Could Prince Charles abdicate? Far-fetched but maybe not.
No doubt you've heard that a British Court has decided that Prince Charles was a material factor in the demise of Lord Rogers' plan for Chelsea Barrack in London. (Prince Charles's role in Chelsea barrack planning row 'unwelcome' and Qatari Diar breached Chelsea barracks contract, court rules)
Here's some on his past activism: Chelsea barracks trial shines light on Prince Charles's interference
The royal household insists that Charles would become far less involved in his causes if and when he becomes king, but there have been suggestions this may not be the case. In late 2008, after the prince's 60th birthday, it was reported that aides at Clarence House and Buckingham Palace have begun informally considering a redefinition of the sovereign's role to "allow King Charles III to speak out on matters of national and international importance in ways that at the moment would be unthinkable". The claim was made by Jonathan Dimbleby, a long-time friend and the prince's biographer, but Clarence House insisted no plans were being made for the prince's accession.
I can't imagine that Dimbleby is likely to be correct i.e. that the body politic will allow an activist King.
But Dimbleby does affirm my sense that it will be very difficult for Prince Charles to not "fight the good fight" of global sustainability etc etc Questions about the proper role for Prince Charles will continue to echo among even those who favor the monarchy. Questions about Charles may eventually lead to questions about the whole institution of the monarchy.
So where does that leave Prince Charles? I surmise (just musing) that the eventual fallout from this trial will be to ask Charles — by his own family and the political establishment — to stand down and shut up. My sense is that Charles is absolutely sincere in his beliefs. My sense (remember I an American in Seattle so what do I know about British politics?) is also that Charles as an activist King would be a non-starter. No party could be sure of his support and all parties will agree that he is too much of a threat.
So his obvious path is to be a quiet King, smiling and saying nothing. But for better or worse (most for better as I like much but not all of what he says about the built environment) I can't see Charles silencing himself. The interwoven complex of issues which concern him (and many others) are just too important — built environment, cities, food, global sustainability. He is very much for real.
Could abdication be another path for Charles? Announce now that he will leave the job (when it happens and of course that could be 15-20 years away) to his son. Put aside the monarchy immediately to free himself from the political restrictions of being King-in-waiting. As to practical, political effectiveness, the man who "gave up the Crown for his environmental beliefs" would give Prince Charles a global bully pulpit even more immense than he already has , (if he can only parse some of the issues a bit more precisely.*)
So my money is on abdication. He cares about his real work (sustainability and the built environment) and I don't believe that he will be able (more cheers to him) to settle down as the Silent Smiling Prince.
* As to "parsing the issues," there are two and completely separate issues:
1. Did Lord Rogers' design offer good (i.e. walkable) urban form?
2. Did Prince Charles intervene inappropriately? from a constitutional perspective?
One can detest Rogers' plans and still acknowledge that Charles manner of taking part in the decision-making process may have been inappropriate. Personally I don't know enough to suggest one way or another about the constitutional issues, but one should remember that the English had a rough time in establishing the proper role for monarchs in he 17th century and that speaking out of turn is still a big deal in this world — witness General McCrystal.
Charles has also caused himself undue problems of intellectual substance by not separating traditional architecture from traditional urban form. They are two distinct matters and the issues are conflated to nobody's benefit, least of all Prince Charles' effectiveness. Too many react viscerally from the idea that London must be a classical city and yet many of those same people also favor walkable urbanism.
Had anyone of a number of people — Lord Rogers, the Prince, the Candy's, the Qataris — had presence of mind to split the difference, there might have been no lawsuit. What I mean is that the essential problem to vast majority of people was that Lord Rogers' plan was not so much as modernist building facade as modernist, suburban, street-separating urban form. Had Rogers been able to imagine a traditional Georgian neighborhood but using a modernist vocabulary of building elements — more glass, harder edges — he would have been able to create a traditional walkable urbanism using modern hard-edge style. Some say that would have been impossible but I suggest that it's quite wrong. I've just been visiting the Olympic Village in Vancouver BC and it offers a fine example of how to real walkable urbanism with nary a Doric column in site. "Splitting the difference" could have allowed (and still could) to offer the architectural form which the Cnady's and Lord Rogers seem to desire along with Prince Charles' (and he is correct in substance) that Chelsea Barrack must fit into traditional walkable London.
I wish all well. Chelsea Barracks has been a needless, pointless argument. We could have both walkable urbanism within the vocabulary of modernist architecture; there was then and even more so now room for fruitful compromise. And I especially wish Prince Charles well as his voice for sensible walkable urbanism is very much needed and I hope that it will not be stilled. So the question for me, as a committed urbanist, is not merely Could Prince Charles abdicate? but Should Prince Charles abdicate?
A further note on cheek. Does an American have any right to even opine on such a matter? Well I think so and for two reasons:
1. The British Royal Family — like the Dallas Cowboys' "America's Team" — is the "Globe's Monarchy." People all over the world, or at least the USA, watch the Royals like they watch an on-going TV serial. The death and funeral of Princess Diana kept us spellbound and moved — even a remarkable number of bright-blue liberals, FWIW.
2. For all the mistakes that Prince Charles makes by his over-emphasis on traditional architecture, he is doing far far more correctly about the importance of the built environment more generally and walkable urbanism in particular. So I have a personal stake in seeing someone who says the right things and saying them loudly and effectively. I fear that constitutional disputes over Prince Charles' role as future King will become a sideshow and divert him from, frankly, his more important work of global sustainability, walkable urbanism etc etc. Can he be an activist King? I doubt it.
A few more notes:
1. I don't make light of the idea of abdication and I treat it with respect and sympathy. Prince Charles has been brought up for six decades that he has a responsibility to be King. I am sure that it must be a terrible conundrum for him — his whole being is trained for a task and now to contemplate being silenced (when there is so much to be said and done) if he fulfills his responsibility.
2. I am not proposing that there will be any rapid action. It may be a matter of years as the weight bears on him and as he is 'encouraged' to be silent.
UPDATE: My article at Planetizen Let Charles be Charles. Covers more-or-less the same ground.