,That Prince Charles wants a smaller, “slimmed-down” monarchy is no secret.
What had once threatened to be a painful process of pruning was made easier for him by the forced departure of Prince Andrew and the voluntary exit of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle from the ranks of working, salaried royals.
Indeed, in some quarters it was whispered that maybe too much wood had been cut. Over the past two years, there has been a perception that, far from the balcony at Buckingham Palace being in danger of imminent collapse, the army is looking a little thin. The received wisdom, post-Meghan and Harry, was that more, not fewer, royal bodies might actually be needed to plug the daily royal schedule of community-center visits and sports hall openings.
This explains the subsequent pushing-forward by Buckingham Palace of Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie Wessex. Over the past two years, Charles’ younger brother—Edward is 57 and Charles is 72, and the two “barely know each other,” according to one source—and his wife have occupied an increasingly visible role. This new, higher profile crystallized on the occasion of the death of Prince Philip, when the couple were sent out to give a series of high-profile print and television interviews, which they conducted with aplomb.
But if Queen Elizabeth was happy with their work, one man was less than thrilled. Prince Charles’ camp spent last weekend telling the U.K. Sunday Times that Charles was planning to pre-emptively deny Edward the title of Duke of Edinburgh, which he was publicly and explicitly promised by Charles himself at Edward’s marriage, in 1999, to Sophie.
Then, Buckingham Palace said: “The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales have also agreed that Prince Edward should be given the Dukedom of Edinburgh in due course, when the present title held now by Prince Philip eventually reverts to the crown.”
Now, however, that’s reportedly not happening.
Roya Nikkhah, the Sunday Times royal editor, quoted a source as saying: “Prince [Charles] is the Duke of Edinburgh as it stands, and it is up to him what happens to the title. It will not go to Edward.”
Why has the dam broken on Edward now?
The answer appears, as so often is the case with Charles, to be a matter of personal pique.
Prince Charles has long had the absolute minimum of regard for Edward and Sophie, a coolness that goes back at least to the events of 2001, when they did two very foolish things.
Edward’s now-defunct film company, Ardent productions, broke guidelines hammered out with the media to protect Prince William’s privacy as a young man by trying to film him during his first days at St. Andrews University. That same year, Sophie, who was working in PR, was filmed by an undercover reporter making a series of unguarded statements; she called the queen an “old dear” and said of Charles’ (since-realized) plan to marry Camilla: “It’s a very difficult situation. On the one hand, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be accepted because he’s divorced and she’s divorced, but then again you’ve got issues of the monarch being the head of the (Anglican) Church.”
Troublemakers within Prince Charles’ camp have been busily briefing British newspapers this week that Edward and Sophie Wessex have got too big for their boots, with the always well-informed Richard Kay of the Daily Mail alluding to “Wessex fatigue,” and quoting courtiers mocking the fact they “are often described as ‘indispensable,’” and portraying them as calculating and “strategic.”
If this sense of a jealous Prince Charles seems familiar, well, that is because it is.
The writer Christopher Andersen, author of Diana’s Boys, told The Daily Beast: “Charles harbors varying degrees of resentment toward all three of his siblings—Anne, Andrew, and Edward—for the affection and attention that was lavished on them by their parents and denied him from the very beginning. On a certain level, Charles must also hate the fact that Edward and Sophie have been lauded for stepping up to fill in the void left by the departure of Harry and Meghan.”
It is a truism that much of Charles’ personal life has been defined by resentments against members of his family.
The author Penny Junor, who has written biographies of Charles and is close to his circle, told The Daily Beast that he had not only “struggled” with the popularity of his first wife, Princess Diana, but had also been jealous of his own sons when they attracted more limelight than him.
She said: “Definitely, Charles used to feel threatened by his sons. Charles is a man who grew up being a star in his own firmament and it’s very hard to let someone else in on that stage to share the limelight. He found it very difficult with Diana, and he found it difficult when his sons started to become stars in their own right. He was an older man, they were younger and more photogenic with beautiful wives—and of course that is threatening.”
But can he really be threatened by Edward and Sophie?
The author Tom Bower, whose unputdownable biography of Charles, Rebel Prince, lifted the lid on prima donna behavior of unimaginable levels, such as Charles getting his own artwork sent on ahead of him to decorate a room he was staying in for a few nights at a friend’s house, told The Daily Beast that the notion was “baffling.”
Bower told The Daily Beast: “I find it bizarre that a 72-year-old man could be jealous of his younger brother, who does not have any public status whatsoever, who doesn’t offer a challenge, who is not political. Edward is a harmless soul, which makes it even more baffling why this has suddenly arisen. It’s actually symbolic of the palace in disarray. I find it unseemly and distasteful—and the palace should have stopped it.”
The more pressing problem from Edward and Sophie’s vantage point, of course, is whether they can actually do anything about what appears to be Charles’ attempts to lessen their profile and importance.
Bower thinks their odds are not good: “If you assume the story is true, Edward and Sophie have no way of countering it. I don’t think they are in a position to get the queen to override Charles.”
Junor makes a similar point: “The big picture is that the Prince of Wales thinks the fewer titles there are, the better. I think that’s right.”
While the overarching direction of travel may indeed be justifiable and sensible for the long-term survival of the monarchy, it bodes ill for the reign of King Charles III if he gets a reputation for breaking his word, especially given that it is an open secret that he has no intention of keeping his promise that Camilla will not officially be named queen.
Untrustworthy kings do not inspire public allegiance.
Bower said that he found it interesting that Charles’ bizarre attack on his brother’s status coincided with Charles speaking out on sustainable farming in an audio essay on BBC.
While few could find fault with the sense of Charles’ message—sustainable farming is a good idea—his air of self-importance can seem alienating. A video of the address showed him parked behind his magnificent desk, wearing a tailor-made suit and reading from a lectern. At one stage, he actually said, “I have published the Terra Carta, a roadmap of principles for people, nature, and the planet…”
The idea of Queen Elizabeth issuing a set of guidelines for the planet is laughable.
Bower told The Daily Beast: “There was good evidence that the publication of my book so alarmed him that he stopped meddling. However [on the BBC clip] he sounded very much like the old Charles, very much doing the campaigning and meddling. Is this personal spat with Edward an extension of the new outbreak of meddling?”
Andersen concurs, saying: “Denying the Duke of Edinburgh title to Edward just makes him look small, petulant, and more than a little vindictive. It’s not a very good sign for the monarchy. Charles needs to appear more magnanimous if he has any hope of winning over his future subjects.”
What this means for the future is hard to predict in detail, but the general outlines are becoming clearer. It seems likely that Edward and Sophie will be sidelined all over again by Charles when he accedes to the throne. They certainly won’t be elevated to positions of greater importance.
Their own remarks on the matter have seemed to accept their powerlessness. As The Daily Beast reported in the Royalist newsletter last weekend, Edward, when asked about becoming Duke of Edinburgh replied: “It was fine in theory, ages ago when it was sort of a pipe dream of my father’s… and of course it will depend on whether or not the Prince of Wales, when he becomes king, whether he’ll do that, so we’ll wait and see.”
Richard Kay also hinted that Charles intends to give the dukedom of Edinburgh to William’s younger son, Louis.
If one were reading the royal tea leaves, this perhaps is the most concrete indication of how Charles sees the future and intends to wield power. His primary goal is dynastic, like many kings before the No. 1 aim is to cement his line.
And if that means Edward and Sophie get sidelined the moment his mother dies, so be it.
Clarence House and Buckingham Palace declined to comment to The Daily Beast for this piece.