As I’ve learned from watching The Crown—like you, I was desperate for some sense of tradition and safety following the devastation of the presidential election—the British Royal Family’s position in matters political, religious, or even moral, is one of scrupulous neutrality.
One might think, for example, that it might be time for an increasingly impaired Winston Churchill to step down as Prime Minister, to let the snide but seemingly no less unhealthy Anthony Eden take over; or that Princess Margaret should go ahead and marry the much older and divorced man with whom she is unreasonably obsessed; or that something should really be done about the poisonous fog that is killing hundreds of Londoners. But to say so would be the height of rudeness, and cause a potential constitutional crisis. Better to say nothing, retain one’s sphinx-like sense of impartiality, and thus leave the white glove curled around the scepter unstained with the grease spatters of the real world.
But all that may be changing. Prince Charles, who may still be king one day if he can make it into his nineties, has come down on the side of the angels. In a statement on BBC Radio 4’s religious Thought of the Day segment, the prince inveighed vehemently against the kind of thought fueling the rise of so-called “populist” movement across Europe and the United States: “We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive to those who adhere to a minority faith. All of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s…My parents’ generation fought and died in a battle against intolerance, monstrous extremism and inhuman attempts to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe.”
Prince Charles, it seems, is determined to look things in the face and call them by their correct names. And while his language may seem relatively mild given the threats the world is facing, for a member of the Royal Family—many of whom, let’s not forget, have held some views on religious and racial minorities that were questionable to say the least, if not exactly aberrant for their time— this is basically the equivalent of someone screaming profanities in the street.
But Charles has always been a thoughtful man ahead of his time. Remember the ridicule he once faced for his devotion to organic farming, or his supposedly tone deaf declaration that as King, he’d like to think of himself as “Defender of Faith,” as opposed to “Defender of the Faith,” thus asserting his commitment to securing the rights of all religions to worship as they pleased? The former looks prescient, and the latter, essential. I’ve thought over the last month or so that that the moment we’re in will require, and indeed, will produce some unlikely heroes, people who needed the right moment to display the courage and integrity the world never knew was there. Might Prince Charles be the first of many? Time—if we have it—will tell.