It is still a little difficult to think of Prince Charles as King Charles III. He has been “in waiting” for so many years and his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, is still the only British monarch the vast majority of us have known. An almost impossible act to follow, as King Charles, himself, will readily admit. However, although over-shadowed by his mother and by Princess Diana, when she was alive, and still today, he has some remarkable achievements to his name. I thought it would be good to document some of those, as he takes on his new role.
Although Charles III has been king of England for only a few months, his achievements extend back decades. From his work as an artist and architect to his unusual interactions with former U.S. Presidents and his pioneering work in environmental protection, Charles has lived a long and storied life.
Charles III holds the distinction of being both the longest-serving British heir-apparent and the oldest individual to assume the British throne. Having ascended to the role at 73 years, 9 months, and 23 days old, Charles is almost a decade older than the previous record-holder, King William IV, who was 64 years, 10 months, and 3 days old upon becoming the king of England in 1830. He is also the first King Charles since 1685.
While Charles was born into a life of luxury with every resource at his fingertips, he decided to forgo the traditional at-home tutoring for royals, and seek out higher education. In 1970, Charles received a bachelor’s degree from Trinity College at Cambridge University, becoming the first heir to the British crown to earn a degree of higher education. At school, Charles studied anthropology, archaeology, and history, an impressive range of topics to balance his royal duties as Prince of Wales — a role he officially took onat age 20.
After graduating, Charles enlisted in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, a decision he made to follow in the footsteps of his father. While serving in the armed forces from 1971 until 1976, Charles also earned a Master of Arts degree from Cambridge.
Charles has painted as a lifelong hobby. His works — primarily watercolours — have made him one of England’s bestselling living artists, raking in over £2 million in earnings between 1997 and 2016. His most recent sale was a print he created of Balmoral Castle, which was auctioned off in October 2022 for nearly $6,500 U.S. dollars. It is considered, possibly, the first piece of artwork by a living monarch offered at auction.
The Scottish family home of Castle Mey was a favorite subject of Charles’ in his early years as a landscape painter, though he has since branched out to paint locations from all around the globe. In 1986, Charles painted the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, and during a 1989 diplomatic visit with his then-wife, Princess Diana, he painted Double Haven Bay in Hong Kong. One of his watercolours was even turned into a ski pass: His depiction of Klosters — Charles’ favorite ski resort, located in Switzerland — was used as the design for that resort’s pass during the 1997 season.
On the lighter side, in a 2021 interview, Charles revealed an unusual encounter he had with former U.S. President Richard Nixon. When Charles was on a diplomatic visit to the U.S. in 1970 as a 21-year-old, Nixon attempted to set the young prince up with his daughter, Tricia. While the romance ultimately went nowhere, Charles and Nixon’s daughter were seen galavanting about D.C., where Charles escorted Tricia to a White House dinner. In a separate incident, Senator Claiborne Pell was apparently convinced that he could marry his daughter off to Prince Charles. I am sure this wishful-thinking match-making by ambitious parents happened regularly around the world, as it did in the U.K.
Charles III has long been passionate about English architecture, going so far as to write a 1989 book titled “A Vision of Britain,” in which he opined that Britain’s past architectural decisions should form the nation’s future. Charles has long believed in sustainable architecture, urban planning that lowers society’s carbon footprint and planning that reduces the use of cars.
Speaking of cars, Charles’ Aston Martin DB6 — which he has owned since 1970 — uses an untraditional fuel source, in keeping with his efforts to lower his own personal carbon footprint. Instead of gasoline, Charles’ favorite vehicle uses repurposed surplus English white wine and whey made from the cheese-making process, which is converted into bioethanol fuel. The unique fuel is created by a company called Green Fuels in Gloucestershire, who worked with Aston Martin specialists to produce the unusual energy source.
Charles has been ridiculed many times during his life for his adamant stands supporting environment issues. It is only fairly recently that he has been considered lauded as a pioneer in lobbying for environment protection.
It may, or may not, be a connection that Charles is proud of, but England’s king is indeed related to the brutal Romanian ruler known as Vlad the Impaler, who formed part of the Irish writer Bram Stoker’s inspiration for the character of Dracula. Genealogical evidence shows that Vlad is Charles’ great-grandfather 16 times removed through Queen Mary of Teck, his great-grandmother. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any other overlap between the two men — although Charles does own a house in Transylvania.
Finally, King Charles III has long been involved with climate change activism and efforts to preserve the rainforest. In 2012, scientists honoured his activism by naming a tree frog from the cloud forests of Ecuador, Hyloscirtus princecharlesi. The frog — less formally known as the Prince Charles stream tree frog — is endangered, threatened by both climate change and habitat loss. For his rainforest advocacy efforts, Charles has sometimes been called the “Frog Prince.”
I submit these stories as just a sampling of the work and achievements of the U.K.’s new Monarch.