Four days after his mother’s death, the new King Charles III hinted that his days as activist prince would now be over, telling MPs and peers that parliament was the “living and breathing instrument of our democracy”.
When the King and Queen welcome Rishi Sunak and his family to Balmoral this weekend, that pledge will be put to the test.
While insiders say he will not directly lobby the Prime Minister over climate change and net zero – issues which Mr Sunak has been accused of neglecting in search of votes – he is almost certain to raise the subject in general terms.
In fact, over the year since acceding to the throne, Charles has – while steering clear as monarch of overtly party-political issues – remained actively engaged with the issues he cares about, including, most of all, the environment.
One observer said the King is “less activist, but still active” in politics and current affairs, while a royal insider said the monarch has been “busy and active” talking about climate change with heads of state and business leaders he meets. He’s been “active as always”, the insider added.
There is even talk of him attending the Cop28 world climate conference in the United Arab Emirates in November, after his attendance at last year’s gathering was blocked by Liz Truss and later Mr Sunak.
When Charles met President Biden at Windsor Castle in July, tackling the climate crisis and plans for Cop28 were top of the agenda.
Last autumn he hosted a reception for Cop27, seen as a consolation for not being able to attend, as well as a biodiversity reception for the post-Montreal framework earlier this year.
A royal insider said: “The King is busy and active talking about the issue with heads of state and with business leaders.
“He’s just not giving speeches, and although he’s not in the public domain in that way, he’s as active as always. In my assessment, he is having a lot of impact in a different way. Less as a prince campaigner, but now the King as statesman, where he is continuing to show concern about the issue, where everyone else is catching up with him at the eleventh hour.”
The King has remained actively engaged with the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI), a project he launched in 2020 as Prince of Wales, to bring global business leaders together to help reach climate development goals, the insider said.
Jennifer Jordan Saifi, former assistant private secretary at Buckingham Palace, has left to become chief executive of the SMI, and the King still attends its meetings.
In contrast to his late mother, who was unable to travel abroad in her later years, the King has brought a “sharper edge” to the role of monarch during his first 12 months on the throne, according to one constitutional expert.
This has meant playing a key role in the Government’s diplomatic agenda – with the blessing of, and at the behest of, Downing Street.
In February, on the day the Prime Minister signed the post-Brexit deal with Brussels, the Windsor Framework, the King hosted EU chief Ursula von der Leyen at Windsor Castle for tea – a gesture which marked the start of a warmer relationship between the UK and the European Union.
The Government’s ability to deploy the King on key diplomatic missions is helping a post-Brexit thawing of relations, insiders say.
King Charles’s state visit to Germany in March was almost certainly the most significant of those missions this year – a tandem visit to France had to be postponed due to rioting, but has now been rescheduled for later this month.
Dr Craig Prescott, a constitutional historian whose book on the King, Modern Monarchy, will be published next year, said of the trip to Germany: “This was the first by a monarch for some time, as Elizabeth II stopped international travel in 2015.
“This restored this dimension of the monarchy, which is to represent the UK overseas as Head of State.
“Many of these types of events can be fairly vanilla, but this had genuine content and context, giving it a sharper edge. The King’s speech, some of which was delivered in German, reinforced the message of reconciliation, and the very context of the visit was a message of looking forward, especially after Brexit.”
This “sharper edge” has also been brought to the domestic agenda, Dr Prescott said. He added: “For example, there was the donation of fridges and freezers to food banks in December.
“Money donated in memory of Elizabeth II was given to the fuel poverty charity Fuel Bank Foundation.
“I think these are examples of the monarchy perhaps having a closer connection and awareness of day-to-day politics. But, as was the case with the Queen, doing this without actively getting involved and maintaining the political impartiality of the monarch.”
As he prepares to mark a year this Friday since his mother’s death, and his accession to the throne – in what will be a quiet day of reflection at Balmoral with his wife – the King will be aware that his popularity has not yet reached the heights achieved by the late Queen Elizabeth II.
New polling by YouGov to be published next week, seen by i, shows his net positivity rating among voters is currently 28 per cent, a fall from 48 per cent in the days after the Queen’s death, but at a level around 10 percentage points higher than when he was Prince of Wales.
The late Queen Elizabeth’s net positivity ratings with YouGov were consistently around 70 per cent.
Significantly – despite claims by some in the wake of the Queen’s death – public opinion about the monarchy itself has barely shifted over the past year, according to YouGov’s latest data, taken between 26 and 28 August.
Putting aside a brief bounce to 67 per cent in the immediate aftermath of Queen Elizabeth’s death, support for the monarchy has remained around 61 per cent, while just 24 per cent are in favour of an elected head of state.
YouGov’s polling shows 59 per cent of Britons think he is doing a good job, compared to just 17 per cent who say he is doing a bad job – suggesting the King’s active role in current affairs is not inflaming public opinion.
“The simple fact of having a new monarch was an unknown experience for so many [meant] there were concerns about how the country would react,” Dr Prescott said. “In some ways, he set the tone with his statement the day after the death of his mother, which was a profoundly moving moment and well-received.”