As we’ve learned with Prince William and Prince Harry, growing up royal comes with a certain degree of responsibility — a degree that’s rather higher if you’re in line for the throne as William is, and as his father Prince Charles is before him. In upcoming royals tell-all book Battle of Brothers: The Inside Story of a Family in Tumult, British historian Robert Lacey unpacks the growing rift between William and Harry, going all the way back to their parents’ marriage and what they witnessed growing up. While the public knows plenty of the turmoil Princess Diana and Charles faced later in their marriage — as well as Charles’ significant affairs with now-wife Camilla Shand — far less has been made of Amanda Knatchbull, the first woman to whom Charles ever proposed. By the time Charles met Diana, both Camilla and Amanda had ducked out of the duties that being his wife would clearly entail. The 20-year-old Diana (to Charles’ 32, a 12-year age gap) was the only one who didn’t shrink away from taking on the role.
Charles had no shortage of marriage advice from a young age, Lacey recounts in Battle of Brothers, detailing an early bid for consideration of Amanda Knatchbull as a wife from her grandfather Lord Mountbatten (yes, like Archie’s name!).
“For a wife he should choose a suitable, attractive, and sweet-charactered girl before she has met anyone else she might fall for,” Mountbatten advised, with author Lacey commenting that “he was also pushing the candidacy of his own granddaughter, Amanda Knatchbull, just sixteen, as the ‘suitable, attractive, and sweet-charactered girl’ whom Charles should eventually select as his future queen.”
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That was in 1974, when Charles was 26 years old. In 1979, 31 years old and no clearer on what he wanted from marriage, having realized his desire to marry Camilla and having lost her to husband Andrew Parker-Bowles in the years since, he took Lord Mountbatten’s advice — but Amanda wasn’t exactly on board.
“When the prince finally made his proposal in the summer of 1979 — shortly before Lord Mountbatten’s assassination by the IRA — the independent-minded Amanda politely turned him down,” Lacey writes. “The surrender of self to a system, she explained, was so absolute when joining the royal family, it involved a loss of independence ‘far greater than matrimony usually invites.'”
“The prince could recall every reason Amanda had given him for her refusal — and especially ‘the exposure to publicity, an intrusion more pervasive than attends any other public figure except at the zenith of a chosen career,'” Lacey adds.
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Even before Amanda refused his proposal outright, Charles had had his heart broken by Camilla, his longtime girlfriend who accepted her other longtime boyfriend’s proposal while he was overseas.
“Thirty-five years later the prince revealed that weekend in December 1972 as the moment when he first realized for sure that he wanted to marry Camilla — that she was his life’s soulmate,” Lacey writes. “But he did not have the courage to tell her properly or strongly enough.”
Per Lacey’s account, both Charles and Camilla worried about questions from the royal family and concerns as to her suitability — and neither quite wanted to deal with going through it. Twice now, Charles had approached women he wanted to marry and found out the duty was too much to bear. By the time he met Diana, he was well aware of the fears to be had going into it. Diana, who first met Charles at age 16, may not have been so well-informed.
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