Remembering Charles III's First Marriage Proposal Rejected by the Girl Who Didn't Want to be Queen

King Charles III first marriage proposal

Even the most popular prince of his time, destined to mount the highest throne on Earth, experienced rejection in romance. We might think all girls dreamed to marry a prince charming, be his princess, and lived happily-ever-after in a far-away castle. But not all. 

This is the story of how Lady Amanda Knatchbull, granddaughter of Lord Mountbatten, rejected the marriage proposal of the Prince of Wales in 1979 or early 1980. She is his second cousin. Many royal experts theorized, perhaps, Amanda was traumatized to join a public life after the death of her grandfather, so she was scared to become a Queen consort someday. 

Lady Amanda Knatchbull
Lady Amanda Knatchbull in early 1980

Today, Lady Amanda Knatchbull-Ellingworth is living a relatively quiet life and is active in social service and humanitarian work. She did not grant any interview regarding Prince Charles' marriage proposal or why she rejected him, so we did not have enough information on the rejection thing. 

Is she the king's "the one that got away?"

Lord Louis Mountbatten and his nephew, Prince Philip

She was born The Honorable Amanda Knatchbull on June 26, 1957, to Lady Patricia Mountbatten and John Knatchbull, 7th Baron Brabourne. Her mother was the eldest child of Lord Louis Mountbatten, the 1st Earl of Burma, and the maternal uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Lord Louis Mountbatten, who had no son, asked the Queen to let his titles be inherited by his eldest daughter (a rare exemption in the British peerage made only for noblemen who have distinguished service in the military. Until today, noble titles cannot be inherited by daughters), and it was granted.

Lord Louis Mountbatten and Prince Charles

The 1st Earl of Burma had an enormous influence on Prince Charles' life. Lord Mountbatten had closely guided the future king's upbringing serving as a personal mentor. He was particularly vigilant about Prince Charles' activities, including the affairs of the heart.

In the early 1970s, according to Robert Lacey in his book, "Battle of Brothers", the Prince of Wales found himself on the "horns of a dilemma" to find a suitable woman to be his bride so Lord Mountbatten relaxed him by sending a letter on Valentines' day, 1974:

"I believe, in a case like yours, that a man should sow his wild oats and have as many affairs as he can before settling down. But for a wife, he should choose a suitable, attractive, and sweet-charactered girl before she has met anyone else she might fall for".

Prince Charles and Lord Mountbatten

Lord Mountbatten might be just poetic and borrowed an old Arabian proverb about "sowing his wild oats", but it had a great impact on the young Charles' life. And for a couple of years became his guiding principle in conducting his love affair.

Charles and Camilla

In 1971, the Prince of Wales met the energetic Camilla Shand, 16 months older than him. The exact circumstances of how they met were unclear, but most of his biographers would agree that it was through his former university sweetheart, Lucia Santa Cruz.

Camilla Shand Parker-Bowles

The Prince of Wales was reportedly drawn right away to Camilla's sense of fun and humor. He found her easy to go with and "embodied all the emotional freedom", as Robert Lacey would put it, "that the dutiful Prince Charles had been yearning".

Prince Charles enjoyed Camilla's terrific sense of humor, sense of independence, and vibrant, sometimes, wild spirits, but it was the 1970s, and there was no precedence in British history of a future British king marrying an untitled commoner. So their relationship was not taken seriously by the people around them. Including Lord Mountbatten and Camilla's father, Major Bruce Shand.

By most accounts, the Prince of Wales and Camilla Shand began an affair in the summer of 1972 but by then Prince Charles, just 23 and recently graduated from the university was not in a hurry to settle down. Shy and dutiful, and with an enormous role to fulfill ahead of him, he was reluctant to commit to Camilla. 

The Prince of Wales and Camilla Shand pictured in 1972

However, by December of that year, the Prince of Wales, who brought Camilla to Portsmouth, accompanied by Lord Mountbatten, to inspect his frigate, HMS Minerva, which was due to set sail for the Caribbean, knew he had fallen deeply in love with her, and wanted to marry her someday, according to the accounts he shared with his biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby, in later years.

