In September 2022, as the news broke around the world about the death of Queen Elizabeth II, speculation began around the new royal titles that would be issued as the new king, King Charles III, became the latest English monarch.
One of the most popular titles within the global debate was the famous Prince of Wales royal title.
This particular title is one of the most intriguing and controversial of the current royal titles within the British Royal Family. It has a fascinating history, both of its ancient origins as well as its more contemporary recipients.
Here are some of the stories behind this famous royal title and some of the more notable Princes of Wales in history.
The Origins Of The Prince Of Wales Title
The Prince of Wales title dates back to the late 13th and early 14 century, when the kings and princes of England and Wales were engaged in deadly battles for power.
The English king, Edward I, embarked on a quest to conquer the principality of Wales, in a bid to quell the power and influence of the Welsh lordships.
Despite strong Welsh rebellions, Edward conquered the Welsh territories and executed the last native prince of Wales, David III, in 1283.
From that time, Wales was ruled by the English monarchs, ultimately becoming an integral country within the United Kingdom and the realm known as the British Isles.
The English king embarked on a programme of fortification in the Welsh territories, and went on to invest his son and heir with the title Prince of Wales in Caernarfon Castle in 1301.
This English prince – the first non-native Prince of Wales, would go on to become Edward II of England, ruling over the English realm after the death of his father in 1307.
Up until that time, he was the first recipient of the English version of the Prince of Wales title, as granted by his father, King Edward I of England.
Before the English conquest, the Prince of Wales title had been held by the native Welsh princes, the various rulers of the territories that became the principality of Wales.
Prince of Wales – Heir To The British Throne
In this first instance of the Prince of Wales title being granted by an English monarch, the title was created by Edward I for his son, known as Edward of Caernarfon, who was born in Caernarfon Castle.
This Welsh-born English prince did go on to become his father’s successor to the English throne, but unlike the tradition for later Princes of Wales, the young Edward was not the first-born son of the king.
King Edward I had many children – records suggest between 14 and 16 children from his two marriages, the first to Eleanor of Castile, and the second to Margaret of France.
Edward of Caernarfon, the first English Prince of Wales, was Edward I’s fourth son, and possibly his 14th child.
Many of Edward I’s children died in infancy, as was common during the 13th century, and by the time of his death, Edward’s eldest sons had all died as young children.
So while Edward of Caernarfon would become King Edward’s heir and successor, for many years, he was not the first in line to the English throne.
When he became King Edward II, the title of Prince of Wales was granted to his eldest son, also called Edward, who would become King Edward III of England.
This second recipient of the Prince of Wales title thus began the tradition of the eldest son or heir apparent being chosen to receive the title.
In the centuries since these early English Princes of Wales, the tradition among the English Kings and the British Royal Family has been to grant the title of Prince of Wales to the heir to the throne, typically the firstborn son of the king.
The Longest Holder Of The Prince Of Wales Title
The new King of England, Charles III, holds the record for being the longest holder of the Prince of Wales title.
Though there have been many Princes of Wales who received the title and had to wait many years for their chance to reign, such as Edward VII for example, none have spent quite as many years as a Prince of Wales as did Charles, the eldest child and firstborn son of Queen Elizabeth II.
After being granted the title of Prince of Wales at the age of nine, and then being invested with the official role in a grand royal ceremony at Caernarfon Castle in 1969, Charles began his tenure as history’s longest-serving Prince of Wales with a record-breaking 64 years and 44 days, until he acceded to the throne upon the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth, who was also world-famous as one of the longest serving monarchs.
The New Prince Of Wales
The recent history of the Prince of Wales title began a new chapter in September 2022, when King Charles III granted the title to his eldest son William, who became the heir to the British throne when his father became king.
Prince William is the current Prince of Wales, carrying on the tradition of English sovereigns granting the title to the next in line to the throne.
Historically, this tradition has only been applied to the male heirs, yet the laws of primogeniture have been changed in recent years, so it’s possible that there could be a female equivalent of the title, ie Princess of Wales, being granted to a female firstborn child of a future king or queen.
Prince William’s eldest child is male – Prince George – and so it’s likely that he will become the next Prince of Wales if he and his father continue
to uphold the current royal tradition.
The Prince of Wales has become a much-loved and well-established royal title within the British Royal Family, and the history of its recipients is a captivating collection of some of England’s greatest royal princes, many of whom went on to become kings.
Given the tendency of royal traditions to be upheld for many generations and many centuries, it’s likely that the great tradition of granting the Prince of Wales title to future royal heirs will continue, but only time will tell how this unusual title will be appointed in the future.