First, an admission–I am an unapologetic Anglophile. I love British history, celebrate our common roots, and would live in England if I could not live in America. Similarly, I am conservative enough to admit that I am sometimes given to romantic thoughts about a constitutional monarchy as a keeper of national tradition. All that conservative romanticism has its limits, however. And that limit is represented by the current Prince of Wales. Britain’s Prince Charles is a walking refutation of a hereditary monarchy.
How did the House of Windsor come to this? As the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall make their visit to America this week, the royal couple will be attempting to buttress their image both at home and abroad. Such royal visits are usually opportunities for extended handshaking, baby kissing, and photograph taking. Of course, Prince Charles has a demonstrated knack for messing up just about any opportunity. This time, he intends to lecture Americans about our lack of appreciation for Islam.
Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor was born November 14, 1948 to the future Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Upon his birth, Winston Churchill declared: “Our thoughts go out to the mother and father and, in a special way today, to the little Prince, now born into this world of strife and storm.” Little did Sir Winston know that this prince would bring his own strife and storm.
No one can doubt that the British royal family has fallen on hard times. The current dynasty begins in greatness with Queen Victoria, whose long reign established glory for the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Unfortunately, it has been rough going ever since Queen Victoria. It was said that the aging queen had clung to life in order to forestall her son’s accession to the throne. Edward VII was an infamous playboy as Prince of Wales, and “Bertie” created as much trouble for Victoria as Charles now creates uproar for Queen Elizabeth II.
The family was renamed the House of Windsor when George V, grandson of Queen Victoria, decided that the family’s German name was simply too great a burden to bear. “I may be uninspiring,” the king remarked, “but I’ll be damned if I’m an alien.” George V may not have been inspiring, but he was a man of courage during the dark days of World War I.
After the scandal and disaster of King Edward VIII, the family regained its footing and prestige with the honorable reign of George VI, who with his wife, Queen Elizabeth, comforted and emboldened the nation during the Battle of Britain and the trauma of World War II.
In the main, Queen Elizabeth II has continued the decorum established by her parents, and she has conducted an admirable rule over her realm. Regrettably, her domestic realm has been marked by continued scandal and disaster. Three of her four children have been divorced, and two were remarried–most scandalously, the marriage of the Prince of Wales to Camilla Parker-Bowles, now known as the Duchess of Cornwall.
A. N. Wilson, one of the most thoughtful and informed observers of British life, suggests that the British royal line may have run its course. In The Rise and Fall of the House of Windsor, Wilson argues “that there are serious causes for concern that the House of Windsor is no longer in a position to fulfill the traditional functions of constitutional kingship.”
Of course, one of the primary responsibilities of the British monarch is to defend the faith. Henry VIII was given that title by the Pope for his defense of Catholic doctrine on the question of the sacraments and for his attack on Martin Luther. The Pope clearly had no idea that Henry VIII would establish the Church in England under his own authority and break with Rome. Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, changed the Church in England to the Church of England, thus creating a truly Anglican church.
As Wilson observes, “The Queen’s position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England is comparable to her position as Head of the Commonwealth. That is to say, an impartial observer could be forgiven for thinking that she was presiding over something which in most palpable terms had ceased to exist.” Only a small minority of British citizens actually attend church services with any regularity at all, and half of those are Roman Catholics. Over eighty percent of the British population is considered to be secular, and the fastest growth among non-secular residents of Great Britain is found among Muslims and other non-Christian groups.
As if that were not a sufficient challenge for any future monarch, the Prince of Wales doesn’t even want to accept the title, Defender of the Faith. In an infamous television interview with journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, the Prince declared that he would rather be enthroned as “Defender of Faith,” with no particular faith in mind.
“I personally would rather see it as Defender of Faith, not the Faith, because it [Defender of the Faith] means just one particular interpretation of the Faith, which I think is sometimes something that causes a deal of problem,” said the Prince. Viewers of the interview could be forgiven for failing to understand the Prince’s bumbling articulation. After all, what is “sometimes something that causes a deal of a problem” supposed to mean?
