Charles, The Prince of Wales’s investiture at Caernarfon Castle, 50 years on

Half a century ago, Queen Elizabeth II invested her son Charles as the Prince of Wales in an elaborate ceremony at Caernarfon Castle. But the ceremony was not without controversy, taking place amid the rapid social change of the 1960s and protest from a growing Welsh nationalist movement…

Queen Elizabeth II invests her eldest son, Prince Charles

Here, Dr Carolyn Harris explores the events of the 1969 ceremony and the traditions associated with the Prince of Wales’s role since its creation in the 13th century…

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“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.”

These words, spoken by a son to his mother, may evoke a sense of the medieval, but they were in fact part of a ceremony that was very much a product of the 20th century. On 1 July 1969, Queen Elizabeth II invested her eldest son, Prince Charles, as Prince of Wales, a title that she had first conferred upon him in July 1958, when he was just nine years old.

Charles’s 1969 investiture ceremony took place in Caernarfon Castle, which had been commissioned by King Edward I of England in 1283 after his conquest of Wales and was the birthplace of the first English Prince of Wales, the future King Edward II, in 1284. According to legend, Edward I had promised the Welsh a prince who could speak no English and presented them with his infant son – and so began a tradition for English kings to bestow their heir with the title ‘Prince of Wales’.

Caernarfon Castle
Caernarfon Castle was the birthplace of the first English Prince of Wales, the future King Edward II, in 1284. (Photo by: Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

But while Charles’s 1969 investiture ceremony appeared to be steeped in medieval royal history, it was actually intended to address very contemporary concerns, including the increased visibility of the royal family on television; the relevance of the royal family in the modern age; and the objections of Welsh nationalists to the investiture of a Prince of Wales who seemed to have little personal connection to Wales. It was a time of political fervour stoked by events including a 1957 act of parliament that had sanctioned the flooding of the Tryweryn Valley. The inhabitants of the village of Capel Celyn were forced to move in 1965 to make way for a reservoir to supply Liverpool with water, and the 1969 investiture became a rallying cry for Welsh nationalism.

During the 1969 investiture ceremony, the letters patent were read aloud in Welsh and stated that 20-year-old Charles Philip Arthur George would receive the title, style, honour and privilege of the Principality of Wales and Earldom of Chester. The Queen attired her heir with a girdle, sword, coronet, rod and mantle. The newly invested Prince of Wales then swore his oath and was applauded by the crowds who surrounded the castle.

After the ceremony and subsequent dinner on the Royal Yacht Britannia in Holyhead, the Prince recalled: “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.”

Prince Charles and his mother Queen Elizabeth II in a carriage
Following the investiture ceremony, Prince Charles was applauded by the crowds that surrounded the castle. He later wrote in his diary: “Last week has been an incredible one in my life.” (Photo by Keystone-FranceGamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

The history of the title ‘Prince of Wales’

For centuries, an elaborate investiture ceremony had been considered unnecessary for the Prince of Wales. For a medieval or renaissance English Prince of Wales, the investiture itself was less of a public milestone than the extended residence on the Welsh border that followed as an apprenticeship before succeeding to the throne. The 12-year-old son of King Edward IV, the elder of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, for example, was at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire – a Welsh border stronghold and the seat of the Council in the Marches of Wales – when he succeeded to the throne as Edward V in 1483 (before he was intercepted by his uncle, the future King Richard III, on his way to London). Henry VII’s eldest son, Arthur, died at Ludlow Castle in 1502, nearly five monthsinto his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (who subsequently married Arthur’s younger brother, King Henry VIII). The future Queen Mary I also spent time in Ludlow Castle in 1525 and 1526 as ‘Princess of Wales’, though she was never formally invested with the title. Fast-forward to the 20th century and King George VI decided against the title of Princess of Wales for the future Queen Elizabeth II because it was associated with the wife of a Prince of Wales, rather than an heiress presumptive in her own right.

The Stuart, Hanover and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha princes of Wales paid little attention to Wales: there were eight princes of Wales who never even visited the principality as prince or subsequently as king. The regalia associated with the position, however, received some attention in the 17th and 18th centuries. King Charles II issued a royal warrant in 1677 stating: “The son and heir apparent of the Crown shall use and bear his coronet of crosses and fleurs-de-lis with one arch and ball and cross.” A coronet with this design was commissioned for Frederick, Prince of Wales, and later worn by his son, the future George III, and his grandson, the future King George IV. (The Georgian coronet was deemed too delicate for use in the 20th-century investitures).

Caernarfon Castle and the Prince of Wales

The investiture ceremony in its current form dates from 1911, when the 17-year-old future King Edward VIII was invested as part of a year of royal ceremonies that included the coronation of the prince’s father, King George V. The future prime minister David Lloyd George, then chancellor of Exchequer and constable of Caernarfon Castle, favoured a ceremony at the castle that would increase his own political capital and address the potential forWelsh nationalism – an issue that would emerge again at the investiture of Prince Charles. There had been a short-lived Welsh nationalist organisation in the 1880s and 1890s, Cymru Fydd (Young Wales), which was modelled after the Irish home rule movement. The early 20th century had also seen increased interest in the history of Wales with the establishment of the National Library of Wales and the National Museum of Wales in 1907.

