Like many of my American and Canadian compatriots, I tuned in on 10 September to watch the first ever televised Accession Council and the proclamation recognising Charles III. I was born in the United States and have resided for most of my adult life in Canada, where I am also a citizen. I once lived in the United Kingdom as a graduate student. I’m writing to share my perspective from across the pond.
Proclamation from the Accession Council
I noticed a subtle flex in the wording of the proclamation. The title “Head of the Commonwealth” was included in the same breath as “King” and “Defender of the Faith.” That title, however, is not hereditary.
The Commonwealth countries had already agreed to Charles becoming the next head of the Commonwealth at a meeting in 2018. In this sense, it was not incorrect to include the title, but it is interesting. It is a role the late Queen improvised into form. There is no law or treaty regarding the scope of the role or its succession. Charles is the first monarch to have been proclaimed with that style.
I interpret this as a signal of the United Kingdom’s grand strategic aims and of the Privy Council’s vision for the monarchy: a tighter bond among the realms and territories of the Commonwealth and a tradition making the monarch automatically its head.
If I am reading the tea leaves right, and the new King and his advisors pull it off, it would return the United Kingdom to global prominence. This time, however, not through the bonds of colonial Empire, but through the bonds of friendship and cooperation, like the bonds that exist between the United Kingdom and the United States.
Head of the Commonwealth
As an American, I am sceptical of monarchy, though we also know well that elections do not always put the best person in power. As a Canadian, I reside in a realm of the new King. The monarch is on the legal tender and is named in government contracts. The United States is not part of the Commonwealth, but Canada is.
Will Canada, India, and the other Commonwealth member states agree to a succession tradition that passes the title of head of the Commonwealth through the royal succession? Some member states may seek to make it rotational, or elected by the member states, or even to eliminate the role entirely. I think it will depend on how Charles performs in it.
For the Royal family, bringing together the Commonwealth could become its best and primary purpose. It could confer a new mission on this thousand-year-old institution and present the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, and the world with a great opportunity.
The association includes one third of the world’s population: vast in territory, rich in diversity, and enjoying many common ties in law, sport, commerce, defence, and more. Nurturing the potential of the Commonwealth countries could dramatically improve the world’s cultural, environmental, economic, and security situation.
Is this a new direction for British diplomacy?
This is why those words in the proclamation stood out so much to me. It is perhaps the most important innovation of the late Queen and the most important role she has established for the new King.
If this is the direction of British diplomacy, it will require tact and trust building. It cannot appear to be taken for granted. It took more than a century for trust to be re-established between the United Kingdom and the United States after its independence. The late Queen’s personality and the careful work of diplomats played a large part in creating what loose affiliation exists today. The work will not be easy, but the potential is large.