The King and His Navy

Celebrating His Majesty King Charles III and his association with the Royal Navy.

The Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla

Ahead of The Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla we look back on The King's association with the Royal Navy – from his youth as the son of a naval officer to a short but action-packed career in the Royal Navy, culminating in command of a minesweeper, to executing Royal duties around the world with – and, more recently without – the Royal Yacht Britannia.

It is a long, rich bond treasured on both sides.

Princess Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh with 6-month-old Prince Charles

The Royal Navy has been in King Charles’ blood since the day he was born in 1948.

The son and grandson of Royal Navy officers, Charles would, in time, follow them into the Senior Service for a relatively short but rewarding career, with the Navy also a near-constant presence throughout his life, be it family ties and connections to official duties.

The young Prince of Wales’s relationship with the Navy begins in 1953 at the age of five, embarking upon his first royal ‘tour’ to rendezvous with his parents in Malta aboard the then new Royal Yacht Britannia.

The many official duties performed by the Queen or Duke of Edinburgh meant a young Charles frequently tagged along. Here the ten-year-old prince enjoys a tour of aircraft carrier HMS Eagle in Portland in April 1959.

After a spell with the RAF, learning to fly with the Universities Air Squadron programme while studying at Cambridge, the future king’s naval career began as a 22-year-old acting sub-lieutenant joining an ‘accelerated graduates’ course at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth on September 15 1971… and less than two months later he was assigned to destroyer HMS Norfolk for practical experience.

Though heir to the throne, he learned about the basics of life at sea like any other officer under training, maintaining a thorough log of all activities. Unfortunately, Norfolk’s programme was not especially exciting: a visit to Toulon followed by maintenance.

Over the next 12 months, instead the prince was given a whistle-stop induction to life in the Cold War Royal Navy, undergoing the submarine emergency escape drill at HMS Dolphin before joining hunter-killer HMS Churchill, studying navigation and comms at HMS Mercury and putting his knowledge to the test aboard minehunter HMS Glasserton.

Prince Charles at the periscope of HMS Churchill 1972

Thumbs up from Prince Charles in the cockpit of a Junglie Wessex with CHF in Oct 1972

Prince Charles in the SETT at Gosport Jan 1972

Training complete, Prince Charles was assigned as gunnery officer aboard HMS Minerva on West Indies patrol, which included representing the Queen in the Bahamas when the islands declared their independence in July 1973.

The 11 months aboard Minerva were followed by a brief stint in her sister HMS Jupiter in the Pacific before returning to the UK in the spring to try his hand at naval aviation.

In 45 days he clocked up 105 hours in the cockpit of a Wessex Mk5 on 707 Naval Air Squadron, earning the ‘Double Diamond’ trophy as best pilot. He went on to serve on the front line with 845 NAS and HMS Hermes on exercises in Canada.

And continuing the ‘action man’ nature of his time in the RN, Prince Charles joined trainee Royal Marines on their endurance and Tarzan courses (accompanied by his security detail) before putting his naval career largely on hold in 1975 to perform royal duties.

Prince Charles training with the Royal Marines 1974

Prince Charles in the Cockpit at Culdrose Air Day in 1975

1976 saw Prince Charles return to the RN with aplomb, appointed Commanding Officer of Ton-class minesweeper HMS Bronington.

During his ten months at the helm, Prince Charles led the small vessel through exercises and operations in home waters, from dealing with WW2 ordnance to keeping an eye on a Soviet submarine and welcoming most of his family aboard during a visit to London in the autumn.

Throughout his time in charge of Bronington, royal duties were also performed constantly; every three days a large blue dispatch bag containing correspondence and documents was delivered to the ship.

Bronington has remained close to his heart ever since from attending her recommissioning in 1980 and receiving a model of the ship as a wedding gift the following year, Prince Charles has attended reunions – and even hosted one at his home in Clarence House.


HMS Bronington with the Prince of Wales and Lord Mountbatten

Ships Company of HMS Bronington with CO Prince Charles

HMS Bronington at sea in her prime

Upon leaving HMS Bronington in December 1976, the prince’s active naval career came to an end with the rank of commander, but that was far from the end of his associations either with the minehunter or the Senior Service.

Britannia would carry the royal couple on numerous tours in the years to come – Italy, the Middle East, Hong Kong, Turkey – and on her final official voyage the legendary yacht hosted the now-divorced Prince of Wales in Hong Kong once more, this time for the colony’s transfer back to Chinese rule.

A new century has seen Charles partaking in a number of poignant ceremonial events such as the 90th and 100th anniversaries of the Gallipoli campaign and 70th anniversary of D-Day aboard HMS Richmond, or visiting RN vessels around the globe amid official visits be it Tokyo in 2019, Colombia in 2014 or Greece in 2018.

Upon his mother’s passing in September 2022, all RN vessels became His Majesty’s Ship, while King Charles gained the title of Lord High Admiral, the historic, ceremonial role of titular head of the Royal Navy. With thanks to the Naval Historical Branch

The King and His Navy

A timeline