Comparing Putin to Hitler? The real problem for Prince Charles is that we all expect him to stay as silent as his mother

His male ancestry long favoured bellicose rantings


Back in December 2013, the Queen gave out some sound, if forgettable, advice during her annual broadcast to the nation.  “Many have found the process of quiet personal reflection surprisingly rewarding,” she said, before encouraging the nation to use the Christmas period as a moment to pause, take stock, meditate, reflect.  As a statement, it was characteristically Elizabeth II-ish: anodyne and inoffensive, in effect exhorting viewers to use the time given to them at Christmas to do, well, nothing instead of something – to think rather than to act.

As he has proved time and time again, Elizabeth’s son Charles is both a thinker and an actor. He showed his commitment to thinking in 2013 when, on a tour of India, he asked a Buddhist monk for tips on the mechanics of meditation.  In the same year, however, the future King showed he was also a capable man-of-action. Myriad newspaper reports claimed he had met privately with cabinet members a number of times since 2010 –even, allegedly, to lobby the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in favour of homeopathy.

And now the Prince has inadvertently made public his thoughts on recent events in southern and eastern Ukraine. Speaking to a Polish war refugee in Nova Scotia, Charles likened Hitler’s actions in the 30s and 40s to Putin’s invasive presence in Eastern Europe today.

It’s hardly a novel thought – Hillary Clinton made the comparison back in March – but one that has been greeted with grave disapproval. Shut up or abdicate was the message this morning from Labour MP Mike Gapes, while Russian newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets (MK) said the comment “risks triggering… international scandals and complicating the already not unclouded relationship between Britain and Russia”.

Strong stuff, but shouldn’t Royals be allowed to conduct private conversations that touch on topical issues? Of course, says Nick Clegg, interviewed by the BBC this morning – monarchs have opinions like anyone else and shouldn’t feel ashamed to express themselves off the record.

The real problem for Charles, however, is that such a supine and placid monarch precedes him. Doubtless, the opinions of the Royals were put under less scrutiny 100 years ago (Edward VII’s reign in the early 20th Century saw the King heavily involved in discussions of foreign policy and reform of the army and navy). But nowadays, however, the Queen has made it a gold standard of English monarchs to be seen and not heard.

That is because Elizabeth II is the last of the silent celebrities. Whether embossed on the face of a coin, waving gently from a balcony, or badly represented in a Rolf Harris portrait (now conveniently missing), we understand the Queen in mute, abstracted terms. Like her Christmas speeches, the woman herself has become a cypher, a blank – a concept of neutrality rather than a figure of agency. Will Self, reviewing a collection of Elizabeth II portraits in 2012, described Her Majesty as “sublimely inscrutable”; while finding the pictures in the exhibition devoid of meaning because none were able to get a sense of their elusive subject.

Now, as we enter into an Age of Kings – Charles, William, George – the Prince of Wales faces a decision. As he begins taking on more of 88-year-old Elizabeth’s duties, will Charles begin watching his mouth as carefully as his mother has done? Or will he go the way of his male ancestry and start speaking up on behalf of naval reform, defence spending and foreign intervention?

Ready the armour and sound the battle horn. I predict war, homeopathy and hubris ahead.

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