Send Him Victorious: Despite Cancer and a Slimmed-Down Monarchy, King Charles III’s Soft Power Should Not Be Underestimated

King Charles

Then-Prince Charles, in a portrait from 2013, waited 70 years – longer than any other hereditary successor – to be crowned king. Photo: Nadav Kander/Trunk Archive

To celebrate the first anniversary of the coronation of King Charles III we look at the monarch’s proven history of dignity, resilience and proving the naysayers wrong in this story from Zoomer‘s April/May 2024 issue.


“It just isn’t fair!” King Charles III must have said it, or at least thought it, when the word came in February that he had cancer. He had waited longer than any hereditary successor to sit on the “throne of thrones,” the one where he is not just King of the United Kingdom, but also King of Canada, King of Australia, King of New Zealand and King of 11 other realms, as well as succeeding his esteemed late mama, Queen Elizabeth II, as head of a Commonwealth of 56 independent nations spread around globe. 

He was raring to go and the going was pretty damn good from all accounts. He had managed the trickiest part in the immediate aftermath of his mother’s death with dignified assurance. Then there were all the coronation preparations for a medieval ceremony that hadn’t been seen in three-quarters of a century. He pulled that off brilliantly, too. He had started the traditional round of welcoming foreign heads of state and making state visits with spectacular aplomb, none more impressive than the state visit to Germany, where he wowed all the members of the parliamentary Bundestag with his excellent command of German (to be repeated a few months later in France with his excellent command of French).

All the “dangerous tendencies” the naysayers and republican anti-monarchists had been relentlessly warning us about – from “wacky” special causes like alternative medicine to a worrying perception he would go beyond the carefully prescribed boundaries that hedge all constitutional monarchies – utterly failed to happen. Anyone who had followed his life as Prince of Wales – the longest-surviving Prince of Wales in history – knew none of the dire predictions would come true. Some observers even likened it to the transformation of Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s Henry V from a careless roustabout into the sober and convincing monarch he was destined to be.

Except not, of course: Prince Hal was hardly out of his teens when he had to put on the crown, along with the mantle of adulthood. Charles, on the other hand, has had to deal with the irritating immaturity of another Prince Hal, his younger son Prince Harry, who has been testing previously unknown territory in royal exposure, patience and endurance. But, like his mother, Charles has learned to take the long view. He knows all families go through periods of dysfunction, although not all families have microphones taking it all in and cameras at every conceivable peephole. And still this gallant king of ours soldiers on. He knew he had already taken his best shot at championing the causes he believed in before he took the throne, and once he became king he was going to have to enfold himself quickly in constitutional propriety.

He was always aware of the constraints that would be put on him once Queen Elizabeth died. I only once heard him sound slightly irritated when a television journalist asked if he was prepared to abide by constitutional restrictions once he was king. There was such a look on his face, a combination of deep, almost solicitous, concern for the ignorance of the journalist and the frustration he must feel when this sort of thing is thrown in his face. “I’m not that stupid,” he said, with a wan but not unsympathetic smile.

King Charles
His Majesty King Charles III, in another portrait from the 2013 sitting while still Prince of Wales, at the Queen’s beloved Balmoral estate in Scotland, where she died nine years later. Photo: Nadav Kander/Trunk Archive


He has been so underestimated, this new king of ours, for so many years. I love directing doubtful souls to an old YouTube link from Australia of the 1994 royal tour where a credible assassination attempt looked to be unfolding. You have to watch it for yourself to see how dramatic it was, how cool this royal target was from beginning to end and how, even afterward, he kept his droll sense of humour. Courage is just one part of a very special leadership identikit that has been maturing all these years, and now that his moment has come and he is off to a roaring start, comes the cancer news. I expect he’ll handle that well, too.

And when he does beat back the cancer and continues the reign for however long that reign is destined to be, he will be just as busy as he was in the lead-up to his medical woes, and that includes making good on a “homecoming” to Canada, which has long been promised, but delayed once again thanks to this diagnosis. He and Queen Camilla were slated to come here in the early summer, so we will have to wait a little longer for his 20th reunion with Canadians.

It’s not a free ride in Canada for this particular king, by the way. There are substantive issues that will test his forbearance and wisdom. A lot of it has to do with the age we live in and the current zeitgeist. Although there is no more British Empire, there is the residue of colonial aftereffects, none more problematic than slavery. Charles has already given evidence he is not frightened to take on that issue and has already given permission for historians to have access to relevant documents in royal archives. He cannot solve the problem of reparations – that is for governments to settle – but he can demonstrate, through his actions and statements, that countries and institutions like the Crown can evolve in positive ways.

In Canada, the Crown plays a special role in the matter of Indigenous rights through a series of treaty obligations that go way back. It is not something the King can directly solve because, as a constitutional monarch, he cannot act on his own, but he can acknowledge the historic ties between the Crown and the Indigenous nations of Canada, and in recognizing them, evoke something now identified as “the honour of the Crown.” As King of Canada, Charles has the pledged responsibility for upholding all treaty agreements between Indigenous nations and whatever governing Canadian administration undertook to honour them – either before or after Confederation in 1867. It irritates republican-minded Canadians that the Sovereign should have any say in this almighty issue that confronts Canadians on an almost daily basis, but the happy fact is the Crown – in the person of the King or the vice-regal legatees who act in his name – is the best and safest intermediary to bridge the different sides. Once again, this is a matter where taking the long view is crucial: By acknowledging mutual respect and recognition of obligations by the Crown on behalf of the Canadian people, there are huge opportunities in store for this country’s future.

King Charles Cover
King Charles on the April/May cover of Zoomer magazine. Photo: Nadav Kander/Trunk Archive


On this issue alone, then, Canadians can be grateful Charles has such a long history of advocating that we listen to Indigenous voices to help us live in equitable harmony. It used to be thought of as one of his weird or loony causes, and now it looks not just visionary, but a safe and honourable way to mediate and ultimately heal the differences that still divide Canada.

Collectively, therefore, we all have to say “God save this particular King,” because he has an important role in this country’s future. To want him back in good health and visiting his Canadian realm is to want him to make good on the promise that has always been implicit in his life of service: to bring all our people together, to protect our land from despoliation and to safeguard our democracy. No one person can do these things alone, but one person adroitly placed and trusted can represent our best interests and our better natures. 

A version of this article appeared in the April/May 2024 issue with the headline ‘Send Him Victorious’, p. 44.