Charles is breaking with royal tradition - is William now following in his footsteps?

BERLIN, GERMANY - MARCH 30: King Charles III speaks at the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, on March 30, 2023 in Berlin, Germany. The King and the Queen Consort's first state visit to Germany is taking place in Berlin, Brandenburg and Hamburg from Wednesday, March 29th, to Friday, March 31st, 2023. The King and Queen Consort's state visit to France, which was scheduled for March 26th - 29th, has been postponed due to ongoing mass strikes and protests. (
King Charles made a speech at the German parliament, making him the first British monarch to do so. (Getty Images)

King Charles's trip to Germany this week was his first state visit since becoming monarch and saw him address their Parliament on Thursday - making him the first British monarch to do so.

The visit was also notable for providing some further indication that his reign will be very different to that of his ever-popular late mother, Queen Elizabeth.

Where the late Queen strove to never get involved in politics and remain bound by her position of constitutional neutrality, Charles is showing himself to be willing to speak about some issues in a political manner.

Charles has already demonstrated in his first Christmas address and his message marking the one-year anniversary of the invasion Ukraine that he is both willing to touch on controversial topics and address geopolitics more aggressively than his mother was.

William, now stepping into Charles's shoes as Prince of Wales, has also shown this month a willingness to tackle topics that his grandmother would once have avoided

BERLIN, GERMANY - MARCH 29: (L-R) The German President's wife Elke Buedenbender, Britain's Camilla, Queen Consort, Britain's King Charles III and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier attend a ceremonial welcome at Brandenburg Gate on March 29, 2023 in Berlin, Germany. Britain's King Charles III began his first state visit, having postponed a trip to France due to widespread political protests. Charles will undertake engagements in the German capital and in Brandenburg before heading to Hamburg during the three-day tour. (Photo by Adrian Dennis - Pool/Getty Images)
Charles and Camilla at the Brandenburg Gate with the German President and his wife. (Getty Images)

Charles's speech to the Bundestag

Charles has spoken at the German Parliament before, when he was Prince of Wales, but this was the first time a British monarch has ever addressed the Bundestag and he gave large portions of the speech in German.

This would normally be an example of the royals' so-called 'soft diplomacy', which is often cited as a major selling point of the Royal Family: that as politically neutral figures they are able to embark upon a type of diplomacy on the world stage while staying above the fray of international politics. The Queen notably gave a greeting in Irish at a state dinner in 2011, which was well received.

On the surface, Charles's speech seems like a strong example of this, and it was warmly received with a standing ovation by those in attendance.

However, some of the contents of his speech broached topics more directly than we are used to seeing the monarch do — particularly relating to "the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine".

"Since I last spoke in this building the scourge of war is back in Europe. The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has inflicted the most unimaginable suffering on so many innocent people. Countless lives have been destroyed; freedom and human dignity have been trampled in the most brutal way. The security of Europe has been threatened, together with our democratic values.

"The world has watched in horror - but we have not stood by. Even as we abhor the appalling scenes of destruction, we can take heart from our unity - in defence of Ukraine, of peace and freedom.

"Germany and the United Kingdom have shown vital leadership." The King said in German.

While there has been universal condemnation in the West of Putin's action, it is still an unusual break with tradition for the monarch to address it in such strong terms.

Britain's King Charles III and Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier plant a tree in the garden of the presidential Bellevue Palace in Berlin, on March 29, 2023. - Britain's King Charles III began his first state visit, having postponed a trip to France due to widespread political protests. Charles will undertake engagements in the German capital and in Brandenburg before heading to Hamburg during the three-day tour. (Photo by Ben Birchall / POOL / AFP) (Photo by BEN BIRCHALL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
King Charles and the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier plant a tree in the garden of the presidential Bellevue Palace (Getty Images)

Charles, however, did avoid one particularly polarising subject - Brexit, which he did not directly address. Instead he opted to stress a desire "to renew the pledge of friendship between our nations", which is far more similar to how the late Queen would have broached the topic.

William's visit to Poland

The Prince of Wales also made a recent and strong show of support to Ukraine with a visit to Poland earlier this month, where he thanked British and Polish soldiers for supporting Ukrainian Armed Forces and learned about how Poland has helped refugees from Ukraine.

Whilst he was there he said to local media that when he "visited Rzeszow to meet troops based there to hear their stories and recognise their duty. I was struck by their passion as well as their shared determination to defend our shared freedoms."

RZESZOW, POLAND - MARCH 22: Prince William, The Prince of Wales (left) meeting members of the Polish military during a visit to the 3rd Brigade Territorial Defence Force base that has been heavily involved in providing support to Ukraine on March 22, 2023 in Warsaw, Poland. Prince William is meeting with the Polish Defence Minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, and speaking to Polish and British troops to learn about the strong companionship they have formed since working together to support Ukraine. (Photo by Yui Mok - Pool/Getty Images)
William met with Polish and British military whilst in Poland recently. (Getty Images)

This trip will likely have been made at the request of the government, but it was a relatively unusual step for the heir to the throne to take, with reports claiming that it was just as much a "personal mission" for William.

And, according to a Kensington Palace statement given to the Mail on Sunday, the trip was very much designed to be symbolic of William's willingness to engage in "political issues".

The statement added: "This is a continuation of the evolution of his role as a global statesman. We talk often about him using his global platform for the good of the environment via Earthshot. But this is the first opportunity for him to take a visit of this kind as Prince of Wales, and given that it is one of the biggest political issues facing every country on the planet, this is a demonstration of him growing as a statesman-like figure."

Why does it matter if the royals talk about politics?

Simply put, the Royal Family are not elected officials — the public have not chosen them for the purposes of handling political matters.

As a symbolic — and neutral — head of state, it is argued that a constitutional monarch like Charles is able to bypass the fractious nature of party politics and represent the whole country.

It is an issue Charles has addressed head on in the past - asked by the BBC in 2018 if he planned to continue campaigning once he took the throne, he responded: "No... I’m not that stupid. I do realise that it is a separate exercise being sovereign. So of course I understand entirely how that should operate."

With a topic like supporting Ukraine, there seems to be little worry in the palace that it will be something the public criticises, because the Ukrainian cause is so widely supported.

The danger is, however, that these types of comment will set a precedent, and Charles and William could broach other topics, now they dipped their toe in the political pond.

There are few issues behind which a large majority of people rally, particularly in a time of polarised politics as we see now.

It might seem safe for the royals to weigh in on this particular topic, but it is beyond their constitutional bounds to get involved in anything political at all.

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