Let me take you back to a crisp morning in 1969, in the heart of Wales, where a nation stood divided. The investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales had stirred a whirlwind of emotions, revealing long-standing tensions between the Crown and those calling for Welsh independence. The scene was set and the drama unfolded, as royal postboxes adorned with the Union Jack and coronation emblems were strategically placed across the country.
In the capital city of Cardiff, right outside the Owain Glyndŵr pub – a symbol of the Welsh rebel and hero of the independence cause – one such postbox stood tall. Within hours, it was covered in nationalist and republican stickers, a subtle but powerful act of protest against the perceived symbolism of subjugation.
Charles as Cymrophile
The relationship between the royal family and Wales has long been complex, a mosaic of contrasting emotions reflecting the intricate nature of the Welsh people and their outlooks. Wales, a land haunted by the demise of medieval native princes, had seen its fair share of rebellion and resistance against the Crown. The Welsh republican movement may not have been a major force in 1969, but its sentiments reverberated through the hearts of many.
Amidst the tumultuous history, a glimmer of hope seemed to emerge in the form of the Prince of Wales himself. He immersed himself in Welsh life, championing causes close to the hearts of the Welsh people. His support for the Welsh language and for environmentalism endeared him to the nation, earning him the moniker ‘Cymrophile’, a prince who understood and embraced Wales like no other.
Nonetheless, his 1969 investiture, intended to unite the Welsh people behind the Crown, had the opposite effect. It polarised Welsh society, splitting families and friends in their views and reigniting age-old sentiments of resistance. People who had been sympathetic to the monarchy questioned the title ‘Prince of Wales’ and its historical implications.
You would cry blood
So the investiture was a potent cocktail of emotions – part celebration, part defiance. A poignant poem by Bobi Jones captured the sentiment perfectly: “You would cry Llywelyn, you would cry blood if you saw this, our heart taken by a foreign man, our crown by a conqueror.”
Fast forward to today, and the relationship between Wales and the Crown remains tumultuous. The recent coronation of King Charles III sparked fresh controversy. And his swift announcement, without consultation, to bestow the titles of Prince and Princess of Wales upon son William and daughter-in-law Catherine reignited debate about the necessity of the title and its constitutional implications.
The cost of King Charles’s coronation raised eyebrows, especially amidst a cost of living crisis. The extravagant spending associated with royal events and the increase in public funding for the monarch stirred anger among taxpayers. Experts estimate its cost to have been anywhere from £50 to £12mn, an absurd amount of money paid for mostly by straitened UK taxpayers.
Fury over excessive spending was amplified by Charles’s estimated private fortune, said to be around £1.8bn, making the notion of increased public funding for the Crown seem even more out of touch. Yet it has been reported this week that the Sovereign Grant, the annual lump sum of public funds to the Crown, is to be increased by 45%.
The Crown and control
The Crown Estate owns vast stretches of Welsh land and coastline, with profits valued at around £550mn in 2022. Yet these profits rarely benefit the Welsh people directly, leading to resentment and frustration. Calls for Welsh control over these assets grow louder, as activists demand more autonomy and control over their nation’s resources.
As the winds of change sweep through Wales, the Crown’s role inadvertently morphs into an unexpected ally for the independence movement. With Welsh nationalists and republicans campaigning side by side, demanding more autonomy and control over their country and its land and resources, the Crown’s actions and decisions fuel the flames of the independence debate.
As opinions continue to evolve and tensions simmer, the Crown and its association with Wales will undoubtedly remain a contentious issue. The accidental alliance between nationalists and republicans, fuelled by the Crown’s perceived out-of-touch decisions, excessive spending, and distant ownership of Welsh treasures, may be a catalyst that strengthens the voices of those advocating for Welsh independence.
As Wales grapples with its identity and future, the relationship between the Crown and the Welsh people will continue to play a significant role in shaping the nation’s political landscape. But not, perhaps, as the Crown might hope or plan for.
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