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What Will Happen If King Charles III Is Too Ill To Work?

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Following the announcement of King Charles III's cancer diagnosis from Buckingham Palace on Monday afternoon, His Majesty's public-facing engagements have been put on hold. However, the Palace has stated that the King will continue to perform state business and official paperwork.

Although the specific type of cancer has not yet been announced, the King is reportedly in good spirits and the cancer has been 'caught earlier', according to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Naturally, however, there are questions relating to how the royal family operates when the Head of State is unwell.

Here's what would happen if King Charles III isn't able to fulfil his royal duties, more longterm, due to illness:

What Will Happen If King Charles Becomes Too Ill To Work?

Although reports state that King Charles is well enough to continue to carry out the majority of his royal duties, there are constitutional provisions to ensure the continuation of his official responsibilities if he were to become too ill to perform them. Under mandatory Parliamentary legislation, ‘counsellors of state’ can temporarily be called in to action on behalf of King Charles.

Two or more Counsellors of State would be appointed by a written order, issued by King Charles, called the Letters Patent. This would enable them to attend Privy Council meetings, sign routine documents and receive new ambassadors to the United Kingdom. However, they would not have the power to carry out the most important tasks, like appointing a new Prime Minister and creating a dissolution of Parliament (without King Charles’ express instruction).

london, england october 01 editorial use only requires approval from royal communications camilla, queen consort, king charles iii, prince william, prince of wales and catherine, princess of wales pose for a photo ahead of their majesties the king and the queen consort’s reception for heads of state and official overseas guests at buckingham palace on september 18, 2022 in london, england photo by chris jacksongetty images for buckingham palace
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Who Can Act On King Charles’ Behalf?

The Counsellors of State are chosen by the four royals who are next in the line of succession (and Queen Camilla), on condition that they are aged 21 and above. Following protocol, the current and possible counsellors include The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Sussex and Princess Beatrice.

What Would Happen If King Charles Became Wholly Unable To Work?

In the event that King Charles becomes too ill to work beyond a temporary period that would leave the United Kingdom and it's overseas territories without a Head of State, his constitutional powers would be withdrawn. The line of succession would then determine who would assume his role. Currently, the heir to the throne is Prince William under the Regency Act 1937.

In order for this to come about, the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice of England, the Master of the Rolls, and the Queen would have to decide if the medical evidence declaring the King's poor physical or mental health was sufficient enough. If a majority vote rendered that it was, a written statement issued by the panel would announce if Prince William would act in the King's name, or if the King was ready to continue carrying out his royal responsibilities.

queen elizabeth ii presents prince charles, prince of wales with the royal horticultural societys victoria medal of honour during a visit to the chelsea flower show on may 18, 2009
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The Last Time A Monarch Became Too Ill To Work

Since the enactment of the Regency Act 1937, there has never been a case whereby a monarch has had to use it when they fell ill. Such was the case when Queen Elizabeth II fell sick prior to her passing on October 8, 2022, as the throne was immediately passed on to the then Prince Charles.


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