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The Truth about Why Prince Charles Will Be the Next King

No, there's no Game of Thrones afoot.

To hear the London tabloids tell it, Prince Charles will never be King. Besides the fact that members of the British royal family seem to be indestructible (Exhibit A: Charles' father, Prince Philip, who at 97 years old, walked into Prince Harry's wedding unassisted just weeks after having a hip replaced) and live long lives (Queen Elizabeth II is 92; the Queen Mother was 101 when she died in 2002), the prince has been seen as much less popular than his son, Prince William, who is second in line to the throne. For years, stories have been circulating that it will be William, not Charles, that ascends to the throne after Queen Elizabeth II's reign, because the monarchy needs the support of its subjects to survive.

Last year, in the week's leading up to the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's shocking death, a YouGov poll commissioned by the Press Association (PA) news agency in Britain, reported that only 36 percent of the British public thought the heir to the throne had been beneficial to the monarchy. Four years prior, that figure stood at 60 percent.

Rumors about William, instead of Charles, becoming the next King of England have persisted ever since the popular prince married Kate Middleton. Some headlines have claimed that the Queen has decided to pass over her son and name Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, the next King and Queen consort. Next thing you know, the tabloids will be touting newlyweds Harry and Meghan, the new Duchess of Sussex, as the next occupants of Buckingham Palace because of their off-the charts popularity. Just wait, I'm sure it's coming.

The truth is, the line of succession is not a popularity contest.

Barring his death, Prince Charles will be the next British monarch. Here's why: First, the Queen doesn't have the power to choose her successor. The 1701 Act of Settlement is the act of Parliament that determines the succession to the throne, and requires that a monarch's heir must be his or her direct successor (and a Protestant). And that's Charles, not William.

The Queen's position, despite how it many look to those outside Britain and the Commonwealth, is a ceremonial one. She doesn't have any political power (in fact, she does not vote). She cannot change a law. It would have to be taken up in Parliament—and it wouldn't be a quick or certain thing, by any means.

Interestingly enough, Charles' popularity seems to on the rise since he is viewed by many in Britain as having shown great compassion and affection for Meghan and her mother, Doria Ragland, at last week's royal wedding. He famously stepped in at the last minute when the duchess asked him to accompany her for the last half of her walk down the aisle when her own father, Thomas Markle bowed out after news he staged fake photographs with the paparazzi came to light. Markle told TMZ he wasn't coming to the wedding because of health issues.

Then, at the wedding, the Prince seemed to take great care to make Meghan's mother comfortable, taking her hand as they walked to the back of St. George's Chapel to sign the wedding registers with the newlyweds after the vows and then linking arms with her as he and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, descended the stairs of the chapel after the service.

"Prince Charles was really wonderful during all that drama leading up to the wedding," one palace insider told me. "With Doria, he understands what it is like to have an ex-spouse cause problems in the press because, of course, he and Diana waged war with one another in the tabloids for years."

Quite possibly, Harry and Meghan's wedding may have helped finally put the drama of the Charles-Diana-Camilla triangle to rest.

Or has it? "Some people may have warmed to Charles because of the great mutual affection between him and his sons, but Diana loyalists do not want Camilla as Queen consort," said my source.

Unless something very unexpected happens, it looks like they will have no choice. And for more wild monarchy trivia, check out the 30 Craziest Facts About Royal Marriages.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

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