Plans to slim down the Prince of Wales role show that another divisive investiture is far from inevitable
Ifan Morgan Jones
As with almost all ‘ancient traditions,’ the investiture of the Prince of Wales is remarkably recent. In fact, it’s only ever happened twice in the modern era, once in 1911 for the future King Edward VIII and once in 1969 for Prince Charles.
The original investiture in 1911 at Caernarfon was dreamt up by local MP and then Chancellor David Lloyd George, largely as a kind of coming out ceremony for Wales as its own nation.
For what had previously been considered by many just a county of England, recognition that Wales was an equal partner within the UK mattered a great deal at the time. The investiture and its celebration of all things Welsh was a way of demonstrating that.
But Wales no longer needs a Royal seal of approval to confirm it as a nation – that status is now decided by its own people. It has its own parliament and an array of national institutions backed by democratic support.
Charles’ investiture over 50 years ago, in 1969, was already past its sell-by date. It is remembered today less as a triumph for Royalism an more as a spark that, alongside Tryweryn and the battle for the Welsh language, ignited the Welsh national movement.
The title of the Prince of Wales is seen by many in Wales as inherently divisive as it was handed to the King’s heir after the conquest of Wales in order to undermine its status.
But that history aside, another investiture today would also just become a wedge issue in Wales and a wider UK already politically split down the middle. It would be impossible for the Royal family not to find their ceremony becoming a political football in culture wars, Brexit, Welsh independence versus devoscepticism, and the cost of living crisis.
A poll by WalesOnline last year showed that 61% in Wales wanted another investiture. But the Royal Family aren’t politicians – being unelected, taking half the nation with them won’t do. And an opinion poll says nothing about salience. They are likely to find that of those who don’t want it, a lot really don’t want it to an extent that would likely sour the whole thing, as it did in 1969.
And I think that the Royal family sees this too. The Queen will be 96 this month and looking increasingly frail, and I think that there is a recognition that much of the goodwill bound up with the Royal Family is invested in her rather than her wider family.
When she’s gone, Prince Andrew’s scandals will continue to linger like a bad smell in the background. Prince Charles can never aspire to be as personally popular as his mother. While William and Kate are widely liked, the deference which belonged to previous generations just doesn’t belong to theirs.
Prince William at least seems to recognise this, saying that he doesn’t expect to be Head of the Commonwealth – realistically, most of the members who still have the British R as head of state are likely to start electing their own once the Queen dies.
William has also indicated that the role of the Prince of Wales will become slimmed down, with half the staff and far fewer charities.
A good first step in this slimming down process would be to dodge a politically divisive and costly jamboree at Caernarfon Castle.
The deletion of the Prince of Wales title altogether is no doubt too much to hope for at the present time. However, a more PR sensitive post-Queen Royal Family may realise that drawing attention to it with a big party probably isn’t the best way forward.
After all, doing away with the investiture would not be the end of a tradition – just a return to a norm after an idea first dreamt up by Lloyd George, which by 1969 had already outstayed its welcome.
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