The Crown: Did Prince Charles really get sent to Wales to learn Welsh?

Netflix's The Crown season three covers the 1969 investiture of Prince Charles (played by Josh O'Connor) as the Prince of Wales and his attempts to win over the Welsh people

THE CROWN prince charles wales

The Crown season three is expanding its cast of primary royal figures, focussing further on Prince Charles (played by The Durrell’s Josh O’Connor), his relationship with Camilla Shand (his future second wife) and his investiture as Prince of Wales on 1st July 1969, in a ceremony at Caernarfon Castle, Wales.

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Years of tension and growing Welsh nationalism meant that many in Wales resented their “foreign” prince — resulting in the decision to send the young royal to Aberystwyth to study the Welsh language for a term before the investiture.

Here’s everything you need to know about Prince Charles’ time in Wales, his investiture, and why he was sent to Wales in the first place as seen in The Crown season 3.

Did Prince Charles really get sent to Wales?

Prince Charles learning Welsh, as pictured in the June 26 1969 Radio Times edition (Radio Times archive)
Prince Charles learning Welsh, as pictured in the June 26 1969 Radio Times edition (Radio Times archive)

Prince Charles attended The University of Cambridge, but during his second year, aged 21, he spent a term at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, where he studied Welsh history and language. He lived in normal student accommodation and was expected to behave and live like a normal student — although he was still surrounded by undercover special protection officers, some posing as mature students.

The term spent in Wales was in preparation for his Investiture (much like a coronation) as the Prince of Wales, when he was crowned by his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, at Caernarfon Castle. The whole ceremony — including the prince’s speech in Welsh — was televised, and overseen by Princess Margaret’s then-husband, photographer Lord Snowden.

In The Crown, Charles isn’t too pleased about being sent off to Wales, just when he is finally settled at Cambridge and enjoying the delights of student theatre. The Queen, too, is privately reluctant to uproot her son – but to his face, she is resolute that he must do his duty and go.

It’s hard to tell how far this is based on reality, but in his book on the Investiture, John S Ellis writes that the Queen required “consistent cajoling” to allow the Investiture to take place before her son’s Cambridge graduation and had “some misgivings”. She was, however, on board with the idea of the Welsh language course at Aberystwyth.

Who was Prince Charles’ Welsh teacher Edward Millward?

Edward Millward, Welsh tutor, oversees Charles as he dons headphones (Screenshot from British Pathéarchival footage)
Edward Millward, Welsh tutor, oversees Charles as he dons headphones (Screenshot from British Pathé archival footage)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBzp2chEq34

Edward Millward (played in The Crown by The Accident star Mark Lewis Jones), a Welsh nationalist and academic at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, spent nine weeks teaching Welsh to Prince Charles.

A former politician, he finished his term as Vice-President of Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru the year before Charles’ investiture as the Prince of Wales.

On being asked to teach Prince Charles for a term, Millward told The Guardian in 2015: “I was a well-known nationalist, so I was a little surprised when the university asked me.”

He explained: “[Prince Charles] had a one-on-one tutorial with me once a week. He was eager, and did a lot of talking. By the end, his accent was quite good. Toward the end of his term, he said good morning – ‘Bore da’ – to a woman at college; she turned to him and said: “I don’t speak Welsh!” His presence caused a bit of a stir. Crowds would gather outside the college as he drove up in his sports car.”

You can see the pair interacting in this British Pathé archive footage below (from about 2 minutes 53 seconds), in which Millward shows the prince the university’s language laboratory, before Charles dons a pair of headphones.

Why did some Welsh people object to Prince Charles?

The Welsh nationalist movement had grown and become more militant in the decades prior to the 1969, including a 1952 attempt to blowup a pipeline that fed Welsh resources into England. Prince Charles’s investiture attracted fierce criticism in some republican quarters, and on the day of the ceremony 250 extra police officers were on patrol among fears of violence.

As Charles learns in the episode, parliament also sanctioned the flooding of the Tryweryn Valley in 1957, and in 1965 residents in Welsh-speaking Capel Celyn (a rural community in the valley) were forced to leave their homes to make way for the reservoir built to supply Liverpool — an English city — with water.

Charles has since spoken about his time in Wales as a young man, revealing that during his time there he was often the subject of nationalist protests as he left his halls of residence.