But, the Prince did go on: “It has done for hundreds of years. People have fought each other to the death over these things, which seems to me a particular waste of people’s energy, when we’re all actually aiming for the same ultimate goal, I think. So I would much rather it was seen as defending faith itself which is so often under threat in our day where, you know, the whole concept of faith itself or anything beyond this existence, beyond life itself is considered almost old-fashioned and irrelevant.”
Throughout his lifetime, Charles has dabbled with various mysticisms and New Age philosophies. In one sense, lacking any normal vocation, he has become an expert at eccentricities.
Now, Prince Charles intends to chide President George W. Bush concerning what the Prince sees as America’s lack of tolerance for Islam. According to The Telegraph [London], the Prince “has voiced private concerns over Washington’s ‘confrontational’ approach to Muslim countries and its failure to appreciate what he regards as Islam’s strengths.”
This is really nothing new. Just after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, Prince Charles met with senior Muslim leaders in London and declared, “I find the language and rhetoric coming from America too confrontational.”
In a 1997 article entitled “Prince Charles of Arabia,” reporters Ronni L. Gordon and David M. Stillman traced the Prince’s misadventures with Islam. At one point, the Grand Mufti of Cyprus declared that Charles had converted to Islam. “Did you know that Prince Charles has converted to Islam? Yes, yes. He is a Muslim. I can’t say more. But it happened in Turkey. Oh, yes, he converted all right. When you get home check on how often he travels to Turkey. You’ll find that your future king is a Muslim,” the Mufti intoned. Buckingham Palace replied through a spokesman, denying the Prince’s supposed conversion and declaring the idea “nonsense.” Nevertheless, shortly thereafter the Palace leaked word that Charles had indicated a “desire to play a greater role in the Church of England.” That can’t have been good news for the Church of England.
In recent weeks, the British press has reported about a letter in which Prince Charles spoke of his conversation with George Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury. In this conversation, he told the Archbishop of his desire to become Defender of Faith rather than Defender of the Faith. “I wish you’d been there for the archbishop!” Charles wrote. “Didn’t really appreciate what I was getting at by talking about ‘the Divine’ and felt that I had said far more about Islam than I did about Christianity–and was therefore worried about my development as a Christian.” Clearly, the Archbishop had good reason to be worried.
In a 1993 speech at the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford University, Charles declared: “Islam can teach us today a way of understanding and living in the world which Christianity itself is poorer for having lost. At the heart of Islam is its preservation of an integral view of the Universe. Islam–like Buddhism and Hinduism–refuses to separate man and nature, religion and science, mind and matter, and has preserved a metaphysical and unified view of ourselves and the world around us . . . .” He has insisted that Islam is a religion of peace and that Western media have given citizens a false understanding of what Islam is all about.
In more recent years, the Prince of Wales has become the royal patron of the Centre for Islamic Studies, funded with a gift of 33 million dollars from the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.
Even as Muslim extremists have sharpened their attacks in London and other European capitals, Prince Charles appears unmoved. In the same week that news reports revealed the beheading of three Christian schoolgirls in Indonesia at the hands of Islamic terrorists, and just days after Iran’s leader called for the state of Israel to be “wiped off the map,” Charles intends to lecture Americans on our lack of appreciation for Islam.
According to royal sources, the Prince will participate in a seminar on world religions to be held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The Prince and Duchess will attend a lunch and dinner with President and Mrs. Bush at the White House on Wednesday.
The Prince of Wales has become a perfect parable of postmodernism–embracing New Age eccentricities and relativizing the central issue of truth. His intention to be known as a defender of faith rather than of the faith indicates the tragic vacuum at the very center of his understanding of Christianity.
In just over fifty years, Prince Charles has managed to make himself a mockery of marriage and morality and to pose, as one leading British newspaper observed, as “a well-intentioned eccentric seeking divine inspiration.” There is indeed much to learn by observing the example of Prince Charles. He has become a living portrait of what happens when Christianity is separated from its central truth claims, and when faith becomes a matter of emotional aspiration rather than firm belief in the truth.