The Power Of King Charles III: Assessing The New Monarch’s True Influence

On Saturday, May 6, Charles III of England will be crowned king, making official the role he’s been endowed with since the passing of Queen Elizabeth II last year.

The monarchy is an ancient institution that has been largely devoid of the power it once wielded, yet those at its head are far from powerless. King Charles retains a vast ability to influence British politics, and his influence goes way beyond his purely political role as King.

What Is King Charles’ Actual Political Power?

According to the royal family’s official website, while the king “no longer has a political or executive role, he or she continues to play an important part in the life of the nation.” 

As head of state, this role translates into “constitutional and representational duties.”

The U.K. is a constitutional monarchy, which means that its legislative power (the ability to pass and modify legislation), lies in the parliament, and not with the king or queen.

Bills cannot become law in the U.K. until they receive royal assent, a process by which the monarch can approve or veto bills similarly to the U.S. president. Yet in reality, no British monarch has exerted the right to veto since 1708, according to The Week.

The monarch also has the right to dismiss the Prime Minister, but no king or queen has exercised this right since 1834.

However, a lesser known process has allowed for both Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles to examine and approve more than a thousand bills before they reached the parliament floor for a vote.

“Under the procedure, government ministers privately notify the Queen of clauses in draft parliamentary bills and ask for her consent to debate them,” reported The Guardian.

While the crown’s power remains in a “symbolic” category, the de facto power that tradition-ridden procedures vest on the monarch extends beyond pure ceremony.

There have been previous conflicts of interest between the royal family and their role in examining legislation before it moves to a vote. In at least four such cases, Queen Elizabeth lobbied to change draft legislation, but the real number could be much higher, the Guardian reports.

Some of the bills in question had to do with ​​wealth or taxation, which the publication argues, should not be a subject held to the will of one of the wealthiest families in Britain.

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Money Is Power

Inheriting the Crown makes King Charles a powerful man in terms that go beyond his political rights.

The exact wealth of the royal family is hard to measure, as much of their assets have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries, keeping items off the market and thus making it hard to assess an exact price.

Yet it is estimated that the Crown controls assets to an amount of $46 billion, and that excludes Queen Elizabeth’s own personal fortune of an estimated $500 million.

The Crown Estate itself, a collection of lands and holdings under the monarch’s control —and one of the largest in the country— is estimated to be worth over $20 billion.

While the Crown is not allowed to sell these properties, it receives 25% of its profits via a right called the “Sovereign Grant,” which in 2022 alone equaled over $108 million, according to Forbes.

Furthermore, the royal family is exempted from paying the U.K.’s 40% inheritance tax on estates above £325,000 ($410,000), as well as any income taxes or capital gains.

Charles’ Power Outside The UK

King Charles’ coronation ripples beyond the U.K. borders, as the royal family still executes the symbolic lead over 14 other Commonwealth realms, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Jamaica.

Barbados was the most recent country to formally leave the monarchy’s oversight in 2021 in an effort to distance itself from Britain’s colonial past.

Jamaica, as well as Antigua and Barbuda, have announced plans to follow the path of Barbados and many other former British colonies that have chosen to break away from the crown, including India and South Africa.

According to The Washington Post, being part of the Commonwealth allows some of the smaller members of the association to gain representation in international bodies, as 60% of its states have less than 1.5 million inhabitants, lending extra leverage to the Crown over these smaller nations.

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Wikimedia Commons image by Dan Marsh.

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