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Royal Family in Turmoil as Demands Mount for More Transparency: 'There Is Too Much Uncertainty' (Exclusive)

"The monarchy needs to be that anchor in times of trouble," royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story

People Cover Story: Royals in Turmoil
People Cover Story: Royals in Turmoil

As the details of King Charlescancer diagnosis and Kate Middleton's abdominal surgery remain undisclosed, there are increasing calls for transparency within the royal family.

"Everybody feels unsettled by uncertainty, and there is too much uncertainty that is surrounding the monarchy right now," royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's cover story.

"Queen Elizabeth used to say, 'I need to be seen to be believed.' It is important for Charles and his reign for the public to know a little bit more," she adds.

Nearly 19 months after Queen Elizabeth's death in Sept. 2022, the stability that she brought to her family and the nation through her 70-year reign has been replaced with an appearance of vulnerability for the royals. In addition to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's decision to step back from their roles as working members of the royal family in 2020, the recent health issues that have sidelined the King, 75, and the Princess of Wales, 42, from public duties have created an unprecedented time of fragility.

<p>Chris Jackson/Getty</p> Queen Camilla, King Charles, Prince William and Kate Middleton at a Buckingham Palace reception on Dec. 5, 2023

Chris Jackson/Getty

Queen Camilla, King Charles, Prince William and Kate Middleton at a Buckingham Palace reception on Dec. 5, 2023

Related: Was Kate Middleton's Return to Royal Duty Following Her Surgery Recovery Just Revealed?

"The monarchy needs to be that anchor in times of trouble, and any sense of instability, which is inevitable when you have two of the key players out of action, is understandable," says Bedell Smith.

Adds Catherine Mayer, who authored the biography Charles: The Heart of a King: "This is massively exposing how the royal family has gone from too many people to too few in a short space of time."

<p>Matt Dunham - WPA Pool/Getty</p> Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attend service of thanksgiving for Queen Elizabeth in London on June 3, 2022

Matt Dunham - WPA Pool/Getty

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attend service of thanksgiving for Queen Elizabeth in London on June 3, 2022

The palace announced on Feb. 5 that King Charles had been diagnosed with cancer and would largely step back from public-facing duties while he continued work behind the scenes during treatment. He's been spotted attending church services, was photographed during an audience with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and appeared in a video reading cards from well-wishers, but demands are mounting for the monarch to be more transparent about his condition.

"Even though he has revealed that he has a form of cancer, that has done nothing to quell the speculation about how seriously ill he may or may not be," says Bedell Smith. “That is not doing the monarchy any favors. He is the head of state, and there are constitutional implications."

<p>TheImageDirect.com</p> King Charles leaves Windsor Castle to travel to London on March 5, 2024

TheImageDirect.com

King Charles leaves Windsor Castle to travel to London on March 5, 2024

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Meanwhile, the lack of clarity surrounding Princess Kate's abdominal surgery has left a vacuum filled with conspiracy theories about her health and whereabouts.

Although the palace specified that the Princess of Wales was not expected to return to public duties until after Easter, they've been forced to issue brief statements about her well-being during recovery in response to rumors. Kate has only been spotted once since the procedure — riding in a car with her mother, Carole Middleton, on March 4.

<p>Chris Jackson/Getty </p> Kate Middleton visits Nottingham Trent University on Oct. 11, 2023

Chris Jackson/Getty

Kate Middleton visits Nottingham Trent University on Oct. 11, 2023

Related: Kate Middleton Gets Support from Mom Carole as Royal Is Spotted amid Surgery Recovery

King Charles and Princess Kate's time out of the spotlight means it's been largely up to Queen Camilla, 76, and Prince William, 41, to step up as the faces of the monarchy.

While the Queen has stepped in for her husband on numerous occasions in recent weeks, the Prince of Wales has also made public appearances a priority after taking time away to care for his wife and children during her recovery.

"His focus is on his work and not on social media," a spokesman says.

<p>DANIEL LEAL/POOL/AFP via Getty</p> Prince William gives a speech at London's Air Ambulance Charity Gala Dinner on Feb. 7, 2024

DANIEL LEAL/POOL/AFP via Getty

Prince William gives a speech at London's Air Ambulance Charity Gala Dinner on Feb. 7, 2024

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