King Charles III: Memorable quotes from his decades as an outspoken royal

Yui Mok/Pool via REUTERS
Britain’s King Charles speaks with Lionel Richie and Lisa Parigi during a Garden Party, in celebration of King Charles’ coronation, at Buckingham Palace, London, Britain. Picture date: Wednesday May 3, 2023.

LONDON – The British monarch is supposed to stay out of politics. But the heir to the throne has more latitude to say what’s on his mind. And Charles did.

In the decades before he ascended to the throne, in speeches, letters, interviews, documentaries and books, Charles shared his thoughts on everything from salmon fishing to architecture to religion to the Iraq War.

“Giving me a pulpit, or a lectern, to occupy could be a hazardous move,” he once said in a speech at the London Press Club.

Here are some of his most memorable remarks, for which he has been at turns been mocked, celebrated and accused of meddling.

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On Wales

One of Charles’s first big public speaking moments was at his investiture as Prince of Wales in 1969, when he was 20 years old. Some 4,000 guests at Caernarfon Castle and hundreds of millions of television viewers around the world watched him kneel before his mother and pledge allegiance to the queen. And then, when it was his turn to stand before the microphone, he spoke in Welsh:

“It is with a certain sense of pride and emotion that I have received these symbols of office, here in this magnificent fortress, where no one could fail to be stirred by its atmosphere of timeworn grandeur, nor where I myself could be unaware of the long history of Wales in its determination to remain individual and to guard its own particular heritage.”

As prep, Charles had been sent to study Welsh history, culture and language at University College of Wales in Aberystwyth. The idea was that the ceremony could be a chance to demonstrate good will at a time of growing Welsh nationalist sentiment.

But later that month, the Welsh secretary, George Thomas, expressed concern to Prime Minister Harold Wilson that Charles had become overly indoctrinated.

“In my presence in Cardiff he referred to the ‘cultural and political awakening in Wales’. This is most useful for the nationalists,” Thomas wrote. “If the prince is writing his own speeches he may well be tempted to go further. The enthusiasm of youth is a marvelous spur, but it may lead to speeches that cause difficulty.”

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On the environment and climate change

By the fall of the year of his investiture, Charles was voicing concern about what people were doing to the planet – an issue that would become an animating lifelong passion.

He wrote to the prime minister in September 1969 that modern fishing methods were decimating Atlantic salmon stocks: “People are notoriously short-sighted when it comes to questions of wildlife and several species have been wiped out because no one has woken up in time to the danger. When you come up here next weekend, I shall attack you on the subject again!”

In 1970, he gave his first major speech on the environment, warning: “We are faced at this moment with the horrifying effects of pollution in all its cancerous forms.”

Charles developed a reputation as a plant-talking oddball after a 1986 interview about gardening, in which he said: “I just come and talk to the plants, really – very important to talk to them. They respond.”

But subsequent research has suggested that maybe he was on to something. And, over the years, he has come to be recognized as a visionary on climate issues, regularly celebrated as a featured speaker at international climate conferences.

He referred to climate-change deniers as “the headless chicken brigade” in a 2014 speech, adding: “Perhaps it has been too uncomfortable for those with vested interests to acknowledge, but we have spent the best part of the past century enthusiastically testing the world to utter destruction; not looking closely enough at the long-term impact our actions will have.”

But he is not all despair. “Just as mankind had the power to push the world to the brink so, too, do we have the power to bring it back into balance,” he once said.

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On religion

Charles is a regular churchgoer, but he is known to be more spiritual than religious. In a 1994 documentary, he was asked about the coronation oath that would one day require him to vow to be “Defender of the Faith” and protect the established Church of England. He replied that he was more a “defender of faith” than “the faith.”

He questioned the impulse to prioritize one particular interpretation. “People have fought each other to the death over these things,” he said, “which seems to me a peculiar waste of people’s energy, when we’re all actually aiming for the same ultimate goal.” Instead, he said, he preferred to embrace all religious traditions and “the pattern of the divine, which is, I think, in all of us.”

When presented with the question again more than two decades later, he clarified his remarks, saying: “It’s always seemed to me that, while at the same time being Defender of the Faith, you can also be protector of faiths.”

That is essentially how he will thread the needle at his coronation on Saturday. He will take the traditional oath (which requires an act of Parliament for significant changes to be made). But the Archbishop of Canterbury will preface it with a passage about religious freedom. And later in the service Charles will say a personal prayer, asking God to “grant that I may be a blessing to all thy children, of every faith and conviction.”

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On architecture

Charles has long been at war with modern architecture. In his 1989 manifesto “A Vision for Britain,” he railed against the postwar brutalist concrete bunkers being built in Britain, these “Frankenstein monsters, devoid of character, alien and largely unloved.”

He called a proposed addition to London’s National Gallery a “monstrous carbuncle” and insulted a planned Ludwig Mies van der Rohe skyscraper as a “glass stump.” (Neither project got built.)

On one occasion, he even accused modern architects of being more destructive to London’s skyline than Germany’s wartime bomber jets. “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe,” he said. “When it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.”

And what does he propose instead? Charles laid out 10 principles for architecture in a 2014 essay in the Architectural Review.

“We have to work out now how we will create resilient, truly sustainable and human-scale urban environments that are land-efficient, use low-carbon materials and do not depend so completely upon the car,” he wrote. “However, for these places to enhance the quality of people’s lives and strengthen the bonds of community, we have to reconnect with those traditional approaches and techniques honed over thousands of years which, only in the 20th century, were seen as ‘old-fashioned’ and of no use in a progressive modern age.”

Those principles can be seen in practice in Poundbury, the town Charles built in southern England.

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On his role as king

“My life will of course change as I take up my new responsibilities,” Charles said in his first public address as sovereign last year after the death of his mother. “It will no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply.”

Asked in a 2018 BBC documentary if he’d continue to meddle in affairs he’s passionate about once he became king, he replied that he preferred to see it as “motivating” rather than “meddling.”

He added, “I’m not that stupid, I do realize that it is a separate exercise, being sovereign.”

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The Washington Post’s William Booth contributed to this report.