Thursday, 30 October 2014

489. King Charles III.

  I have just been to Wyndham's Theatre in London to see the 2014 play "Charles III", described as a "future history", which was written by Mike Bartlett in a style which mimics the plays of William Shakespeare. The play centres on the events which ensue when Charles, the current Prince of Wales, finally succeeds to the British throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth II who has ruled for 70 years (so, we stamp collectors have an omnibus issue to look forward to which will celebrate The Queen's record-breaking reign). 
  In the plot, the new king decides that he is going to be his own man and follow his own conscience rather than bow to the wishes of politicians and he refuses to sign a Parliamentary Bill which threatens the freedom of the press and in so doing meets opposition from the Labour prime minister and Tory leader of the opposition to such an extent he eventually dissolves parliament. National mayhem results and finally the vaguely Lady MacBeth-like wife of The Duke Of Cambridge connives with the politicians to bring her husband, Prince William, despite his previous protestations of loyalty to his father, around to forcing the King to abdicate and she and he are crowned as the new King and Queen of Britain at what should have been Charles III's own coronation. 
  There is a subplot surrounding a Prince Hal-like Prince Harry who falls in love with a very common commoner and when he betrays her friendship, casting her off as Prince Hal got rid of Falstaff, the only person to emerge from it all with any sense of decency is Charles III himself. 
  We do not know what the reign of the future Charles III (though I believe he is expected to take the title of George VII) will really be like (not as dramatic as the play's plot predicts I suspect) but the play reminds the stamp collector that The Prince Of Wales has been featured on numerous stamps from various Commonwealth and foreign countries since childhood. The British Post Office issued a set of 5 stamps on 1 July 1969 to commemorate the investiture of The Queen's eldest son as Prince Of Wales at Caernarvon Castle. The 1/- value became the first British stamp to depict a portrait of the heir to the throne. The set of stamps was designed by David Gentleman and printed in photogravure by Harrison and Sons:-

  New Zealand had depicted the young prince as early as 1950 (portrayed as a baby with his mother) on a pair of Health charity stamps and again in 1952 (the other value in the set depicted his younger sister, Princess Anne, now The Princess Royal):-

  The wedding of The Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer on 29 July 1981 resulted in vast numbers of Commonwealth and foreign postal administrations issuing stamps to cash in on the popularity of the occasion and collectors of Commonwealth stamps were faced with the largest Commonwealth omnibus issue ever before or since - many of the issues have very little value given how many of them were bought at the time. The British Post Office itself issued a modest pair of stamps which depicted the royal couple on 22 July 1981:-

  The story of the marriage and eventual divorce of the Prince and Princess Of Wales is known universally particularly as the Princess later died in a car accident in Paris and Diana, Princess Of Wales has become a timeless icon, the subject of numerous stamp issues put out, in particular, by less scrupulous philatelic agencies which still find that they can cash in on her celebrity status, almost 2 decades after her death. The play itself features appearances from "the Ghost of Diana" as she fulfills the role of a portent of Charles' downfall and obtains the final revenge on him in death which she could not achieve in life (all rather lurid you might think, but all in true Shakespeare style).
  The Prince himself married his former mistress,Camilla Parker Bowles, after the death of Diana, Princess Of Wales, on 9 April 2006 and Royal Mail released a 4 stamp miniature sheet (2 x 2 different stamps) on that date. Unfortunately the date of the wedding is given as 8 April 2006 because at a very late date, after the miniature sheets had been printed, the wedding was put back a day so as not to coincide with the installation of Pope Benedict XVI:-

  The Prince and Princess Of Wales had 2 sons - Prince William of Wales and Prince Henry of Wales (popularly known as Harry). Prince William married Catherine Middleton on 29 April 2011 and they became known as the Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge. Jersey issued a single expensive stamp on the date of the wedding to commemorate the event:-

  Their first child, Prince George Of Cambridge, was born on 22 July 2013 and a number of Commonwealth territories commemorated the birth of the third in line to the throne including Gibraltar, as depicted below, but no issue was made by Royal Mail itself:-

  The modern day Prince Hal, Prince Harry, has been featured on a number of stamps. Fittingly, given that he had served with the British forces in Afganhistan, Bahamas depicted him in military uniform on the 15c stamp which commemorated his visit to the islands in 2012 and in more casual dress on the 50c value:-

  So, for the stamp collector, there is a long preamble to the reign of King Charles III with stamp issues which depict him going back to 1950. The tumultuous events which surrounded the Royal Family when Diana, Princess Of Wales died almost led to the end of the monarchy in Britain and we might never have seen any Charles III stamps and even now we may have to wait a long time. When that time does come I do hope that the predictions of Bartlett's play prove to be very wide of the mark if only to avoid all those definitives which would no doubt appear from Royal Mail as a result of having three monarchs in such a short space of time.  

Front cover of the play's programme.

  Post scriptum - After writing this piece and mentioning the eventual appearance of King Charles III's portrait on British stamps it did occur to me that there is no guarantee that that will ever happen since the British government only secured a guarantee from Royal Mail when it was fully privatised that it would include "Her Majesty's" portrait on its postage stamps for a limited period of years and King Charles will certainly not be known as "Her Majesty"!

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