King Charles' Most Controversial Moments Since Becoming King

King Charles III is no stranger to controversy. Ever since his highly publicized divorce from Princess Diana, the royal has proved a polarizing figure in the British public consciousness. From cheating on his wife with Camilla Parker-Bowles, now Queen Camilla (not to mention the dreaded Tampongate that followed), to his attempts to influence British government policy, Charles has found himself in hot water more than once. And now that he is king, his unconventional persona is all the more jarring.

Queen Elizabeth II was always sure to adhere to a strong sense of duty and thus remained stoic and impartial in public. Unlike his mom, Charles has hard a difficult time shying away from voicing his often contentious opinions. His insistence on doing so has led to much derision from critics, who warned of the supposed dangers of an "activist king" as far back as 2008.

Of course, Charles has been rebellious and divisive long before then. "Perhaps we just have to accept that it is God's will that the unorthodox individual is doomed to years of frustration, ridicule," he said in 1982, per The New Yorker, "and failure in order to act out his role in the scheme of things, until his day arrives, and mankind is ready to receive his message."

Of course, becoming king hasn't changed Charles' personality. Since taking the throne in September 2022, he has been the subject of controversy several times over. 

King Charles was criticized for spending millions in public money on his coronation

Though King Charles III's 2023 coronation was a seminal moment in British history, the occasion was not without controversy. The event came amid the United Kingdom's cost of living crisis, in which millions of Britons were unable to heat their homes in the winter months, a record number of people were relying on food banks, and interest rates had skyrocketed.

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Charles was reportedly planning a less expensive coronation, in contrast to his mom's 1953 ceremony, which cost close to £1.6 million (around $56 million in today's money). At the time, an insider told the Mirror that the king was aware of and sensitive to the fact that many Britons were struggling financially. Nevertheless, the coronation was estimated to cost between £50 and £100 million in taxpayer money, according to the BBC News.

The expenditure led to criticism from the public. "We're struggling for heating and eating and they're splashing all this money out," a concerned senior citizen told the outlet. Politician Norman Baker argued in The Guardian that Charles is rich enough to pay for his own coronation, and more than half of Britons polled by YouGov felt that the coronation shouldn't be taxpayer-funded. "The coronation is a pointless vanity parade that's costing a quarter of a billion pounds for Charles to parade along and have a hat put on his head when we're in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis," anti-monarchy activist Graham Smith told Time.

The king got angry with an aide following a pen mishap

Pens appear to be the bane of King Charles' existence. When he became king, he immediately suffered a number of stylographic mishaps. During the signing of the Accession Proclamation in September 2022, Charles passive-aggressively motioned towards an aide to remove a tray of pens, sliding the receptacle to the end of the table while gurning. Subsequently, folks accused Charles of being rude to those in less privileged positions than himself. At the same event, he also gestured at the aide to clear his desk for him. "The servant must clear my desk for me. I can't be expected to move things," one person joked on X, formerly known as Twitter.

That wasn't the last angry pen outburst we saw from Charles. At a book signing ceremony at Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland a couple of days later, he appeared to lose his temper when his pen began leaking. "I can't bear this bloody thing what they do, every stinking time," he angrily exclaimed. He also forgot the date, signing the document September 12 instead of September 13.

The king was later able to poke fun at his pen gaffes during his speech at Mansion House in 2023. "Our ability to laugh at ourselves is one of our great national characteristics," he said. "Just as well, you may say, given some of the vicissitudes I have faced with frustratingly failing fountain pens this past year!"

He was branded heartless for job cuts at Clarence House

Soon into his reign, King Charles III made the decision to fire up to 100 employees at Clarence House, which serves as Charles and Queen Camilla's London residence. The members of staff were notified of their redundancies during the national period of mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth. This was due to the king's decision to close down the Clarence House household in accordance with his plans for a slimmed-down monarchy (something which his sister, Princess Anne, argued was a bad idea). Though Charles was adhering to his initial promise, the employees were reportedly left feeling shaken amid the sudden layoffs.

The decision led to a backlash from the Public and Commercial Services Union, which branded the king heartless. "While some changes across the households were to be expected, as roles across the royal family change, the scale and speed at which this has been announced is callous in the extreme," union leader Mark Serwotka told The Guardian. "Least of all because we do not know what staffing the incoming Prince of Wales and his family might need."

Similarly, The Telegraph's Eleanor Mills argued that a slimmed-down monarchy should have entailed giving up the vast amounts of real estate that the crown owns, as opposed to laying off employees. As Mills mused, "So, your Majesty, rather than sacking a few middle management minions, if you really mean it about saving cash, why don't you offload some of the real estate?"

King Charles' meeting with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen drew hefty criticism

According to protocol. the British monarch is supposed to remain politically neutral. Despite this, King Charles has made political statements on several occasions, both before and during his reign as king. For instance, a few months before becoming king, he condemned the Conservative government's policy of sending migrants to Rwanda. Years earlier, the then-prince called for direct action over the climate crisis.

