Why the Senedd should host William’s investiture
It was the most telling performance to gauge Charles III’s approach as monarch. At the Senedd, the King rose to address another parliament. He spoke in English, but then changed to Welsh. It was an impressive and moving bilingual speech. In just a few minutes the King evoked the memory of ancient native princes and celebrated the pride that makes Wales distinctive. No monarch in modern British history has understood and respected this country more.
Royal visits come normally with celebration and a tinge of protest in Wales. Republican activists outside Cardiff Castle, with placards in tow, were in the minority. Cheering crowds and Union Jacks were more likely to be seen on the roads that lined the route to Llandaff Cathedral and the Senedd. Irate as he may be to hear a jeer or heckle, King Charles III understands the complicated relationship between the Welsh people and the institution he now leads. A more historically acute – and very much live – tension than elsewhere in the UK.
Responsibility for managing this relationship now passes to the new Prince of Wales. And the debate, presided over by a cast ranging from Lord Elis-Thomas to Michael Sheen, has already started: over the role’s existence, its purpose and a possible investiture. Prince William, cognisant of his father’s experience and his own learnings from his time in Ynys Môn, says he wants to serve the country with “humility and great respect.” He will have to be well prepared to operate in a radically different country to the one his predecessor was introduced to half a century ago.
Caernarfon 1969 looks a distant memory, impossible to repeat for William’s investiture. Though opinion polls vary over whether a public ceremony should be held, what is certain is that the archaic pomp and regalia of Caernarfon would indeed jar with Welsh society as it has become. Not just with the democratic modern Wales that did not exist fifty years ago but the period of economic hardship the UK will face over the next 12 months. And more than before, such a ceremony would invite more well-organised and publicised protests that would overshadow the whole thing.
Ghosts of history mean William will never win over some of the Welsh, no matter how Cymrophile he appears. 35,000 people have already signed a petition to rid of his title “out of respect for Wales”. The furore of the King’s visit to Wales on Owain Glyndŵr Day – even patriots must admit it was not a national day of collective celebration before, as much as it should be – unnecessarily irked many beyond the nationalist and republican movements.
But the contract between William and the Welsh is yet to be written. During and since the period of mourning, Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour figures have interjected to draw up its terms in an unprecedented fashion. A national conversation must be had, the likes of Adam Price have said, to decide whether an investiture should take place at all. It will. Yet it is almost certain (and wise) that the Welsh government be consulted, and closely involved in its organisation.
The investiture will be a more low-key affair than any medieval madness. Cymraeg must take centre stage, and William must learn the language as a priority. He received lessons as a teenager at Eton, after the now King was anxious for him to become fluent in time for his investiture. The First Minister was generous when he told the BBC that people weren’t expecting “miracles” with the new Prince of Wales; true, but we deserve a bit of respect.
Investing a Prince and Princess of Wales will bring an added dynamic. Both should be at the heart of the ceremony, of course, but so should those societal leaders that were prominent during the King’s visit – the First Minister, Presiding Officer and Secretary of State – to show the democratic development of the country. The Senedd should host it.
An investiture this time round will have to be more creative. A national performance – poets, singers and dancers – should be televised at Charles’s Carmarthenshire home Llwynywermod as part of other events beyond the main investiture, where Welsh culture can be showcased. Even republicans that may frown at Jubilee-type celebrations would relish a spotlight not on the Prince of Wales but the country he represents.
A tour of the country should follow. Beyond ‘Wales Week’, an annual series of events Charles started, this will ensure the investiture is not a one-off pageant but a period of deep engagement with the public and similar to the King’s own ‘tour of the nations’ after the Queen’s death. Though he will no doubt visit the country before, the Prince of Wales should take this opportunity to set out his own priorities and demonstrate his understanding of the country.
As a young man Prince William hinted he would be “seeing a lot” of Wales in the future. Indeed he has, and will do again soon. A national conversation about the new Prince and Princess’ roles in modern Wales will rightly take place. Charles navigated difficult terrain so skilfully because he was aware of the changing winds of the country, and appreciated its culture and history. William will have to do the same to succeed and much more.
Theo Davies-Lewis’ lecture, ‘William: The Last Prince of Wales?’, will be held on November 17 for WEA Llanelli at the Selwyn Samuel Centre
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.