Since his mother’s passing, King Charles III has performed well under pressure. His deft, warm, but firm handling of his younger son and daughter-in-law’s disloyalty stands as a fine example of a man stepping comfortably into the authority of his inherited destiny. Harry and Meghan’s self-immolation aside, the royal Christmas address was always going to serve as the first major PR hurdle for Charles after the immense task of publicly honoring and burying his mother.
Americans should pay careful attention to Charles’ Christmas message because it stands as a direct and striking personal account of Christian witness from a modern global leader. This stands in contrast to President Joe Biden’s meandering address, which generally reflected on the theology of Christmas but was littered with thematic diversions and lacked the clear, concise, and surprisingly personal statement of values that Charles so effectively delivered.
The British monarch’s Christmas message holds such importance today, in part because the late queen so excelled at its delivery. In the 20th century, from Aberdeen to Auckland, Cape Town to Cairo, Elizabeth II’s televised Christmas messages became a staple of festive tradition in Britain and the commonwealth realms. By the 21st century, the queen — evidently well-practiced at the format — was far and above the world’s most distinguished practitioner of televised, inspirational leadership. She put ruddy-faced American presidents (even the better-performing ones) to shame and captivated generations of Britons with a sublime mix of reflective sympathy, moral clarity, and Christian grace.
This is no mean feat, for the art of royal broadcasting is a precariously balanced one. The message must be non-political, but political events must not always be ignored. It must be spoken in empathy, but not so much to make the ridiculous purport to an equality of experience between monarch and Main Street. It must honor the Christian bedrock upon which the commonwealth rises, but not to the exclusion of those faithful to other gods, or faithless altogether, who join in making up the tapestry of modern Britain.
Charles met these prerogatives extremely well in his first Christmas speech as sovereign. He capably honored the memory of his mother — itself the most seismic event of the past 12 months in British life. His tribute was an unselfish one, also acknowledging the lost lives of Britons everywhere. It was fitting for the king to do so in the shadow of a receding Covid-19, which saw cruel and unjust government diktats depriving millions of familial warmth and care. This support is essential to finding peace in a loved one’s passing. Charles will not be unaware of how ghastly a spectacle the queen’s funeral would have been had she passed 18 months earlier, as her beloved husband did. The image of the grieving queen, seated alone in St. George’s Chapel during Philip’s funeral, was one of the more regrettable symbols of the foul, inhuman alienation brought on by bureaucratic lust during the Covid era.
Charles was quick, too, to raise the specter of Christianity in his address. This thematic continuity with the addresses his mother delivered spoke powerfully to the stabilizing nexus of church and monarchy in modern Britain. Charles did well to speak of Christianity as being the “essence” of British community life.
Politicians have, for the most part, lost the courage to say this, even when they themselves may believe it. Charles takes the throne as perhaps the most politically interested heir in the 100-year history of the House of Windsor. His willingness to buck the broader cultural trend of political atheism, elevate British Christian identity, and embrace all faiths by acknowledging their collective community service must be seen as deeply encouraging.
Notwithstanding his evident courage in eschewing political atheism, it is in politics itself that Charles’ otherwise magnificent speech finds its one inescapable flaw. It is perhaps not one he could have avoided, given his prior propensity for environmental activism.
The king was right to make specific mention of “those at home finding ways to pay their bills and keep their families fed and warm” this winter. However, it was also this line that drew the most negative reaction wherever Charles’ speech was posted online.
Mostly, the charge was of hypocrisy or, more damagingly, of reckless kingly disregard for the common man from a not-so-common one who will never have to fret about a heating bill in his life.
That is because until now, Charles has lent his name to a political form of environmentalism, which has led directly to the ideological abandonment of cheap energy as a benchmark of a free and fair society. It is these Davos-embracing, UN-fawning agendas that have so mercilessly destroyed the British working classes’ ability to pay their own bills and to stand proudly, without handouts, on their own two feet.
For decades, Charles has served — albeit often unwittingly — this elite agenda. His peculiarly long stint as heir afforded him a huge public platform without the commensurate burden of sovereign leadership and gave him ample room to push the environmentalists’ barrow. Two years prior to taking the throne, Charles was enthusiastically parroting the “Great Reset” pushed by the World Economic Forum’s Klaus Schwab and his cadre of green-Marxist bureaucrats. He even went as far as to call for “action at revolutionary levels.” Really, any sensible royal ought to know not to lose his head like this.
It must be said that, for the most part, Charles’ environmentalism has been a very good thing. His championing of organic farming, humane and modest architectural practice, and common-sense solutions to serious environmental problems are frankly not lauded enough. His master-planned sustainable village development, Poundbury, ought to be copied the world over.
But Charles has too often tiptoed beyond these boundaries into a politicized environmentalism that has demonized the common man and surrendered state sovereignty over energy production to supra-national bodies. In November, former Prime Minister Liz Truss had to talk him out of attending perhaps the most politicized environmental event of all, COP27, in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt.
To his great credit, Charles listened to Truss. Doing so was wise because each time the king avoids entanglement in elite political interests, he enhances his capacity to speak for and represent the interests of the British. Those people are struggling desperately with unsustainably high power prices this holiday season. Many have already made the decision to sacrifice food for heating or vice versa.
Making this sacrifice is where Britons may lose patience with Charles. As Alexis De Tocqueville taught us, Aristocracy (even its benign remnants) will tolerate much more inequality than Democracy. It will not, however, sustain support for a monarch who allows his celebrity to be subordinated to the interests of transnational elites at the expense of his own common polity.
In its Christian spirit, Charles’ speech made a substantial feature of the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Beautiful though that setting is, it is an equally famous British carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” that better captures the mood currently descending upon the United Kingdom. A heartbreaking poem first penned by Christina Rosetti and later set to music by Harold Darke and Gustav Holst, the final stanza begins, “What can I give him, poor as I am?”
Time will tell if King Charles III will continue to step back from the kind of activism that has hitherto helped to impoverish his subjects. Britons should be encouraged at the start he has made and pray he continues to grow in the wisdom which may lead him to fight for those who need his charity against those who would abuse his celebrity.