OPINION: My special attribute in common with the King

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OPINION: My special attribute in common with the King

Professor Geoffrey Alderman has a number of profound life-experiences in common with King Charles III, including something deeply personal.

Professor Geoffrey Alderman is an academic, author and journalist

The infant King Charles (right) with his family.
The infant King Charles (right) with his family.

His Majesty King Charles III and I have several attributes in common. For starters, we were both born in royal palaces. On November 14th 1948 the present King – first grandchild of the then monarch George VI – was born in Buckingham Palace. On 10th February 1944 I had been born somewhere within the grounds of the royal palace of Hampton Court.

How did this come about? When my mother (halachically married, I hasten to add, in 1942) became pregnant the following year, she had registered herself with the Bearsted Jewish Maternity Hospital, Stoke Newington, in the heart of Jewish Hackney, north London).

Professor Geoffrey Alderman.

As a wartime safety precaution (and reputedly on the initiative of Edwina, Countess Mountbatten, a granddaughter of the German-Jewish banker Sir Ernest Cassel), the Bearsted Hospital had been moved, in part, to a makeshift wooden building in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, and I was informed many years later that this building counted as part of the Palace itself.

So my claim to have been born in a royal palace is apparently well grounded.

It’s worth noting, incidentally, that Cassel, one of King Edward VII’s closest friends, had married out of the faith, and subsequently, at the behest of his wife, converted to Roman Catholicism.

His granddaughter Edwina married Lord Louis Mountbatten, the uncle of Prince Philip, husband of Elizabeth II. As is well known, Philip’s mother, the Greek princess Alice, was a philosemite who rescued Jews during the Holocaust; she is buried in Jerusalem.

The cosmopolitan Edward VII himself liked the company of accommodating women and rich men, many of whom were Jewish. Edward VII actually liked Jews, and reportedly referred to Hermann Adler, ecclesiastical head of the United Synagogue, as “my chief rabbi.”

King Charles (Photo: BBC)

So I was born at Hampton Court on 10th February 1944. Later that month I was circumcised, according to the precepts of Orthodox Judaism, by Dr Jacob Snowman, a leading mohel and the author of several works on Jewish and general circumcision.

Four years later Snowman accepted an invitation from the then Princess Elizabeth to circumcise her son Charles (20th December 1948), five days after his christening.

There has been a great deal of argument about why this circumcision took place. When an undergraduate at Oxford I was privileged to have been taught by Dr Cecil Roth, Bearsted Reader in Post-Biblical Jewish Studies.

My best guess – I have debated with myself long and hard over this – is that Charles’ circumcision was carried out purely on health

Roth believed that somehow there had been a tradition, dating from Hanoverian times in the 18th century, that English royal princes were circumcised. But there is no documentary evidence of this, and Roth was certainly never able to provide any.

My best guess now (I have debated with myself long and hard over this) is that Charles’ circumcision was carried out purely on health [‘hygiene’] grounds, as indeed were many non-religious circumcisions at that time.

The late Queen Elizabeth never visited Israel. But Charles grew up in a distinctly philosemitic household. As Prince of Wales he went out of his way to connect with and patronise Jewish charities, as my colleague Jenni Frazer has pointed out.[1] He has also visited Israel on several occasions. The first was to attend the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin (1995) and the second to attend that of Shimon Peres (2016).

It was argued at the time that these were not ‘official’ visits, but in January 2020 he visited the Jewish state again, to attend the World Holocaust Forum. This most certainly was an official visit, marked by a well-publicised meeting with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin.

In the great scheme of things, does any of this matter? After all, British policy – so the textbooks tell us – is made by the government of the day, not the constitutional monarch.

Be that as it may, I believe it does matter. King Charles’ links with the Jewish world are many, and very publicly known. We have an unashamed friend at the royal court – at the head of that court.

This must surely be good for the Jews!





Professor Geoffrey Alderman is Principal of Nelson College London






[1]  https://jewishinsider.com/2022/09/prince-charles-jewish-community-united-kingdom-queen-elizabeth/

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