Timeline of a 'Annus Horribilis': Year That Saw Both King Charles and Future Queen Catherine Diagnosed With Cancer

The Princess of Wales, the wife of the heir apparent to the British throne and therefore likely future Queen has revealed she is being treated for cancer, just six weeks after it was revealed the King himself had also been diagnosed.

The phrase “annus horriblis” entered the vocabulary of Britons after it was used by the late Queen Elizabeth II to describe 1992, as year in which stories about the marriages of three of her children’s marriages falling apart became public knowledge, and the ancient and hugely important Windsor Castle was devastated by fire. 32 years later it appears the British monarchy, which has just emerged from finding its feet again after the death of the very long lived late Queen, may be facing another such ‘terrible year’ as health issues strike some of its most prominent members.

The announcements that both King Charles III and the future Queen Catherine are suffering from cancer has rocked the United Kingdom after months of speculation in lieu of fresh information on the health of the pair. While the Princess appeared healthy and unimpacted in her video statement, even now few details have been released, including what form of cancer Princess Catherine has and how serious it may be.

She said she had told her children that she was getting stronger every day, “I’m going to be OK”, and said she is focussed now on a “complete recovery”.

How did we get here? From the Princess’s last public appearance in March through hospital admissions, the King’s cancer diagnosis to today’s sad news, a timeline of the monarchy’s new ‘annus horriblis’:

December 25th 2023 — Princess Catherine seen performing Royal duties in public

Monarchy can come with a host of unusual traditions, and in the United Kingdom one of them is that the Royal Family walking to church and back on Christmas Day is a bit of a spectacle, and typically reported worldwide. Little did we know it, but Princess Catherine looking in perfect health and guiding her young children home after the service was the last time she would be photographed in public for months.

SANDRINGHAM, NORFOLK – DECEMBER 25: Catherine, Princess of Wales, Princess Charlotte of Wales, Prince George of Wales, Prince William, Prince of Wales, Prince Louis of Wales attend the Christmas Morning Service at Sandringham Church on December 25, 2023 in Sandringham, Norfolk. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)

 

January 16th — Catherine is admitted to hospital

The Princess of Wales enters the historic London Clinic private hospital for what is later revealed to have been “major abdominal surgery” on Tuesday January 16th, although this fact isn’t made public until the following day. When the Royal Family does go public on Wednesday, it is stated the surgery was planned, successful, and that Catherine will stay in hospital to recovery for two weeks and then convalesce at home until after Easter.

The very long recovery period anticipated immediately kicks off speculation about what form of surgery Princess Catherine may have had, and how serious it may have been.

 

January 17th — Palace reveals King Charles to be treated for ‘benign’ enlarged prostate

As well as revealing Princess Kate had been admitted to hospital the previous day, January 17th also sees the Palace announce King Charles III, who ascended the throne only 17 months before after the death of his mother the late Queen, was due to be admitted to hospital too. It was stated the King would enter the hospital the following week for a “corrective procedure” for an enlarged prostate.

The Palace reassured the condition was benign and non-cancerous, saying an enlarged prostate was relatively common for older man and that the King had gone public with his health complaint to encourage other men to seek treatment. The decision was seen as a break from the era of Queen Elizabeth II, when Royal health issues were generally treated as absolutely private and never discussed in public.

Of course, it would later transpire the King’s condition — like Princess Catherine’s — was actually cancerous, but according to the Palace’s statements this was yet to be discovered.

 

January 18th — Princess Kate “doing well”

The first of a series of statements that are to come forth from Kensington Palace, some of which will later arrive during periods of intense speculation about the health of the Princess, to say she is “doing well” after her surgery.

 

January 26th — King Admitted to hospital

Both the King and Princess Catherine are now patients at the same London hospital.; The King was admitted for his “corrective procedure”, his wife the Queen saying “he’s doing well, thank you”. King Charles is expected to be discharged in just a few days, but ultimately spent an unexpected third night at the Clinic, leaving on the 29th.

As well as the King and Princess, Prince William, the heir apparent is also away from Royal duties as he helps care for his wife and their children, meaning three of the highest-profile Royals are out of the public eye for a potentially protracted period.

 

February 5th — King Charles diagnosed with cancer 

Less than two months into 2024 and it has already been a difficult one for the Royal Family, but things are about to get worse. On the 5th it was revealed that tests on the King while he was in hospital for his enlarged prostate revealed he also had cancer, which the Palace called “a separate issue of concern… a form of cancer”.

