Charles’ quest to find a suitable wife who would be an appropriate queen was heavily influenced by Lord Louis Mountbatten, his great-uncle. The Prince of Wales’ close relationship with the royal stalwart was captured in the fictionalised Netflix series, The Crown, especially the devastation he felt after Lord Mountbatten’s assassination in 1979. However, the pair’s relationship had gone through a brief hiccup shortly before Lord Mountbatten’s death.
Charles had failed to find a suitable bride and appeared to be leaning into his carefree ‘Action Man’ image too much.
In his biography, ‘Charles — The Man Who Will Be King’, Howard Hodgson explained how this sparked concern for those in his inner circle.
He wrote: “His closest friends — not the flattered and hangers-on — were less worried by his unconventional enthusiasms and sporting recklessness, but rather by the lack of focus they appeared to expose in his new life.
“Some even worried that, if left to his own devices without the disciplines of the Navy to keep him in check, he might even start to follow in the footsteps of his great-uncle Edward VIII.”
Lord Mountbatten shared these concerns and wrote to Charles in 1978.
King Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor, Prince Charles and Lord Louis Mountbatten
Lord Louis Mountbatten acted as a substitute grandfather to Prince Charles
He warned him against “beginning on the downward slope which wrecked your Uncle David’s life and led to his disgraceful abdication and his futile life ever after”.
Although the abdication crisis had occurred four decades before, it was still fresh in many senior royals’ minds and they wanted to avoid recreating any such constitutional crisis again.
King Edward VIII, also known as David, was a close friend to Lord Mountbatten.
He was known for socialising, partying and being a keen bachelor up until he met divorcee Wallis Simpson — and renounced the throne in order to wed her.
After receiving his letter, Charles replied to Lord Mountbatten expressing shock that he could ever make such a comparison.
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Mountbatten feared Charles was acting like his “wretched” uncle David
Yet his substitute grandfather only repeated the claim the following year when they were on holiday together, while chastising Charles for not yet “pulling himself together” as well.
The Prince of Wales was always keen to follow Lord Mountbatten’s advice.
For instance, he famously wrote to Charles in 1974: “I believe in a case like yours, the man should sow his wild oats and have as many affairs as he can before settling down but for a wife, he should choose a suitable, attractive and sweet-charactered girl before she met anyone else she might fall for.
“I think it is disturbing for women to have experiences if they have to remain on a pedestal after marriage.”
Charles proceeded to play the field for years, but after Lord Mountbatten’s death, he thought Princess Diana would be the best match for his wife based on his late confidante’s advice — she was a blue-blooded 19-year-old virgin.
Interestingly, it’s also thought that Charles really bonded with Diana when she showed great empathy for his grief after Lord Mountbatten’s death.
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Mountbatten’s tragic assassination occupies a whole episode of The Crown’s latest season, starring Charles Dance
Emma Corrin and Josh O’Connor played opposite each other as Diana and Charles in The Crown
Netflix’s latest season of The Crown played on this, but it was also criticised when its creator Peter Morgan decided to include a scene where Charles receives a letter from Lord Mountbatten after his tragic death.
In the fictionalised letter, Lord Mountbatten condemns Charles’ courtship of Camilla Parker Bowles who was then married to Andrew Parker Bowles.
Lord Mountbatten also claims Charles will bring “ruin and disappointment” upon the Firm if he continues dating Camilla — but no records of this explosive letter exist, which prompted complaints about the show’s inaccuracy.
Mr Morgan addressed the criticism on The Crown’s official podcast, and claimed everything that is in the letter was based on “what I really believe, based on everything I’ve read and people I’ve spoken to”.
He said: “What we know is that Mountbatten was really responsible for taking Charles to one side at precisely this point and saying, ‘Look, you know, enough already with playing the field, it’s time you got married and it’s time you provided an heir’.”
Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor — he abdicated so they could marry in 1936
Indeed, there is no doubt that the Prince of Wales respected and revered his great-uncle.
At his 1979 funeral, Charles noted Lord Mountbatten had “real moral courage”, which is “also one of the reasons why I adored him and why so many of us miss him so dreadfully now”.
Charles also dubbed him the “grandfather I never had” and continued to speak of his struggle with grief after assassination for years.
‘Charles — The Man Who Will be King’ by Howard Hodgson was published by John Blake Publishing in 2007 and is available here.