September 9, 2022 - 7:14pm

In his address to the nation this evening King Charles III said goodbye to two people. The first was his mother. The second was the Prince of Wales. 

This was literally the speech of a lifetime. Charles became the Prince of Wales in 1969. His reputation has scratched wildly up and down ever since like a seismometer needle. It is hard to think of anybody else in public life who was dragged through the mud quite as many times as him. “Nobody knows,” he once said, “what utter hell it is to be the Prince of Wales.”

Long before today, when crowds greeted their new King with acclaim, kisses and flowers, Charles had begun to rebuild his reputation. Not as an elder statesman or a dynamic paterfamilias, but as a man who was right — right about climate change, right about the bees, right about dry stone walls. Scorn had changed, slowly, into affection. 

Monarchy survives on such feelings. Who could watch Charles talk of grief and gratitude this evening and not feel something? Or when he walked — staggered almost — through the gates of Buckingham Palace with Camilla earlier in the day. Two tiny, aged figures heading towards the flat blank face of the palace, resembling nothing less than a sacrifice, as crowds swarmed behind them. Here was monarchy in a snapshot: the burdens, the loneliness, the inhuman scale. 

Charles’ speech acknowledged all of this, though he called it “the promise of lifelong service”. A promise kept by his mother, and a promise he pledged to renew again. “I too now solemnly pledge myself throughout the remaining time God grants me, to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation.”

To do that, Charles noted that he would have to step back from his charities and the issues he cares so deeply about. For any monarchist, this should be met with relief. Charles is a blatantly decent man with a loose judgement for pet projects and friends. If gaining a crown means losing them, it can only be for the good. 

There was nothing left to say but thank you and goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II. Charles chose a line from Hamlet — and hadn’t he always rather resembled Hamlet? May “flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest”, he said to his mother. The line before that is “Good night, sweet Prince.” There was the second goodbye, to himself, and the old days of waiting.