In British history, always hReserve has reigned over the monarch's health. The revelation by Buckingham Palace that King Charles III had been diagnosed with cancer He broke with that long tradition.
Hot on the heels of the shock and well-wishes that followed Monday's official statement came the surprise that the palace had actually announced anything. In reality, the unpublished letter contained few details.
Carlos, 75, had begun treatment for a type of cancer he did not mention after receiving that diagnosis during a recent corrective procedure for an enlarged prostate. The king will step away from his public duties but will attend to state matters during his treatment, which he will receive as an outpatient, the palace said.
“The King has cancer,” declared the Times of London on Tuesday in a brief headline. He was unlike any other in British history.
The kings were seen for the first time since the diagnosis, this Tuesday. Photo: HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP
Never complain, never explain, as Charles' late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, said. Carlos has hidden details of his illness and treatment, and in this way continues the strategy she used. But by shining a ray of light from within the palace walls and from his own life, the king has broken with his mother and royal tradition.
There's a lot we still don't know
The world The cause of Isabel's death is still unknown. in 2022 at 96 years old. In the final years of her life, the public was only told that the queen suffered from “mobility problems.” Her death certificate listed the cause simply as “old age.”
The British public was not told that Charles's grandfather, King George VI, had lung cancer before his death in February 1952 at age 56, and some historians maintain that the king himself was not informed who had a terminal illness.
As Charles reigns in a media-saturated age, “I think it is his duty to reveal more than he has revealed,” said Sally Bedell Smith, author of Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life. an unusual life).
Charles's openness about his cancer diagnosis is his style as a monarch. Photo: AP
“He was admirably candid in what he said about treatment for an enlarged prostate, and his drive was to be open and also encourage men to get the necessary tests,” he added. “But then returned to the traditional royal form, what is mystery, secret, opacity“.
On Tuesday, former royal press secretary Simon Lewis told BBC Radio 4 that Charles' candor about his cancer diagnosis is his style as a monarch.
“I think twenty years ago we would have gotten a very brief, brief statement, and that's it,” he said. The palace statement goes as far as possible, “given that the King has been diagnosed with cancer and, as many know, processing this is a quite difficult process.”
One of the reasons for disclosing her illness, the palace statement said, was “the hope that this can help raise public understanding of all those around the world who are affected by cancer.” Cancer patient advocacy organizations reported glimpses of success on that front, and Cancer Research UK reported a 42% increase in visits to its cancer information page, according to Dr. Julie Sharp, the group's director of health and patient information.
The jump “reflects that high-profile cancer cases often act as a stimulus to encourage people to know more or think about your own health“, said.
But there was another pragmatic reason: maintain control of information in the age of ultra-fast social media and misinformation. The palace statement said Charles “has decided to share his diagnosis to avoid speculation.”
A tendency to limit information
In the annals of power, leaders and their advisors strive to maintain (or at least not weaken) the image that they are strong and in control. Because allowing any perception of vulnerability or weakness could lead to a fight for power or the crown… or promote a coup d'état.
The former Soviet Union was famous for not revealing that its leaders were sick or dead: is the case of Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenkosecretly ill and soon deceased, one after another, in the 1980s. Each of these events sparked succession struggles.
Joe Biden, too old to govern? Photo: EFE
In United States, There is little or no debate about the public's right to know the health status of its leaders. Es a key feature of the 2024 presidential fight between President Joe Biden, 81, and former President Donald Trump, 77, with other contenders, such as Republican challenger Nikki Haley, who argues that They are both too old to be presidents.
And on February 1, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, sixth in line of presidential succession, He apologized for keeping his cancer diagnosis a secret and the surgery he underwent. In a rare news conference, he acknowledged missing a key opportunity to use the experience as a lesson for the people he leads across the Department of Defense and, more importantly, for African Americans.
How much right do the British people have to know?
If the monarch owes the world more information about his health than other Britons It is a tense topic.
Royals are private citizens but, in a sense, they are also They are part of the public trust, given that they are subsidized by British taxpayers and have an important constitutional role, although largely without authority. Not being elected, they inherit their wealth under a thousand year old monarchy that Republican activists have long sought to dislodge.
A woman walks past a newsstand in London. Photo: Reuters
And although some surveys show that the public He is friendly with Carlos, opposition and apathy towards the monarchy are growing. In a recent study by the National Center for Social Research, only 29% of respondents thought the monarchy was “very important,” the lowest level in the center's 40 years of research on the topic. The opposition was greatest among young people.
Continuing to be relevant is part of what makes Charles's legacy and succession such pressing issues. Maintaining at least the appearance of vitality may be key for leaders to gain and maintain power. The palace made sure to clarify that the king would step away from his public duties during treatment, but would continue to attend to other duties of state.
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In the case of Carlos, the succession It has been fixed for a long time: Next in line is his son William, the Prince of Wales. But the king's illness makes William's preparation more crucial at a time when he He is also taking care of his wife KatePrincess of Wales, who is recovering from abdominal surgery.
The news about Carlos's health was received with great understanding in a country where 3 million people live with cancer, according to Macmillan Cancer Support, a London-based charity. On average, it reports, a person is diagnosed with cancer in the UK every 90 seconds. According to the National Health Service, around 1,000 new cases of cancer are detected every day.
The fact that the king has joined those ranks and – fundamentally for a British monarch – has shared that vulnerability with the world, for some portends a new era of transparency in a time of social networks and misinformation.
Translation: Elisa Carnelli