The investiture of the 17-year-old Prince of Wales at Caernarvon Castle
The investiture of the 17-year-old Prince of Wales at Caernarvon Castle in 1911, reproduced from a Kinemacolor film. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

The 1911 ceremony designed to combat these concerns seemed medieval in its antecedents, but in fact it included newly-created regalia, costumes, and a new tradition of the prince addressing the assembled crowds in Welsh. King George V and Queen Mary, as well as the general public, were reportedly pleased with the investiture – though Edward strongly objected to the costume of white satin breeches and a purple velvet surcoat created for the occasion, stating: “What would my navy friends say if they saw me in this preposterous rig?” For Edward, the ceremony seemed artificial and reinforced his misgivings about his role as a future king.

Television audiences

While the investiture of the future Edward VIII took place in the aftermath of his father’s coronation, and other royal rituals steeped in tradition, the investiture of Prince Charles was organised with modern, television audiences in mind. The televised coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 had been well received throughout the Commonwealth and had increased the expectation that major royal events would now be broadcast for television audiences. The Queen’s Christmas message had been televised for the first time in 1957, starting a tradition that continues to the present day.

Prince Charles’s 1969 investiture ceremony was organised by the Earl of Snowdon, a society photographer and the husband of Princess Margaret (the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II), and it was to be a spectacle that would appeal to a wide global audience watching the ceremony from home. As in 1911, fresh traditions were created for the ceremony including the creation of a new coronet (Edward VIII had taken his coronet with him to France after he abdicated in 1936 to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson) and a simplified costume considered to be more in keeping with the times.

Members of the royal family
At the time of the investiture, the royal family was facing additional pressures as a result of being in the public eye. Sitting in the front row (l to r), Princess Anne, The Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon look on during the ceremony. (Photo by Alisdair Macdonald/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

The royal family was, at this time, also facing additional pressures as a result of being in the public eye. In 1969, shortly before Charles’s investiture ceremony, the Royal Family documentary had brought television cameras into royal palaces to capture informal moments and conversations between the members of the royal family for the first time, including a barbecue at Balmoral Castle. The programme was a response to concerns that the royal family was increasingly remote from the rapid social and cultural change of the 1960s. As such, the investiture of the Prince of Wales was viewed by people around the world who had just had their first glimpse of the royal family behind palace doors and were interested to see the Queen and Prince Charles interact as mother and son, as well as monarch and heir. The investiture ceremony was viewed by 500 million people worldwide.

A backdrop of Welsh nationalism

The investiture was popular in Wales; as opinion surveys showed, around three quarters of those polled were in support of the ceremony. However, one constant between the investitures of Edward in 1911 and Charles in 1969 was concerns about Welsh nationalism, which had become more militant in the intervening decades. In 1952, a small republican organisation named Y Gweriniaethwyr had attempted to blow up a pipeline that ran from the Claerwen dam in Wales to Birmingham in England, to protest the extraction of Welsh resources for English use. Since the Queen was expected to open the dam, the bombing appeared to be a protest against the monarchy. Bombs were also targeted at government property to cause disruption, including the Temple of Peace civic building in Cardiff in July 1968.

Demonstrators display banners in protest
Demonstrators display banners in protest during a visit by Prince Charles and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, to Cardiff, 1968. (Photo by Western Mail Archive/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

The 1969 investiture attracted fierce criticism as a symbol of centuries of English occupation of Wales. A satirical song composed by Welsh folk singer and future leader of the Plaid Cymru party, Dafydd Iwan, emphasised that Charles was rarely in Wales. The English translation of the Welsh lyrics to the chorus were: “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.”

The royal family did make efforts to address this skepticism about Prince Charles as a Prince of Wales. Prior to his investiture, Charles – then an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge – spent nine weeks at the University of Aberystwyth to learn more about Welsh language and culture. He was greeted by some protestors holding signs in Welsh that read “Charlie, go home”. Charles gave Welsh speeches at the university, and the 1969 investiture was followed by a week-long tour of Wales.

Charles, Prince of Wales and David Frost
Charles, Prince of Wales (right) in an interview with British television presenter David Frost for a documentary ‘A Prince For Wales’, commemorating his investiture. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Despite these efforts to emphasise Charles’s personal connection with Wales, prime minister Harold Wilson was concerned that there would be violence on the day of the 1969 ceremony. In addition to the bombing attacks on pipelines and powerlines throughout the previous decades, on the eve of the investiture two men, Alwyn Jones and George Taylor, were killed by their own homemade bomb. There was widespread speculation that they intended to blow up a train carrying members of the royal family, though a subsequent inquest indicated that the intended target was in fact government offices near the Abergele library. On the day of the investiture, 250 extra police officers were deployed.

The longest-serving Prince of Wales

Following his investiture and tour of Wales in 1969, during which he was greeted by enthusiastic crowds, Charles wrote in his diary: “Last week has been an incredible one in my life and it now seems very odd not to have to wave to hundreds of people… I now seem to have a great deal to live up to and I hope I can be of assistance to Wales in constructive ways.”

In 2017, Charles surpassed the future King Edward VII as the longest-serving Prince of Wales. In the 50 years since his investiture, Charles, Prince of Wales been patron to a number of Welsh charities and makes frequent visits to a Welsh residence, Llwynywermod in Carmarthenshire. In March 2019, a reception at Buckingham Palace honouring the 50th anniversary of his investiture brought together Welsh public figures and representatives of the Prince’s Welsh patronages with members of the royal family.

Half a century after his investiture, and though his role has not been without controversy, Prince Charles continues to strengthen his personal relationship with Wales.

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Dr Carolyn Harris is an instructor in history at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and the author of three books: Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada (Dundurn Press, 2015); Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette (Palgrave MacMillan, 2015); and Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting (Dundurn Press, 2017).