The Royal family in Wales - a complex, changing history

Wales's relationship with the British monarchy could change after the death of the Queen, reports Rhys Williams

In the past, Wales has often been relegated to a footnote in the history of Britain let alone the British monarchy, but so much of the development of a modern Welsh identity in the second half of the 20th century is connected to the Royal Family. 

Wales came of age during the reign of Elizabeth II. When she came to the throne in 1952, Wales didn’t even have its own capital city. Now it has a parliament in Cardiff Bay - one that she opened in 1999.

The Queen meeting Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford in Cardiff Credit: PA

As well as the Senedd, the Queen travelled to every corner of Wales over her 70 year reign, visiting the nation more than 300 times. But it was a visit she didn’t make, that came to haunt her.

In 1966, in the heart of the south Wales coalfield, a black avalanche of slurry crashed down Merthyr mountain and buried part of the village of Aberfan, including Pantglas Junior school, after heavy rainfall.

More than 140 people died, including 116 children.

Elizabeth II visited Aberfan a week after the disaster in 1966 Credit: PA

The next day, the Queen’s husband Prince Philip and the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson travelled to the scene, but the Queen waited a week before visiting.  It’s something she is said to have “immensely regretted”.

Despite this, not one person we spoke with in Aberfan felt the Queen had any regret about her reaction to the tragedy. 

The Queen was clearly deeply affected by what she saw, and heard, in the village.

Over the years, she returned many times, and forged a particularly close connection with the wives and mothers of Aberfan

The Queen returned to Aberfan many times - including laying a wreath there in 1973 Credit: PA

A mere three years later, in the middle of a growth in Welsh nationalism, a new chapter began in Wales’s relationship with the Royal Family in Aberystwyth.

A 20-year-old King Charles spent a term at university there in 1969 in preparation for his investiture as Prince of Wales. He learnt Welsh, but his first speech in the language was targeted by protesters, who felt the true Prince of Wales died long ago.

Charles III spent a term studying the Welsh language in the 1960s Credit: PA

The lavish ceremony went without a hitch, but outside the walls of Caernarfon Castle, things were far from calm.

A bombing campaign by the paramilitary group the Free Wales Army had targeted the investiture. Though it failed to make its intended impact, two bomb-makers died when a bomb went off prematurely, and a ten year old boy on holiday in Caernarfon lost his leg after tripping over an explosive days later.

Prince Charles was invested as Prince of Wales in 1969. Credit: PA

There were rumours Prince Charles was wearing a bulletproof vest underneath his robes, and the BBC even prepared an obituary for him.There was genuine concern in government circles that this moment could have sparked unrest in Wales to match the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

King Charles III went on to be Wales’s longest ever serving Prince of Wales, and he wasted no time in making his eldest son William and his wife, Catherine, Prince and Princess of Wales, but these remain divisive titles in Wales.

It's unclear if they'll be an investiture for Prince William, as there was for his father Credit: PA

A poll conducted by ITV Wales earlier this year showed that fewer than half of respondents thought that there should be another Prince of Wales after Charles.This represented an almost 10-point drop in support for the role in just four years.

There are concerns another investiture could be deeply divisive, and there’s a suggestion the King would not want the new Prince of Wales to be invested in the way he was in 1969.

The Welsh people remain broadly supportive of the Royal Family, but views across the country are polarising. 

One of the immediate challenges of not only the Prince and Princess of Wales, but the King too, will be to prove to the sceptics their relevance in modern Wales.

The remarkable life of the Queen remembered in our latest episode of What You Need To Know