The great ages achieved by King Charles’ mother, the Queen (96), and maternal grandmother, the Queen mother (101), show that the modern British Royal family generally enjoy rude good health. But their royal status and excellent medical care are no guarantee against the illnesses that beset all mortal men and women. In the contemporary era, the most common condition, now afflicting one in every two people, is cancer.
King Charles’ decision to share news of his diagnosis with the world at large – though holding back from disclosing exactly where the cancer was discovered – is a major departure from the reserve and secrecy that has previously marked the Royals’ attitude towards their health. As the patron of several cancer charities, Charles clearly hopes that his openness about his condition will encourage other people to come forward and seek early medical help if they suspect that they too are suffering from cancer.
Charles’ diagnosis with the condition shared by so many of his subjects also means his family’s medical history comes under the spotlight.
The King’s paternal grandfather, King George VI, died of lung cancer after a lifetime of cigarette smoking. George VI died in his sleep at Sandringham almost exactly 72 year ago on 6 February 1952. He had been operated on for the removal of part of his lung, but had no idea that his illness was terminal. This was why Princess Elizabeth had been allowed to depart on a tour of East Africa, where she learned of her father’s death and her accession to the throne while staying in a treetops hotel in Kenya.
King George’s elder brother, Edward VIII, known after his 1936 abdication as the Duke of Windsor, also died of cancer twenty years later in 1972.