King Charles III’s relationship with religion

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Spirituality over dogma? King Charles III’s relationship with religion

As King Charles III prepares for his coronation, this article reflects on his own beliefs and attitudes towards religion.

On the 8th September 2022, Queen Elizabeth II died, ending the reign of the longest-serving monarch in British history. Queen Elizabeth II was succeeded by her eldest son, Charles, who has taken the title of King Charles III. A strong personal Christian faith was an anchor in Queen Elizabeth II’s life and guided her 70-year reign. As King Charles III settles into his new role, this article will examine his personal relationship with faith and public relationship with religion. It will conclude by reflecting on the ways in which the king’s attitudes towards faith communities may impact UK society.

A strong faith?

Queen Elizabeth II was a devout Christian whose rule was shaped by her beliefs. She often spoke publicly, especially later on in her reign, about her deeply held Christian faith and used her Christmas Address each year to share her beliefs with the public. In comparison, in the past, King Charles has spoken less publicly about how his Christian beliefs have shaped him. Ian Bradley, professor emeritus at the University of St. Andrews said that whereas Queen Elizabeth II “was very explicit about her Christian faith … Charles’s is of a different nature … his is more spiritual and intellectual. Charles is more of a ‘spiritual seeker’.”[1]

Moreover, the king’s relationship with heads of the Church of England has not always been smooth sailing and has brought into question how seriously Anglican teachings shape his life. In 1994, Charles, then Prince of Wales, clashed with Church of England clerics over his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowle and breakdown of his marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales.[2] Following the infamous 1994 interview when Charles admitted committing infidelity, Rev. Tony Highton, a leading member of the General Synod at the time, said that “there does not appear to be any hint of penitence … I, therefore, do not think he is fit to become defender of the faith and supreme governor of the Church of England.”[3]

However, in Charles’s first speech as king following the death of his mother, he said that he is “a committed Anglican Christian, and at my coronation I will take an oath relating to the settlement of the Church of England.”[4] He added that “as a member of the Church of England, my Christian beliefs have love at their very heart.”[5] This public statement of a strong personal Christian faith will have helped to dispel some concerns over the king’s religious commitment.

Defender of Faith

What cannot be disputed is that, throughout his time as Prince of Wales, Charles was committed to improving understanding and respect of all faiths in the UK. In an increasingly multicultural nation, the king has often expressed an interest in and support for all forms of belief.[6] This position was made clear in a 1994 documentary when Charles stated that he was more a “defender of faith” than “the faith.”[7] [8] He has later clarified his statement, explaining that as a British monarch, you can also “be a protector of faiths,” something that the king is keen to prove.[9]

In particular, Charles has shown interest in the Islamic and Jewish communities in the UK. The king is known to have been a very close friend to the late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and gave a eulogy at his funeral, saying “he was a trusted guide, an inspired teacher and a true and steadfast friend.”[10] Moreover, in regards to Islam, the king has openly insisted that Islam as a religion can “teach us today a way of understanding and living in the world which Christianity itself is the poorer for having lost.”[11]

In 2007, as Prince of Wales, Charles founded Mosaic, an organisation which provides mentoring programs for young Muslims across the UK.[12] Furthermore, Zara Mohammed, current head of the Muslim Council of Britain, says that the organisation “regards him as a friend of British Muslims. He sees a more holistic picture and the power of all faiths and diverse communities working together.”[13]

In a speech to more than 30 faith leaders, the king made clear that he will continue promoting a holistic approach to different faiths. He said, as king, he has a personal “duty to protect the diversity of our country” and must “protect the space for faith itself” and the valued differences which people live by.[14]

How will King Charles III’s beliefs shape British society?

It is clear that throughout his adult life, the king has shown a passion for understanding and engaging with all faith communities within the UK. It is also apparent that whilst he undoubtedly identifies as having an Anglican Christian faith, the king’s “brand of faith” focuses more on “spirituality than dogma,” in comparison to his late mother.[15]

As H.A Hellyer, fellow at the University of Cambridge notes, “what a prince might say, and what a king might be able to do, are two different things.”[16] However, both the king’s focus on spirituality, which puts him more in line with shifts occurring amongst the British public,[17] and his emphasis on dialogue could have a positive impact on British society’s respect for religious plurality.

Martha Scott-Cracknell

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[1] King Charles III may bring new approach to ‘Defender of the Faith’ – The Washington Post

[2] The Christian faith of King Charles III | Opinion

[3] Prince Charles Raises Hackles With TV Documentary : Britain: In program airing tonight, he reportedly admits to adultery and says, as king, he would drop the title ‘defender of the faith.’ – Los Angeles Times

[4] King tells faith leaders he has personal ‘duty to protect diversity of our country’ | King Charles III | The Guardian

[5] King tells faith leaders he has personal ‘duty to protect diversity of our country’ | King Charles III | The Guardian

[6] King Charles III may bring new approach to ‘Defender of the Faith’ – The Washington Post

[7] As head of the Church of England, Defender of the Faith is a title given to the ruling monarch of Britain.

[8] King Charles III may bring new approach to ‘Defender of the Faith’ – The Washington Post

[9] King Charles III may bring new approach to ‘Defender of the Faith’ – The Washington Post

[10] PRINCE CHARLES: I have lost a trusted guide, an inspired teacher and a friend | Jewish News

[11] King Charles III’s Admiration for Islam Could Mend Divides | Time

[12] King Charles III’s Admiration for Islam Could Mend Divides | Time

[13] King Charles III may bring new approach to ‘Defender of the Faith’ – The Washington Post

[14] King tells faith leaders he has personal ‘duty to protect diversity of our country’ | King Charles III | The Guardian

[15] King Charles III may bring new approach to ‘Defender of the Faith’ – The Washington Post

[16] King Charles III’s Admiration for Islam Could Mend Divides | Time

[17] King Charles III may bring new approach to ‘Defender of the Faith’ – The Washington Post