mccrum on books

In Robert Hardman’s biography, Charles III is like a vintage Rolls-Royce being serviced for a Formula One grand prix

No amount of royal protocol can disguise it: Charles has inherited the throne in an era when the monarchy is at risk of being outpaced by modern life. But a new biography of his first year in the job is well oiled with discretion and approaches the future with caution, writes Robert McCrum

Thursday 18 January 2024 06:00
<p>King Charles III is crowned during his coronation on 6 May last year </p>

King Charles III is crowned during his coronation on 6 May last year

For 70-something frustrating years, he was Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor, our longest monarch-in-waiting. About a year ago, according to the “inside story” of this “new court”, His Royal Highness faced a choice. He could have put the curse of I (the Martyr) and II (the Merry Monarch) behind him, ducked the role of III, and become “King George VII”, after his grandfather. But when his staff, following “regnal” custom, asked the big question, they got the expected answer. He’d be no better, he’d be just the same: Charles. In the immortal words of the American baseball legend Yogi Berra, it was “deja vu all over again.”

A trove of royal trivia, this souvenir volume celebrates the first year of this “new reign”. Intentionally or not, titbits about the Gold Stick, the Anointing Screen, or the Sword of Offering promote a picture of the Monty Python world surrounding a thousand-year British institution. Some readers indeed might be tempted to wonder: if George not Charles, then why not Eric, Nigel, Fred, (or even Brian)?

Such speculations are alien to the mind of Robert Hardman. A Clarence House fixture and a Daily Mail journalist, having specialised in this esoteric subject for “more than 25 years”, Hardman is unsurprisingly convinced that he’s the man for the job. This is “not an authorized portrait”, he tells us, but “an authoritative one”. Well, up to a point, your royal highness.

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