King Charles III Diagnosed with Cancer: Uncertainty Surrounds British Monarchy
King Charles III hosts an event at Buckingham Palace 2022. Courtesy of Flickr.

King Charles III Diagnosed with Cancer: Uncertainty Surrounds British Monarchy

Less than two years after his coronation, Buckingham Palace announced on Feb. 6 that King Charles III has been diagnosed with cancer, sending shockwaves through the United Kingdom and raising questions about the future of the British monarchy. The Palace released a statement confirming that the 76-year-old King has been undergoing medical treatment. Details regarding the type and severity of the cancer have not been officially disclosed.

The Palace said that the King is pausing his public duties, such as handshaking and ribbon cutting, while he receives outpatient treatment for the cancer, but will continue to work on state duties and paperwork. Charles was crowned in May 2023 following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, after waiting longer than any previous heir to the throne to become King. He is said to have been excited to finally get a chance at the job, and in his first year as King participated in 161 engagements. According to the Palace, the King plans to return to work as soon as possible and chose to disclose his diagnosis “to prevent speculation and in the hope it may assist public understanding for all those around the world who are affected by cancer.” 

With Charles’ public appearances now on pause, there is much speculation about the future of the monarchy. The announcement came in the midst of a bad season for royal health as the King’s daughter-in-law Kate Middleton, Princess of Wales, recovers from abdominal surgery that saw her hospitalized for about two weeks and her own cancer diagnosis. Middleton is still taking a break from royal duties as she recovers. Her husband, Prince William, who is heir to the throne, also took time off to help look after their children. 

Charles took the throne intending to preside over a slimmer monarchy with fewer senior royals carrying out ceremonial public duties. With Charles and Middleton both recovering, Prince Harry self-exiled to California and Prince Andrew largely banished from view because of his friendship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the number of working royals available for public engagements has shrunk even further.

There are constitutional mechanisms in place if Charles reaches a point where he cannot carry out his duties as King. Two counselors of state can be appointed to act on the King’s behalf through a grant by the British sovereign. The counselors of state would be authorized to carry out most of the official duties of the King, including attending Privy Council meetings, signing routine documents and receiving new ambassadors. However, they would not be able to appoint a prime minister or dissolve parliament unless the King requested that they do so. By law, counselors of state are selected from a group including the King’s spouse and people in the line of succession over the age of 21.

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