King Charles: The Royal Patron of Spies Has a Long History With Espionage


King Charles’s keen interest in espionage goes much deeper than James Bond movies and Aston Martin DB5s - although the royal couldn’t resist dropping by the 007 set in 2019 to chat all things Aston with Bond actor Daniel Craig.

The Monarch has a longstanding relationship with Britain’s security services and was appointed Royal Patron of Intelligence Agencies in 2011 on the recommendation of spy chiefs from MI5, MI6, and GCHQ. So what does that mean in practice?

On His Majesty’s Secret Service

Ten days after GRU double agent Sergei Skripal was poisoned with the deadly nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury, England in March 2018, then-Prince Charles made an unannounced visit to Britain’s domestic spy agency MI5 for a briefing and followed-up with a morale-boosting tour of Salisbury several months later.

The Skripal incident certainly wasn’t the first time the Royal Patron of Intelligence Agencies has been briefed by spies or visited their HQ and it definitely won’t be the last.

King Charles: The Royal Patron of Spies Has a Long History With Espionage
  King Charles in Salisbury, where a Russian GRU double agent was poisoned in 2018

Red box of spy secrets

As Monarch, King Charles will now receive regular security briefings from the agencies along with the daily ‘red box’ of spy secrets - including intelligence reports, Cabinet papers, and secret reports from Commonwealth countries - delivered wherever in the world he may be.

If the Queen is any indication, King Charles will also be keen to visit the agencies regularly to see first-hand how they are handling the day’s national security threats and to examine historical spy artifacts such as the NOREEN cipher machine used onboard the Royal Yacht when Her Majesty was overseas or her BRENT key for the secure telephone system.

On the ceremonial side, Charles may also elect to continue handing out top-secret gongs to Britain’s elite spies. Since 2011, he has presided over the annual ceremony at the state apartments of St James's Palace or Clarence House to reward the country’s top agents with citations and awards for acts of gallantry or ingenuity that will never be publicized.

King Charles: The Royal Patron of Spies Has a Long History With Espionage

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King Charles’s keen interest in espionage goes much deeper than James Bond movies and Aston Martin DB5s - although the royal couldn’t resist dropping by the 007 set in 2019 to chat all things Aston with Bond actor Daniel Craig.

The Monarch has a longstanding relationship with Britain’s security services and was appointed Royal Patron of Intelligence Agencies in 2011 on the recommendation of spy chiefs from MI5, MI6, and GCHQ. So what does that mean in practice?

On His Majesty’s Secret Service

Ten days after GRU double agent Sergei Skripal was poisoned with the deadly nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury, England in March 2018, then-Prince Charles made an unannounced visit to Britain’s domestic spy agency MI5 for a briefing and followed-up with a morale-boosting tour of Salisbury several months later.

The Skripal incident certainly wasn’t the first time the Royal Patron of Intelligence Agencies has been briefed by spies or visited their HQ and it definitely won’t be the last.

King Charles: The Royal Patron of Spies Has a Long History With Espionage
  King Charles in Salisbury, where a Russian GRU double agent was poisoned in 2018

Red box of spy secrets

As Monarch, King Charles will now receive regular security briefings from the agencies along with the daily ‘red box’ of spy secrets - including intelligence reports, Cabinet papers, and secret reports from Commonwealth countries - delivered wherever in the world he may be.

If the Queen is any indication, King Charles will also be keen to visit the agencies regularly to see first-hand how they are handling the day’s national security threats and to examine historical spy artifacts such as the NOREEN cipher machine used onboard the Royal Yacht when Her Majesty was overseas or her BRENT key for the secure telephone system.

On the ceremonial side, Charles may also elect to continue handing out top-secret gongs to Britain’s elite spies. Since 2011, he has presided over the annual ceremony at the state apartments of St James's Palace or Clarence House to reward the country’s top agents with citations and awards for acts of gallantry or ingenuity that will never be publicized.

