Charles, former Prince of Wales and heir apparent to the British throne, was probably the most photographed and written about person in the Western world in the late 1970s but has since been eclipsed in popularity by his ex-wife, Princess Diana.
Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, the eldest child of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, was born on November 14, 1948, in Buckingham Palace. He had a younger sister, Princess Anne, born in 1950, and two younger brothers, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, who were born in 1960 and 1964, respectively. After the death in February 1952 of his grandfather, King George VI, and his mother's succession as Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles became the Duke of Cornwall, a dukedom which includes considerable—and lucrative—property, and the heir apparent to the throne of the United Kingdom.
Like all parents, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were very concerned about their children's education, and the academic training of the future monarch naturally entailed much thought and planning. Like previous royal heirs, Charles, who was an obedient, sensitive, shy, and somewhat awkward child, was first taught at home by a governess. His parents broke with tradition in 1956, however, when they decided to send him to a local day school, Hill House in Knightsbridge. During his time at Hill House Prince Charles was much pursued by members of the London press. Despite severe warnings from the royal press secretary, this situation was not much alleviated by the prince's enrollment in 1957 at Cheam in Hampshire, an upper-class preparatory school which his father had attended.
On July 26, 1958, during his stay at Cheam, the queen named Charles Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. Nonetheless, while at Cheam Prince Charles was treated as much like the other boys as possible, sharing a dormitory room with nine others and doing chores. It was also while at Cheam that the prince refined his sense of humor, developed his taste for practical jokes, and discovered his interest in and talent for acting.
In part to avoid the overly-enthusiastic attentions of the press, Gordonstoun, located in a remote area of northern Scotland, was the public (British equivalent of our private) school selected for Prince Charles. It also was Prince Philip's alma mater and was noted for its strict discipline, its spartan living conditions, and its dedication to the ideals of social responsibility and community service. The prince attended Gordonstoun from 1962 to January 1966, when he was sent to Australia to attend Timbertop, the outback branch of the prestigious Geelong Grammar School. Here, in an egalitarian social milieu very different from that to which he was accustomed, the isolated location and rigorous physical activity provided the prince with an increased sense of self-reliance. "Australia", he was later to say, "conquered my shyness." Prince Charles returned to Gordonstoun in September 1966 and during his last year rose to become head boy of the school. He enjoyed acting in plays and became interested in classical music.
After consultations which involved Church of England dignitaries, the prime minister, Prince Philip's much-admired "Uncle Dickie," Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Prince Charles, it was decided that Prince Charles would complete his academic education by attending Trinity College, Cambridge, which his grandfather George VI had also attended. The prince entered Trinity in October 1967 and lived very much like other well-to-do students there. He enjoyed his time at Cambridge, continuing his musical and acting pursuits and attaining satisfactory if undistinguished academic credentials in anthropology, archaeology, and history. In the spring of 1969 Prince Charles was sent to University College of Wales at Aberystwyth in order to learn Welsh history, language, and literature in preparation for his investiture as Prince of Wales in a spectacular ceremony at Caernarvon Castle on July 1, 1969. Prince Charles returned to Cambridge in the fall of 1969 and received his degree in 1970, the first member of the royal family to do so.
Following family tradition, Prince Charles spent the next seven years in the military. He attended the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell, receiving his wings in 1971, and then went to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. During his time in the Royal Navy the prince served tours of sea duty, learned to fly helicopters and to skydive, and in 1975 got a command of his own, the HMS Barrington.
In 1977, his preliminary education and training complete, Prince Charles began his real career as Prince of Wales. Up to this time the prince had taken some part in public events. In 1964, for example, he, Princess Anne, and Prince Philip had attended the wedding of King Constantine of Greece, and in 1965 he attended Sir Winston Churchill's funeral. On November 14, 1966, he constitutionally came of age and was designated prince-regent in case of his mother's absence or incapacitation. In October 1967 for the first time he went with the queen to the formal opening of Parliament, and in the same year he represented her at the funeral of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt.
From 1977 on, however, his public activities as Prince of Wales took a qualitative and quantitative leap. As Prince of Wales he espoused many charitable causes, especially those having to do with youth, such as the Queen's Silver Jubilee Fund. He also promoted environmental causes. As Prince of Wales he represented the monarchy at home and served as a good-will ambassador abroad. In the spring of 1978 he visited South America and in the same year served as the queen's representative at the funerals of respected Commonwealth statesmen Sir Robert Menzies and Jomo Kenyatta. The prince went to Yugoslavia in 1979, to the Far East in the same year, to India in 1980, and to Australia in the spring of 1981.
On February 24, 1981, the official announcement of his engagement to the Lady Diana Frances Spencer, daughter of Earl Spencer, brought to an end one of the greatest matrimonial sweepstakes of the century. The royal wedding, on July 29, 1981, was a magnificently orchestrated yet touching event which was viewed via television by millions worldwide. Marriage and the birth of his two sons (Prince William on June 21, 1982, and Prince Henry on September 15, 1984) did not curtail the prince's activities in any way. Indeed, his wife accompanied him on several trips—a tour of Wales shortly after their marriage, an excursion to Australia and New Zealand (with Prince William) in the spring of 1983, and a trip to Canada in the summer of 1983—and because of her youth, beauty, and style developed a loyal following of her own which served to enhance and later eclipse her husband's position.
