LONDON: Britain’s Charles III reaches the milestone of his first year as king this week, with his reign so far characterised by a smooth transition from that of his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II.
The anniversary on Friday is expected to be marked privately, given the date is also that of his mother’s death at the age of 96.
Charles, 74, has slipped into his new role with apparent ease after some 70 years waiting as her heir – the longest of any in British history.
But despite expectation of reform, he has not yet made sweeping changes to the monarchy, fuelling perceptions that his is a caretaker role before his eldest son and heir Prince William takes over.
“I think the transition has been much smoother than was anticipated,” Pauline Maclaran, a professor at Royal Holloway, University of London, told AFP.
Charles was officially crowned alongside his wife Camilla on May 6 at London’s Westminster Abbey in front of royalty and global leaders.
The lavish ceremony observed centuries-old rituals but was shorter and less elaborate than his mother’s in 1953 and aimed to be more representative of modern Britain.
“I think we can expect maybe small changes, but he is really paving the way for William, and I imagine William will be the real moderniser of the monarchy,” Maclaran said.
Charles remains behind his late mother and 41-year-old William in the popularity stakes, but his approval rating has received a significant boost since his accession.
YouGov polling suggested 55% of Britons have a positive opinion of their new head of state, compared to 44% a year ago.
His first televised Christmas Day broadcast – a traditional address to Britain and the Commonwealth, which he also heads – was watched by a record 10.6 million viewers in the UK.
As king, Charles has made several trips around the country, often accompanied by Camilla, and has generally appeared more open and approachable than Elizabeth II.
“Even the photos that they (the palace) released, official photos, are a lot more relaxed,” said Jonathan Spangler, a history lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.
“There is a bit more humanity,” he said, adding that Charles “is more aware that these things need to be done”.
According to Maclaran, Charles has shown himself as “humble and accessible” at a time when Britain is grappling with the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.
The only public image hiccup so far was his frustration with a leaky pen after the formal meeting confirming his accession, she added.
Anna Whitelock, a historian of monarchy, said while there had been no “major error”, there also had not been “any kind of defining moment” of his reign.
“Big questions remain: how is he going to respond to calls around an apology over colonial legacy? The whole question about exemptions from taxation?” she added.
The pro-republic movement – which wants an elected head of state – has meanwhile seized the chance to renew debate about the constitutional future of the British royal family, long muted by public respect for the ageing and infirm queen.
Charles has often been greeted on his tours by anti-monarchy banners and slogans, and even had eggs thrown in his direction.
The king, who is also head of state of 14 Commonwealth countries outside the UK, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, has made only one state visit, to Germany.
His first was set to be to France in March, but it was postponed as angry protests against pension overhauls shook the country.
The trip has been rescheduled for later this month.
Reports indicate a major overseas tour is in the works to improve relations with the Commonwealth.
Charles has however received foreign leaders, including US president Joe Biden, South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
While Elizabeth II was seen as especially dedicated to the Commonwealth – the 56-nation grouping of mostly former British colonies – for Charles “the emphasis is global”, Spangler said.
Closer to home, Charles has also had to handle the revelations in the tell-all memoir of his younger son Prince Harry.
He and his American wife Meghan also released a docu-series, lifting the lid on their reasons for quitting the royal family in 2020.
“Charles handled this very well. He didn’t start to cast blame or reply really. He stuck basically to the Queen’s mantra ‘never explain, never complain’ when the accusations came,” Maclaran said.
“I honestly don’t think the scandal has been any more damaging than what the monarchy has suffered many times before,” she added.