22nd December 2023
The King’s First Year
by Sir Stephen Lamport GCVO DL Vice- Lord-Lieutenant and a former Private Secretary to The (then) Prince of Wales, and now an Extra Equerry to The King.
The death of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth on 8 September last year was a moment of enormous sadness for the nation. After a reign of more than seventy years it was difficult to imagine how her successor could fill the great gap left by his mother. It was, however, a huge reassurance to the whole country that King Charles III took on seamlessly the mantle of Kingship from the very moment of his first broadcast to the nation the day after his mother’s death. Since then, his carrying out of the difficult and demanding role of Sovereign has been faultless. So what characterises his first year as King? It is worth reflecting on these attributes because they say a great deal about the importance of Monarchy to all of us, both today and for the future.
The King is a man who cares deeply about his country and about the duty he has to use his unique position for the long-term benefit of the world around him. Service and duty are as deeply embedded in his DNA as they were in his mother’s. He has a profound sense of history. He is a tireless advocate of understanding and tolerance. He believes in values, as well as action, values which he defines as mutual respect, diversity, tolerance, fairness and friendship. This is a man who believes in responsibility for others before indulgence of the self. These values go hand-in-hand with the King’s own personal philosophy of monarchy as service, and of the importance of using monarchy’s special status as a creative force for good.
These deeply-held values of The King reflect in himself why Monarchy matters. For Monarchy stands for stability and reassurance in a changing world. It stands for principles of behaviour which are other-regarding rather than self-interested. It stands for service and duty, tolerance and understanding – those old-fashioned qualities which are the bedrock of a truly civilised society. And being seen as the supreme representative of the country, in good times and bad, above the thrust of party-political or pressure group interests, is an invaluable attribute which can help bind together and heal society rather than divide and inflame it.
The King’s record in his first year, his many public appearances, his speeches, his approach to his role, comfortably reflect these principles of dignified servant leadership. He has put his own style and stamp on his duties in a way which which is different from his mother’s. And he carries with him in his role a highly personal standing and reputation: for example, as one of the earliest advocates of environmental responsibility and sustainability – he was the only Head of Sate to be invited to COP28; and as a massive practical supporter through the (then) Prince’s Trust for the most disadvantaged young people in our society. This personal standing gives a different authority to his words and actions as Sovereign. His state visits – to Germany, France and most recently Kenya – have been significant successes, the more so given the particular sensitivities of our history in each of these countries. His words and actions have been carefully chosen, and have had real impact. His is a different voice from his mother’s, but its authority and effect are no less.
It is now six months since the Coronation of our King. Consider for a moment how that very special event captured the mood and affection of the country, not just in the solemn splendour of the ceremony itself in Westminster Abbey but also in the unforgettable atmosphere of the celebratory concert at Windsor Castle. The success of that weekend reflected The King’s sensitive ability to relate to every part of our society. That is a hallmark of his style as Sovereign. Throughout the last year his programme from day to day has been relentless, across the whole country and directed at all levels and facets of society. It will go on being so, for that is the nature of his role. And we ourselves have seen the benefit in our own county. The King has visited Surrey this year. There is every sign that he will return to our county on a regular basis. That is our good fortune because his presence among us reinforces all the attributes of monarchy I have described, highlighted by the special qualities and the devotion to duty in the service of our country which are the hallmark of the man who is King Charles III. We are fortunate indeed to have him. His reign will inevitably be much shorter than his mother’s. But the benefit to us as a nation will, nevertheless, be beyond price.
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