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Shortly before midnight on November 14, 1948, Buckingham Palace announced that Princess Elizabeth had given birth to her first child, a son. Within the hour, his arrival was cabled across the Empire and the Commonwealth, where church bells were rung and Union Jacks raised in his honour. Across the globe, British warships fired a birthday salute. This was no ordinary birth. As second in line to the Throne, the new-born’s arrival was marked by all the pomp and ceremony befitting a potential future King.
One month later, speculation as to what the baby would be named ended when he was christened Charles Philip Arthur George by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Fisher. Wearing the christening robe used previously by all of the children of Queen Victoria, the Prince was initiated into the faith of the Church of England. Following a Royal tradition that is believed to date back to the era of the Crusades, water from the River Jordan was used for the baptism.
Though parental bonds were formed, the young Prince spent a good deal of his infant years separated from his mother and father. In the light of the failing health of his grandfather, King George VI, Princess Elizabeth was much occupied with preparing for her own accession to the Throne, and was frequently called upon to perform the stately duties that her ailing father was unable to undertake. Meanwhile the young Prince’s father, the Duke of Edinburgh, was often away at sea, as a naval officer in command of his own ship. So frequent and prolonged were such parental absences that Prince Charles is said to have failed to recognise his mother upon one occasion of her return.
The delicate task of raising the Prince therefore fell to other members of the Royal household, including his grandmother, the present Queen Mother, who doted upon him, and to his nannies, with whom he also developed strong bonds. The death of his grandfather in February 1952, when the Prince was still just three years old, served only to exacerbate the situation, as his mother, the new Queen, found herself with even less time to dedicate to domestic matters. A little over a year later, the heir presumptive experienced for the first time the gravity of the institution into which he had been born, as he watched his mother’s Coronation at Westminster Abbey.
Shortly after the death of King George VI, the Queen and her Family moved from Clarence House, their home in St James’s, back into Buckingham Palace. It was here that the Prince’s formal education began. Just before his fifth birthday, part of the nursery floor was converted into a classroom complete with a desk, blackboard and governess. Lacking in self-confidence, the Prince failed, from the outset, to shine as a pupil. Notes from the time suggest that, although conscientious and responsive, he found it difficult to concentrate, and displayed little appetite for learning.
The Prince’s sensitivity, his tendency to spend much of his time daydreaming, and his lack of physical robustness – in stark comparison to that of his younger sister, Anne – irritated his father terribly. The Duke of Edinburgh, keenly aware of the position his eldest son would one day inherit, was often unduly harsh with Charles, perhaps in the hope of toughening him up for the rigours of public life. But his frequent rebukes and chastisements, in private as well as in public, was at times too much for the child to bear, and tears were often shed.
After three years in the nursery schoolroom, the Prince had developed satisfactorily. His parents, keen to see him expand his experience of life beyond the Palace, decided, in what was a break from Royal protocol, that he would enrol at Hill House, a pre-preparatory school in West London. At the age of seven, Charles became the first heir to the throne to go to an ordinary, if privileged, school.
As had been the case throughout his nursery education, Charles continued to find it difficult to concentrate on one subject for very long. He continued to struggle with mathematics, the principals of which had eluded him from a young age, and excelled only at art and reading.
From Hill House, Prince Charles went on to Cheam School in Berkshire. Like his father before him, he was to take up a place as a boarder – although unlike the Duke, it was an arrangement that he came to dread. Overcome by homesickness, he stifled his tears in his pillow at night. The isolation he felt was not helped by his position. Despite the wishes of his parents that he be treated as normally as any other boy, his fellow boarders found it difficult to overcome their lack of warmth towards him. For much of his time at Cheam, Charles appeared to the more caring teachers to be confined within his own loneliness.
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