The years of waiting are over.
Charles III will be crowned king on Saturday. One other British monarch, Edward VII, waited 60 years for his chance to be king. Charles waited 73. Their mothers set records: Victoria reigned for 64 years, Queen Elizabeth II for 70.
Charles’ coronation will be a grand affair. His high artistic standards have been cultivated over time, and his sense of tradition is tempered by the need for change in the monarchy. It was he who chose an unknown soprano, New Zealander Kiri Te Kanawa, to sing at his wedding to Diana. Dame Kiri’s career in opera is now the stuff of legend.
And it was Charles who asked all former prime ministers and Commonwealth chiefs to go with him to the annual cenotaph ceremony in 2022 at Whitehall, on November 11, Armistice Day, at which only the monarch used to preside.
The late queen, in her 70th anniversary broadcast, went out of her way to ask the public to accept Charles’ second wife, Camilla, as his queen consort, a very unusual step — but understandable considering the fuss over his divorce from Diana — and, reaching back, the upheaval, furore and abdication in 1936 of King Edward VIII must have been on her mind also. Her uncle insisted he marry Wallis Warfield Simpson for his queen. Simpson, a twice-divorced American, had nowhere to go.
Edward was supreme head of the Church of England, where divorcees, ironically, cannot marry: In 1534, Henry VIII broke from Rome by asking for a divorce from the pope, which was denied. So he split, headed his own church, and gave himself two divorces. The 41-year-old Edward’s love for Wallis cost him his crown, although he was willing to go once a settlement of 60,000 pounds a year was agreed upon, saying: “I’ve already put in 29 years of service to the Empire, which was enough,” according to diarist Chips Channon.
When Camilla Shand first met Charles, they were teenagers. Her opening statement shocked and fascinated him. “Your great-grandfather and my grandmother were lovers,” she said.
It was true. Alice Keppel was King Edward VII’s favorite mistress. They had lovers’ trysts at a house in London’s upscale Belgravia. As he lay dying in 1910 she forced her way into Buckingham Palace by using an outdated visitors pass. Queen Alexandra, the king’s wife, in a gracious gesture allowed her in. Together they sat at his bedside until he died.
In his will, the king left Mrs. Keppel 15,000 pounds a year (the average wage in England then was about 200 pounds a year) and the house in Belgravia. She lived another 35 years, dying in 1945.
Charles and Camilla are both divorcees. Eighteen years ago they married in Windsor Town’s Registry Office, a civil ceremony, followed by a church blessing from the archbishop of Canterbury in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. As young people, Charles and Camilla had strong ties, from their grandparents’ passionate devotions to their own liaisons. But Camilla was considered unsuitable for the prince to marry.
Undaunted, she married a Guards Regiment officer, Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles. At 32, Charles showed no inclination to get married. An heir was needed. Enter his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, widow of the late King George VI. It was she who recommended Lady Diana Spencer, 19, a descendant of King Charles II (reigned 1660-1685), who, as the “Merry Monarch” and a bachelor, had at least eight royal bastards, all of whom got titles. Eventually Charles II married, but did not produce an heir.
Coronations are a costly business. Taxpayers foot the bill. But Charles could afford to chip in, as fundraisers like to say. His personal wealth, as prince of Wales, is estimated by The Guardian at over 500 million pounds, with an investment portfolio of 50 million pounds, and money in rented land from his two duchies, Cornwall and Lancaster.
Plus, when Queen Elizabeth II died, she left him a jewelry collection of close on 180 million pounds, heavily weighted by her privately owned Koh-i-Noor and Cullinan diamonds. If ever they came on the market, experts say their value would increase at auction by a multiple of 10 because of who owned them.
Will Charles’ reign be long?
Boys who attended and underwent the rigors of spartan life at Gordonstoun, Charles’ alma mater, a private school in Scotland, are living to 100. His father, Prince Philip, also a pupil there, lived until age 99. And my friend of 60 years, scientist Felix Kauffmann, also an alumnus, died last year at 103.
Let’s wish Charles well and watch the ceremony Saturday, if only to see where his errant son, Prince Harry, has been seated. In the words of the British national anthem, “Long may he reign.” And he probably will.
Rex Hearn, a winter resident of North Palm Beach, was a captain in the British Army and was on duty in June 1953 when Elizabeth II was crowned. He has been an American citizen since 1999.