Season 3’s sixth episode begins to answer the question of how sympathetic the show intends to be towards a more adult Prince Charles. So far, that answer is “very.” The episode’s title is Welsh for “Prince of Wales,” fitting given that it covers Charles’s investiture in July 1969, as well as the three months leading up to the ceremony during which he lived in Wales.
In my opinion, this is one of the season’s strongest episodes, however there are some deviations from what actually happened that require some pulling apart. The basic premise, however, is true. Charles was enrolled – somewhat against his will – in a sort of Welsh immersion program to prepare him for the investiture. He was in fact taught by a man known as Edward Millward, who was a bit of a Welsh nationalist, and the two did form a friendship. You can read more about that here.
The sense of Charles’s loneliness and isolation is also true. He described this period of his life as a largely unhappy one, and indeed, after a rough go of it at boarding school, he was similarly at odds with most of the Cambridge student body. Fundamentally, he had neither the experience nor the character to really bond with most other young people in the late 1960s.
The other element the show gets right is the tension with the Welsh public over the ceremony. While some members of the public embraced it as a fun spectacle, if not an honor, many others saw it as yet another example of a long history of English subjugation. As the episode notes, the English monarch’s eldest son holding the title “Prince of Wales” is based on a basic theft dating back to the Plantagenets, and which sparked centuries of intermittent warfare while the Palace of Westminster issued policy after policy that treated Welshmen as second-class citizens.
The line of succession being what it is, there hasn’t been the consistent presence of a Prince of Wales over the years. Each era – or rather, royal house – has treated the position differently. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the eldest son (or daughter, in the case of Henry VIII and the future Mary I) deployed their offspring to be brought up on the Welsh border. This was less an act of respect and more one of providing a literal and visible outpost for the monarch. The Stuarts mostly ignored the Welsh unless they needed military aid, and certainly their offspring weren’t immersed in the country. Same goes for the Hanoverians.
The very act of investiture fell by the wayside and was resurrected in 1911 when George V had the future Edward VIII (aka the Duke of Windsor) go through the ceremony, a move not without its own controversy. But still, 1911 and 1969 were very different years for the Royal Family, so Charles going through the process presented a unique array of issues.
Oddly, the show chose not to depict the public protests that accompanied this ceremony, but instead used this as a moment in which Charles came into his own, choosing to identify with the Welsh’s sense of being ignored and taken advantage of, likening it to his own experience within his family. This I find to be a bridge too far. Charles is known to have felt that the ceremony was a success, yes, but his grasp of the Welsh language was considered rudimentary at best and in fact garnered some criticism. This was very poetic license.
But everything comes to a head in the final scene, which is honestly the first moment in which the show as shown the monarch speaking with her heir one-on-one. It’s not pretty. In fact, it’s a pretty rough depiction of Elizabeth and the cherry on top of a sundae of what has amounted to a pretty stunning indictment of her as a mother. Not unfair, necessarily, but one that certainly lacks much nuance or attempts to really get across where Elizabeth is coming from.
She ruthlessly and finally presses the same point that Queen Mary made to her in the first season: there is no room for individuality or personality in the monarchy, and certainly not for those wearing the crown. But Elizabeth goes one step further, because when Charles asks if it’s the public who she believes has no interest in hearing from him, a person, or his family, she responds, “Both.” This is not just a sovereign stumbling to impart a lesson; this is essentially a mother telling her child she has little interest in him, and maybe doesn’t like him much.
It’s a particularly jarring moment coming on the heels of Elizabeth taking her horse jaunt through the western world last episode and acknowledging that it’s where she feels most happy. So, sure, she always puts duty before personal preference, but this scene presents her as incapable of empathizing with a younger person it’s her duty to prepare for her job. That’s an interesting inability – and one that may well have some bearing in reality – but the show doesn’t explore that. This depiction is pretty black and white – poor Charles and emotionally deficient Elizabeth.
It misses the moment to answer the question of why a woman with such a clear-headed sense of her duty has arguably failed in one of the most basic and important facets of her job.
One more glaring emission from this episode that bears mentioning is the absence of the Queen Mother’s role here – in this season and in the second. The show has taken pains to illustrate the role of Earl Mountbatten in acting as a father figure to Charles (and Philip), but it has pretty much ignored the Queen Mother since the first season, only trotting her out to show her as being a bad mother to Elizabeth and Margaret, and maybe some light comic relief. In reality, she was incredibly close to Charles, and during this period of his life he wrote to her frequently expressing his loneliness, and she was always sympathetic. In fact, she was a reliable figure during his childhood and adolescence (and beyond), who cultivated Charles’s artistic inclinations and valued his sensitivity. Why is she absent?
There’s a rather strong parallel to make between two women depicted as insufficient mothers stepping up as grandmothers. The Queen Mother certainly had an easier time being such to Charles, and we know well that the actual Queen is a beloved and admired figure to Charles’s sons. The relegation of such a senior member of the family to the sidelines is strange to me, and it’s a thread I hope the show picks back at up at some point.
A final thought: When I was watching this episode I realized that we were past the mid-point of the season and still in 1969, with the better part of a decade to be squashed into the remaining four episodes, and knowing that we were still going to cover the mood landing. Given how dramatic the ’70s were, this made me a bit nervous for what was and wasn’t going to be covered, which is an issue I want to dig into more as we get into the later episodes.