Prince Charles – The Man Who Would Be King

It is hardly surprising that all eyes are on Queen Elizabeth II in this, her Diamond Jubilee year.  Sixty years on the throne is a remarkable achievement, one which is only surpassed by Queen Victoria, who reigned for a total of 63 years and 216 days, until her death in 1901 (a record Elizabeth is expected to exceed on 10 September 2015).

However, the Queen is not the only member of the current Royal Family who has clocked up impressive statistics – her son, Prince Charles, has also reached a significant milestone recently.  Last year, on 20 April 2011, the Prince of Wales attained the rather dubious honour of becoming Britain’s longest-serving heir apparent, surpassing the record of his great-great-grandfather, Edward VII, who occupied the position for 59 years, 2 months and 13 days.

The Heir Apparent

And, quite unlike the fanfare which is expected to greet his mother’s Jubilee celebrations, Charles’ achievement has gone virtually unnoticed by the Great British public.  But unfortunately, such is the lot of the long-suffering heir-apparent – to wait quietly in the wings, gathering dust, until the death of a parent finally occasions an emergence into the limelight.  In the words of Charles himself: All the time, I feel I must justify my existence.”

Born on 14 November 1948, Prince Charles Philip Arthur George was just three years old when his mother ascended to the throne to become Queen Elizabeth II.  Up to this point, Charles had spent a lot of time in the care of his maternal grandmother and nannies while his parents lived abroad in Malta (where his father, Prince Philip, was serving with the Royal Navy).  He saw even less of his parents in the years following his mother’s coronation when royal duties and an extended tour of the Commonwealth monopolized nearly all of his parents’ time.

The New Prince of Wales

Unlike previous kings-in-waiting, Charles was educated at school, rather than receiving private tutoring. In 1956, he went to a pre-preparatory school in London, before following in his father’s footsteps at Cheam in Surrey, and then Gordonstoun in Scotland, a place where he was very unhappy.  Upon leaving Gordonstoun in 1967, he attended Trinity College, Cambridge for three years, where he read archaeology, anthropology and history.  He was invested as Prince of Wales on 1 July 1969, and graduated from Cambridge a year later with a second-class honours degree (lower devision).

A short career in the Navy ensued, which saw him serve on the guided missile destroyer HMS Norfolk, and take command of the coastal minesweeper HMS Bronington.

On 29 July 1981, Charles married Lady Diana Spencer, and the couple went on to have two sons, Prince William (born in 1982) and Prince Harry (born in 1984). The marriage foundered in the late 1980s, with the pair separating acrimoniously in 1992, and finally divorcing in 1996.  Charles married his current wife, Camilla (formerly Parker-Bowles) on 9 April 2005.

The Prince’s Trust

In an attempt to overcome the inevitable frustrations attendant on his position as heir apparent, Charles has channeled his considerable energies into the support of many charitable organisations.  In particular, he is known for his tireless work on behalf of The Prince’s Trust, a charity which provides help and support to disadvantaged young people throughout the country.  He is also an advocate of organic farming and has used his knowledge in this area to establish a profitable commercial enterprise from the sale of organic produce from the Duchy of Cornwall, one of his private estates.

In a marked departure from royal tradition, Charles has often voiced his opinion on a number of controversial issues, including modernist architecture, of which he is an outspoken critic.  Indeed, in the early 1980s, he brought himself into direct conflict with members of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) by describing the proposed new extension of the National Gallery as a ‘monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.’ More recently, he voiced concerns about the design for Renzo Piano’s 1,000 ft ‘Shard of Glass’, which is currently under construction near London Bridge:  “At the moment, it looks as though London seems to be turning into an absurdist picnic table – we already have a giant gherkin, now it looks as if we are going to have an enormous salt cellar”.

However, regardless of whether or not we agree with his opinions, we can hardly begrudge them – after all, given that longevity runs in his family (his grandmother, the Queen Mother, lived to the grand age of 101),  it may be quite some time before Prince Charles can take up the job he was born to do.

Sinead Fitzgibbon

Read more in The Queen: History In An Hour published by Harper Press available in various digital formats and as downloadable audio.