Considering myself somewhat apathetic to the Royals, when outside Jesus College, the dazzling blue lights of a police motorcycle suddenly burst into sight, closely followed by a very swish car from which Prince Charles was to appear, I was amazed to find myself brimming with excitement.
Upon exiting, the Prince of Wales engaged in the usual hand-shaking, small-talking greeting a Royal receives. The crowd in first quad was teeming with daffodil-laden Jesusites and 60 school children who were visiting from Wales; all equally desperate to get a hand shake and a word in with His Royal Highness.
Prince Charles was visiting the Welsh college to celebrate a newly appointed Chair of Celtic, Dr David Willis. The Chair has been entrusted to support the scholarship and preservation of Celtic languages, literature and history at the University of Oxford since 1877 and is the only Professorship in Celtic at an English University. Dr Willis’ appointment comes following an eight-year hiatus and a £3.25m fundraising campaign to permanently safeguard the role.
During his visit, the Prince promoted the preservation of Welsh culture and made known his support for the college initiatives improving Welsh access to Oxbridge. Jesus College is collaborating with the Welsh government’s Seren Network to offer four-day bespoke summer schools to high-achieving students. 2,000 students are involved in the network and 75 attended summer schools in 2018.
Anna Cowling, who studies French and German at Jesus, told the Oxford Mail: “I think (Prince Charles’ visit) is really important for the college because it’s traditionally the Welsh college and it’s really important that this is continuing with the tradition of it being Welsh and having this new Chair of Celtic.”
Being a member of the Jesus Consort, I was to sing a setting of our college prayer, the Gweddi Coleg Iesu, shortly after the Prince’s entrance to the hall. The hall, with its typically immeasurable charm, was host to an exquisite Welsh champagne tea. Afterwards we were to be presented to His Royal Highness.
Of course this was not permissible without a briefing in which we were informed how we should address the Prince and the proceedings by which we would be introduced to him. These proceedings were engineered to allow His Royal Highness to be introduced to each and every person in the hall efficiently whilst minimising the artificiality of such an inherently artificial situation.
Looking down from the gallery, there was truly an electric buzz in the hall. Magnificent flower arrangements on the high table towered above distinguished people exchanging chipper chitchat. Splendid Welsh delicacies were eagerly consumed with the most refined conduct. All the while the glorious beauty of Jesus College hall only elevated the charm of the tea.
He viewed the Red Book of Hergest, which is owned by College and kept
at the Bodleian Library. The book, one of the most important written in Welsh, is a compilation of chronicles, mythology, romances and court poetry. College Librarian Owen McKnight, who had the honour of showing His Royal Highness the book alongside Thomas Charles Edwards, Emeritus Professor of Celtic, said, “The Red Book of Hergest was written shortly after 1382 and is one of the most important medieval manuscripts written in the Welsh language. The Prince was shown a page that details the herbal remedies of the legendary Physicians of Myddfai.”
On Prince Charles’ entry, our principal Sir Nigel Shadbolt made a short speech and subsequently our cue to sing was given. We then joined the party and excitedly awaited our introduction to the Prince.
Finally he came over to us. I shook his hand and nervously spluttered out some nonsense which somehow assembled itself into what turned out to be a nice little chat. Shortly after, he departed, and with him went any aforementioned refined conduct as I gorged on the gorgeous tea. Thoroughly exhausted, I went home and lay in bed reflecting on how surreal a day it had been.
Principal Nigel Shadbolt said, “It is a huge privilege to welcome back His Royal Highness to Jesus College to join us in marking the appointment of our new Chair of Celtic and our schools access programmes in Wales. His support for Wales and the people of Wales reflects our own passion for creating a College community that celebrates Welsh culture through its research, activities and people. We also share his values around sustainability and the environment, which echo the views and concerns of our Fellows and students.”