10 Surprising Facts About King Charles III
By Erika Berlin
King Charles III was famously the longest-serving heir apparent in British history. He was just 3 years old when his grandfather, King George VI, died and his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, ascended the throne for her historic 70-year reign as the longest-serving monarch in British history.
But for all the very public events of the king’s life that have played out on the world’s stage (his marriage to and divorce from Princess Diana; his decades-long relationship with Camilla, the Queen Consort; his oft-strained relationship with his father), Charles spent years working behind the scenes to promote charities and fulfill his duties as a leading member of the royal family. And he even found time to do some landscape painting. Here are nine things you might not know about Charles, who became king after his mother’s death on September 8, 2022.
1. King Charles III was the first royal baby born at Buckingham Palace in the 20th century.
Princess Elizabeth was 22 when she gave birth to Charles Philip Arthur George on November 14, 1948 (just six days before his parents’ first wedding anniversary). Newspapers reported he was “a lovely boy, a really splendid baby,“ but Matthew Halton of CBC Radio reminded listeners that the newborn wouldn’t be king any time soon. “If his grandfather, the king, and his mother, the princess, both live the full span of life,“ Halton reported, “he may well be 50 or 60 years old before he ascends the throne.“
Halton was off by over a decade: Queen Elizabeth II died when Charles was 73.
2. King Charles III was just 9 years old when he was officially given the title of Prince of Wales.
Though he was already the longest-serving Prince of Wales, he could have held the title for a few extra years if he’d been appointed earlier. The title “Prince of Wales“ is only given to a male heir apparent, but it is not an automatic appointment. Charles went from third to second in line to the throne when his grandfather died in 1952, but it wasn’t until 1958, when he was 9 years old, that he was granted the title Prince of Wales and its conjoining title, Earl of Chester.
3. People weren't sure if King Charles III would keep his name.
Many monarchs choose a regnal name (as popes do) that is different than their birth name, such as Charles’s grandfather George VI, who had been christened Albert Frederick Arthur George and went by Bertie for most of his life. And though the king has been the most famous Charles in the UK for seven decades, the previous two King Charleses did not go down well in British history. Charles I was executed for treason and the monarchy was briefly abolished because of his actions; his son, Charles II, spent time in exile until the monarchy was restored 11 years later. He was generally beloved, but was known as a philanderer who acknowledged at least a dozen illegitimate children. And to some, Charles Stuart—best known as Bonnie Prince Charlie and for the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland that attempted to put him on the throne—was called Charles III.
However, according to the BBC, Charles chose to keep his name; it was one of the earliest decisions he made after becoming king.
4. King Charles III can play the cello.
Charles learned piano, trumpet, and cello as a child, and though he described himself as “hopeless,“ he stuck with the cello and played in the Trinity College Orchestra while in undergrad.
5. King Charles III’s Secret Service nickname is “Unicorn.“
Certain visiting dignitaries to the U.S. are given code names of their own, and Charles was given Unicorn. The fanciful name is oddly fitting—the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland and has been part of its coat-of-arms for some 600 years. But the first recorded example of a Scottish monarch using a unicorn as a symbol of strength was from the late 1300s, when either Robert II or III used unicorns as part of the arms and gateway of Rothesay Castle on the Isle of Bute, Scotland. Among King Charles III’s earliest titles, which he received at age 5, is Duke of Rothesay.
6. Richard Nixon tried to set King Charles III up with his daughter Tricia.
In 1971, President Nixon’s eldest daughter, Tricia, had the first outdoor White House wedding in the Rose Garden. But the summer before, her father was trying to play matchmaker with the future king of England. Charles and his sister, Princess Anne, were 21 and 19 at the time when they took an unofficial trip to Washington, D.C. They were feted as royal dignitaries, taken to various museums and D.C.-area sites, and given rooms in the White House (Charles slept in the Lincoln Bedroom). And, according to Sally Bedell Smith’s 2017 biography Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, “The president arranged to have Tricia seated next to Charles at every occasion, which annoyed him.“
Even though he didn’t hit it off with the first daughter (Bedell Smith says “he would describe her, ungenerously, as ’artificial and plastic’“), Charles was still amused by the president's endeavors. “Many years later on a visit to Washington with Camilla, he was still laughing about Nixon's attempt at matchmaking.“
7. King Charles III first met Lady Diana Spencer when he was dating her older sister.
Charles had a playboy reputation in his twenties, and any girl with a family pedigree was considered a potential princess, and therefore media fodder. In June 1977, he met Lady Sarah Spencer at a party at Windsor Castle, and the two invited each other to polo and shooting events. That November, Charles went to the Spencer estate Althorp, where he met Sarah’s younger sister. Diana was 16.
According to Bedell Smith in her 1999 biography Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess, after going on a Swiss ski vacation with Charles in February 1978, Sarah told a tabloid that she was not falling for the then-prince, saying “There’s no question of me being the future queen of England. I don’t think he’s met her yet.“
8. King Charles III has a frog named after him.
In 2012, a newly discovered (and endangered) species of Ecuadorian tree frog was announced as the Hyloscirtus princecharlesi, or the Prince Charles stream treefrog, in the journal Zootaxa. It was named after him to recognize his rainforest conservation work—he has long been outspoken about the dangers of climate change, and he set up the Prince’s Rainforest Project in 2007 as a charity and awareness campaign.
9. King Charles III wrote a children’s book.
In 1980, King Charles III wrote a children’s book called The Old Man of Lochnagar, based on stories he would tell his younger brothers, Princes Andrew and Edward. It centers around an old man who went to the caves near Balmoral looking for a quiet place to take a hot bath. The book was later turned into an animated short film, narrated by the king.
10. King Charles III won’t be coronated right away.
Charles became king as soon as his mother died. But though Charles’s coronation, known as “Operation Golden Orb,” was planned before Elizabeth’s demise, it won’t happen immediately. The UK will first enter a period of mourning before beginning to prepare for the extravagant, yet solemn, religious ceremony. Elizabeth II’s coronation did not occur until over a year after she became queen.
This story originally ran in 2018l; it has been updated for 2022.