50 years on, will there ever be another?

Anthony Pickles reflects on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon.

The announcement of the renaming of the Severn Bridge has sparked a fierce debate over the past fortnight. The announcement, to coincide with next year’s 50th anniversary of the Investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon, offers a moment to look back but to consider if there would ever be a repeat.

Back in 1969, Wales was a very different place, politically and socially. A ceremony to mark the coming of age of a young Prince, saw the then Home Secretary, Jim Callaghan, preside over events with George Thomas, the Welsh Secretary – a role only five years old at that point. The 1969 ceremony was watched by over 500m people, with 19m of them watching in the UK. For many overseas it would be their first experience of Wales and its language (even if the entire ceremony was made up). As a soft power tool for Wales, it was effective.

Looking back at that time, it’s interesting to consider that a post-war Labour government undertook such a celebration of royalty in a part of the United Kingdom with sensitivities to its place in the story of the British monarchy. It is almost inconceivable to imagine a repeat.

50 years on, the current Prince of Wales is now the longest-served. As a young man he was thrust uncomfortably from an Edwardian-era court into a world being shaped by baby boomers.

The events at Caernarfon in 1969 are almost invisible in Wales today. The story of this prince – whether you are pro or vehemently against – is worthy of note in Wales’ story. For nearly five years, I have campaigned to have the regalia used at the investiture to be placed on public display in Wales (something that has now thankfully been agreed to, although there is no current plan for their display). These ‘crown jewels’ belong to Wales whether they’re used again or not.

Why bother? Quite aside from the clearly anarchic and frankly bizarre elements of a ceremony invented largely by Princess Margaret’s husband, it was a chapter in modern history worthy of note. In the lead up to this event, Charles spent two months preparing at Aberystwyth. His time spent living in Pantycelyn was both a sign of intent, but also a developing acceptance that the crown could no longer be distant from the people of Wales.

When the occasion is marked in July 2019, the issues that will be discussed are almost inevitable. Firstly, there will be questions over the legacy of a Prince of Wales in an age of questioning of established institutions. Secondly, there will be differing views over Charles’ own attributes and legacy over the past half century. Latterly, questions may be asked over whether we will see another investiture again.  

Lord Snowdon, the ‘Great Steward of the Castle’ but more importantly the architect of the ‘69 investiture, said in 2009; “…I’m not sure there will be another one like it, because it was very much of its date. I can’t imagine there were many people who were against it, and I can’t imagine it happening again.”

I suspect Snowdon was right. An event of this scale takes planning and costs not insignificant public money. The more important reason is that the monarchy has changed fundamentally since that time too. Princes William and Harry both reflect their own generations whereas, even at the age of 20, their father didn’t. And for this reason the idea that they would want to be somehow presented to a grateful nation would be anathema to them, let alone to modern Wales.

This said, monarchy is built on tradition, and this tradition evolves with time. Much of modern royal ceremony is an invention of King Edward VII in the early 20th century. Given the global appeal of the younger royals, and an overwhelmingly positive view of them (according to recent polls in Wales and elsewhere) would a Welsh Government/Wales Office view an opportunity in a modern event?

Would not an event, held say in the Senedd, Wales’ parliament and modern voice, with young people and charities appeal? Welsh designers showcasing their manufactures to a global audience worn by globally renowned young royals. An event looking to the now, not to the past. No echoes of fortresses, no utterances of the ‘P’ word. A simple, dignified ceremony to symbolise a modern settlement.

The truth is that any decisions along these lines can only be broached upon the demise of the monarch. Whilst current discussions are whispered around the role of next Head of the Commonwealth in High Commissions in London, and Charles discusses the idea that ‘Defender of the Faith’ (the other title which sits alongside ‘King’) might be changed to just ‘faith’; nobody talks about a future Prince of Wales. Civic society in Wales is at best ambivalent, and whilst the anoraks (certainly me) might discuss these issues, any decision will only be taken if it feels appropriate at a date in the future nobody yet knows.

In the meantime, let’s continue to talk about a motorway bridge….

All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Anthony Pickles is former Welsh Conservative Chief of Staff.

5 thoughts on “50 years on, will there ever be another?

