Soon, perhaps sooner than you think, Britain is due a change in monarch. That much is simple biology. What will follow, though, is far from scientific. Elizabeth II, who has sat on the throne for over 60 years, will die and arcane rules will determine that her son, Prince Charles, should succeed her and become king. Aside from complaints about the anachronistic, hereditary manner through which royal power is passed on, there are many reasons to be anxious about King Charles III’s ascension the throne.
The first and most obvious of these objections is Charles’ own nature. He is not a traditionalist, unlike his mother. Simply existing in silence and ceremony is not his style. Charles has pushed the impression that he will be an interventionist, keenly interfering in the affairs of the elected government of the nation he will rule. To some extent he has already done it, and in no small way. And this intervention is hardly benign. Anyone invested with a great deal of political status on an accident of birth is vulnerable to conceit and self-importance, and Charles exhibits these far from desirable traits in abundance. Some of his enthusiasms make for unhappy reading.
He writes a lot of letters. Some of them (popularly dubbed “black spider memos” due to the shape of the Prince’s scrawled handwriting), which were sent between Charles and Ministers of State throughout the terms of several governments, concern relatively minor things. In 1969 he apparently sent a note to Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister, about his concerns regarding Atlantic salmon.
Other examples of this trait are less absurd and parochial. Some are worrying to behold. Charles and Secretary for Health Jeremy Hunt, no less, have a shared interest in the pseudoscientific promotion of homeopathy. And the Prince once went on the record to suggest that horticulturalists ought to speak encouragingly to plants in order to ensure their growth.
In addition, it must be noted that the letters themselves, while amusing snippets have occasionally been leaked to the press, and two tranches of the documents have been released, remain largely embargoed; and the government has fought a gargantuan legal battle in the Supreme Court to keep them private. This action is not just interfering; it is entirely illiberal. Information, as the cliché has it, is power, and it seems as if the Prince and successive governments are attempting to limit the supply of adverse attention and therefore stifle potential sources of criticism. (Such loyalty runs deep. One of Charles’ advisors, Kristina Kyriacou, recently ripped the cover off of the respected journalist Michael Crick’s microphone when he attempted to pose an awkward question. This is the sort of behaviour only royalty and its flatterers are allowed to exhibit.)
At this point a non-British reader might be tempted to lose interest. Sure, Charles may be eccentric, meddling and even downright damaging, but his direct influence, it appears, only extends over one or two countries.
If only that were true. The truth is that Charles exerts a worrying degree of interest and involvement over matters of international importance. He has been a vocal critic of legitimate scientific inquiry, especially avenues which contradict or come into conflict with his pet projects. Edzard Ernst, a world-leading authority on the study of so-called ‘alternative’ medicine, has alleged that he was forced out of his research post at Exeter University after an investigation instigated by the Prince’s private secretary. He criticised the practices of non-scientific therapists, some of which included methods or substances endorsed by Charles. That was that; he was effectively compelled to leave his position at the head of a unique and vital research unit. The unit then dwindled, and its output fell. Such activity must have international repercussions.
Those letters that have been released between Charles and members of the government have showcased another particular enthusiasm: ‘alternative medicines’, such as the scientifically bankrupt promotion of homeopathy. The Prince has lobbied successive heath ministers and even the Prime Minister in pursuit of this absurd objective, and he has received sycophantic replies from them all.
Another royal brainwave which could cause turmoil worldwide is Charles’ loathing for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which he dismissed in a 2010 speech as an ‘absolute disaster’. This is the sort of conversation which should be left to those who have insight into the matters at hand; but even leaving that aside, Charles’ opinions could cause a disaster of their own. For many scientists, the further development of GMOs are seen as one of the few ways by which we can continue to feed an ever expanding human population. Were Charles on the throne when he expressed those views, I doubt it would have been easy for research scientists – many of whom are subsidised, directly or indirectly, by the state – simply to shrug them off and get on with their vital work.
Prince Charles is dangerously anti-scientific in public on a disturbingly regular basis. In a speech delivered in 2004 Charles mentioned that someone he knew had survived cancer by adhering to a particular diet. This regimen involved daily coffee enemas. Needless to say, it was not a rigorous or scientifically tested hypothesis, and nor did it actually cure cancer. But still the Prince said it; he still broadcast his ill-informed opinions to the masses. This is worse than his being simply ignorant or stupid, unfortunate though both situations are. This is actively harmful.
Professor Michael Baum, a cancer surgeon of some repute, responded to this quackery in a fashion which merits quoting at length. He wrote:
The power of my authority comes with knowledge built on 40 years of study and 25 years of active involvement in cancer research. Your power and authority rest on an accident of birth. I don’t begrudge you that authority but I do beg you to exercise your power with extreme caution when advising patients with life-threatening diseases to embrace unproven therapies.
Those words speak for themselves, but they also require a brief postscript. As soon as this fair and measured rebuke was delivered, Charles’ press people leapt into action, defending him from any and all criticism. They also connived, further attempting to promote his insidious agenda. Rather than undermining science, they simpered, Charles was ‘simply reflecting the wishes of 80% of cancer patients who wish to use alternative treatments alongside conventional treatments’. When a hereditary princeling is defended from the full force of scientific fact by a gaggle of sycophantic advisors, I don’t think much must be done to demonstrate the absurdity of the situation. But it is more than absurd; it is also profoundly immoral.
On the subject of morality, Charles has some odd ideas encompassing that area, too. For him science itself, and the pursuit of scientific inquiry, have created a ‘moral and spiritual vacuum’ in Europe. Other royal views can be simply ignored. This one cannot, not least because it comes from the same basic impulse as those who say that Europe and North America need a new, stronger Christian direction – or indeed from those who wish to turn the secular and decadent West into an outpost of the resurgent caliphate. It is the same notion, the same idea; and it must be combated and denounced for the thing it is: sinister nonsense.
Some suggest that having as outdated a system of governance as monarchy can have its advantages. Royalist elements within the British media – and there are many – say with a knowing wink that the heir to the throne has ‘influence’ with his oil-rich opposite numbers in the Gulf states. What form this influence takes is never stated. Whether he should be associating with the widespread exporters of Jihad at all is never questioned. Instead, it is suggested that this influence might be useful in intervening in high-profile human rights cases, such as that of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who has been convicted of blasphemy and flogged by the Saudi kleptocracy.
Moral issues aside – and there are many, not least concerning the use of Prince Charles as an unofficial arms envoy, charged with selling as many instruments of death to some of the most repressive regimes in the world as he can – there is also a question to be asked about de facto endorsement. Prince Charles may well bring up the fate of poor Mr Badawi when he next sits down for dinner with the King of Saudi Arabia, but will he have time both to make that case and to remonstrate about the treatment of women in the desert kingdom? I doubt it. In dealing with some of the nastiest regimes in the world, and especially when sharing their dinner tables, one cannot hope to remain entirely spotless in the light of day.
Prince Charles has occupied his extended period in the ante-room of monarchy with prying and scheming on every level. This trait, one which appears to be a permanent feature of the Prince’s character, cannot be expected to evaporate upon his inevitable accession to the throne. He will not simply return to his proper position, especially having transgressed on constitutional convention so readily in the past. And his interventions matter, not just for British and Commonwealth subjects, but for the whole world. To have at the top diplomatic tables a man who endorses pseudoscience and encourages chatting to horticulture, who bullies scientists out of research positions, and who has a far too cosy relationship with Gulf state royalty is simply more than I – and I hope many others – can bear.
A version of this article was first published in the August/September edition of Free Inquiry magazine.