King Charles III’s big day—his coronation—is right around the corner. On the death of his mother, Elizabeth II, in September 2022, the then-73-year-old Charles was the longest-serving Prince of Wales in British history. He spent a record-setting 70 years as the heir apparent, weathering scandals, supporting charities, and pursuing his interests in horticulture, architecture, and watercolor painting, along with a few unexpected undertakings.
Charles III was the first British heir apparent to graduate from a university; he earned a degree from Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. He’s also the author or co-author of more than 20 books, including a children’s book, The Old Man of Lochnagar.
But Charles III is far from the only Prince of Wales—the title given to the British monarch’s heir apparent since the 14th century—who spent much of his life waiting to rule. Here are the next five longest-serving Princes of Wales and the most surprising things they accomplished while they waited to reign.
1. Albert Edward, the Future Edward VII // Prince of Wales for 59 years
The eldest son of Queen Victoria, Albert Edward, known as Bertie, had a poor relationship with his mother and his father, Prince Albert. They thought their son was lazy and indulgent, and were loath to give Bertie—who had been Prince of Wales since he was 1 month old—any real responsibility. But before Bertie settled into his reputation as a playboy, his parents sent the 18-year-old prince on a two-month tour of the British Canadian colonies and the United States in 1860. It was the first British royal tour of North America.
The charming Bertie was a hit everywhere he went. His itinerary included opening the new Victoria Bridge over the St. Lawrence River in Montreal and visiting Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.
The Prince of Wales and his entourage also traveled to the U.S., with stops including the cities of Boston, New York, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., where he met with President James Buchanan and stayed at the White House. Among other activities, Bertie and Buchanan visited Mount Vernon, Virginia, where the Prince of Wales planted a tree at George Washington’s grave.
On Victoria’s death in 1901, Bertie ascended the throne as Edward VII. He died in 1910.
2. George Augustus Frederick, the Future George IV // Prince of Wales for 58 years
The future George IV was known for many things, most of them not good. The eldest son of George III spent recklessly on his favorite pursuits—drinking, gambling, and womanizing. The Prince of Wales grudging agreed to marry a German princess whom he disliked at first sight so Parliament would pay off his mounting debts. He also enjoyed renovating and constructing buildings, including the singular Royal Pavilion in Brighton, on England’s southern coast. The construction of the extravagant beach retreat helped jump-start the town’s seaside tourism industry.
It all started with a lodging house the Prince of Wales purchased in Brighton to take advantage of the popular therapeutic seawater remedies. Sparing no expense, in 1815, he commissioned the construction of a sprawling palace featuring minarets, domes, and arches. The royal presence boosted Brighton’s development into a vacation hotspot. George IV’s more practical niece, Queen Victoria, sold the Royal Pavilion to the town in 1850.
Due to George III’s increasingly severe bouts of mental illness, the Prince of Wales was named Prince Regent in 1811 to stand in for his father and succeeded to the throne as George IV in 1820. George IV’s only child, Charlotte, died in childbirth, so on his death in 1830, his brother became William IV.
3. Edward the Black Prince, Son of Edward III // Prince of Wales for 33 years
When he wasn’t waging war, the 14th-century heir apparent later called Edward the Black Prince launched traditions the British monarchy keeps to this day. Known during his lifetime as Edward of Woodstock, the Prince of Wales won several battles pursuing his father’s ultimately futile attempt to claim the throne of France through Edward’s grandmother, a French princess.
He prevailed at the Battle of Crécy in 1346, which resulted in the death of a French ally, the blind King John of Bohemia. According to a contemporary account, Edward was so impressed by his opponent’s bravery that he took the ostrich feathers from the dead man’s helmet and adopted his motto, “Ich dien”—German for “I serve.” Whether the story is true or not, subsequent Princes of Wales adopted both the ostrich feather symbol and motto.
Edward also acquired a large, slightly misshapen red gem from an ally, Pedro the Cruel, the king of Castile and Leon, after winning the battle of Nájera in 1367. It’s believed to be the same red spinel known as the Black Prince’s Ruby that adorns the British Imperial State Crown. Edward was additionally a founding member of the Order of the Garter, an elite group of knights created by Edward III in 1348.
Much about Edward’s personal history remains subject to conjecture, however. The cause of the lingering illness that led to his death in 1376 as well as the story behind his “Black Prince” nickname continue to be debated. He died before he reigned and never made it beyond heir apparent; on Edward III’s demise in 1377, the Black Prince’s son became Richard II.
4. Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, the Future Edward VIII // Prince of Wales for 25 years
Before Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 to marry the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson, the Prince of Wales—known as “David” to family and close friends—became the first British royal to fly in an airplane.
The eldest son of George V is best known for being the only British monarch to give up the throne voluntarily. But as Prince of Wales, David broke ground in a completely different way in 1916 by being the first British royal to travel in an airplane. Upon learning that his heir apparent had flown to Italy in 1918, George V tried to ban the prince from the sky.
After his father’s death in 1936, Edward VIII became the first British monarch to earn a pilot’s license. The new king created The King’s Flight that same year to provide air transportation for the royal family; it was disbanded during World War II.
5. Frederick Louis, Son of George II // Prince of Wales for 23 years
George II and his eldest son, Frederick Louis, never got along and constantly argued over money and politics. The relationship was so bad that when Frederick Louis’s wife went into labor at his parents’ home, the Prince of Wales insisted that they travel back to their London home so she could give birth without his parents present.
Frederick Louis’s interests in music and cricket left an indelible mark on British culture. The Prince of Wales loved music and formed his own opera company in 1733. He became the patron of several composers, including Thomas Arne, who composed the now-iconic British anthem “Rule, Britannia,” for the opera “Alfred, a Masque.”
The Prince of Wales was also an early supporter of cricket as an avid spectator, gambler, and player. In 1749, he was hit by a cricket ball while playing a match; the blow may or may not have had anything to do with the lung abscess that burst in 1751 and killed him. When George II died 1760, Frederick Louis’s eldest son ascended the throne as George III.