Why is There An Uproar About King Charles III’s Portrait in the UK?

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The official portrait of King Charles III - Credit: Hugo Burnand/Royal Household 2024/Cabinet Office

The official portraits of King Charles III have been made available for display in public institutions, despite being rejected by two Northern Ireland councils. These councils expressed their inability to accept the portraits due to concerns about the perceived harm they may cause to the country, especially considering the substantial cost of €9.3 million.

The arguments

There is significant opposition among government officials and UK citizens towards the recently unveiled portrait of King Charles III, which is scheduled to be exhibited at public institutions as part of a government-funded initiative costing a substantial €9.3 million.

Following the UK cabinet’s prior declaration, which was made before the coronation of King Charles III in May 2023, it has been decided to supply every public institution with a portrait of the reigning monarch. The Cabinet Office clarified that this initiative aims to uphold the tradition of displaying portraits of monarchs, similar to the practice observed with the late Queen Elizabeth’s portrait. To facilitate this endeavour, certain funds have been allocated for the purpose.

“Official portraits of Queen Elizabeth II are currently on display in many public institutions, and the offering of the new official portrait of King Charles III will enable organisations across the UK to carry on that tradition,” the UK Cabinet Office said in a press statement.

However, critics such as the anti-monarch group, Republic describe the move as a “shameful waste of money.” The chief executive of the group, Graham Smith, believes that the economic situation of the UK is at its worst and needs all the funds it can get to be resuscitated.

“At a time when a majority of local councils are raising taxes and cutting public services, when schools and hospitals are struggling, to spend even £1 (€1.17) on this nonsense would be £1 too much,” Graham Smith said.

The concerns expressed by the public were validated when 24 councillors from the Mid Ulster District Council voted against accepting the complimentary offer of the King Charles III portraits earlier this month. Similarly, in December, 22 councillors from the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council also voted against the offer to display the portrait of the King.

The Cabinet Office still defends that “His Majesty’s accession has marked the beginning of a new reign and the UK Government considers it right that public authorities, as part of the fabric of our nation, have the opportunity to commemorate this moment, strengthen civil pride and reflect the new era in our history.”

The facts

Public institutions worldwide, including schools, hospitals, and parliaments, commonly display portraits of their political leaders or monarchs, making it a widespread practice observed in nearly every country across the globe.

As part of an initiative to replace all Queen Elizabeth portraits in the UK public offices and institutions, the cabinet set aside €9.3 million for King Charles III portraits to be distributed to these institutions for free.

Currently, public entities such as local councils, courts, schools, and police forces have the opportunity to request a complimentary framed portrait until February 2, 2024. The portraits, measuring 64cm by 51cm, are anticipated to be delivered between February and April.

In the portrait taken by Hugo Burnand, a composed King Charles can be seen in the Grand Corridor of the royal residence, exuding a serious demeanour. His right hand gently rests on a pristine pair of white gloves placed on an antique table, while his left hand firmly holds a sword.

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