  1. An Investiture is counter-productive if it is not about bringing people together. The last Investiture undoubtedly did. At that time, the only real opposition was from the lunatic fringe. Things are different now. Like it or not, Welsh nationalism is currently more in the political mainstream. The views of the minority must be taken into account – even if one doubts they would say the same if positions were reversed!

    Yet it must not be forgotten that they are the minority. The Severn Bridge controversy was another illustration of how those who make the loudest noise get most attention. It obscures the fact that most people in Wales are supportive of our constitutional monarchy. We are proud of our Queen. We respect Prince Charles for, among other things, the Prince’s Trust, saying what a lot of us felt about modern architecture, and being well ahead of the curve on organic farming. We like the fact that Prince William actually lived in Wales during his military service and Prince Harry served as “Lieutenant Wales.” We would like the Royal Family to maintain its special link with the Principality – and cannot comprehend why anyone thinks that word pejorative. If anything, we wish the link was stronger. More could have been done to build on the success of Prince Charles’ Investiture. Learning from past mistakes, perhaps the best thing Prince William could do when – many years from now, we hope – he becomes Prince of Wales is not have a formal ceremony but simply move back here to live. That would do more to raise our international profile and promote a positive image of Wales than the most expensive marketing campaign.

  2. ” globally renowned young royals.”
    Renowned for what, being the British equivalent of the Kardashians.

    If it’s something “with young people and charities appeal” you want then why not a pseudo reality TV show where a group of ordinary subjects of the future King Charles are chosen to live in a palace with Harry, Megan, William and Kate for a few weeks.
    It would be riveting TV and have an enormous audience world wide. Loads of Welsh products and produce could be promoted.
    They could go on day trips and visit Welsh attractions.
    Maybe challenges like ascending Snowdon. Think of the jeopardy, Harry and William’s team on Crib Goch when the weather turns nasty with only a couple of film units, a military escort, the mountain rescue team and RAF helicopter support for company.
    Kate and Megan’s team on the train in a race to showcase as many casual wear outfits by Welsh designers before they reach the carbuncle caff. Dai Ffash to present.

    If the BBC do end up doing something like this I want to paid for the idea.

    Problem is we haven’t got a royal palace here in Cymru but now our Labour Government has given its blessing to the re naming of Pont Hafren as The Prince of Wales Bridge they can get busy looking for somewhere to buy or build.
    And regarding POWB. Why restrict ourselves to honoring a future king with just a snippet of his title. Why not –
    The Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland Bridge.

    Hey look at we’ve got the Longest bridge name in the world! Welcome to Wacky Wales. And it would be a benefit to those employing low paid, seasonal, zero hours workers, sorry I mean the tourism industry.

  3. Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man all have royal palaces, royal ceremonies and such, and therefore, are regarded as proper ‘countries.’ Wales is alone as the only political unit in the UK not to have them. I understand the historical reasons for this but it is beyond time that we should address this lack. Cardiff Castle is big and empty and already paid for by public funds and is in our capital so why not make it the official home of the Queen and Prince of Wales in Wales? They would not live there, just use it as a base when they visit. And also, it would be the place that Wales would welcome overseas royals, presidents and prime ministers and hold big ceremonies and so on.
    This is not a royalist point really, if we ever become a republic, then the President should have a base in Wales if they are to be our president. And, if we ever become independent, we will need a Head of State and a home for them, whether we keep the monarchy or not.

  4. It is silly this rejection of the term ‘Principality’ by some Welsh people.
    When you read why, it is mostly because they view it as a put down or denial of Wales as a nation e.g. England and Scotland are Kingdoms so ‘proper’ countries but Wales is only a Principality so not a real country.
    Which is of course silly as Luxembourg is not even a Principality, it is a Duchy, but it is an independent nation. And Australia, New Zealand and Canada were never Kingdoms but are all independent countries now. And so on.
    Some others reject it as they are republican, but, they are a minority and so should not get to decide our name.
    Let us claim it proudly, it is part of our history, we have a Prince so lets acknowledge it.
    If in some future time we vote to not have a monarchy, fine, then we reject it. But not until we so vote.
    Too often we let the loud minority decide things for us in the media, speaking as if they are the voice of Wales, when they are not.

  5. Wrong. The bridge isn’t being renamed to mark the 50th anniversary of the investiture in July 2019 – it is to mark the 60th anniversary of him being created Prince of Wales in July 2018. Shoddy journalism – wherever you stand on the issue.

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