The upcoming third season of the popular British TV mini-series The Crown will commemorate the 1969 investiture of Prince Charles as heir to the throne, a ceremony that anticipates coronation – the sanctification of the British sovereign. Last week, HRH Queen Elizabeth hosted a celebration for Prince Charles on the 50th anniversary of his investiture, as a personal, Constitutional and cultural statement.
For more than a millennium the monarchy has been the cornerstone of British culture, and the continuity of ancient traditions is a counterweight to the modern tendency to despise the past and reinvent the culture according to the whim of the moment. The monarchy itself isn’t immune to cultural fads. Last week, for example, Vanity Fair reported that the Duchess of Sussex, Megan Markle, planned to raise the child she is expecting with the Queen’s grandson Harry as “gender fluid.”
The palace rarely responds to rumors but it has been at full throttle to squelch a story it considers inimical to the character of the monarchy. There must be no ambiguity about the gender of a child who might conceivably become the British sovereign one day.
Royal resistance to cultural fads made Charles’ investiture celebration all the more significant as a symbol of the monarchy’s role, namely to embody the sanctity and continuity of Britain. Prince Charles will only become King when Queen Elizabeth II, now aged 92, abdicates, retires or dies. Sources close to the palace believe her abdication is a real possibility.
With attention focused on Charles at his recent 70th birthday, last week’s celebration continues the multi-faceted palace campaign to prepare for the transfer, to help the nation accept Charles as her successor, publicly unite the family and reassert the goals of the Monarchy. As the longest-serving heir apparent in British history, Prince Charles is more than ready to take the reins. The palace feels it is necessary to appeal to a public that is not quite ready to accept him as King.
Tuesday’s investiture celebration was unusual. Royals rarely gather outside of Christmas Day and the “Trooping of the Color,” but the event united all the front-ranking members of the Royal family, as well as a guest list of representatives from charities and the Archbishop of Canterbury. On display at the reception was the Investiture Coronet, the Sword, Ring and the Rod.
As the public remains reluctant to receive Charles as King, the fanfare is designed to narrow the public divide of opinion and provide a chance to re-imagine Charles as operating within the constitutional parameters.
Royal pomp and pageantry will recall Prince Charles’ first public step towards the throne. At the Investiture in 1969, a bare-headed Prince Charles knelt before the Queen while Her Majesty looped the sword belt over his shoulder and then placed the gold ceremonial crown on his head. After the sword and crown came the amethyst ring to symbolically wed Prince Charles to Wales and the sceptre of this authority. Prince Charles, still kneeling, placed his clasped, praying hands between his mother’s hands and declared this oath:
“I Charles, Prince of Wales, do become your liege man of life and limb and of earthly worship and faith and truth I will bear unto thee to live and die against all manner of folks.”
It is hoped that the anniversary celebration will help atone for some of the Prince of Wales’ verbal missteps of the past, and help him distance himself from controversial views he expressed in the past. Once asked how he cares to prepare himself for King, Charles once quipped: “I learned the way a monkey learns – by watching its parents.”
That is a challenge. A certain segment of the population recalls past scandals all too vividly, in particular his very painful divorce from Diana, or thinks of him as an “old fogey” or laughs at his penchant for talking to his plants. He has often been reminded of an interview he gave while gardening in September 1992, saying: “I just come to talk to the plants really – very important to talk to them, they respond I find.”
Wrapping Charles in the royal dignity of Investiture, the palace hopes, will neutralize some of Charles’ negative press, and act as an antidote to the impulsiveness that Charles shares with his favored daughter-in-law The Duchess of Sussex.
It’s easy seems for royals to trip. Just one day before his investiture, Prince Charles’ Charles’ charity was reported in The Guardian on March 4 to have accepted US$200,000 from the so-called Troika Laundromat, as donations intended to “preserve architectural heritage in England.”
The money went towards the rescue of Dumfries House, a stately home in Ayrshire, Scotland, with a priceless collection of Chippendale furniture. In 2007, the mansion and its collection were set to be auctioned off to private buyers.
Charles came to the rescue, raising £45m at breakneck speed to save the property for the nation. But the venture left his foundation in debt, and in his efforts to plug the hole, the heir to the throne went on a fundraising drive. Ruben Vardanyan, an American financier with reported ties to Putin, celebrities and British royals, raised a further £1.5m from a dubious group of Russian businessmen, and the prince thanked them with a black-tie dinner in 2014.
Part of the trouble, as Angela Levin, Prince Harry’s royal biographer wrote in The Mail on Sunday on February 24, is that the Duchess of Sussex has “times when she seems to lack respect for the ways of behaving that go back generations. There are times, too, when she seems unwilling to listen, preferring instead to press her own views home.” Political correctness or Hollywood celebrity culture just doesn’t mesh with 1,000 years of British heritage. The Queen will no doubt have used the uniquely timed investiture celebration to reassert privately and publicly the goals of constitutional monarchy, as sacred figureheads rather than political activists.
This longstanding transition represents a strange paradox for the country. Queen Elizabeth’s extraordinary long reign has made the monarchy skip a generation. People tend to look to Charles’ sons Prince William and Harry and their families for the latest, the fresh and the future. Elizabeth herself became a young Queen at only 26, with youth, energy and much excitement for the future. At 70 years of age and after 50 years of training for the job, Charles is certainly qualified for the position, but much of his legacy and footprints will be a focus on his lifetime of the past.
With the younger Royals still learning the slippery slopes of the responsibility of their unique ancestry, the Queen wants to redirect attention back to Charles her successor. For Charles too, it has been a lifespan of misstatements, a disastrous marriage, turbulent events and rejections, but he is ready to set the standard of ‘service and sacrifice before self‘ for the British monarchy. And the Windsor’s will protect their dynasty at all costs.