While there had always been rumblings about the shaky status of Charles and Diana's marriage, the royal couple rode out the rest of the eighties making the standard monarchic ribbon cuttings and raising their two sons. Reports indeed did began to emerge in the mid-1980s of Charles' continued affair with old girlfriend, Camilla Parker Bowles but none were substantiated until a series of love tapes surfaced in the early 1990s. The age difference between Charles and Diana, a presumed intellectual gap, and the claim that Charles was pressured into marriage by his father, Prince Philip, were several theories thought to be the reason for the breakup of the marriage. One thing that is for certain is that Charles never gave up his love for Camilla though his entire marriage to Diana.
Prince Charles met the former Camilla Shand at a polo match in 1970 and right away Camilla and Charles were a hot item of the British tabloids. It was never to be though, and after refusing Charles' marriage proposal Camilla, for reasons of privacy and the lack of which being a royal comes with, married cavalry officer Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973. Charles, who didn't attend the wedding, nonetheless became their son Tom's godfather in 1974. In spite of their commitments, Charles and Camilla's affair was said to have been reignited within six years of Camilla's marriage and carried out thoughout Charles' subsequent marriage. While discretion was used thoughout the 1980s, by the early 1990s a series of "love tapes" surfaced that blew the lid right off the royal scandal.
Showing Charles and Camilla trying to arrange a suitable place for a rendezvous, Charles' desire to "live inside of your (Camilla's) trousers", be reincarnated as her tampon, and other various royal naughtiness the tapes became the talk of the early 1990s and eventually led to Charles and Diana's separation on December 9, 1992. With Diana retaining custody of their two sons, it was originally speculated that she would still be able to be crowned Queen one day. However when the royal divorce was announced in 1995 these plans were shuttled, though she was able to retain the title of Princess of Wales. In addition to keeping her title, Diana was awarded a settlement of $23 million, plus $600,000 a year to maintain her private office, where she continued to do charity work.
While the prince's broken marriage threatened to dominate the public's perception of him, he had an eclectic range of interests. Like other members of his family he loved country life and polo, fast cars, flying, and fishing. He was also a devotee of the theater, classical music, an avid reader of history and English literature, and notably an outspoken critic of architecture. And surely he must be the only Prince of Wales who ever wrote and published a fairy tale—The Old Man of Lochnagar (1980)—based on a story he told his younger brothers when they were children. In addition to this the Prince's Trust was established to be an umbrella group to benefit various charitable interests.
Prince Charles, had the intelligence and dedication to carve out for himself an important role in the British monarchy based on a profound interest in and understanding of his country. Aware, as he told British author Anthony Sampson, that "something as curious as the monarchy won't survive unless you take account of people's attitudes …," he dedicated himself to serve his people in his own way to the best of his ability. Despite his diminished popularity post-divorce, he took seriously the motto of the Prince of Wales, "Ich Dien," I serve, and did so by endeavoring "to show concern for people, to display interest in them as individuals, and to encourage them in a whole host of ways." As Maclean's Joe Chidley writes while talking about the Prince's rather underwhelming 1996 solo visit to Canada, "…the low-key response to Charles' visit seemed in keeping with the man himself—introspective, and preferring substance over ceremony."
Meanwhile, for Charles the major problem was how to get the British people used to Camilla after the continued popularity of his ex-wife. One positive signal in July 1997 was Britain's conservative newspaper, The Daily Telegraph's blessing, "She is good for his peace of mind, and is, therefore, performing a public service. It would make the best of a bad job if the public were to come gradually to accept this." The message seemed to be that Charles is preparing the British people to accept Parker Bowles as their possible future Queen. For her part, Parker Bowles has emerged slowly as a society fund-raiser, a definite prerequisite for royal-dom.
However, Prince Charles faced his biggest challenge after the August 31, 1997, death of his ex-wife, Princess Diana, as he became a single parent to Princes William and Harry. British newspapers warned him that he "must cast off his stiff upper lip and reach out to his sons and the people of Britain, or he could lose both."
Upon his mother's (Queen Elizabeth II) death on September 8, 2022, Charles became sovereign to his nation, and his title changed to King Charles III.
There are several popular biographies of Prince Charles which provide little useful information for those seriously interested in him. Of limited value is Gregary Wakeford's The Heir Apparent (1967), which is largely concerned with his early education. Of more utility is Tim Heald and Mayo Mohs's HRH: The Man Who Will Be King (1979). This book, though rather outdated, is entertaining and perceptive. A book by Prince Charles' former valet, Stephen Barry's Royal Secrets (1983), is a gossipy, anecdotal, and ultimately not unflattering portrait of life with the prince and his family. The most recent account of the Prince can be found in Jonathan Dimbleby's The Prince of Wales (1994). Information can also be found in biographies of his mother. Of these, Majesty: Elizabeth II and the House of Windsor by Robert Lacey (1977) is a serious and well-documented volume. Highly recommended is Elizabeth Longford's The Queen: The Life of Elizabeth II (1983), which is both gracefully written and insightful. Charles & Diana (1985) is saved from superficiality by the professional writing of Ralph Martin.