Health News & Royal Response

King Charles III waves as he departs the London Clinic with Queen Camilla after receiving treatment for an enlarged prostate on January 29, 2024.
Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

King Charles III has been diagnosed with cancer and has suspended his public engagements to undergo treatment, according to Buckingham Palace. The news comes just 17 months into the 75-year-old monarch’s reign. Here’s a roundup, which we’ll keep updated, of the latest news on the king’s health and how Britain’s royal family is handling the situation.

We don’t know the type of cancer Charles has, or its stage. Buckingham Palace announced the king’s diagnosis a week after he was released from a London hospital following unrelated treatment for an enlarged prostate. The statement read:

During The King’s recent hospital procedure for benign prostate enlargement, a separate issue of concern was noted. Subsequent diagnostic tests have identified a form of cancer. 

His Majesty has today commenced a schedule of regular treatments, during which time he has been advised by doctors to postpone public-facing duties. Throughout this period, His Majesty will continue to undertake State business and official paperwork as usual.

The King is grateful to his medical team for their swift intervention, which was made possible thanks to his recent hospital procedure. He remains wholly positive about his treatment and looks forward to returning to full public duty as soon as possible.

His Majesty has chosen to share his diagnosis to prevent speculation and in the hope it may assist public understanding for all those around the world who are affected by cancer.

Palace officials confirmed Charles does not have prostate cancer, according to the New York Times, but “made clear that they would not issue regular updates on the king’s condition, and they asked reporters not to attempt to contact those involved in his treatment.”

It was unusual for the king to reveal he was being treated for an enlarged prostate, as the royals are extremely private about their health (for example, Queen Elizabeth II’s official cause of death at the age of 96 was listed as only “old age” on her death certificate, according to the Times).

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak may have disclosed a small detail during a BBC radio interview on Tuesday. “Thankfully, this has been caught early,” he said. “And now everyone will be wishing him that he gets the treatment that he needs and makes a full recovery.”

Charles began outpatient treatment on Monday, February 5. No further details have been released.

Though Prince Harry’s relationship with his father has been rocky since he stepped back from royal duties in 2020 and released a tell-all memoir last year, he took an 11-hour flight from Los Angeles to London to be with the king on Tuesday. A spokesperson for the prince and his wife Meghan Markle told NBC News that Charles talked with Harry about his diagnosis before the news was made public on Monday. Markle and their two young children did not accompany Harry.

The prince was spotted arriving at Clarence House, the king and queen’s London residence, on Tuesday afternoon, where Charles was resting following outpatient treatment, according to The Guardian. A short time after reuniting with Harry, Charles and Camilla were driven to Buckingham Palace. About ten minutes later, a helicopter took off from the palace grounds and later landed at the king’s Sandringham estate.

While the king will not be appearing at public events for the time being, the Times reports that he will continue conducting other royal business:

Palace officials said the king would continue to carry out other duties, including his weekly meeting with the prime minister, as well as the daily pile of paperwork he completes as Britain’s head of state. Officials said there were no plans to appoint counselors of state to act in his place — a procedure that could signal that the sovereign was unable to fulfill his duties because of illness.

Yes, presumably. Hours before Charles’s diagnosis was made public, it was announced that Prince William will return to public duties on February 7. He had taken time off to support his wife Catherine, who had abdominal surgery days before her father-in-law’s prostate treatment.

Kensington Palace has not disclosed why the Princess of Wales was treated. We only know that she was hospitalized for nearly two weeks and is not expected to resume public duties until after Easter. A royal source told CNN that the 42-year-old royal’s condition was noncancerous.

Queen Camilla, who broke royal protocol by accompanying her husband to the hospital for his prostate procedure, is expected to continue her usual schedule of public engagements during his cancer treatment.

If King Charles is temporarily unable to conduct his constitutional duties, two “counselors of state” can be appointed to carry out official business. CNN has more details:

Two counselors can be appointed to act on the monarch’s behalf through what’s known as a letters patent and help keep the state ticking over. They would be authorized to sign documents, attend Privy Council meetings, and receive new ambassadors, but not perform some of the most important constitutional roles, such as appointing a Prime Minister. CNN understands there are no current plans to appoint any counselors.

Usually, the counsellor of state position can go to the monarch’s spouse and the first four people in the line of succession over the age of 21. After Prince Andrew and Prince Harry ceased being “working royals,” Charles added two of his siblings to the list in 2022. Since Harry no longer resides in the U.K., the following people are eligible to fill this role: Queen Camilla, Prince William, Prince Andrew, Princess Beatrice, Prince Edward, and Princess Anne.

That does not appear to be under consideration at the moment, and there is a step between appointing counsellors of state and Charles permanently giving up the throne.

If the monarch is completely unable to fulfill their duties, the person next in line to the throne, in this case Prince William, could fully assume those powers as regent. Per CNN:

For that to happen, there has to be medical evidence “that the Sovereign is by reason of infirmity of mind or body incapable for the time being of performing the royal functions” or “is for some definite cause not available for the performance of those functions.”

A panel of four needs to be satisfied with the evidence by a majority vote. That panel consists of the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice of England, the Master of the Rolls, and The Queen. They would need to declare their decision in writing and would also declare if or when the King is ready to resume his duties. In the meantime, Prince William would act in his name.

Once Charles recovers, William could relinquish the role of regent with the declaration of a “cessation of incapacity.”

The royal website features a list of the next 24 people in line to the throne. From the top, the order is Prince William; his children George, Charlotte, and Louis; then Prince Harry; his children Archie and Lilibet; and Prince Andrew.

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