King Charles oscillates between tradition and political accents

The new King of England continued the tradition of royal speeches on Christmas Day. He signaled his close connection to Queen Elizabeth, but did not let himself be taken away from words that were to be interpreted politically.

King Charles delivers his first Christmas speech at Queen Elizabeth’s final resting place.

Victoria Jones/AP

King Charles walks confidently between tradition and personal concerns. In his first Christmas speech, he touched on a number of classic favorite themes that his mother had repeatedly raised at the occasion: he appealed to the sense of community in the nation, invoked the cohesion of the Commonwealth and professed the Christian faith. He also emphatically included members of other religions and non-denominational people in his Christmas greetings. As the late Queen regularly did, he reminded those who find Christmas difficult because of the loss of loved ones. But the new king also set his own surprisingly critical accents.

Unlike Elizabeth II, he did not limit himself to statements about what was generally human. He named those affected by wars, famines and natural disasters “in this time of great fear and hardship”. When he spoke of people looking for ways to pay their bills, heat and support their families, it had a lot to do with the realities of life for an increasing part of the British population. Charles singled out all the volunteers who helped in crisis situations and praised their selfless dedication. With words of appreciation to the donors of food, he indirectly referred to the importance of the food banks, the non-profit food aid for the growing number of socially disadvantaged people.

Clear indications of the social situation

In his thanks, he praised the workers in the health system, which is currently repeatedly on strike, as well as social workers, teachers and “all those who work in the public sector”. These remarks were immediately read as a thinly veiled assessment of the government’s unwillingness to give in to the strikers’ wage demands.

The tone was not only more critical, but also more empathetic than that of the strictly formal mother. It can be assumed that the opinionated Charles wrote the speech himself, as did Elizabeth II. The greeting address on Christmas Day, which begins with the national anthem, is one of the rare opportunities for the people to hear the king or queen in their own words.

That was not always so. King George V, who started the tradition in 1932, then still via radio, had hired writer Rudyard Kipling to ghostwrite. The difficulties that the radio speeches caused his successor, the slightly stuttering George VI, were sympathetically immortalized in the 2010 movie «The King’s Speech». When his daughter Queen Elizabeth first addressed a television audience in 1957, she seemed amazed at the magical power of the new medium. In the years that followed, the ever reliable established new standards.

The Queen kept the tradition alive

She was seen in one of her castles, sometimes standing, eventually more often sitting, often at a desk surrounded by changing arrangements of family photos. Who could be seen on it indicated the respective preferences – Harry and Meghan recently appeared in none of the silver frames in front of the royal Christmas tree. A Christmas tree often shimmered in the background. The one, apparently non-negotiable accessory that accompanied her from her first speech in 1957 to her last in 2021 was a three-strand pearl necklace that she wore around her neck.

The Queen’s Christmas speeches resembled small sermons with advertising character for the monarchy. The approximately seven-minute speeches – Charles also adhered to this format – provided them with simple wisdom and maxims. Just like in her final speech last December, where she, very thin but defiantly dressed in red, remembered her husband, who died that year: “Life consists of last farewells and first encounters.” On another occasion she had said: “When life is hard, those who have courage don’t just lie down and accept defeat.”

Not a word about the Netflix case

England had been eagerly awaiting the first Christmas address from its new king: a welcome distraction amid strikes, austerity and cold spells for traditionalists who identify with their monarchy, and another nuisance for those opposed to the royals. Already in the days before Christmas there was speculation about how and what. Would Charles III respond to his son and his wife’s Netflix series?

In fact, the king did not mention the son living in America and his enterprising wife, but his brother Prince William and his wife Catherine did. As expected, Charles remembered his deceased parents. He delivered the speech in the Chapel of St. George, where the Queen and Prince Philip are buried, close to their graves. This is probably an indication of how much he places himself in their tradition. But as his speech showed, he also has his own ideas.

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