its midst. Other royals, like Queen Camilla, will take on more duties in the meantime, but a new fragility has been revealed. The weakening of the monarchy was an idea presumably conceived in the days when there were royals to spend – but for now, without the king or king. Princess of Wales (or Prince Harry), maintaining their place in public life will become more difficult.
British monarchs have shown incredible resilience in the face of scandal and bad luck over the centuries. But if transparency is to be part of their future, their ability to cope in the face of poor health is, for once, beyond their control.
Charlotte Lytton is a journalist based in London.
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