Could the anti-Enlightenment views of King Charles III destroy the "welfare monarchy"?by Tristram Hunt / June 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
Photo: Allan Warren
The official duties of the heir to the throne are not onerous. They do, however, involve attending state banquets in honour of visiting dignitaries. In October 1999, the Prince of Wales decided otherwise. While every leading member of the royal family from Her Majesty the Queen to the lowly Sir Angus Ogilvy sat down for dinner at the Chinese embassy, Prince Charles hosted a soir?e at St James’s Palace for some close friends.
In the symbolic waltz of courtly etiquette, this represented an extraordinary act of defiance. The date for President Jiang Zemin’s tour had been known for a year in advance and, when in the country, the prince had never previously failed to attend receptions for visiting heads of state. But this time, instead of doing his duty, the prince chose to show his support for the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, by snubbing the Chinese – a power of vital significance to British interests in the 21st century, as well as one with a keen nose for slights. To make sure no one missed the point, “friends” told the Daily Telegraph of the prince’s distaste for China’s treatment of Tibet and that he “wanted nothing more to do with this visit.”
Tony Blair, according to Downing Street sources, was “livid” about the rebuff; Rupert Murdoch, whose satellite interests are dependent on the Chinese government’s goodwill, “went absolutely spare.” Civil rights groups and the general public, on the other hand, were broadly supportive of the prince displaying disapproval of China in one of the few ways available to him. (Last month he chose to revive the controversy by inviting the Dalai Lama to lecture at the Temenos Academy, his spiritual think tank.)
It is now ten years since the heir to the throne gave his infamous interview with Jonathan Dimbleby. Buckingham Palace saw the 1994 biography and accompanying television series on the 25th anniversary of Charles’s investiture as a chance to redefine his public role as Prince of Wales – but in the end, the public was only interested in his admission of adultery with Camilla Parker-Bowles. Since then, wave upon wave of scandal and tragedy have hit this naturally introspective, frequently morose royal: the “Camillagate” tapes, the death of Princess Diana, the death of the Queen Mother (whom he adored), the Paul Burrell trial, and the recent storm over backstairs palace peccadilloes. Yet…