The news, when it came, was as stark as anyone could have imagined. As a Buckingham Palace statement observed: “During the King’s recent hospital procedure for benign prostate enlargement, a separate issue of concern was noted.” And then the line that cannot fail to produce a gulp of empathy. “Subsequent diagnostic tests have identified a form of cancer.”
There had been rumors of ill health ever since Charles III went into hospital last month, but there are always rumors concerning the health of the British royal family, most of which are little more than tittle-tattle. The recent discussion as to what is wrong with the Princess of Wales has been particularly unedifying in this regard.
Yet there is obviously something seriously wrong with the King, hence the gravity of Monday’s announcement. The statement went on to confirm that he will be beginning treatment and stepping back from all of his public duties, although there is no question of his abandoning the role altogether, even temporarily. Instead, it has been made clear that “throughout this period, His Majesty will continue to undertake State business and official paperwork as usual.” However, it has not been made clear as to what kind of cancer the monarch is suffering from, although it has been specified that it isn’t prostate-related.
There have been rumors of ill health swirling around Charles for some time
Then, after the usual boilerplate material about the King feeling positive and hoping to return to his public duties soon, the statement concludes by saying that “His Majesty has chosen to share his diagnosis to prevent speculation and in the hope it may assist public understanding for all those around the world who are affected by cancer.” It is likely that there will now be some speculation that the King may have suspected that something else was wrong when he went into the London Clinic recently for the prostate operation that led to the first headlines about his health. Those around him will find themselves in an unenviable position. Offer too little information and the rumor mill will swirl uncontrollably; offer too much, and it runs the risk of infringing the King’s privacy, as well, inevitably, as attracting vast amounts of public concern.
The monarch’s citizens will, of course, wish him well at this worrying time, and we can only hope that he makes a swift recovery from his illness. Certainly, the relatively transparent way in which the news of his health issues has been presented suggests that Buckingham Palace is now operating in a very different way to how it has done in the past, when George VI suffered from cancer without even knowing that he was ill with it (various euphemisms were used instead, to avoid worrying him unduly) and the final decline in Elizabeth II’s health was managed with great care, right up until the absolute end.
Yet it also is an inevitable concern that the monarch suffers from this affliction. Charles was not even crowned a year ago, and is still very much finding his feet as king, at a time where his family’s actions continue to excite public debate both at home and internationally. There have been rumors of ill health swirling around Charles for some time, albeit rooted in little more than gossip and innuendo, but the revelation of his cancer has meant that there will now be far greater basis for such discussions. For his sake as a human being, and for the existential future of the institution of the monarchy, it is devoutly to be wished that this health issue can be dealt with quickly and definitively, so that this latest, worrying, development does not become one that defines the contemporary British royal family over the coming years.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.