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RICHARD KAY: Sibling rivalry …and the real reasons Charles denied his father’s wishes for Edward 

From his first-floor bedroom window at Bagshot Park, Prince Edward can look across acres of parkland to Windsor Castle.

While not entirely unspoilt — there’s the odd mobile phone transmitter in the middle distance — the view is not much changed from when his great-great uncle, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, was master of a household of 60 parlour maids and footmen with powdered wigs, gardeners, stable hands and French chefs who prepared regular ten-course dinners.

It was not just the grandiose setting of this sprawling Victorian gothic pile which, after 50 years of military occupation following requisition by the Army, Edward longed to restore as a royal residence. It was also the historical symmetry that appealed.

Prince Arthur was, like Edward, the third son of a reigning monarch, in his case Queen Victoria. 

Pictured: Prince Charles and Prince Edward stood on the balcony of Buckingham Palace

And with its red brickwork and Portland stone, the house was surely a suitably noble address for a royal duke.

But when Edward moved in with a 50-year lease on the property from the Crown Estate shortly after his marriage in 1999, he and wife Sophie — although given the title Earl and Countess of Wessex — did not then possess a royal dukedom.

Providence, however, suggested it was only a matter of time. For it was announced just ahead of their wedding that in due course Edward would succeed to his father Prince Philip’s title as Duke of Edinburgh.

But three months after the 99-year old duke’s death — quite unexpectedly — a fly in the ointment could threaten Edward and Sophie’s long-coveted elevation to Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh.

Prince Charles, who as Philip’s eldest son inherited all his father’s titles, has let it be known that he is not keen on the idea at all.

A source close to him was apparently authoritatively quoted as saying: ‘The Prince is the Duke of Edinburgh as it stands, and it is up to him what happens to the title. It will not go to Edward.’

It is hard to imagine anything more crushing for the Queen’s youngest son than the ruthless certainty of those final six words.

Not only was he confident the title would be his, he is also a trustee of his father’s biggest legacy, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme, and is widely expected to succeed him as patron.

On the face of it, then, there will be considerable sympathy for both Edward and Sophie, the middle-class daughter of a tyre company executive, who has become especially close to the Queen. 

After a shaky start, Sophie is also a reliable and dependable working family member.

The Earl of Wessex, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Countess of Wessex at the Duke of Edinburgh Award garden party, at Buckingham Palace

The Earl of Wessex, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Countess of Wessex at the Duke of Edinburgh Award garden party, at Buckingham Palace

There is also bewilderment. For on the surface this looks a petty, small-minded, almost spiteful manoeuvre by the Prince of Wales, apparently denying one of his father’s most cherished wishes.

So what lies behind it and why, with the Royal Family still mourning the huge loss of Prince Philip, should Charles be acting so decisively now? After all, what with Harry’s antics in exile far away in California and the scandal over Prince Andrew, doesn’t he have enough difficulties already? Has he even got the time for what seems such a trifling matter?

One thing is certain: history — especially royal history — isn’t always a reliable guide to the future.

Back in 1999 when Edward and Sophie exchanged vows at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the Royal Family had a very different complexion.

It had come through the convulsion of Princess Diana’s death two years earlier, and was in relatively calmer waters.

William and Harry were still at school and the public was only just getting used to the idea of Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles as Charles’s companion, let alone wife.

No one then would have imagined that in less than two decades, two members of the family would marry divorcees, that a mixed-race woman would be welcomed into the House of Windsor, and that a royal prince would be permitted to remain an HRH while securing vast sums of money in commercial deals in California.

But the Britain of 2021 is a very different place. More meritocratic, more diverse and less inclined to custom and tradition.

Prince Charles and his five-year-old brother Prince Edward at Sandringham House, Norfolk, in 1969

Prince Charles and his five-year-old brother Prince Edward at Sandringham House, Norfolk, in 1969

It would have been hard to imagine 22 years ago, the Queen’s granddaughter, say, taking a seat at the Euros final among ordinary fans as Zara Phillips and her husband Mike Tindall did on Sunday night. And even harder to envisage Zara mopping up blood after burly Mike broke up a fight between football hooligans.

