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Prince Charles’ ‘Black Spider memos’: What the secret letters actually say

After almost a decade of legal battle, on Wednesday the British government released a cache of Prince Charles's "Black Spider memos" – letters to the British government that gained their name due to the British Royal's distinctively illegible handwriting.

The letters show that despite British monarchs traditionally remaining politically neutral, in private correspondence Charles was a vocal and persistent supporter of a number of political causes.

The letters released Wednesday, which only cover the period in 2004 and 2005, reveal the heir to the British throne inquiring about a number of issues. Here are some of the subjects brought up by the crown prince.

In correspondence with Prime Minister Tony Blair

  • In a letter dated Sept. 8, 2004, Charles brings up the anxieties among British farmers, in particular talking about the supporting hill farmers and the concerns about bovine tuberculosis.
  • The letter also discussed a study that appeared to show a badger cull in the Republic of Ireland had helped reduce badger infection. The prince expressed dismay at the "badger lobby."
  • Charles expressed concern about helicopters being used by British troops in Iraq. "I fear that this is just one more example of where our Armed Forces are being asked to do an extremely challenging job (particularly in Iraq) without the necessary resources," he wrote.

In correspondence with Environment Minister Elliot Morley

  • In a letter dated Oct. 21, 2004, Charles wrote of his concerns about illegal fishing. In particular, he fretted about the fate of the Patagonian toothfish (because it would, in turn, lead to the demise of the Albatross) and wondered if the Royal Navy could get involved.

In correspondence with the secretaries of state for education, Charles Clarke and Ruth Kelly

  • In a letter dated Sept. 7, then-Secretary of State for Education Charles Clarke responded to an unpublished letter from Charles, addressing the prince's fears about healthy food in schools.
  • In a series of subsequent letters, the prince and Clarke's successor, Ruth Kelly, discussed the relationship between the department and the Prince of Wale's Summer Schools.

In correspondence with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt

  • In a letter marked Oct. 6, 2004, Hewitt wrote to say she was unable to give any funding for In Kind Direct, a charity with redistributes surplus good. The prince replied to thank Hewitt for her help.

In correspondence with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy

  • In a letter dated Sept. 6, 2004, Charles wrote to Murphy to discuss the future of Armagh Gaol, a landmark historic building that was at that point vacant.

In correspondence with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Tessa Powell

  • In a letter dated Oct. 5, 2004, the prince's private secretary invited Jowell to a conference organized by one of his charities. Jowell declined due to a prior engagement.
  • In a letter dated Feb. 28, 2005, Jowell wrote to the prince to say that it had decided to designate a number of buildings at London's Smithfield Market, as landmarks, and prevent their demolition. The prince wrote back to Jowell to thank her for the move.
  • In a letter dated March 30, 2005, the prince contacted Jowell to ask about the future of the huts built by British polar explorers Scott and Shackleton.

In correspondence with the Secretary of State for Health John Reid

  • In a series of letters that between 2004 and 2005, Charles discussed an asylum built during the Victorian-era in Cherry Knowle in Sunderland, which had been decommissioned in 1995.
  • In a letter dated Feb. 11, 2005, Reid responded to the prince regarding new laws that were designed to regulate herbal medicine and acupuncture. In a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, the prince had described these laws as "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut."

Why do these letters matter?

On the surface of it, these letters are not especially controversial. Charles had brought up these issues in public repeatedly during his career – there seems to be nothing too nefarious or unexpected here.

However, there are glimmers of how persistent a force the prince could be. While all the letters are remarkably polite, Charles apologizes to Murphy, the Northern Ireland minister, for "pestering you about so many things." In a number of letters, Charles appears to be asking for money from the government: In one letter to Blair, he even suggests a (redacted) candidate for a job.

Many are now wondering why Charles and the British government fought so hard to keep these letters secret, at a cost of millions of pounds in legal fees. The prince himself seemed to be aware that they could be published, in one letter directly referencing the Freedom of Information Act that eventually led to their publication.

See also:

Prince Charles’s ‘black spider memos’ finally published

Read the memos