King Charles is experiencing the downside to being the public face of the British establishment as he finds himself a target for climate change protesters, despite being a fierce environmental advocate for over four decades.
A portrait of the king was vandalized Wednesday at the National Galleries of Scotland: Portrait, an Edinburgh museum, as part of a protest against fossil fuel projects in the country by members of a group called This Is Rigged.
Two of the group’s activists entered the museum’s gallery space that afternoon and sprayed the words “The people are mightier than a lord,” a slogan of the 19th-century Highland Land League protest movement, over Charles’ portrait.
The portrait was painted by Victoria Crowe in 2018 as a commission by the National Galleries of Scotland to mark the Prince of Wales’ 70th birthday.
Taking responsibility for the protest action in a press release statement, This Is Rigged called oil bosses “nothing more than modern-day lairds, prioritising their profits over Scottish people and our land, and the millions who are worst affected by the climate crisis now.”
The group has called for the Scottish government to oppose all new fossil fuel projects in the country and to fund a transition for oil and gas workers.
In response to the demonstration, a museum spokesperson told Newsweek: “Yesterday there was a protest at National Galleries of Scotland: Portrait. The Modern Portrait room was closed temporarily and has reopened today, while the rest of the gallery remained open as normal for visitors. At the moment, we are assessing the impact, but the protest does not appear to have affected the actual artwork.”
Newsweek has contacted Buckingham Palace via email for comment.
This Is Rigged has not specified why it chose to target Charles’ portrait for its protest. The king is known for working to raise awareness of climate change and the environmental harm caused by fossil fuels. But similar actions have been taken against him since he became king.
In October 2022, one month after taking the throne following the death of Queen Elizabeth, Charles’ waxwork model at Madame Tussauds, a London visitor attraction, was targeted by protesters from the Just Stop Oil group.
Two members of the group stepped over barriers where Charles’ waxwork was on display with other members of the royal family and pushed cake into its face before condemning the U.K. government’s stance on the oil industry.
This was followed in May by protesters from the same group demonstrating during the king’s coronation at London’s Westminster Abbey. A number of Just Stop Oil activists were arrested during the event in a police crackdown on disturbance of the peace.
Though Charles has long supported environmental causes, the increase in targeting him correlates with his role as the nation’s representative since becoming king.
After the Madame Tussauds protest, a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil told Newsweek that it was Charles’ duty as king to take action for the welfare of the country and its people.
“No nation, no region and no population is safe from the impacts of the climate crisis, from food, water and energy insecurity to the economic and political insecurity that will result. Here in the U.K., we are already feeling the effects of a heating world. King Charles III’s realm is threatened,” the spokesperson said.
“If King Charles truly is in service to his country, he needs to act now. There is no place for neutrality in the face of a government actively planning to harm its citizens by granting new oil and gas licenses. We need to stop the harm. No new oil and gas,” the spokesperson said.
Neutrality is a core principle that Charles is now bound to as king. When he was the Prince of Wales, he was free to express his opinions on social and political issues. But as king his role is restricted to being consulted by the government of the day and to advise and warn.
Throughout his adult life, Charles has pursued various environmental causes, making his first speech about the effects of pollution in 1970. In 2022, the royal authored an exclusive editorial about the effects of climate change for Newsweek.
“With a growing population creating ever-increasing demand on the planet’s finite resources, we must reduce emissions and take action to tackle the carbon already in the atmosphere, including from fossil fuel and coal-fired power stations,” he wrote.
Charles also issued a stark warning, writing: “At present, there is [no challenge] more pressing than putting Nature, people and our singular and fragile planet at the heart of how we live, work and do business to create the brightest possible future for humanity.
“The time is now. The eyes of our children and grandchildren are judging us. Let ours be the generation that can. And does,” he wrote.
As king, Charles appeared to acknowledge in his accession speech the new restraints placed on him in terms of how passionately he could push his support for causes.
In the address, given the day after Elizabeth’s death on September 8, 2022, the new king said: “My life will of course change as I take up my new responsibilities. It will no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply. But I know this important work will go on in the trusted hands of others.”
Today, the monarch continues to support environmental causes but without straying into areas that could bring him into opposition with government policy.
This month, the king met with members of the Climate Finance Mobilization Forum at Windsor Castle during President Joe Biden’s visit to Britain. The forum brought together finance leaders from the U.S. and U.K. to collaborate on commitments to climate action around the world.
James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek‘s royal reporter, based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jrcrawfordsmith
and read his stories on Newsweek‘s .
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