What Does Prince Charles Do All Day?

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With the Queen recently surpassing Queen Victoria as Britain’s longest reigning monarch, it’s become evident that she’s probably never going to die. Which means that her heir apparent, Charles, Prince of Wales, needs to find some other things to fill his time. So what does he do all day?

Before we get started, some background: Though Charles is Queen Elizabeth II’s son and heir, he isn’t entirely supported by the state; he earns his income from the hereditary estate of the Duchy of Cornwall, which has been given to successive Princes of Wales since 1337. Currently, it encompasses some 53,408 hectares of land in 23 counties, as well as major venues like the Oval cricket ground and a host of other solid investments. This June, it was reported that the Duchy of Cornwall earned Charles a record almost £20 million that fiscal year alone. The Duchy (and by extension, Charles) does, however, receive some funding from the government and from the Sovereign Grant (government aid to the royals, totaling £36 million), to the tune of £2.2 million a year. 

So that’s how he makes his not inconsiderable money. But what’s his job description? In a constitutional monarchy, as Britain has been since the end of the 17th century, the monarch is the Head of State in name only—the ability to pass legislation is in the hands of Parliament. According to the official website of the British Monarchy, “The Sovereign acts as a focus for national identity, unity and pride; gives a sense of stability and continuity; officially recognizes success and excellence; and supports the ideal of voluntary service.” The same basically goes for the heir apparent. And that means…

1. A LOT OF CHARITY WORK

The Prince’s Charities is an umbrella group of 14 charitable organizations of which HRH is president (read: mostly a figurehead, but a well meaning one); according to his press materials, he founded 13 of them himself. These charities range in character from the Royal Drawing School, an educational initiative he co-founded with artist Catherine Goodman that offers free, high quality drawing instruction to worthy students; to the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, which works to preserve historic buildings; to the British Asian Trust, which helps funnel donation money to local charities in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the UK. Also according to his press materials, The Prince’s Charities is the largest multi-cause charitable enterprise in the UK and brings in more than £100 million annually. But that’s not all—the Prince is patron or president of some 400 other charities. Sound like he’s bitten off more than he can chew? Maybe—but again, it’s mostly a figurehead thing. The Prince’s projects that appear to be nearest and dearest to his heart involve sustainable agriculture and environmental preservation, so look for him to be more hands-on there. 

2. REPRESENTING THE QUEEN—AND ACCEPTING GIFTS

If the Queen is busy and can’t meet some foreign dignitary or another, Prince Charles is your man. Last year, he and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, hosted almost 6000 guests at events at their royal residences, and attended 99 seminars, luncheons, and dinners in the name of duty. He’s also frequently called on for overseas travel; last year, for example, he travelled more than 64,380 miles on official business (think shaking hands with important people in other nations, or rallying troops serving abroad). In a nod to these strained economic times, Charles agreed to foot the bill for his overseas travel; according to The Guardian, his cost to taxpayers fell 50 percent in fiscal year 2013.

On the upside, all this travel and visiting foreign nations means that he, like the Queen, has been the recipient of some rather odd but welcome gifts. Each year, the royal family releases a list of gifts they’ve received during their overseas visits; in 2013, Prince Charles received a silk tie, a portable water filtration kit, and a bag of dried organic apple rings (among other things). The royal family doesn’t usually disclose what happens to the individual gifts; sometimes they’re used—especially in the case of perishable items—but other times, they’re simply packed off into storage.

3. MORE VISITING THINGS

A big part of the royal life is visiting. Just visiting. Showing up and waving. Last year, Charles and Camilla made appearances in more than 75 British and Northern Irish towns and cities. The week after the royal prince was born, Charles and Camilla were back at it, first putting in an appearance at the Royal Welsh Show, a massive agricultural fair, before opening the new garden at Kemble Railway Station in Windmill Hill, Kemble, Gloucestershire on Thursday. Such is the life of a royal—official duties often consist of visiting schools, opening new business ventures, christening railway stations, and touring the studios where Doctor Who is filmed. Which is actually pretty exciting.

4. SUPPORTING HIS SONS

All parents support their children, but Charles really puts his money where his mouth is. According to recent reports, Prince Charles pays out £1 million a year to support his two adult sons, Princes William and Harry, as well as their dependents and staff. Neither makes enough to support the kinds of travel and living that royalty requires. 

5. NOT PAYING ENOUGH IN TAXES

So, the Duchy of Cornwall is a bit of a money-spinner—good for crown and country? Not exactly. According to recent reports in the British media, Prince Charles pays less tax on the massive £19 million annual income from his Duchy of Cornwall estate than his servants do. The Prince came under fire in 2013 for paying just under 24 percent in direct and indirect tax on his earnings from the estate, as well as for legitimately writing off much of his expenses incurred from official duty as business expenses. Labour MPs put the Prince in the same camp as “tax dodgers” Google and Starbucks, with now-former MP Austin Mitchell claiming that not classifying the Duchy of Cornwall as a corporation—a “medieval anomaly”—was just an opportunity for the Prince not to pay corporation tax.