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King Charles: The Royal Patron of Spies Has a Long History With Espionage
King Charles is shown around GCHQ’s cyber spy base by Director Jeremy Fleming 

A lifetime of spies

The King’s life has been populated with spies. Three days after King Charles III was born in 1948, Britain’s diplomats assembled at the Foreign Office to discuss worrisome development in the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Plans for a hypothetical WWIII and the possibility of nuclear fallout followed in the years ahead. In the event of war, the Royal Family - including the then-teenaged heir, Charles - were reportedly to be granted special protection under plans to travel to undisclosed destinations to prevent the monarchy from being wiped out in one blast.

US President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 further worried royal security, particularly as King Charles was to begin studying at Cambridge University in 1967. As the young prince cycled around town, his security team followed in a beaten-up Land Rover at a discreet distance, pretending the young prince was just another student.

King Charles: The Royal Patron of Spies Has a Long History With Espionage
King Charles at the University of Cambridge in 1967


Thwarted kidnapping

The security team stepped in when a group of female students from another university - described as 'strident women's libbers' - planned to kidnap Charles and hold him for ransom, according to The Secret Royals. A royal bodyguard also occupied a room at Trinity College, according to Cambridge's magazine Varsity, and attended the same lectures as the Prince, although - despite the urban myth - the bodyguard did not take the exams.

By the time Charles was studying at Aberystwyth University in Wales in 1969, Britain's intelligence services were increasingly concerned about violent Welsh nationalism and the threat of terrorism. A Special Branch Unit was established to focus specifically on the threat to Charles.

Even after the attempted kidnapping of Princess Anne in 1974, security remained lax by today's standards. Charles reportedly had two protection officers but the royal cars lacked bulletproof glass, armor plating, and decent radio communications.


King Charles: The Royal Patron of Spies Has a Long History With Espionage
King Charles served in the Air Force and Navy (1971-1976) before marrying Diana in 1981


Bomb threats and intelligence fears

The death of Lord Mountbatten in a bomb assassination in Ireland in 1979 was a wake-up call and a particularly difficult time for Charles, who confided in his diary that he viewed Mountbatten as a combination of grandfather, great uncle, father, brother, and friend: “Life will never be the same now that he has gone.” 

His security ramped up again following the marriage of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles in 1981. A memo held in the FBI files detailed a bomb threat investigated in the US at the time and, in the Spring of 1981, Britain’s security services intercepted and defused a letter bomb addressed to Prince Charles, according to Lilibet: An Intimate Portrait of Elizabeth II by Carolly Erickson.

Shots were fired at the prince during his visit to Australia in 1994, coming within a meter of the royal - although dramatic television coverage of the shooting shows the prince remained calm (unlike his bodyguard). 

It appears King Charles may have been unaware of an enemy spy within the palace, however. While still a prince, Charles wrote a letter of support to KGB spy Anthony Blunt, seemingly unaware that the royal art historian was a member of Britain’s notorious Cambridge Five ring exposed as Moscow spies during the Cold War, according to Love and Deception by James Hanning. 

King Charles: The Royal Patron of Spies Has a Long History With Espionage
The Monarch travels with a team of royal protection bodyguards

Special events and royal spies

In 2010, King Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall - Camilla, now the Queen Consort - found themselves in the midst of one of the biggest security breaches in years. Their car was attacked by a mob of rioting students in London during a protest over rising tuition fees. Protestors cracked a window, threw paint at their car, and jabbed the Duchess in the ribs. Three years later, Scotland Yard shelved their inquiry - without arresting the two main suspects.

Since then, during special events such as the 2012 London Olympics or the 2018 wedding of Prince Harry to American actress Megan Markle, Britain’s security services reportedly work with specialist royal protection teams, armed officers, and the military as part of overt and covert plans.


King Charles' new team

When King Charles III became the nation’s monarch in September 2022, he inherited the Queen’s security team including Major Jonathan Thompson who served with the 5th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland. Thompson was also among the procession accompanying Her Majesty's coffin from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall during the September 19, 2022 funeral.

According to Thompson’s LinkedIn profile, he has served in the British Army since 2006 prior to graduating from Aberystwyth University in Wales where he studied economics, international politics, and intelligence. Wherever King Charles goes now, Britain’s spies will surely follow - unless, of course, they arrive first.

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