The investiture of the Prince of Wales

Prince Charles being invested by his mother, Queen Elizabeth ll

Last updated: 25 June 2009

By Neil Evans, Honorary Research Fellow, School of History and Archaeology, Cardiff University

The title, Prince of Wales, was created by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1267, but since the conquest of Wales in 1282, it has been given to the eldest son of the King or Queen. In 1911, it was conferred on Prince Edward at Caernarfon castle in an elaborate ceremony which appeared to be ancient. In fact, it was the first time it had been held in that form.

The investiture of Prince Charles on 1st July 1969 at Caernarfon Castle, was an update of what had happened in 1911. Many of the details were changed to make it look more modern. It was the 'swinging sixties', a period of youth rebellion. Some thought that the monarchy looked out of date and wanted to change its image.

Much of the ceremony was designed by Lord Snowdon, a photographer and the husband of Princess Margaret. He rejected many of the older ways of staging royal events. He designed a simple slate dias for the ceremony. It had a Perspex canopy, a modern material which would allow the TV cameras to capture the event.

It was a television event. A world-wide audience of 500 million people (including 19 million in Britain) watched. (There were 4,000 guests in the castle and 90,000 on the streets of Caernarfon.) This was the largest TV audience ever gained for an event in Wales, so for many people it would be all they knew about the country.

There was much preparation. Charles was proclaimed Prince of Wales at the Empire Games (now the Commonwealth Games) at Cardiff in 1958. He was nine years old, then, and too young for a major ceremony, but was 20 when he was invested. He was given information about what was happening in Wales for some months before the Investiture and studied for a term at the university at Aberystwyth. He learned some Welsh and studied Welsh history and culture. It was hoped that he would become a role model for youth - but a very different one from the hippies and the 'summer of love'!

The Investiture was the climax of a year of celebrations. The Labour government, led by Harold Wilson, wanted to modernise Britain - to plan new industries, develop advanced technology and appear youthful. Many coal mines were being closed in Wales and new industries were developing.

The government hoped the Investiture would advertise this new Wales to the world and promote tourism. A year-long campaign called 'Croeso (welcome) '69' was built around the Investiture. Labour also wanted to use the Investiture to show its concern for Wales at a time when Welsh nationalism was growing strongly. George Thomas, the Secretary of State for Wales, took a prominent role in the Investiture and was a fierce opponent of Welsh nationalism.

The Investiture was popular in Wales, as surveys of opinion showed. The great majority of the population (around three quarters) supported it, though almost half were concerned about the expense. But it was also very controversial. (Ref. Investiture: Royal Ceremony and National Identity in Wales, 1911-1969 (2008), by John Ellis.)

Most supporters of the Labour Party were in favour, though some criticised it for being wasteful and old-fashioned. Conservatives were strong supporters of the monarchy, and a Conservative government had decided to hold the Investiture at Caernarfon. But some thought the prince was being exploited by Labour.

Many supporters of Plaid Cymru backed the monarchy. They wanted Wales to become a dominion, like Canada or Australia. If this happened the Queen would still be the head of state. Strong opposition came from the youth section of Plaid Cymru, led by Dafydd Elis Thomas, which saw the ceremony as an insult to Wales and a sign of oppression. Dafydd Iwan wrote and recorded a popular satirical song; 'Carlo' - a common name for a dog in Wales. He was a leader of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) formed in 1962 to try to improve the status of the Welsh language and give people the right to use it in dealing with government departments. Its younger members were part of the youth rebellion of the time.

A few small groups of people thought they were justified in using violence because strong opposition to the flooding of a valley in Meirionydd to provide water for Liverpool had been ignored by parliament. Bombs were used to destroy government property, water pipes and to cause disruption.

Threats were made against the prince and early on the morning of the Investiture two members of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (The Movement for the Defence of Wales, a small, secret society) were killed at Abergele when the bomb they were carrying exploded as they were taking it to a railway line along which the royal train would run. Some days after the Investiture a young boy was disabled by a bomb left in the town but which hadn't exploded at the time.

Some criticised the press and broadcasters for giving too much coverage to the views of a small minority of people who opposed the event. Despite the controversy the prince toured Wales for four days, was greeted by large and enthusiastic crowds and impressed many people with his ability to speak Welsh.

By using the royal yacht and a helicopter as well as a car, he was able to cover much of Wales in a short time. At Carmarthen he was greeted by Gwynfor Evans, the first Plaid Cymru MP elected in 1966. At the Guildhall in Swansea the prince announced the granting of city status to the town before a thrilled crowd of some 7,000 people.

In the south Wales coal mining areas the joyous mood and the new industries were seen as a great contrast with the visit of his uncle Edward in 1936 when unemployment was extremely high. Once again, the prince was seen as representing many of the new developments in Wales.

The author would like to credit the following source: Investiture: Royal Ceremony and National Identity in Wales, 1911-1969 (2008), by John Ellis.

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