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King Charles and his 'special relationship' with the United States

LONDON — Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II last week, her son, Prince Charles, ascended to the throne, becoming King Charles III. During 70 long years, the queen navigated the monarchy through decades of social change and the decline of the British Empire.

The queen was popular with the American public: She hosted 10 presidents in the United Kingdom and visited dozens of cities in the United States during her reign. Her rule helped strengthen what has been referred to as the U.K.’s “special relationship” with the U.S. Now, King Charles is expected to maintain bilateral cooperation.

As countries of the commonwealth won independence after centuries of colonization from those who held the throne previously, the second Elizabethan era marked a unique and special relationship with the U.S. The late queen met with 13 sitting presidents during her time as monarch; in 1951, as princess, she was introduced to then-President Harry Truman.

Princess Elizabeth with President Harry Truman in 1951
Princess Elizabeth with President Harry Truman in 1951. (NARA)

More recently, in 2021, she hosted President Biden and first lady Jill Biden at Windsor Castle for tea. Following the queen’s passing, Biden said in a statement that “she was the first British monarch to whom people all around the world could feel a personal and immediate connection.”

In a YouGov poll from February, Queen Elizabeth was voted the most popular living member of the royal family among Americans, with 61% of the population having “favorable” views about her. But, the late Princess Diana topped the polls, with 38% of the U.S. adults having a “very favorable” opinion of her, with 64% overall favoring her.

Prince Charles, left, with Joe Biden
Prince Charles, left, greets President Biden before their meeting at the climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 2, 2021. (Jane Barlow/Pool via AP)

Prince Charles — now king — came in ninth, just after his lesser-known brother and the late queen’s youngest child, Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex. The poll even found that Americans at the time preferred to see Prince William take the throne ahead of his father Charles.

Politically, the U.K. has had a long-standing special rapport with the U.S. through what the embassy in London says “reflects the common language, ideals, and democratic practices of the two nations.”

Charles has had a long relationship with the U.S. and has visited the country on official tours more than 20 times. His first visit as Prince of Wales was to meet with President Richard Nixon in 1970, when Charles was just 21 years old. In his welcoming speech, Nixon noted that historically the Prince of Wales had visited the U.S. every 50 years — Charles would go on to change this, meeting 10 sitting presidents along the way.

President and Mrs. Nixon welcome Prince Charles and Princess Anne
President and Mrs. Nixon welcome Prince Charles and Princess Anne on the balcony of the South Portico of the White House, July 1970. (Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)

But the British monarchy had won over the American population in 1985, when Princess Diana joined Charles on a tour of the United States. A “royal fever” had spread throughout the country with the Los Angeles Times reporting that Washington, D.C., an “officially democratic capital,” had suddenly turned “mad about [the] monarchy.”

“Charles is a distant third in popularity in the states,” Matthew Schmidt, the director of international affairs at Connecticut’s University of New Haven, told Yahoo News. “His sons will outshine him, and when Americans talk about the House of Windsor they reference Harry and William as their mother’s sons.”

He added: “The American public is on Diana’s side, as it were, and that will always temper what he’s able to do here.”

President and Mrs. Reagan enjoy a chat with Prince Charles and Princess Diana
President and Nancy Reagan visit with Prince Charles and Princess Diana at the White House in 1985. (Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)

In the early years of the new millennium, Charles and his wife, Camilla — the Duchess of Cornwall now known as Queen Consort — embarked on their first royal tour as husband and wife. Shortly after their wedding in 2005, the pair visited the U.S. and met with then-President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, who hosted a reception for the royals at the White House.

Six years later in 2011, Charles met with former President Barack Obama, reportedly discussing environmental issues — a cause he campaigned for during his many years in the public spotlight. "President Obama warmly welcomed the Prince’s work over three decades on environmental issues, halting deforestation and encouraging sustainable food production,” read a White House statement at the time.

However, in his first address as monarch on Friday, Charles seemed to signal an end to his decades-long campaigning against climate change. Like his mother, Charles, as sovereign, would uphold the constitutional principles that stopped her from weighing in on what could be considered political issues.

President Barack Obama meets with Prince Charles at the White House, March 19, 2015
President Barack Obama meets with Prince Charles at the White House, March 19, 2015. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“My life will of course change as I take up my new responsibilities,” Charles said in the videotaped speech. “It will no longer be possible to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I cared so deeply, but I know this important work will go on in the trusted hands of others.”

Despite the former Prince of Wales being so outspoken on the threats caused by climate change, little has been done by the British Parliament to reverse global warming in recent years. More recently, after her recent appointment as prime minister, Liz Truss lifted a ban on hydraulic fracking and approved new gas and oil drilling in the North Sea.

So what will the future hold for King Charles and his relationship with the U.S.?

“Elizabeth will have ruled for decades longer, but Charles’s challenges may well be greater,” Schmidt told Yahoo News. “If Charles’s reign lasts till this century’s mid-mark, he’ll reign over a special relationship with the U.S. that will have to manage a postwar and post-Putin Russian nuclear power and a post-Xi China.”

Only time will tell.