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Churchill and Wales Rare Early Film of Winston Churchill

This month marks the 110th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s participation in the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle. The Prince was the future Edward VIII, who abdicated and became known as the Duke of Windsor. As Home Secretary, it fell to Churchill to read out the Letters Patent during the ceremony that appointed to a new station the eldest son of King George V on 13 July 1911. The proceedings were filmed, and the surviving black-and-white footage—made well before “talking” motion pictures—provides some of the earliest known moving images of Churchill. To view, please CLICK HERE.

Following the death of King Edward VII in May 1910, George V, who had been Prince of Wales, became king. When Prince Edward, the new king’s heir, turned sixteen one month later, he was officially created Prince of Wales. It was decided, however, that a formal investiture would wait until after the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary at London’s Westminster Abbey in June 1911. Finally, it was decided to hold the prince’s investiture less than a month after the coronation and at Caernarfon Castle in Wales, reviving an ancient tradition.

Although the northwest corner of Wales is known for heavy, year-round precipitation, the day of the investiture turned out to be unusually hot and sunny. In the film, most of the audience in the bleachers built within the walls of the castle can be seen shading themselves with umbrellas. A canopy had been been set up over the platform specially built for the ceremony thus protecting the Royal Party. Prince Edward, seventeen at the time of the event, is seen wearing his new coronet and being led away after the investiture between his mother and father. It is at this point that Churchill enters the frame.

Churchill appears starting around the 2:50 point in the video. He can be seen standing next to the front support on the right side of the canopy. He is wearing the court dress of a privy councillor and is identifiable because he is first seen bareheaded before putting on his cocked hat. Churchill was then thirty-six, and his hair was fast thinning. He is holding in his hand the text of the Letters Patent that he read out during the ceremony. There is a jump in the film at about the 3:03 point after which Churchill can be seen bareheaded again while the King, Queen, and Prince are leaving the ceremonial platform. This sequence is briefly repeated in the video a few seconds later but with both Churchill and Royal Party in greater closeup. The only known film of Churchill earlier than this is that taken at the “Battle” of Sydney Street the preceding January.

Churchill afterwards described the ceremony in a letter to his wife Clementine: “My reading of the Patent was much praised & I thought went well.” As for the new Prince of Wales, Churchill wrote, “He is a v[er]y nice boy—quite simple and terribly kept in order.” Churchill could have had no idea how much trouble the “very nice boy” would later cause him.

You can read more details about Churchill’s involvement in the investiture of the Prince in the forthcoming issue of Finest Hour, which is on the theme “Churchill and Wales.” Feature articles include studies of Churchill’s relationships with David Lloyd George and Aneurin Bevan as well as a thorough examination of what remains one of the most controversial episodes in Churchill’s career: the miner’s strike at Tonypandy in 1910.

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