Banner carrying demonstrators await the arrival of Prince Charles and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at the Welsh Office in Cardiff. 28th June 1968. (Getty Images)

“Every day I had to go down to the town where I went to these lectures, and most days there seemed to be a demonstration going on against me,” he said in an ITV documentary about his time in Wales. “With a counter demonstration usually by splendid middle aged ladies who got out of a bus.”

A Welsh folk singer (and a future leader of independence party Plaid Cymru), Dafydd Iwan, composed a satirical song (played at the end of The Crown episode) highlighting how little time the prince spent in Wales: “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie’s playing polo today / Charlie, Charlie, Charlie’s playing polo with his daddy / Join in the song / Subjects big and small / We finally have a prince in the land of song.”

What is the history behind the Prince of Wales investiture?

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The Investiture at Caernarvon Castle on July 1, 1969 in Wales. (Getty Images)

The investiture of the Prince of Wales can be traced back to King Edward I of England. Caernarfon Castle (where Prince Charles’ investiture took place in 1969) was commissioned by King Edward in 1283 after he conquered Wales, and it was here that his son, the future King Edward II, was born one year later.

The legend says that King Edward I promised Wales a prince who spoke only Welsh (not English), and in effect promised his son to the Welsh, fulfilling his pledge. It’s since been a tradition for the British monarch to name their heir the Prince of Wales.

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The investiture of the Prince of Wales, future King Edward VIII (Getty Images)

The investiture ceremony as we know it today first took place in 1911, when the future King Edward VIII (Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle, who abdicated the throne) was invested at Caernarfon Castle at age 17, and kick-started the tradition of the Prince of Wales addressing the attendees at the ceremony in Welsh.

The language of the ceremony (as with most royal ceremonies) is also steeped in medieval history. During his investiture, Prince Charles promised the Queen: “I, Charles, Prince of Wales, do become your liege man of life and limb and of earthly worship and faith and truth I will bear unto thee to live and die against all manner of folks.”

However, the ceremony was also televised, in a bid to make the royal family appear more modern and accessible. In total, 500 million people worldwide watched the ceremony.

Did Prince Charles speak Welsh at the investiture?

Yes, Prince Charles really did learn some Welsh, as you can hear from this BBC archive footage of the July 1969 investiture (you can listen to the young prince speaking Welsh from around 1 hour and 26 minutes in).

Charles has since spoken about his efforts with the language (he often attempts to converse in Welsh while visiting the country) in an ITV documentary. “I did my utmost to learn as much as I could. But in a term it’s quite difficult, and I’m not as brilliant a linguist as I’d like to be,” he said.

On the day of the investiture, he and his mother were cheered by crowds that had gathered around the castle, and he would later write in his diary: “Last week has been an incredible one in my life and it now seems very odd not to have to wave to hundreds of people… I now seem to have a great deal to live up to and I hope I can be of assistance to Wales in constructive ways.”

Did Prince Charles change his investiture speech?

In The Crown’s episode, Prince Charles alters his investiture speech to better reflect what he has learnt about Wales retaining “her own character, her own will, her own voice”. But was that really the case in real-life?

Well, it seems that there’s some truth to the matter, as it turns out the government really was concerned about the “nationalist” and potentially “dangerous” undertones of his speech, drawing a link to Charles’ nationalist Welsh tutor, Edward Millward, and his “influence” over the young prince.

The Secretary of State George Thomas addressed a confidential note to the prime minister shortly after the investiture, in which he wrote that he was “concerned by the speeches made by the Prince of Wales,” and advised that the prime minister have a ‘discreet word’ with the Queen about her son.

“I have no information about who his advisers are, but a dangerous situation is developing,” he continued. “On two occasions he has made public speeches which have political implications. In my presence in Cardiff he referred to the ‘cultural and political awakening in Wales’. This is most useful for the Nationalists. If the Prince is writing his own speeches he may well be tempted to go further.

“The enthusiasm of youth is a marvellous spur, but it may lead to speeches that cause real difficulty. During the Prince’s stay at Aberystwyth he was subjected to concentrated attention by Welsh Nationalists. His tutor, his neighbour in the next room, and the Principal were all dedicated Nationalists. It has become quite evident to me that the Aberystwyth experience has influenced the Prince to a considerable extent.”

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The Crown season 3 is available on Netflix now