However, in that fateful month of December 1972, the Prince of Wales was too hesitant to say it to Camilla. He was afraid his parents and Lord Mountbatten might never approve of his choice. And he was also busy with his naval career, thus, getting serious in a relationship was far from his mind.

Prince Charles, however, had less time to ponder on the possible consequences of his decision should he take his relationship with Camilla to a serious level. In January 1973, he left for a tour of naval duty in the Caribbean aboard his frigate, HMS Minerva. He would not be back in England until nine months later. 

Prince Charles and Camilla in the 1970s

For Camilla's part, it was a blurry love affair. Unsure of the Prince of Wales' real intention and love, Camilla, who was in an off-and-on relationship with Andrew Parker-Bowles for nearly seven years, began to feel the pressure from her father. Major Bruce Shand, to settle down. And because at that time, no one would ever believe she could be a future Queen due to her social status. 

In March 1973, her father took matters into his own hands by publishing an engagement notice of his daughter and Andrew Parker-Bowles (without their knowledge) in The Times. The couple had less time to react and, so agreed to be married. 

Camilla Shand and Andrew Parker Bowles
Andrew and Camilla Parker-Bowles on their wedding day, 1973

On July 4, 1973, Camilla and Andrew's wedding took place in London. It was a society wedding attended by London's elites. Princess Anne, Princess Margaret, and the Queen Mother were among the special guests.

The Prince of Wales was invited but declined due to his upcoming royal engagement in the Bahamas. No one exactly knew how he felt, but there were rumors that emerged later that when Camilla and Andrew's engagement was announced in March 1973, Prince Charles locked himself in his HMS Minerva cabin and poured his pain into his diary, "I suppose the feeling of emptiness will pass eventually". 

Charles and Amanda

Still grieving over his lost love, on Valentine's day the following year, 1974, Lord Mountbatten sent him a poetic letter of "sowing wild oats and finding a sweet-charactered girl to marry". Alas! What the future king really wanted, was to marry his "wild oats". 

Lady Amanda Knatchbull and Prince Charles are second cousin

By then Lord Mountbatten was putting his granddaughter, 16-year-old Amanda Knatchbull, in front of all the candidates to become the future Queen. And Prince Charles did not protest. He found his second cousin to be attractive, ideal, and suitable. But Amanda was too young for a serious relationship, and so the Prince of Wales continued to "sow his wild oats". 

He dated a string of glamorous girlfriends and women from the aristocracy. One of those women was Lady Sarah Spencer, the older sister of Lady Diana, who he briefly dated in 1976 or 1977. However, it was Amanda Knatchbull he was eyeing to marry.

Prince Charles briefly dated Lady Sarah Spencer, the older sister of Princess Diana

Prince Charles and Lady Sarah Spencer

So while Camilla Parker-Bowles was enjoying her domestic life in the countryside with her children and husband, Prince Charles was out there, still analyzing his future, battling with the paparazzi and the press intrusion on his love life.

But Lord Mountbatten made it clear to him that Amanda was fast growing up into a lady and ready for a serious relationship. And by 1977, Charles too became aware of Amanda's blossoming beauty and was ready to propose. 

Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl of Burma

Prince Charles had a scheduled tour to India in 1980 and Lord Mountbatten, who was the last viceroy of India, agreed to accompany him with Amanda, believed to be the moment Prince Charles would take things to the next level.

But fate sadly intervened. 

In August 1979, Lord Mountbatten and Amanda's family - her mother, paternal grandmother, and twin brothers (Timothy and Nicholas aged 14) - were out in the County of Sligo, Ireland, fishing for lobsters when an IRA (Irish Republican Army) bomb was detonated on Lord Mountbatten's fishing boat. 

