If there was any consolation for the King last night, it was the news that the Princess of Wales was said to be ‘doing well’ as she recovers from abdominal surgery.
His relief at his daughter-in-law’s progress, however, is tempered by the knowledge that within a few days he, too, will be secluded in hospital as he undergoes a medical procedure for an enlarged prostate.
Ordinarily at such a moment, his son would be able to take up some of the royal slack. But Prince William has, understandably, put the welfare of his wife and children first and postponed his official engagements.
That the three most important members of the Royal Family – Charles in his position as sovereign, William as heir to the throne and Kate as the monarchy’s most relatable figure — should all be absent from the public stage at the same time is alarming enough.
But what is far more striking — and should also be a cause for concern — is just what these medical emergencies mean for the ability of the House of Windsor to fully function when it is beset by unforeseen setbacks. For, if nothing else, these health alarms have exposed the consequences of a slimmed-down monarchy. Shorn of such dependable figures, even for a short time, they reveal just how empty the royal cupboard is.
Queen Camilla will keep calm and carry on, of course, even if her mind is quite reasonably elsewhere. And Princess Anne is as ever the safest of a safe pair of hands.
More telling perhaps is how quickly a problem can turn into a crisis.
For decades the royals glided serenely through many a difficulty because there were enough of them to deploy. If one family member was indisposed another would seamlessly step in.
But the turbulence of recent years, from Megxit to Prince Andrew’s Epstein crisis and the death of Queen Elizabeth, has put resources under the heaviest of strains.
In private moments, Charles must surely wish he still had the box office draw of Prince Harry to call on. The ‘old’ Harry that is, the fun-loving prince who threw himself into royal duty with a verve and a popularity unmatched by any other family members.
But that was before marriage, self-imposed exile to California and bitter estrangement from his own brother.