When Prince Charles becomes King, one of the more dramatic ways in which the monarchy will change overnight is that it will once again become a court of ideas. Charles has an active intellectual life, and is surrounded by favourites and thinkers in different disciplines. In this he is quite unlike his mother, who is known to prefer more down to earth pursuits.
Leading the British delegation to the Vatican over the weekend to celebrate the canonisation of John Henry Newman, Prince Charles also authored a considered essay about the new saint in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
The event itself confirms the sphere of public life where he feels he can be most active: outside politics, but defending the role of faith in public life (see the 2008 controversy over his job title), tradition and heritage (see his foundation’s focus on traditional arts and architecture). In other words, things that matter but don’t make the news.
In his specific praise for Newman, it doesn’t seem too fanciful to see something of a blueprint for his own reign. He will likely inherit a more culturally and politically divided population than ever, and he seems intent on deploying whatever power remains in the crown as a civilising and uniting force:
Harmony requires difference. The concept rests at the very heart of Christian theology in the concept of the Trinity…
This was expressed in [Newman’s] love of the English landscape and of his native country’s culture, to which he made such a distinguished contribution… the realisation in England of a vision he derived from Rome which he described as ‘the most wonderful place on Earth’
Expect this celebration of difference – respecting the particularity of different cultures while celebrating our own heritage – to be a big theme of the Prince’s reign when it eventually begins. If he can take public opinion with him, he could make a significant contribution.