6. WRITING BOOKS

Prince Charles is, as we’ve mentioned, legitimately passionate about matters of ecological concern. He’s even written two books about the subject: Harmony: A New Way of Looking At The World, which describes itself as in the same vein as An Inconvenient Truth, and On the Future of Food, taken from his keynote speech at the Future of Food conference at Georgetown University in 2011. But that’s not all! In 1980, he wrote a children’s book based on a story he used to tell his younger brothers Andrew and Edward; The Old Man of Lochnagar is the tale of a gruff old man in a desperate search for peace and quiet and a hot bath. The book was made into a BBC animated film, with the Prince narrating, and later, with the Prince’s permission, a ballet.

7. PAINTING

Charles is a keen watercolor artist, with a good eye for scene, coloring, and, of course, making money; limited edition lithographs of his paintings can be bought from his Highgrove shop for around £2500. In 2013, 130 of his works were published in an online gallery; one critic denounced the Prince’s artistic efforts as “torpor-inducingly conventional,” and “so pedestrian to be almost laughable,” though he did admit that they weren’t all bad, by any means, and that the Prince was indeed tapping into a longstanding British royal tradition—Queen Victoria herself was a watercolor artist.

8. LOBBYING

The British monarch has been more of a figurehead since the Georges, when the power of Parliament demonstrably outstripped that of the crown; accordingly, members of the royal family aren’t traditionally meant to use their position to influence politics. But in May of this year, evidence that Prince Charles may have been using his title to push his own agenda came to light. The “black spider memos,” so-called after the Prince’s idiosyncratic scrawled handwriting and released by The Guardian after a freedom of information request and years-long legal battle, are a series of letters written by the Prince to sitting British government ministers and politicians. In them, he’s self-deprecating and empathetic—and always clear about what he’s asking for. 

So what was he asking for? Well, nothing that the public didn’t already know: The Prince’s concerns for the kingdom have always been a bit random. From then-prime minister Tony Blair, he demanded better equipment for troops serving in Iraq, but also lobbied against the outlawing of certain herbal remedies; from other ministers, he asked for action on the common weed ragwort, greater protection for the Patagonian toothfish (also known as Chilean sea bass) and the albatross, help for small farmers, and more funding for the preservation of historic buildings and sites.  

The reaction of the British public and press was less outraged and stunned than The Guardian could have hoped; some even defended the Prince for having opinions about the nation he will someday rule. It’s also clear that though ministers were obliged to write back long and vaguely sycophantic responses—signed, in some cases, “your Royal Highness’s most humble and obedient servant,” per custom—few actually acted on his suggestions. Perhaps all the memos really did was to underscore how limited his influence actually is.

9. FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE

Prince Charles’s commitment to protecting the environment is long-standing and, judging from the “black spider memos,” clearly heartfelt. One area that he’s particularly concerned about is climate change. This March, he told an audience in Kentucky, during his quick visit, that “If we wish to maintain our civilization, then we must look after the Earth … In failing Earth, we are failing humanity.” And on the subject of those grandchildren, Charles added, “As a grandpa, I have no intention of failing mine or anyone else's grandchildren.” More recently, Charles made headlines when he gave a speech at a University of Cambridge Institute For Sustainability Leadership event calling for a “rewiring” of the global economy to ameliorate climate change: “The need to join up disparate efforts on finance, sustainable development, climate change and a whole range of related challenges has been apparent for decades. But the irresistible power of ‘business as usual’ has so far defeated every attempt to ‘rewire’ our economic system in ways that will deliver what we so urgently need.”

10. WAITING, WAITING, WAITING

On September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning British monarch, beating the record held by Queen Victoria. But Prince Charles, now 67, made his own record back in April 2011, when he became the longest serving heir to the throne in British history (according to media reports, he's getting impatient). And when—or if—he does take the throne, he will be the oldest person to do so.

So why wouldn’t he become king? Well, the problem, several commentators have pointed out, is that Charles isn’t very well liked. According to a survey of 2000 Britons conducted right before the birth of Charlotte, the most popular members of the royal family are the Princes William and Harry, liked by 79 percent of respondents, with the Queen hot on their heels at 77 percent. But respondents were much more equivocal when it came to Charles: 40 percent think that when his time comes, he should abdicate in favor of William, and 43 percent think he shouldn’t.

