Charles speaks out, and royalty bristles

Critics see frank biography of prince as a possible signature of abdication

THE furor wrought by Prince Charles's bare-all authorized biography has throne-watchers convinced that the British monarchy has been endangered by endless revelations about the private lives of the royal family.

The biography by journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, meant to boost the Prince of Wales's sagging image, is embroiling the royal family deeper into controversy. Leading figures in the ruling Conservative Party are urging Prime Minister John Major to advise Queen Elizabeth II that the Prince of Wales and his estranged wife, Diana, should seek an early divorce.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor, vice chairman of the ruling Conservative Party's constitutional affairs committee, said the ``drip-drip effect'' of books giving details of the royal family's problems was damaging the Prince of Wales personally and the royal family collectively. A divorce would ``serve the public interest,'' he said.

Most consitutional lawyers, however, agree that there is nothing to to prevent a divorced Charles from becoming King.

Major on Oct. 17 called the monarchy ``a fundamental part of our existence in this country,'' and firmly ruled out suggesting to the Queen that Charles and Diana formally end their marriage. Under the system of constitutional monarchy, the monarch would find it difficult to resist a course of action recommended by the prime minister.

But concern over the rocky relationship between the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana have increased following the Oct. 17 publication in a French magazine of alleged extracts from a book about Diana to be published next month. The extracts in the weekly magazine Voici suggest that Charles and Diana will divorce next year, that the Princess will get a settlement of 15 million pounds ($24.5 million), and that the Queen will decide who gets custody of the two young princes.

Piers Paul Read, a respected writer on royal affairs, believes Charles can never be King after the publication of Dimbleby's biography. ``He has put love of himself before his sense of duty,'' Mr. Read said, adding: ``His signature on the contract with Dimbleby may turn out to be a signature on an act of abdication.''

In a highly unusual move Prince Philip, father of the Prince of Wales, gave the London Daily Telegraph an exclusive interview on Oct. 17 in which he complained about ``that turgid book'' and implied that Charles had gone public on matters that should have remained private.

Quoting from private correspondence and relying on extensive interviews with the Prince of Wales, the biography says Charles resented Prince Philip, whom he sees as a domineering figure who belittled him as an infant, sent him to a school where he was bullied by fellow pupils, and then forced him into a loveless marriage.

Charles also complains that Queen Elizabeth was a remote figure who let his father handle family matters, and portrays Diana by turns as immature, petulant, vindictive, and bored by her husband.

Despite clear signs from Buckingham Palace that the book had caused hurt to his family, Charles issued a statement on Oct. 16 saying he had ``no regrets'' about it.

Public opinion polls in recent years have shown that upwards of 30 percent of British citizens are lukewarm about the monarchy as an institution, although Queen Elizabeth continues to be highly respected.

Harold Brooks-Baker, editor of Burke's Peerage and an authority on royalty, said ``republicanism may be knocking at the door of the House of Windsor.'' Public impatience with ``the antics of the royals'' might ``rub off on the monarchy itself.''

Members of Parliament and commentators commented that the situation was beginning to resemble 1936 when adverse public opinion forced King Edward VIII to abdicate because of his planned marriage to the American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

Lord Fawsley, a leading constitutional historian who wants Charles to succeed to the throne, thinks he has adopted a ``high-risk strategy.''

``The prince has laid his cards on the table. He wants people to see the sort of person who will be ultimately responsible as head of state,'' Fawsley says.

Charles's advisers say that in deciding to help Mr. Dimbleby write a biography marking his 25 years as Prince of Wales, the heir to the throne was trying to give his side of the story about his marriage.

``Previous books have reflected the views of Princess Diana,'' a royal source said. ``Charles wanted to put the record straight.

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