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Charles and Kate are out of hospital but the royal family is stretched thin

Analysis by Max Foster and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN

London (CNN) — As King Charles III waved to well-wishers outside the hospital and Queen Camilla stood by his side, both smiled broadly at the cheering crowds. The message they hoped to convey after the family’s double health scare was clear: The crown is still strong.

The 75-year-old monarch left private hospital the London Clinic on Monday afternoon. Hours earlier, a car full of flowers for the King’s daughter-in-law, Catherine, was seen being driven away from the same hospital. But no sign of the Princess of Wales, who departed out of sight of the cameras.

There is a long tradition of royals appearing outside hospitals to reassure the public. The fact that Charles did so but Kate did not has become a talking point. She has made these public appearances before, such as after the birth of her children, but she opted to slip away on this occasion.

The palace has been fiercely protective of the Princess of Wales, making clear in statements that she deserves some privacy. Aides understand she is popular and that her fans will have hoped to catch a glimpse of their favorite royal as she left, especially as she isn’t expected to reemerge for several months.

But there could be a simple explanation for her absence in that she may simply not be feeling ready to smile for the cameras yet. While we know her operation was successful, we don’t know exactly what it was for.

Both Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace issued statements on behalf of the royals, expressing their gratitude for the kind messages the family has received during their hospital stays.

Charles will now be out of the public eye for a “period of private recuperation” at an undisclosed home. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Princess of Wales said she is “making good progress” and now continues her recovery in Windsor.

Both Kate and her husband, Prince William, have cleared their schedule of public duties until at least Easter.

The recent, unusually candid, health updates have been welcomed by some as a signal of a slightly evolving and more transparent monarchy.

But with three of the most senior members of the family sidelined, a difficult reality has been laid bare: The family is incredibly stretched.

The number of public-facing “working royals” has dwindled in recent years as “the Firm” sought to rebrand in step with the times. Only working royals carry out engagements on behalf of the King, splitting the 2,710 visits and events undertaken last year between them.

That group was supposed to consist of 14 family members: King Charles, Queen Camilla, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, the Waleses, Sussexes, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Duke and Duchess of Kent.

That is, until Prince Harry and Meghan chose to step down and Andrew was forced to, in the light of his relationship with the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Now we have 11 – more than half of whom are over the age of 70.

The monarchy over the years has been under pressure to reduce expenditure and reflect a nation currently undergoing a cost-of-living crisis. Charles’ accession came amid a new era of fewer royals  carrying out more engagements.

“We have a much smaller royal family going into 2024 – much fewer royals to do the engagements because we have an aging King,” CNN historian Kate Williams says. “It is really all falling on William and Kate, Edward and Sophie and Anne. And when one or more of them is out of action, that is quite a significant impact on the royal family.”

Until Charles, Kate and William return, Camilla will be the most senior public face of the British monarchy, with just seven others backing her up.

The Queen has over the past two weeks significantly increased the number of engagements she is undertaking but there are only so many hours in a day. Some have wondered if it would be helpful to fold Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie into the core group. After all, they did occasionally support the late Queen Elizabeth II at engagements.

What this period has shown is that, while Britain’s royals are an institution, they are also a normal family susceptible to everyday human frailties – and that could be something the King may want to address in the future.

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