King of the countryside
As we celebrate the Coronation of HM King Charles III, Richard Negus looks at his deep and abiding passion for the countryside and for country sports
Despite some 30 seasons passing, I remember the day with crystal clarity. Hounds met at Lowesby, the grassy heart of the Quorn Friday country. The bitch pack looked their usual lithe selves; Richard Mould, the grand old pack’s kennel-huntsman, did likewise.
I sidled up to my friend, who was mounted on a butty horse, his eyes forever on his hounds. “All well?” I asked. “Morning Arthur,” he replied — you tend to get called Arthur by people of a certain vintage if your surname is Negus — “I hope this horse of yours jumps,” he muttered out of the side of his mouth, patting the bay mare’s neck. I had sold the horse to the hunt in the autumn. “The Prince is out,” he added with a knowing look.
Tighten your girth
HRH The Prince of Wales, as King Charles III was then, had a Jorrocksian adoration of the chase. While more readily seen in the hunt countries of the Cotswold packs, the Prince enjoyed an annual pilgrimage to the Shires. When the ‘Prince is out’, you knew it was best to tighten your girths, cram your hat down tight and pray your horse was in a jumping mood.
In the presence of the Prince, any huntsman worthy of the name was that much keener to show the very best sport. And when the Quorn turned up the dial, the hounds flew and the hedges came at you with dark-hearted regularity.
I’d like to say I chatted with the Prince at a check and took the opportunity to sell him a new horse, but that sadly never arose. Yet all of us who were out that day remember him astride a grey hunter, riding wide of the field, upsides Richard Mould, taking anything and everything with seemingly a neck to spare. We will never forget that when the huntsman blew for home, the Prince was still out.
We also recall that he shunned the invitation to tea at a grand house, preferring to take his refreshment with one of the farmers whose land we had crossed that day. My memory of our King in the hunting field is a metaphor for the man as a whole — well turned out, down to earth and, more than often, covered in mud.
The King’s patronages reflect his lifelong interest in practical conservation and the gamut of fieldsports. He is, for example, patron of the GWCT, a role in which he is no mere figurehead.
Dr Roger Draycott says of His Majesty: “He is a passionate and extremely knowledgeable conservationist. He recognises the important role sustainable game management has in delivering biodiversity and species recovery. The GWCT has benefited hugely from the support of the royal family over many decades, and this continues.”
The King’s attitude to conservation is well evidenced on the Sandringham estate. His focus there is on sympathetic land management, viable farming and plentiful habitat, all of which combine to the benefit of the grey partridge. As a Shot, he is renowned for both his prowess with his favoured 28-bores and for his circumspection. I was told a story of him shooting at Sandringham, when he was clearly having an off day. The sound of shots coming from his peg, deep within a ride, had grown notably absent. A flanker appeared where The King should have been, only to find the peg empty.
Instead His Majesty was seated upon a tree stump, staring intently into the woods behind him, where, with obvious enjoyment, he was observing the progress of a treecreeper. Like all good Shots, The King clearly decided that when your aim is off, a touch of ornithology is better than spending a drive in misses and exasperation.
In an era when country sportsmen and women are increasingly denigrated by the media, The King has been steadfast as a champion for the symbiotic relationship between sport and conservation. He has never shied away from advocating environmental causes while continuing an overt participation in country sports.
Another of his patronages is the Atlantic Salmon Trust. This science-led charity is dedicated to halt and reverse the decline of this revered game fish, while equally supporting sustainable angling. The King is a devotee of salmon fishing, learning to cast as a boy on the banks of the Dee, tutored by his grandmother, HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Farlows, The King’s preferred tackle shop, ran a competition in April to vote for the 12 salmon flies fit for a king. The royal dozen will become The King’s Salmon Fly Collection, a specially commissioned box which will be presented to His Majesty. One of the flies to make the cut is the HRH Single, a fly tied to celebrate HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Simon Tilbury, Farlows Group head of marketing, said: “The collection will be available for the general public to buy in due course, with the proceeds going to the Atlantic Salmon Trust. I think His Majesty will appreciate the sentiment for a cause he so ardently supports.”
The King comes from a great line of dog lovers. His late mother famously adored corgis, owning 30 over the years. His grandfather too was devoted to the breed, as well as his famed strain of labradors. His Majesty is something of a terrierman. He and HM Queen Camilla own two Jack Russells called Bluebell and Beth, which they rehomed from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in 2017.
The King has remained loyal to this most tenacious of terrier breeds. His previous Jack Russell, Tigga, lived to the age of 18. The old dog was buried in the grounds of Highgrove and immortalised in a willow sculpture by Emma Stothard for visitors of the gardens to admire. The Kennel Club credits this royal canine preference for increased popularity in the breed.
Life for any country sportsman is so much easier if your spouse tolerates your passion; better still if he or she is an active participant. The King is fortunate indeed that The Queen Consort fully shares his. She is patron of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, the National Stud and HorseBack UK, which uses equines to empower service personnel and veterans suffering from injury and PTSD.
Her love of horses and the chase is heartfelt. A renowned thruster in her day, particularly out with the Duke of Beaufort’s, she told a group of schoolchildren while on a state visit to Germany the reason she no longer rode was “because I am too old”. However, she continues to express her love of horses through her charitable causes and as a racehorse owner and breeder. The King still rides and has committed to being mounted for his first Trooping the Colour on 17 June.
As we celebrate the Coronation, we salute King Charles as a champion of our wildlife, rural traditions and our ways. His attitude to the countryside is pragmatic, bringing to mind the words of Mahler: “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” God save The King.