The Crown misses the full story of political turmoil during Prince Charles's time in Wales
As The Crown continues to barrel forward through the 20th century, the children of the show have steadily become more than mere accessories in the gamesmanship of their parents. Now, in its excellent third season, the children are writing their own stories as best they can within the confines of the monarchy. Chief among those children is Prince Charles, heir apparent to the British throne, who plays a much larger role in Season Three, particularly in a standout episode about his investiture as Prince of Wales.
In Season Three, Episode Six, titled “Tywysog Cymru” (meaning “Prince of Wales” in Welsh), Charles is sent to Wales for a semester to learn the Welsh language in the run-up to his investiture as Prince of Wales. Though Charles is loathe to hit pause on his studies at Cambridge, he develops a meaningful relationship with his improbable tutor, who happens to be a leading voice advocating for Welsh emancipation from the United Kingdom. What follows is a tender episode about duty, change, and unlikely commonalities, but what the episode doesn’t show you is the broader political context of Charles’ time in Wales. Here’s what you need to know to flesh out the picture.
The 1969 investiture drew fierce criticism from the Welsh people, who perceived it as symbolic of centuries of English occupation of Wales. Political unrest in Wales had been growing for quite some time, but grew more fervent in 1957, when an act of parliament permitted the flooding of the Tryweryn Valley, later forcing nearby residents to vacate their homes in order to make way for a reservoir that would supply Liverpool with water. As Welsh resources were exploited for English use, Welsh nationalists grew militant, attempting a number of bombings as public demonstrations. By the time Prince Charles arrived, tensions had boiled over into a hotbed of activism; Charles later commented, “Every day I had to go down to the town where I went to these lectures, and most days there seemed to be a demonstration going on against me—with a counter demonstration, usually by splendid middle aged ladies who got out of a bus.”
Folk singer Dafydd Iwan, who later became the leader of the Plaid Cymru Party (a political party advocating Welsh emancipation from the United Kingdom), wrote a satirical song emphasizing Charles’ absence from Wales. The English translation of the Welsh lyrics go: “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie’s playing polo today / Charlie, Charlie, Charlie’s playing polo with his daddy / Join in the song / Subjects big and small / We finally have a prince in the land of song.”
Did Prince Charles really learn Welsh?
Prince Charles, then 21, was sent to Aberystwyth University for a nine-week-long intensive course about Welsh language and Welsh history. Charles studied with Dr. Tedi Millward, a known Welsh nationalist, giving speeches in Welsh at the university and taking a tour of Wales after the investiture.
Reflecting on his lessons with Charles in a 2015 interview, Millward said, "The early '60s was the start of an upsurge in Welsh nationalism that saw the first Plaid Cymru politician elected to parliament. By that point I was a well-known nationalist, so I was a little surprised when the university asked me if I would teach Welsh to Prince Charles for a term. He had a one-on-one tutorial with me once a week. He was eager, and did a lot of talking. By the end, his accent was quite good. Toward the end of his term, he said good morning – ‘Bore da’– to a woman at college; she turned to him and said, ‘I don’t speak Welsh!’ His presence caused a bit of a stir. Crowds would gather outside the college as he drove up in his sports car." To this day, Prince Charles makes an effort to speak Welsh when in Wales.
What happened at the investiture ceremony?
On the evening prior to the investiture ceremony, two men were killed by the detonation of their own homemade bomb. What followed was widespread speculation that the men had intended to bomb the train carrying the royal family to Wales, though an investigation later proved that their intended target was a government office. In any case, tensions were high at the investiture, with 250 extra police officers deployed to keep the peace.
At Caernarfon Castle, the birthplace of the first English Prince of Wales in 1284 (the future King Edward II), the investiture ceremony saw the letters patent read aloud in Welsh, after which Queen Elizabeth II attired her son with a girdle, sword, coronet, rod, and mantle. Charles then swore his oath and received applause from the crowds surrounding the castle. Charles later said of the experience, “For me, by far the most moving and meaningful moment came when I put my hands between Mummy’s and swore to be her liege man of life and limb and to live and die against all manner of folks – such magnificent, medieval, appropriate words, even if they were never adhered to in those old days.”
The investiture ceremony was organized by the Earl of Snowdon, husband of Princess Margaret, Charles’ aunt. The Earl, a photographer with a keen visual eye, organized the ceremony with the intent of making it television-friendly, as the world craved a glimpse into the pomp and circumstance of royal life, as well as the deeply private relationship between mother and son. Over 500 million people worldwide tuned in.
What is Prince Charles’ present-day relationship to Wales?
In 2017, Charles became the longest-serving Prince of Wales in the history of the title, which dates back to the twelfth century. In the 50 years since his investiture, he has served as the patron of a number of Welsh charities, and he has made numerous visits to a Welsh royal residence, Llwynywermod in Carmarthenshire. In March of this year, at a Buckingham Palace reception honoring the anniversary of his investiture, Welsh public figures and representatives of Charles’ Welsh patronages gathered with the royal family to honor Charles’ service to Wales.