What Happens When Three Senior Royals Are All Absent From Public Duties?

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Charles, William, and Kate All Absent from PublicDesign by Michael Stillwell

When Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace made their dual announcements this week about the health of Kate Middleton and King Charles, the overriding sentiment was shock and thoughts of well-wishes. Particularly in Kate’s case, her abdominal surgery was clearly major with significant time required to recover.

Despite her wish to keep details private, one of the reasons the Palace needed to announce the surgery was the fact that both Kate and William’s pubic timetables will dramatically change as a result. She is not expected to appear until after Easter, there will be no overseas travel from either of them for some time, and William is substantially modifying his workload to care for his wife and children. King Charles will be out of action for a much shorter period, but was still forced to cancel meetings at the last minute and will not appear publicly while he recovers from his prostate procedure.

So, by coincidence, for a short period next week, three senior royals will simultaneously be away from public duties. In an age when the number of working royals has already reduced due to Prince Harry, Meghan, and Prince Andrew stepping away and the elderly Duke of Kent suffering from mobility issues, the only royals left to appear publicly will be Queen Camilla, Princess Anne, the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, and Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.

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The ’slimmed down monarchy’ was evident at last year’s Trooping the Colour.Chris Jackson - Getty Images

While there was much talk of plans by Charles for slimmed down monarchy before he came to the throne, as Princess Anne pointed out to Canadian broadcaster CBC News, and as this week emphasizes, there is now little wriggle-room to cut back further. As Anne put it, “Well, I think the ‘slimmed down’ was said in a day when there were a few more people around.”

Next week, the focus will naturally shift to the royals who will still be out and about—with Camilla setting the tone for continuing her engagements in Scotland. But the question of them taking on more of the workload is a different matter. “I think it unlikely that the royal diaries will be revised and engagements added to what’s already been agreed, usually months in advance,” said Joe Little, Managing Editor of Majesty Magazine. “I don’t think we will see more of Edward and Sophie and I don’t think Anne can do any more. But we might see more attention on them.”

While the King’s departure from the world stage will be minimal, the temporary absence of William and Kate with Harry and Meghan off the scene does highlight how scant things now are within that generation. There does not seem to be any desire to employ Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie back into the royal roster. So it is perhaps inevitable that in the near future, even with William and Kate back in action, there will need to be revised expectations of just how much ground can be covered.

However, far from being an unprecedented situation, Little pointed out that this is not the first time the monarchy has found itself with fewer working royals. “In the early years of the Queen’s reign there was a shortage of working royals,” he said. “A young Princess Alexandra started doing engagements at 18 for that reason.”

This is a reminder that in the longer term the monarchy does have options. Just as Queen Elizabeth had four children who were each able to eventually take on a share of public duties, in the fullness of time William and Kate’s three children could all, if desired, do the same.

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The Wales family on Christmas Day, 2023.Samir Hussein - Getty Images

There is much talk of Charles and William continuing to favor a more streamlined approach for the monarchy (although if royal funding is not scaled back, then there is a question of what kind of value that offers the British people). But William and Kate have also shown us that they are bringing up Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis to all understand their unique positions and the importance of giving back.

Either way, the future of the royal family really is in William, Kate, and their children’s hands. And that’s all the more reason for the Princess of Wales to make sure she takes all the time she needs now to aid her recovery.

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