The Queen and Prince Philip at the funeral of Lord Mountbatten

Lord Mountbatten and a boy they hired to accompany them were killed instantly. Nicholas and their paternal grandmother died in the hospital. Only Lady Patricia and Timothy survived the bombing. 

The death of his honorary grandfather made Prince Charles profoundly heartbroken and he was inconsolable for a couple of days. According to Robert Lacey's book, it was during his grief that he became close again with Camilla Parker-Bowles, pouring out his heartbreaks of losing a dear grandpa. And Camilla's consoling words helped him get through the sorrow.

In 1980, he pushed with his original plan to tour India, but Amanda did not join him. Upon his return, he proposed to her, but Amanda rejected him. Royal biographers presented different theories on why Amanda rejected the proposal of Prince Charles, however, the most common notion was "her unwillingness to be in the spotlight of royal duty and reluctance on the prospect of becoming Queen due to her family's grief".  

At 23 in 1980, Amanda was still nourishing the trauma and heartaches of losing a grandfather, grandmother, and younger brother over diplomatic tension, and she was not prepared to join a very public life.  

Touted to be heartbroken by the rejection as it was the last wish of his honorary grandfather, Prince Charles did not press his intention to marry Amanda. And turned his attention to country pursuits, enjoying house parties organized by his friends. 

It was at one of those house parties in July 1980, that he finally found a sweet-charactered girl, to marry. Lady Diana Spencer, 19, who was also invited by the hosts to attend the house party, was sitting in a bale of hay when Prince Charles spotted her. 

Charles and Diana official engagement
Lady Diana Spencer and the Prince of Wales during the announcement of their engagement, February 1981. 

He had known her since she was 15 when he frequented Althorp to visit Lady Sarah Spencer so he was surprised to see her bloom into a beautiful lady. According to Andrew Morton's book, Diana Her True Story, the Prince of Wales approached Diana that evening and teased her for growing up fast, Diana replied by saying "I have just stretched my puppy fat", and the Prince of Wales laughed at her self-deprecating humor".  

And the rest is history. 

Prince Charles and Princess Diana wedding
The Prince and Princess of Wales on their wedding day

Seven months later, in February 1981, the official engagement of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer was announced by Buckingham Palace. Their wedding was held on July 29, 1981, at St. Paul's Cathedral, London. No one thought grim circumstances would unfold in the years to come because, at that time, they were poised to become King and Queen someday.

Lady Amanda Knatchbull would eventually marry in 1987, six years after the wedding of the century of the Prince and Princess of Wales, to Charles Ellingworth, and lived a relatively lowkey life since then. Lady Amanda later worked in social service and is currently the director of Plan International, a humanitarian organization.

Lady Amanda Knatchbull and Charles Ellingworth wedding

But history has its own way of creating a different version of fairytales. By most accounts, and according to Prince Charles' official biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby, the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Camilla Parker-Bowles rekindled their romance discreetly in 1986 when his marriage to Princess Diana was "irretrievably broken". Prince Charles himself admitted this fact in Dimbleby book, The Prince of Wales: A Biography.

wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla
The Prince of Wales finally wed Camilla on April 9, 2005

On April 9, 2005, he finally married Camilla in a civil ceremony followed by a service blessing. They could not be married in a church rite as the Church of England prohibited a remarriage between divorces who had caused one of their partner's marriage breakup. 

So who is King Charles III's "the one that got away?"

We don't have many stories to tell about Lady Amanda. She treasured her privacy and did not grant any interview talking about her rejection of Prince Charles' marriage proposal.

But Charles remained close to her family. Her older brother, now the 3rd Earl of Burma, Norton Knatchbull, is Prince Charles' close friend and one of the godfathers of Prince William. 

King Charles III and Queen Camilla
King Charles III and Queen Camilla at the Accession Council

However, Charles' biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby, and other royal authors would agree that it's Camilla who is Charles' "the one that got away", but one that he would win back later and now his Queen Consort.

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