November 27, 2019


King Charles: The Man, the Monarch, and the Future of Britain. By Robert Jobson. Diversion Books. $27.99.

     It sometimes seems that Americans, once they irrevocably broke from the British crown to establish their own nation, immediately developed a fascination with all things monarchical that has persisted to the present day. That fascination, though, is with the trappings of monarchy and its outward celebrity-like appearances, not with the nitty-gritty of how it actually works in Great Britain today (much less how it works in the other countries that retain either absolute or constitutional monarchs). The general lack of concern with the intricacies of monarchical function will stand in the way of American readers’ interest in Robert Jobson’s generally hagiographical biography of Prince Charles, because Jobson – who has reported on Britain’s Royal Family for some 30 years – assumes much greater knowledge of monarchical milestones than the vast majority of American possess. For instance, when he writes that “in 1910-11, there was the constitutional crisis caused by the veto pronounced by the Tory-dominated House of Lords over the Liberal government’s legislation,” he sees no need to explain just what went on or why it caused a crisis. That stance makes sense in Britain (although perhaps not even for everyone there, since younger generations may know less of the history of a century-plus ago than older ones do); but it is simply a puzzlement, one of many, for readers “across the pond.” Similarly, a passing reference to “the celebrated Imperial Indian Durbar of 1911, which became known as the ‘Delhi Durbar,’” might just as well be written in Cyrillic for all the understanding of what this was and why it was “celebrated” that most Americans will have.

     What Americans will most enjoy in this book, in addition to its 16 pages of photos, is the material that is better reflected in the title it bore when it was originally published in Britain – Charles at Seventy: Thoughts, Hopes and Dreams. Jobson shows Charles to be a thoughtful, kind, compassionate, and surprisingly approachable man with a strong commitment to his family as well as his nation. Indeed, he seems somewhat too good to be true, but one scarcely gets to have access to the royal family for three decades of coverage by presenting negative material on its members. Jobson himself is not above self-congratulatory writing, as when he discusses the notorious affair that Charles had with Camilla Parker Bowles, whom he subsequently married: “When I broke the world-exclusive story of the royal engagement of the Prince of Wales and Camilla…the courtiers were ill-prepared. …My inside source had been right on the money and we were both elated and relieved. In the weeks that followed, the extent to which my scoop had caught Charles’s team off guard was woefully apparent. My story marked the start of a torrid time for Clarence House officials, whose grasp on the finer and legal points of this royal wedding was exposed as being tenuous at best – if not altogether incompetent.” Oh, very well, then; but it is interesting that however immodest Jobson himself comes across as being, Charles appears to be more self-effacing and more strongly committed to causes in which he believes than in self-aggrandizement.

     Again and again, the writing style of Jobson’s book is at odds with the genuinely interesting elements of its topic. Sometimes it is a matter of word use, as when Jobson writes that because of Charles’ strong involvement in everyday royal matters, the British monarchy is “in unchartered waters” (rather than “uncharted”). At other times, there is repetitiveness that becomes irritating, as when Jobson writes that Queen Victoria “infuriated her eldest son and heir” and then says, just a couple of lines later, that her behavior “frequently made her infuriating to her loved ones.”

     Yet what shines through in King Charles, as the book is called in its U.S. edition, is what seems to be the genuine niceness of Queen Elizabeth II’s son and heir. Indeed, to go a step further, it seems that his genuineness is what stands out about him. He demonstrably cares about many issues that are crucial to the future of both Britain and the world, such as pollution and climate change, and he seems truly determined to make his country and the world better places, to the extent that his power as an unelected and essentially ceremonial leader will allow him to do so. Jobson’s book is scarcely the last word on Charles, but it has enough interesting material in it – and enough material that, although familiar in Britain, will be new to American readers – so it should satisfy many in the U.S. who watch the distant royals with attentiveness and fascination. It is worth pointing out, though, that the book’s U.S. title has an unfortunate connotation of which Britons, if not Americans, are almost sure to be aware: the name “King Charles,” without a number following it, refers to Charles I, who was beheaded in 1649 after a civil war that led to rule by Oliver Cromwell and his followers until 1660 – the only time in a millennium or more that Britain has had no king at all.

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