Black Spider letters, divorce from Diana: Charles III’s biggest scandals

Queen Elizabeth II’s eldest son has been deprived of the kind of public affection his mother had, which could be another challenge he will face as king.

A string of public relations failures spanning decades, including allegations that he was cold to his popular first wife Diana, had become a real headache for him.

Despite his more favorable media coverage in his later years, the tabloids were used to criticizing him for appearing aloof.

At the time, the portrayal of his marital woes on Netflix’s hit series The Crown probably didn’t endear Charles to more sympathy decades after those troubled times.

He has also been accused of meddling in politics on issues such as architecture, homeopathy and climate change.

In addition, in 2021, a close aide of his resigned in the wake of the “money for awards” scandal involving Charles’s charitable foundation.

“I think it’s all harmful, from The Crown to reality to everything that’s going on,” royal author Penny Junor said late last year.

“None is good news. The Queen is much loved, Charles is less loved. I think it will be difficult for him, no matter what happens, but all that is revealed is not useful,” said the writer.

Three people

Charles’s image has fallen sharply due to the story of his breakup with Diana.

In her extraordinary 1995 interview in which she opened up about Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, Diana famously said that her marriage “was three people”.

The royal couple scandalously announced they were no longer living together in 1992, but after a controversial interview with the BBC’s Panorama, they finally agreed to separate.

Giving her own version of events and admitting her infidelity, Diana revealed her problems within Britain’s most famous family, criticizing the royal family and questioning Charles’s fitness to be king.

This alarmed some British authorities, but won her public sympathy, which only increased after her death in a car crash in Paris in 1997.

Charles has long been vilified both for extramarital affairs, which were rumored to have led to a divorce, and partly for the royal family’s behavior after Diana’s death, when they were widely criticized for appearing callous and aloof.

But the public slowly began to support him and reluctantly accept that he found happiness with Camilla, whom he married in 2005.

“Black Spider”

Charles has weathered controversies for his outspoken and private pressure on politicians on a range of contentious public issues from health to the environment.

In the infamous letters between him and government ministers, nicknamed the “black spider” because of his crooked handwriting, Charles peppered them with questions on a variety of subjects.

After a decade-long legal battle launched by The Guardian newspaper, the letters published in 2015 highlighted the plight of the Patagonian giant tooth and Charles’ criticism of modern architecture.

Charles’ opposition to the bold new design first came to public attention in 1984, when he compared plans to transform London’s National Gallery to adding “a hideous carbuncle to the face of a much-loved and elegant friend”.

The revelation of the Black Spider letters provoked backlash against Charles and concerns that he was overstepping the bounds of his duties.

However, in a 2018 interview to mark his 70th birthday, Charles insisted he had never been directly involved in party politics and understood the difference between being the Prince of Wales and a monarch.

Cash for rewards?

More recently, Charles has been embroiled in an alleged prize money scandal.

Newspapers revealed that his close aides coordinated efforts to grant royal honors and even British citizenship to a Saudi businessman who had donated large sums to restoration projects of particular interest to Charles.

Michael Fawcett, his former aide who rose to become chief executive of Charles’ charity, resigned in 2021 amid an internal investigation into the allegations.

This is the latest story to tarnish Mr Fawcett’s reputation, and by extension Charles’s.

In 2003, Mr. Fawcett already had to retire from the position of assistant to the prince, because he was accused of violating the rules of the palace and accepting gifts and certain privileges.

Charges of financial misconduct for selling him unwanted royal gifts were later dropped, but an internal report found various members of Charles’ household guilty of “serious failings”.

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