King Charles and Princess Kate’s Aligning Cancer Battles Show “The Cracks Turning Into Craters” for the Monarchy, Royal Author Says

The King always wished for a “slimmed-down monarchy”—but not like this.

Royal family at Sandringham
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It isn’t a secret that King Charles, long before he took the throne in September 2022, desired what he called a “slimmed-down monarchy,” with far fewer royal family members working for the Firm than his mother, Queen Elizabeth, once had. 

Royal family in 2020

Only one person in this photo is at work full-time on public duty. It's Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, standing in the back in white.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

But this—where the working core of the royal family is slimmed down to the absolute bone—is never what the King intended, royal author Gareth Russell told Us Weekly. In addition to King Charles and the Princess of Wales sidelined with their shocking respective cancer diagnoses—the type and stage of which are unknown for both—their spouses, in particular Prince William, have frequently elected to put royal duty aside to care for them. (In William and Kate’s case, there are also three young children involved that need to be looked after as Kate receives treatment.) Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are gone, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped back from their roles as working members of the royal family to forge a new life for themselves in the U.S. four years ago, and Prince Andrew’s association with Jeffrey Epstein cost him his royal career in 2019.

Outside of the four most senior working royals—Charles, Camilla, William, and Kate—Princess Anne, Prince Edward, and Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh all work for the Firm full-time. The youngest of those three, Sophie, is 59 years old.

King Charles, Queen Consort Camilla

King Charles has largely scaled back his public duties as he battles cancer; Queen Camilla continues to work, often taking on some of her husband's duties during this time.

(Image credit: Getty)

Russell said Charles’ view for a slimmed-down monarchy may not be “a mistake,” but the way it has all played out is “not what was intended,” he said.

“If you are to use the metaphor [of “slimmed-down monarchy”], the royal family is underweight at this stage,” Russell said. “It was never intended to reach the levels that it did. It was always anticipated that you would have [King] Charles III with three working siblings [Anne, Andrew, and Edward] and two working children [William and Harry] and their wives [Kate and Meghan], and that would be a sustainable footing for the monarchy going forward.”

Prince William Kate Middleton

As the Princess of Wales also faces down cancer, Prince William has largely cut back on royal duties to help her in her care as well as that of their three children.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

But that’s not how it worked out. “So, at the minute, we’re looking at a monarchy that really was just holding it together in terms of the number of functions they had to attend and events, overseas visits, and particularly their charitable and military obligations,” Russell said, adding that Charles and Kate’s aligning cancer battles shows “the cracks turning into craters.” (In addition to Charles and Kate’s health scares, Andrew’s ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, is also battling skin cancer after beating breast cancer just last year.)

Russell said that if the Firm doesn’t move Andrew and Fergie’s daughters Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie into full-time roles within the royal family and prepare for Edward and Sophie’s daughter Lady Louise to be a full-time working royal as well after she graduates from college, the current setup will prove “unsustainable,” Russell said. (Beatrice and Eugenie have always held careers outside of the Firm, and Louise is in college at the University of St. Andrews, where William and Kate met and fell in love in the early aughts.)

Prince Harry, Meghan Markle

When the idea of a slimmed-down monarchy was first floated decades ago, no one could have predicted that Prince Harry wouldn't be a full-time working royal someday...

(Image credit: Getty)

Prince Andrew

...or that Prince Andrew would also be forced to resign from the Firm.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“At the minute, Prince William is the only senior working royal man under the age of 60 and above the age of 16,” Russell said, adding that only two women fall into that age bracket—Kate, who is 42, and Sophie, who will turn 60 in January 2025. 

He added that when the time comes that when Charles, Camilla, Anne, Edward, and Sophie begin to scale back their duties as they age, “there is going to be a seriously underweight monarchy when potentially you would just have King William and Queen Catherine dealing with it, doing all of it until their children come of age,” Russell said. “The slim-down monarchy sounded a very good idea when there were so many working royals back in 2000, 2001, but, through a variety of factors, it is now something that needs to be rethought.”

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.