Unlike in much of the United Kingdom, the Queen’s funeral and the King’s visit were not met with much support from the locals in Wales, and the Royals’ history with the country makes it no surprise.
“For one day, the nation stood still”
“A whole nation mourns”
“Nation pays final farewell”
Anyone seeing the news from the UK in the last week or so will have noticed many headlines such as the ones above. But among the hyperbole, there was one CNN report which stated that Wales was the most “hostile” of the four UK nations, more than Scotland or Northern Ireland.
— Andrew Benjamin (@AndrewBenj_) September 16, 2022
This was following the new King’s visit to Cardiff in which he was heckled by protesters. It is true to say that they were outnumbered by supporters but as a Welsh football fan site pointed out, far more people turned out to welcome the Wales national team’s return from the 2021 European Championship than turned out for Charles.
Then there was a report from the Times which stated: “Cardiff was like a ghost town in the lead-up to the Queen’s funeral; the few people watching the service in pubs in the city centre were mostly tourists. Wales is the only nation in the UK where not a single council is hosting a public screening of the service.”
My sister’s chapel had been asked to attend an ecumenical service in honour of the Queen yet not a single person from the congregation was willing to attend and, in my town, a few shops purposefully stayed open even though the day of the funeral was a bank holiday. Things are not what they seem. But to understand what is happening we need to go back to 1969.
The late 1960s were a time of great change in Wales. There were frequent protests to gain official status for the Welsh language and for greater autonomy for Wales. There was widespread anger at the drowning of inhabited valleys to provide water for England despite the overwhelming opposition of the whole of the Welsh population. At the same time MAC (Movement for the Defence of Wales) was placing bombs under pipelines and the FWA (Free Wales Army) were getting their name in the papers for manoeuvres.
The Labour Party in Wales had been in power for a long time and was very much part of the establishment. It had also been infiltrated by careerists and was riddled with corruption. They had become completely morally bankrupt. As an example, they plundered the charity set up after the Aberfan disaster to help the bereaved families.
The Labour Welsh Secretary of State was George Thomas – a man from an extremely humble background. He had been brought up in a cellar in dire poverty after his father abandoned the family. He had spent his life rising within the British establishment only to face the possibility that all this was going to crumble around him.
He was pathologically anti-Welsh language even though he was a Welsh speaker himself. Possibly he associated the language with his own poverty-stricken background. He was an arch royalist – he had a picture of the Queen and Prince either side of his bed apparently. Maybe relevant was the fact that he was a closet homosexual which may have fed a dual paranoia of a collapse of everything he had built up for himself.
When Plaid Cymru, the party for Welsh independence, won their first seat in Carmarthenshire and nearly lost a seat in their heartlands, the Labour establishment decided they must do something to hold back the tide. What they came up with was the investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon. The idea was to get the Prince speaking a bit of Welsh, rally people behind the Crown and the establishment and everything would be fine.
George Thomas followed Prince Charles wherever he went and would point out that “the Welsh people are quite happy with things as they are”. In truth the exercise polarised Welsh society completely. It split families, it split friends, it split institutions. Choirs invited to take part in the investiture found half their members unwilling to take part. There were several reasons why people objected to the investiture.
People who were republican inclined were against.
People were objecting to an English Prince being given the title Prince of Wales. Historically, the last native Prince of Wales was killed in 1282. The title was given to King Edward’s son as a way of emphasising the subjugation of Wales following the conquest.
There were a few who thought the worldwide publicity might do good for Wales and the Welsh language.
I remember the polarisation – a carpenter who came to our house to do a job and tearing down an anti-investiture poster in my room before leaving in disgust. My family was also split. My parents were against the investiture, and we went on protests to that affect, but my grandmother was a supporter of sorts. She castigated “the people who are trying to harm the Prince” and thought it a wonderful thing that he had learnt enough Welsh to give a speech in the language.
A poem of the time shows how raw the emotions were. Referring to the last native Prince of Wales it reads:
You would cry Llywelyn
You would cry blood if you saw this
Our heart taken by a foreign man
Our crown by a conqueror
Overall, opinion polls at the time suggested that the percentages for the investiture were around 55% for and 45% against.
But once the investiture was announced, the establishment had a huge headache. How were they going to hold such an event when MAC was threatening to place bombs whenever the Royal Family came into Wales? Remember this was before the troubles in Northern Ireland. What they decided to do was have secret policemen following everyone they could think of.
They also arrested the FWA and made several raids including one on the Welsh Arts Council offices of all things. This was very heavy handed and all rather amateurish. The establishment over the years has been found to be incredibly ignorant of Welsh society.
On the eve of the investiture two members of MAC killed themselves in a premature explosion with a bomb placed at Abergele station on the route of the royal train. During the ceremony, a bomb went off in the home of the local police constable during the 21-gun salute and a young child was injured by a bomb which had failed to go off during the ceremony. The establishment sighed in relief when the whole thing was over and, apparently, the Queen went to her bed for a week to catch up on her sleep, she had been so worried.
The events of 1969 have left a sour taste in the mouth of a lot of people in Wales. A significant minority really loathe and hate the royals and the former Prince. Over the years, there have been significant protests when the royals have come to Wales. Several hundred people attended one such protest which was later reported in the press as ‘five noisy protesters’.
People consistently over the years turn the stamps upside down so that the face of the Queen points downwards. When a garden party was organised to celebrate the centenary of the investiture, two thirds of the invited councillors refused to attend (one of the councillors who didn’t attend was previously a member of MAC and a convicted bomber). In 2019, the Queen was thrown out of the Gorsedd y Beirdd (the order of bards) as she had made no attempt over the years to learn Welsh.
When the UK government produced a bilingual book to celebrate the silver jubilee at a cost of 2 million pounds the Welsh government refused to distribute it to schools. Even if they had tried, most of the teachers wouldn’t have agreed to hand it out. Even more recently when the Severn Bridge was renamed after the Prince of Wales, the establishment decided to conduct the opening ceremony in secret to avoid the inevitable disruption by protesters.
So back to today. Hopefully the above gives some context to what is bubbling under the surface which, by and large, the press is not reporting. Perhaps the death and funeral of the Queen would have passed off without controversy except that Charles, in his first address, as the new King, announced that his son William and Catherine would be given the title Prince and Princess of Wales immediately. This statement was put out without consultation with First Minister and Labour leader Mark Drakeford nor the Welsh government, thereby showing typical disdain for Welsh democracy.
A lot of people had hoped that the title would be abandoned since it doesn’t have any legal or constitutional necessity. A petition has reached 35,000 signatures asking for the title to be revoked. Mark Drakeford, realising the sensitivity of the issue and how it has the potential of splitting his own party, has been trying to calm things down. He has stated that he thinks it “highly unlikely” that there will be an investiture like 1969 and that Wales needs time for public debate to occur before any decision is made. He knows that any lavish ceremony will not go down well in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.
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