What type of cancer the King has was not, and has not been revealed, and details were limited to the announcement, and that Charles III had started treatment for the disease that day. He postponed his public duties, saying that while he would continue to work from home, he would not otherwise make public appearances until recovered.

The following day the British Prime Minister — who as his historic job title implies, derives his position from being the first minister or advisor to the monarch, and therefore exercises political power in the name of the King — said the King’s cancer had been “caught early”, raising hopes of a recovery. King Charles was also briefly seen in public in the back of his car, being driven to a waiting helicopter after receiving treatment at a London hospital.

Messages of support for the King and his family flooded in from the country around the world, including from global political and faith leaders. As reports, former President Donald Trump — who has never been shy about his fondness for the British Royals and in particular King Charles’ late mother — was particularly swift with a public message of support, wishing the “wonderful” monarch a fast recovery.

 

March 2nd — Speculation on the whereabouts of Princess Kate grows

The Princess of Wales has now been out of the public eye for a little over two months, and between the tersely worded announcement of her undergoing surgery for a non-specified abdominal issue and the ample time for speculation to grow, rumours are flying thick and fast on social media. A Royal spokesman takes the unusual step on March 2nd to state the Princess is “still doing well”, and reminding the public “We always said that the Princess of Wales would be out until Easter, and we are not making any further comments”.

We do not know whether Kate had discovered she has cancer yet at this point, or whether the “tests after the operation” that found cancer had yet to be undertaken.

 

March 10th — A Mother’s day gesture gone wrong 

What is subsequently discussed and criticised as a major unforced error in public relations starts innocently enough on Mother’s Day when Princess Catherine publishes a photograph of herself with her children to mark the holiday. The happy photograph showing Kate in good spirits and apparently good health soon attracts the attention of sleuths that point out it has been edited in post-production software several times, and the image is withdrawn by several photographic agencies.

While Princess Kate, who apologised for causing concern and for what she called her amateurish attempts at touching up the snap and the Royal Family’s press officers come in for heavy criticism over the controversy, others also express concern at whether the editing may be hiding serious health complications. Apparently trying to dispel rumours that she was in much worse health than officially disclosed — although it now appears this was in fact true, given the news of a cancer diagnosis — the Princess made two brief, unofficial public appearances in a week.

When a British newspaper published the first footage of Kate since Christmas, as she was seen shopping with her husband the Prince of Wales — the future King — many thought the images heralded news Catherine had turned a corner with her health.

 

March 20th — Attempt to snoop on Catherine

The British government said an investigation was underway and that the Police would be involved after claims staff at the London hospital where both the King and Princess Kate had received treatment earlier in the year had attempted to access her private medical files — a clear breach of her privacy and the law. While the Royals are no doubt the most public of figures in the United Kingdom and the subjects of enormous interest, nethertheless the government affirmed they have a legal right to medical privacy like any other Briton.

 

March 22nd — Cancer diagnosis

Princess Catherine published a short video on Friday revealing that tests following her surgery in January, it was discovered that “cancer had been present”. It is not clear when that discovery was made, how advanced the cancer is, or what kind of cancer the Princess is suffering from, only that she is in the “early stages” of “preventative” chemotherapy.

The Princess said she had delayed making this information public because she and her husband had needed time to break the news to their own children Prince George, who is ten years old, Princess Charlotte who is eight, and Prince Louis who is five. She emphasised that she had told her children: “I’m going to be OK. As I’ve said to them I am well, and getting stronger every day”.

She said she was focussed on making “a complete recovery” and asked for privacy during this time.

While Princess Catherine spoke of “getting stronger”, “hope”, and a “complete recovery” the fact this bombshell revelation has come after weeks of the Palace saying she is doing well in-between periods of silence will inevitably invite further speculation.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – MARCH 15: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales watch children produce artwork during a visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery on March 15, 2012 in Dulwich, south London, Englad. The Duchess of Cambridge joined her parents-in-law Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall on a royal visit to the gallery to celebrate their shared love of the arts and see work done by the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts. (Photo by John Stillwell – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 17: Britain’s King Charles III and Catherine, Princess of Wales during a lunch held for governors-general of the Commonwealth nations at Buckingham Palace on September 17, 2022 in London, England. Foreign dignitaries, heads of state and other VIPs are among the thousands who have visited Westminster Hall to view Queen Elizabeth II lying in state prior to her funeral on Monday. The 96-year-old monarch died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on September 8, 2022, and is succeeded by her eldest son, King Charles III. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

 

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