Born to rule. Prince Charles has been the heir apparent to the British throne for decades. In fact, he has held the position longer than anyone in the monarchy’s history. While waiting for his ascension, he has served his country as the Prince of Wales and started a family of his own.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip welcomed their first child, son Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor, on November 14, 1948. While his mother was still a princess when she gave birth at Buckingham Palace, both of their lives changed when her father, King George VI, died in February 1952. Elizabeth’s accession meant that Charles became her heir apparent at just 3 years old. He also took on the titles Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.
Charles attended Elizabeth’s coronation at Westminster Abbey in June 1953. He grew up alongside siblings Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward and eventually became Prince of Wales in July 1958. He was crowned by his mother at his investiture in July 1969.
As Charles stepped into adulthood, he was expected to marry. After serving in the military and founding his own charity, he proposed to Princess Diana in February 1981. They tied the knot in a lavish wedding at St Paul’s Cathedral in July of that year. The couple subsequently welcomed two sons, Prince William in June 1982 and Prince Harry in September 1984.
Despite starting a family together, Charles and Diana’s marriage broke down, and then-Prime Minister John Major announced their separation in December 1992. They finalized their divorce in August 1996. The prince became a single parent to their sons after Diana died in August 1997 at age 36 following a car accident.
Charles focused on his kids and his royal duties but ultimately married Camilla Parker Bowles in April 2005. He eventually became a grandfather in July 2013 as he continued to undertake official tasks on behalf of the queen.
His mother lauded him on the occasion of his 70th birthday in November 2018. “Over his 70 years, Philip and I have seen Charles become a champion of conservation and the arts, a great charitable leader — a dedicated and respected heir to the throne to stand comparison with any in history — and a wonderful father,” she said in a speech at the time. “Most of all, sustained by his wife, Camilla, he is his own man, passionate and creative.”
The monarch concluded: “So this toast is to wish a happy birthday to my son, in every respect a duchy original. To you, Charles. To the Prince of Wales.”
Scroll through the gallery below to relive Charles’ life in photos.
Elizabeth, then a princess, gave birth to her and Philip’s first child at Buckingham Palace in November 1948. He was baptized the following month.
Charles, the heir apparent, attended his mother’s coronation at Westminster Abbey in June 1953. Although his mother was the queen of England, he received an education that broke from royal protocol. He had a governess for several years before starting at Hill House School in London in November 1956. He then attended Cheam Preparatory School in Berkshire and Gordonstoun in Scotland. He later studied at the Timbertop campus of Geelong Grammar School in Australia. He completed his courses in 1967.
Charles was named Prince of Wales in July 1958, but his investiture was not held until July 1969. His mother crowned him in a televised ceremony at Caernarfon Castle.
Instead of joining the military right away, the royal studied at Trinity College and the University College of Wales. He became the first heir apparent to earn a college degree when he graduated from the University of Cambridge in June 1970.
B Cross/Daily Mail/Shutterstock
Charles served in the military from 1971 to 1977 in the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant. He learned to fly various aircrafts and was stationed on multiple ships.
Charles founded The Prince’s Trust in 1976 to help improve the lives of disadvantaged young people in the U.K. As of 2020, the charity has offered support to one million individuals.
The prince met Diana in 1977, but he did not propose until February 1981. They wed at St Paul’s Cathedral on July 29, 1981. Royal biographer Ingrid Seward exclusively told Us Weekly in October 2020 that Charles “felt he’d been very pushed into marrying” Diana by his father.
Charles and Diana welcomed their first child, son William, on June 21, 1982. The heir broke with tradition by being present at both of his children’s births.
The couple’s second child, son Harry, arrived on September 15, 1984.
Charles and Diana formally separated in December 1992 amid longstanding issues in their marriage, including his admitted affair with Camilla. The pair finalized their divorce in August 1996.
Charles’ ex-wife, Diana, died in August 1997 following a car accident in Paris. William was 15 at the time, while Harry was 12. “[Our dad] was there for us — he was the one out of two left, and he tried to do his best and to make sure that we were protected and looked after,” the Duke of Sussex recalled in the 2017 documentary Diana, 7 Days. Charles memorably walked behind Diana’s casket with his sons at her September 1997 funeral.
Charles’ engagement to Camilla was announced in February 2005. The queen consented to the marriage the following month, and the couple wed in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall on April 9, 2005. The groom’s parents did not attend but were present for the service of blessing and held a reception at Windsor Castle.
Charles’ eldest son, William, married Duchess Kate at Westminster Abbey in April 2011. Charles revealed in May 2020 that he selected music for the ceremony, telling Classic FM that the Duke of Cambridge “was quite understanding and was perfectly happy for me to suggest a few pieces for their wedding.”
Hugo Burnand/Clarence House/Shutterstock
Charles became a grandfather in July 2013 when William and Kate welcomed their first child, Prince George. The Duchess of Cambridge later gave birth to Princess Charlotte in May 2015 and Prince Louis in April 2018. Harry and wife Meghan Markle’s son, Archie, arrived in May 2019, while their daughter, Lili, was born in June 2021.
Charles watched as Harry and Meghan married at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in May 2018. After her father, Thomas Markle, chose not to attend, the retired actress’ father-in-law stepped in to walk her down the aisle. “I asked him to and I think he knew it was coming and he immediately said, ‘Yes, of course. I’ll do whatever Meghan needs and I’m here to support you,’” Harry recalled in the 2018 documentary Prince, Son and Heir: Charles at 70.
The royal family released two portraits of Charles surrounded by his loved ones — Camilla, William, Kate, Harry, Meghan, George, Charlotte and Louis — in honor of his 70th birthday in November 2018.
The royals gathered at Buckingham Palace in March 2019 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Charles’ investiture as the Prince of Wales. The queen, Camilla, Harry, Meghan, William, Kate and more high-profile figures attended the reception.
Clarence House confirmed in March 2020 that Charles tested positive for coronavirus. A statement released at the time said that he had “been displaying mild symptoms” and remained “in good health.” Charles told Sky News that June he was “lucky” during his battle and “got away with it quite lightly.”
IAN VOGLER/DAILY MIRROR POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Harry claimed during his and Meghan’s March 2021 CBS tell-all interview that his father “stopped taking my calls” after their royal exit in 2020, noting there was “a lot to work through” between him and Charles. “I feel really let down because he’s been through something similar, he knows what pain feels like. … Archie is his grandson. I will always love him. There’s a lot of hurt that’s happened. I will continue to make it one of my priorities to heal that relationship.”
Meanwhile, an insider told Us in May 2021 that Charles “may never forgive Harry” for the headline-making sit-down.
Charles’ father, Philip, died in April 2021 at the age of 99. “My father, for I suppose the last 70 years, has given the most remarkable, devoted service to the queen, to my family and to the country, but also to the whole of the Commonwealth,” he said in a public address at the time. “As you can imagine, my family and I miss my father enormously. He was a much loved and appreciated figure. Apart from anything else … I’m so deeply touched by the number of other people here and elsewhere around the world and in the Commonwealth who also share our loss and our sorrow.”