British Royal Family

What King Charles’ Cancer Diagnosis Means for the Royal Family

Author: Editors Desk, ARMANI SYED Source: Time Magazine:
February 6, 2024 at 10:00
King Charles has been diagnosed with cancer and will be stepping back from his royal duties (PA)
King Charles has been diagnosed with cancer and will be stepping back from his royal duties (PA)

With just over a year under his belt as Britain’s monarch, King Charles was diagnosed with an undisclosed type of cancer. The news was announced by Buckingham Palace on Monday and led to an outpour of national and global solidarity as the 75-year-old began treatment at a London clinic. 

The palace said that the King will postpone public-facing duties while he undergoes cancer treatment. “Throughout this period, His Majesty will continue to undertake State business and official paperwork as usual,” the statement said.

The news of the King’s illness—so soon into his tenure and the recent loss of Queen Elizabeth, the U.K.'s longest serving monarch—has caused some uncertainty about the road ahead. The King ascended the throne on Sept. 8, 2022, following her death. His and Queen Camilla’s subsequent coronation took place on May 6.

“If he is incapacitated, there are four Counsellors of State who are available to carry out his duties,” royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams told TIME. The counsellors are adults over the age of 21 from the line of succession. 

Here’s what to know about how the royal family will be affected by the King’s diagnosis. 

Which royal duties will King Charles still carry out?

King Charles chose to make his diagnosis public information once he began treatment in a bid to honor cancer-related charities that he was a patron for when he was Prince of Wales. 

“In this capacity, His Majesty has often spoken publicly in support of cancer patients, their loved ones and the wonderful health professionals who help care for them,” a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said Monday. 

The spokesperson also noted that while no further details are being made public at this stage, the King is receiving “expert care” and looks forward to returning to his full duties. For now, the monarch will rearrange or postpone all public facing duties, but continue with state duties such as regular meetings with the U.K. Prime Minister, currently Rishi Sunak. 

“His Majesty would like to apologize to all those who may be disappointed or inconvenienced as a consequence,” the spokesperson added.  

What does King Charles’ diagnosis mean for the senior royals?

As with any monarch, King Charles can call upon Counsellors of State to take his place when he cannot undertake royal duties as a result of illness or other absences. 

Typically there are four counsellors from the line of succession who are over the age of 21. The counsellors are Queen Camilla, the Sovereign’s spouse; William, Prince of Wales; Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Princess Beatrice. 

But last year, the King requested an increase in the number of counsellors that can act on his behalf. He requested that his sister, Anne, the Princess Royal, and his brother, Prince Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh, also be allowed to act as counsellors and carry out duties on his behalf. 

Harry resides outside of the U.K. in Montecito, California, and Prince Andrew no longer carries out royal duties as a result of scandals that connected him to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein; as such the men are unlikely to carry out duties as councellors. 

It’s likely that Anne and Edward will pick up additional duties. A Buckingham Palace spokesperson also confirmed that Queen Camilla will continue with “a full programme of public duties.”

What is expected of heir apparent Prince William? 

As the next in line to the throne, William will likely play the most prominent role in the King’s absence. 

William will return to duties after a week off; he postponed some responsibilities while Kate, Princess of Wales, was undergoing planned abdominal surgery for a non-cancerous condition. 

But the recent news has catapulted William back into accelerated responsibilities. The Prince will have a full schedule as early as Wednesday, when he is set to host an investiture honoring citizens who have served their nation and communities. 

In the evening, he will attend an annual fundraising gala for the London Air Ambulance where he is expected to deliver a speech. 

The monarchy typically hosts a service at Westminster Abbey for Commonwealth Day on March 11. It is currently unclear whether William will guide the event should it continue. 

What is expected of Prince Harry amid King’s diagnosis? 

Within minutes of King Charles’ diagnosis being publicly announced, Prince Harry, and all of Charles’ U.K. based family, had been alerted of his health condition. 

Harry arrived in London on Tuesday, having previously been spotted at Los Angeles International Airport.

“It is only natural that Harry will be visiting him which is bound to lead to reports of a reconciliation, as the rift in the royal family is serious,” Fitzwilliams says. Their relationship has been increasingly tense since Harry and Meghan Markle stepped back from royal duties in 2020.

Harry discussed his relationship with his family at length in his 2023 bombshell memoir Spare, which was Amazon’s best selling book by the end of the year.  

In May, Harry attended his father’s coronation but did not join the family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace; this was his last public appearance with his father.

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