One thing is certain, Charles, for all his fuddy-duddy ways, is aware that the Britain of which he will become monarch is undergoing huge social and cultural change.

To survive, the monarchy will need to adapt with it.

Even before his father’s death Charles had been devoting more and more thought to the future.

‘It isn’t just about whether Edward becomes Duke of Edinburgh by rite of passage or not, there have been discussions about the whole top tier of the Royal Family,’ says a family friend.

Charles’s charitable portfolio is being streamlined for when he is king and this same forensic approach is being applied to how much and what the royal family does in his reign.

As it will certainly downsize, it means fewer royals carrying out engagements.

So it is against a background of a slimmed down monarchy that the Prince has been developing ideas about working royals, their titles and how they fit in with his vision of a modern Britain.

Someone close to Charles told me that rather than more royal titles, the Prince prefers fewer.

If Edward did inherit the Edinburgh title, it would then pass to his own son, James, Viscount Severn, who is being raised to expect a life outside the Royal Family. The Edinburgh title, created by King George I for his grandson, Frederick has been revived twice (by Queen Victoria for her second son Alfred, and by George VI for Prince Philip) and Charles may even wish it go to his own grandson, Prince Louis.

Reports at the weekend suggested Charles was tempted to use the title himself when in Scotland but was advised his existing style north of the border, Duke of Rothesay, was senior to the Edinburgh dukedom.

Friends of the Prince wondered if this was because he wanted to absorb something of his father, who was often so critical of him. But those close to Philip say that it was because of the profusion of titles available to Charles, that he so wished his own to go to Edward.

‘If it simply gets merged with Charles’s, it will never be heard of again,’ says the biographer Hugo Vickers.

The relationship between father and youngest son was always close. According to Edward’s nanny Mabel Anderson, Philip was ‘a marvellous father’ who read his youngest son bedtime stories and built the model ships that adorned the Buckingham Palace nursery.

He also tutored him in more traditional royal pursuits. At seven, Edward was learning marksmanship, shooting rabbits. As a result, he is a better shot than either Charles or Andrew.

It was Philip who saw his son graduate from Cambridge University. And it was the gruff, old sea dog who showed most compassion over Edward’s decision to quit the Royal Marines, midway through training in 1987.

‘Everyone thought Philip would be furious but he was actually

very supportive and wrote to Edward to say he admired his courage,’ recalls a friend. ‘He told him it was a lot braver to walk out when he did and that it would have been easier if he’d finished his course and then quit.’

So much of Philip’s life had changed by the time Edward was born.

‘Put yourself in his shoes,’ recalled an aide. ‘You have been consort and then [Charles] comes along and is suddenly the heir. It was probably human nature to transfer your affection to the youngest, who in the scheme of things will inherit nothing. It was why he wished Edward to have his title.’

There is one other issue, of course: sibling rivalry. After two high-profile interviews in which Edward talked about the challenge of inheriting his father’s dukedom, it does seem as if there is a bit of ‘Wessex fatigue’ among some members of ‘the Firm’ and Charles has fired a warning shot.

It doesn’t help that Charles and Camilla are not very close to Edward and Sophie. It has been that way ever since the Prince insisted his brother and sister-in-law give up commercial activities after the 2001 ‘Fake sheikh’ newspaper sting when the Countess was recorded making disparaging remarks about senior politicians.

The Wessexes’ physical proximity to the Queen at Windsor Castle and a discreet PR campaign which has emphasised their closeness to the Sovereign and that they are considered a safe pair of hands, has irritated some at Clarence House.

‘It has been noted that they are often described as ‘indispensable’,’ says a figure close to the Duchess of Cornwall. ‘It feels strategic.’

‘Charles is making it clear that his brother may have jumped the gun [over the title of Duke of Edinburgh],’ says one of Charles’s circle. ‘It is not a done deal.’

For all the talk of changing times, Charles’s difficulty is appearing to go against his father — and his mother’s — wishes. Perhaps, in the end, he will rely on that old mafia phrase: ‘It’s not personal, it’s just business.’

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