11. PRACTICING MAGIC

OK, probably not so much anymore. But this is one of my absolute favorite Prince Charles facts: In 1975, Prince Charles became a member of the Magic Circle, a society of stage magicians founded in London in 1905, after passing his audition with a “cup and balls” trick. The actual cup and balls are on display at the Magic Circle’s museum in London. Here’s hoping that Grandpa Charles brushes up on his magic tricks for his grandchildren!

Why Do Students Get Summers Off?

Iam Anupong/iStock via Getty Images
Iam Anupong/iStock via Getty Images

It’s commonly believed that school kids started taking summers off in the 19th century so that they’d have time to work on the farm. Nice as that story is, it isn’t true. Summer vacation has little to do with tilling fields and more to do with sweaty, rich city kids playing hooky—and their sweaty, rich parents.

Before the Civil War, farm kids never had summers off. They went to school during the hottest and coldest months and stayed home during the spring and fall, when crops needed to be planted and harvested. Meanwhile, city kids hit the books all year long—summers included. In 1842, Detroit’s academic year lasted 260 days.

But as cities got denser, they got hotter. Endless lanes of brick and concrete transformed urban blocks into kilns, thanks to what was known as the “urban heat island effect.” That’s when America’s swelling middle and upper class families started hightailing it to the cooler countryside. And that caused a problem. School attendance wasn’t mandatory back then, and classrooms were being left half-empty each summer. Something had to give.

Legislators, in one of those if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em moments, started arguing that kids should get summers off anyway. It helped that, culturally, leisure time was becoming more important. With the dawn of labor unions and the eight-hour workday, working adults were getting more time to themselves than ever before. Advocates for vacation time also argued (incorrectly) that the brain was a muscle, and like any muscle, it could suffer injuries if overused. From there, they argued that students shouldn’t go to school year-round because it could strain their brains. To top it off, air conditioning was decades away, and city schools during summertime were miserable, half-empty ovens.

So by the turn of the century, urban districts had managed to cut about 60 schooldays from the most sweltering part of the year. Rural schools soon adopted the same pattern so they wouldn’t fall behind. Business folks obviously saw an opportunity here. The summer vacation biz soon ballooned into what is now one of the country’s largest billion-dollar industries.

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Where Did the Term Brownie Points Come From?

bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

In a Los Angeles Times column published on March 15, 1951, writer Marvin Miles observed a peculiar phrase spreading throughout his circle of friends and the social scene at large. While standing in an elevator, he overheard the man next to him lamenting “lost brownie points.” Later, in a bar, a friend of Miles's who had stayed out too late said he would never “catch up” on his brownie points.

Miles was perplexed. “What esoteric cult was this that immersed men in pixie mathematics?” he wrote. It was, his colleagues explained, a way of keeping “score” with their spouses, of tallying the goodwill they had accrued with the “little woman.”

Over the decades, the phrase brownie points has become synonymous with currying favor, often with authority figures such as teachers or employers. So where exactly did the term come from, and what happens when you “earn” them?

The most pervasive explanation is that the phrase originated with the Brownies, a subsect of the Girl Scouts who were encouraged to perform good deeds in their communities. The Brownies were often too young to be official Girl Scouts and were sometimes the siblings of older members. Originally called Rosebuds in the UK, they were renamed Brownies when the first troops were being organized in 1916. Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who had formed the Boy Scouts and was asked to name this new Girl Scout division, dubbed them Brownies after the magical creatures of Scottish folklore that materialized to selflessly help with household chores.

But the Brownies are not the only potential source. In the 1930s, kids who signed up to deliver magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies' Home Journal from Curtis Publishing were eligible for vouchers labeled greenies and brownies that they could redeem for merchandise. They were not explicitly dubbed brownie points, but it’s not hard to imagine kids applying a points system to the brownies they earned.

The term could also have been the result of wartime rationing in the 1940s, where red and brown ration points could be redeemed for meats.

The phrase didn’t really seem to pick up steam until Miles's column was published. In this context, the married men speaking to Miles believed brownie points could be collected by husbands who remembered birthdays and anniversaries, stopped to pick up the dry cleaning, mailed letters, and didn’t spend long nights in pubs speaking to newspaper columnists. The goal, these husbands explained, was never to get ahead; they merely wanted to be considered somewhat respectable in the eyes of their wives.

Later, possibly as a result of its usage in print, grade school students took the phrase to mean an unnecessary devotion to teachers in order to win them over. At a family and faculty meeting at Leon High in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1956, earning brownie points was said to be a serious problem. Also called apple polishing, it prompted other students in class to shame their peers for being friendly to teachers. As a result, some were “reluctant to be civil” for fear they would be harassed for sucking up.

In the decades since that time, the idiom has become attached to any act where goodwill can be expected in return, particularly if it’s from someone in a position to reward the act with good grades or a promotion. As for Miles: the columnist declared his understanding of brownie points came only after a long night of investigation. Arriving home late, he said, rendered him “pointless.”

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