It was not the announcement anyone was expecting. After a destabilizing few weeks when the King and Princess of Wales both received hospital treatment, the public and the press were anticipating that the next we might hear from the King’s team was when he was ready to return to work after recovering from treatment for a benign enlarged prostate.
However, at 6 p.m. in London this evening Buckingham Palace made a statement that was unprecedented in so many ways and sent shockwaves through the UK. In announcing that King Charles has a form of cancer, they made the first such statement about a British sovereign ever. King George VI was suffering from lung cancer in the later years of his reign, but this was never revealed to the public until after he died. And no such announcement was ever made about Queen Elizabeth.
Yet King Charles’s team had already begun a course of openness about his original diagnosis of a benign enlarged prostate. He is also the Head of State and will be out of action for a significant period of time, so it would have been impossible for Buckingham Palace to keep this under wraps. His cancer, they said, was discovered by chance during the prostate procedure, but they have not said what kind (although they have clarified it’s not prostate cancer). They have also not said what type of treatment the King is receiving and have been very firm with media about respecting his privacy as far as speculating on his condition or the publishing of unsolicited images goes.
What they have said in spades, however, is that the King will be keeping up with as many of his responsibilities as possible. While he has been advised to stop public-facing duties for an unconfirmed amount of time, he will still be attending to matters of State.
Palace officials are making it clear that the King will continue to receive his red boxes of Government papers daily, that there are no plans for anyone to step in in any formal capacity for him, and even that he intends to continue his weekly audiences with the Prime Minister.
The insistence on this point might seem surprising given the news of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. But anyone who has followed the royal family for any length of time will be unsurprised. Wherever possible, the monarchy wants to emphasize continuity and the idea of carrying on with work. And Charles has made it clear during his decades of public life that he possesses a peerless dedication to duty.
This diagnosis coming after just 18 months as sovereign and when he had just hit the ground running as sovereign significantly changes the narrative around King Charles’s reign. But this evening’s announcement emphasizes that there can be no doubt that his commitment to his role is as strong as ever.
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