The Prince of Wales was in his mid-forties, with his youth long since behind him, and his throne still many distant, tantalising year away. His childhood and schooldays had been lonely and unhappy, and they were made harder to bear by his distant mother, his disappointed father, and his more robust and much-preferred sister. He had married a woman renowned for her beauty rather than her brains, largely because he had been told it was his duty to do so. By her he had promptly fathered two healthy sons, after which he soon sought comfort, consolation and companionship elsewhere. There was criticism in the press of his wayward and unfocused life, but the idea that he should be given serious employment such as a proconsular posting did not secure the necessary approval. At his country house and in London, the Prince set up what was virtually an alternative court in waiting. The trouble was that his mother remained in excellent health, with every prospect of celebrating both her Golden and her Diamond Jubilees. The most the Prince could realistically look forward to was that he would inherit the throne as an old man, and reign for a few tired, belated, sunset years. But there were some who feared, and others who hoped, that the Queen might outlive her eldest son, so that he would never become king at all.
LRB 8 December 1994 | PDF Download