In February 2023, the king met with Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, to discuss trade agreements in Northern Ireland. Afterward, he was widely criticized for seemingly weighing in on the ongoing and ever-divisive Brexit debate. "This is a very serious error of judgment by King Charles and his advisors," royal commentator Peter Hunt wrote on X. "He's abandoned his unifying role and entered the political fray, in a foolish bid to be seen as statesmanlike." Arlene Foster, former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, also expressed her disapproval on X, questioning why Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would allow the king to get involved in the finalization of the post-Brexit deal. "It's crass and will go down very badly in [Northern Ireland]," she wrote.

Some wondered whether von der Leyen had initiated the meeting, seeing as she is known to be a fan of the British royals. However, Downing Street representatives argued that it's not out of the ordinary for the monarch to meet leaders from across the globe.

The environmentalist was labeled a hypocrite for his frequent flier miles

King Charles is renowned for his commitment to environmental causes. Despite this, he caused a furor following his ascension to the throne for seemingly not practicing what he preaches.

In September 2023, he held a meeting on carbon emissions at Dumfries House in Scotland. The king invited three government ministers to the gathering with the goal of appointing a new Net Zero Minister. However, Charles made the politicians fly 400 miles to Scotland, paid for by the British public. "[Charles] drives a coach and horses through any claim he has to be interested in the environment. ... This is an outrageous waste of money," lamented former Member of Parliament Norman Baker, per the Daily Mail.

That month, he caused further outrage when he took a 75-minute private flight to Bordeaux as opposed to hopping on the train (thanks to the Eurostar, Bordeaux is easily accessible to and from London). Environmentalist outlet Repoterre called out Charles, arguing that his frequent flier miles were incongruous with his activism against carbon emissions. "Two plane trips for a state visit which will last three days. The ecological results of Charles III's trip to France are not rosy," the outlet argued. "To come to Paris, the British sovereign took the plane. Result: 57.8 kg CO 2 equivalent emitted compared to only 4 kg if he had preferred the train." However, French officials countered that train travel would have posed a security risk, Express reported.

Animal rights campaigners accused Charles of being complicit in animal abuse

In the lead-up to King Charles' coronation, there was concern that he was set to be anointed with cat oil. The traditional recipe is extracted from civet cats in a method that animal welfare advocates argue is cruel and painful and may lead to the animals' deaths. In the midst of criticism, the palace confirmed that the king would be anointed with cruelty-free oil instead. But the backlash from animal rights groups did not end there.

The royal family also has a long history of hunting. When Charles became king, there was speculation that he may put an end to this centuries-long tradition, but insiders revealed that the monarch had no plans to ban hunting any time soon. "I doubt if hunting will be fazed out by the royals as it is very much a part of their lifestyle," royal author Pauline Maclaran told Express. "However, they are likely to downplay their role in this sport and try to minimize the attention they receive when engaged in it."

Subsequently, Charles was criticized by the Scottish Green Party for being exempt from certain animal welfare laws, such as those that bar people from hunting with dogs. However, in September 2023, the royals were banned from hunting on the Balmoral Estate, thus ending the 175-year-long tradition.

A grandiose photoshoot of the king was deemed insensitive amid the cost of living crisis

Following the coronation backlash, one would assume that King Charles had learned his lesson about flaunting his wealth. Alas, this was not the case. The monarch ended up angering yet more ordinary folks with his grandiose displays amid increasing economic turmoil in the United Kingdom.

A week after the coronation, Charles and Queen Camilla posed for a photoshoot with Prince William and Charles' eldest grandson, Prince George. The shoot hearkened back to the classic royal portraits of old, with the Windsors decked out in OTT regalia against the lavish palatial backdrop. But some argued that it was insensitive — and inharmonious with the values of modern Britain — for the king to stage such a grand photoshoot during a cost of living crisis.

Speaking to Express, PR exec Pam Lyddon argued that the shoot was in poor taste. "I know there's historic reasons to take these. But the PR part of me thought, that's enough now," the exec said. "Let's just stop and focus on what's really going on in this country, which is we have a serious cost of living crisis." Lyddon questioned why the king's PR team would give the photoshoot the go-ahead in the first place, arguing that it was a shameless display of excessive wealth. "It's showing how grand it is, it's 'look how rich we are.' I mean, nobody dresses like that. It's quite old fashioned and very unreliable," she said.

He was criticized over Prince Harry's treatment at the coronation

With the release of Prince Harry's memoir, "Spare," in January 2023, the relationship between the prince and his father was at an all-time low. There was initially doubt as to whether Harry would even attend King Charles' coronation in the midst of the fallout. However, he ultimately decided to head to the ceremony, sans his wife, Meghan Markle.

Arguably a reflection of how distant father and son have become, Harry was seated two rows behind his brother, Prince William, during the ceremony. He also did not accompany the royals on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, joining his disgraced uncle Prince Andrew in being relegated to the sidelines. There was further controversy due to the fact that Harry was asked not to wear his military uniform to the coronation, despite being a veteran. Moreover, Harry did not feature in any of the official coronation photos.

The coronation also happened to fall on Harry and Meghan's son's birthday. However, Charles and other senior members of the royal family did not wish Prince Archie a happy birthday on social media or elsewhere publicly — although we don't know if any well wishes were exchanged in private. This raised some eyebrows among royal watchers as Princess Charlotte's birthday was less than a week earlier and was acknowledged by the royal family on social media. Additionally, Archie's previous birthday was acknowledged by the Clarence House Twitter account.