NEWS
05/21/2014 11:45 EDT | Updated 07/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Prince Charles and Vladimir Putin: Can royals wade into politics?

Over time a perception has developed that high-level royals wouldn't and shouldn't wade into political affairs of the day, in part because of how Queen Elizabeth has diligently kept her views to herself.

So when word leaked out that Prince Charles had reportedly likened Russian President Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler, the British media were all over it, with one headline even suggesting the whole affair risks "triggering international scandal."

But there is precedent for royals not being shy about sharing what they think politically, and Charles is far from the first member of his family to cast Russia in a less-than-positive light.

"The Queen's predecessors were more open about their views, and at times Charles seems to follow in that tradition rather than the Queen's approach," says Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian and blogger.

The latest controversy emerged in Britain after it was reported the heir to throne had told a volunteer at the Canadian Immigration Museum in Halifax on Monday that, "Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler," relating to Russian annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.

"It has had significant ramifications, because it was uttered by a man who will one day be head of state," BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt noted on the broadcaster's website today.

Hunt suggests that Charles, "a passionate prince," probably won't be too bothered by the fact he's drawn attention to what Putin is doing.

Others in the halls of the palace and the U.K. government might be more concerned. The concern is an ongoing one that has sparked much debate about just how much Charles, who has controversially waded into everything from organic farming to architecture, can and should say in public and in private.

Letters to ministers

"There have been concerns expressed in the past about how forthright he is with his views and how that will ultimately play into his role as a constitutional monarch," Harris says.

Elizabeth has been on the throne for 62 years, and her way of doing business has become the accepted approach for how monarchs deal with governments, Harris adds.

Charles has, however, been known to write letters to government ministers, and there's been much discussion and debate about that.

"Some view this as he's learning how the government works and that that makes sense for a future king, and others have viewed this as evidence that he might try to engage in political interference as king," Harris says.

Of course, Charles's comments about Putin were made out of range of any media microphone, and Clarence House has gone to pains to point that out, noting it doesn't comment on private conversations.

No matter what Charles might say in public or private, the fact that he has a negative view of Russia isn't anything new for his family.

"There's a long royal tradition of distrust of Russia," says Harris, noting it dates back to Queen Victoria's time, coming out of the Crimean War.

"It's interesting that certainly Prince Charles's ancestors also held negative views regarding successive Russian governments, whether it was the czarist period or the Soviet period."