The king’s cancer diagnosis Charles III has raised doubts and uncertainty about what would happen if the illness prevented him from fulfilling his duties. The British monarchy contemplates several mechanisms and protocols designed to guarantee the fulfillment of royal functions.
For now, Buckingham Palace has reported that the 75-year-old monarch will withdraw from public events while his cancer treatment lasts, but will continue with his duties as head of state, such as signing laws, appointing ministers or the weekly hearings with the head of the Government, Rishi Sunak.
The monarch’s official commitments will be distributed among the rest of the active members of the royal family, known in English as ‘working royals’, which are mainly: William and Catherine, princes of Wales; Camilla, wife of the sovereign; and his brothers Ana and Eduardo.
Charles III’s illness became known only nine months after he succeeded his mother, Elizabeth II, who remained on the throne for 70 years. Although the king’s diagnosis is a setback for the crown, there are three options so that his work can be covered in the event of a further deterioration in his health.
If the king is unable to carry out his official duties for an extended period of time, two or more members of the royal family could be appointed state councilors to act in his place, as occurs when the monarch travels abroad.
Councilors of State are provisionally nominated when a regency is not yet necessary. According to the Regency Law of 1937, these are Camilla and the first four in the line of succession over 21 years old, that is, Princes William, Henry, Andrew and Beatrice. In addition, in 2022 the monarch’s siblings Ana and Eduardo were appointed.
Prince Harry, Prince Andrew and Princess Beatrice are also state councillors, but no longer perform royal duties.
“These people must take care of the king’s duties in his absence or when the king is unable to perform his duties. The truth is that there are functions that Carlos III cannot exercise, but others that he can,” the doctor and historian specializing in monarchies Amadeo-Martín Rey y Cabieses tells El Comercio.
The expert emphasizes that the sovereign himself has already stated that he will be able to continue meeting with the prime minister and signing certain documents, among other things. “This is normal because the king is sick, but he is not dying. He is being treated and can perform his functions at half throttle. Now, it is clear that it is not convenient for him to participate in trips and public appearances while he is being treated and for that he has other members of the royal family,” adds Rey y Cabieses.
Regency is the second option and occurs when a person is totally incapable of ruling due to illness of mind or body.
Amadeo-Martín Rey y Cabieses explains that this scenario occurs, for example, when the king dies and his eldest son is not old enough to rule, so he cannot exercise power himself, so he must have a regency council.
“This can also occur when the king declares himself incapable, for example, in the case of schizophrenia,” he adds.
The Regency Law requires Prince William to be regent, as he is the next adult in the line of succession. If this were to happen, it would be the first time in over 200 years that the British monarchy would require a regency, with the last prince regent being the future George IV.
Under this law, the regent has the same powers as the monarch with respect to the United Kingdom, but cannot change the order of succession to the crown. Nor does it grant the regent powers in relation to the kingdoms. Basically, the period of regency would allow the king to transfer his powers as monarch to the Prince of Wales without having to abdicate, as Charles III would remain king and head of state.
Regency must be declared in writing by three or more of the following: the sovereign’s spouse, the lord chancellor, the speaker of the House of Commons, the lord chief justice of England, and the senior judge of the court of appeal.
The king’s health problems may raise the possibility of an abdication. However, experts do not believe that option is close since Charles III made a “pledge of lifelong service” in his first address to the nation when he became monarch.
According to Buckingham Palace, Charles III “is very optimistic about his treatment and hopes to resume his public duties as soon as possible.”
“I very much doubt that he will abdicate. It is difficult to know, but I believe that he will remain on the throne until his death, as did his mother. He is a 75-year-old man and cancer is a disease that, if detected early, can be treated. In this case, the prime minister has said that the cancer with which King Carlos III is diagnosed has been found in time, which is very positive,” says Amadeo-Martín Rey y Cabieses.
For this reason, he adds that what you should do is take care of yourself and let the representation functions be carried out by other family members who can do it.
“The announcement has been a shock for the entire country, but I don’t see it as serious at this moment. It is not something that should cause excessive alarm and, in addition, there are protocols and mechanisms already planned to deal with this situation,” concludes the expert.