PRINCE CHARLES has launched an astonishing clampdown on the use of the famous Three Feathers symbol.
Letters have been sent by Buckingham Palace to several Welsh companies demanding they stop selling items bearing the insignia, regarded by many as representing Wales itself, and not merely its Prince, immediately.
Sent from the Lord Chamberlain's Office, copying in Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall's offices, the letters spell out that the emblem "usually known as the Prince of Wales Feathers" is "the personal property of the Prince of Wales, and as such is protected from misuse by law".
Written by Jonathan Spencer, Deputy Comptroller at the Lord Chamberlain's Office, it warns that people or companies using the badge without permission from the Prince of Wales are "in contravention of the law".
The action calls into question just who can reproduce the feathers motif, which can be seen on thousands of Welsh products, from mugs, scarves and rugby shirts to business logos and stationery. And it is bound to provoke debate over whether the Prince has the right to claim ownership of the centuries-old symbol, which originated in France, and is emblazoned with German motto, Ich Dien, meaning I serve.
Royal officials said yesterday an all-out, legal clampdown on the emblem's use was unlikely but insisted some businesses needed to be made aware of the law.
But some of those who have already been targeted say that to single out just their businesses is unfair, while countless thousands of the emblems are produced each year.
Ernest Brooks, who runs his own jewellers in Ammanford, just a short drive from Charles's newly bought residence near Myddfai, thought the letter unfair.
The letter stated, "I would ask that you take immediate steps to remove the Prince of Wales Three Feathers badge from items in this range of jewellery and confirm to me in writing that you have taken these necessary steps.
"You may like to know that the same action has been taken with certain of your competitors."
The former South Wales Borderers soldier said, "At first I just thought it was a joke, and then I saw the envelope had a postmark from Buckingham Palace.
"Everybody I've seen since has said it's ridiculous.
"They'd have to write to thousands of businesses across Wales. And are they allowed to anyway?
"Prince Charles has inherited the symbol. It's more than 600 years old and he's allowed to use it by the people of Wales, not the other way around."
Colwyn Bay and Cheltenham- based Cymru Metals, which manufactures Welsh gold jewellery and supplies some 300 shops, also received a letter.
Managing director Nigel Blayney said, "Are they going to have Beefeaters knocking everybody's doors down, because it's not exactly just a few jewellers?
"There are thousands of people across the world selling Three Feathers jewellery. You only have to have a quick look on the internet. It's ridiculous to pick on us and a few others.
"The Three Feathers stuff is only a minority of what we do sell, but you'd think he'd be pleased with the publicity and being associated with Wales."
A spokeswoman for Clarence House confirmed yesterday that the correspondence had been sent out. "Letters have been sent out to jewellery businesses to remind them that permission is usually required to use the emblem," she said. "It was brought to our attention with emphasis on jewellery and we wanted to make people aware of it.
"I don't believe legal action would ever become necessary."
She added, "This is a standard request that comes from the Lord Chamberlain's Office.
"I can confirm that a small number of companies have been made aware that permission is needed."
She was not able to confirm whether any other firms using the insignia would be contacted, or the exact detail of the insignia's legal protection. But she added, "It's something we've had to do before. Quite a few companies do have permission to do this.
"Pubs have a long-standing agreement that's centuries old. It's not something we can police and we wouldn't wish to."
Plaid Cymru AM for South West Wales Dai Lloyd said, "It does seem very heavy-handed, and I don't see at all how it's possible to enforce.
"I'm personally not enamoured with the feathers as it's a symbol of the monarchy, but it's used across the board as a symbol of Wales."
He said the move was hardly likely to help the Prince's public image in Wales, just months after he bought a home in Carmarthenshire.
Mr Lloyd added, "It won't help, and I think it will badly backfire.
"The remaining population that have an affinity with the monarchy I suspect will be upset with such a crackdown."
The badge belongs to the Heir Apparent and is his even before he becomes Prince of Wales.
Tim Duke, Chester Herald at London's Royal College of Arms, which oversees coats of arms and heraldry, said Prince Charles was within his rights to insist on giving permission before the official insignia was used.
He said, "The form described is that of three ostrich feathers bound with 'Ich Dien'.
"That is the badge of the Prince of Wales, or, more strictly speaking, the Heir Apparent.
"The Prince of Wales has used it since Edward III.
"He can allow it to be used by other people. That's the purpose of a badge. It's distinct from a coat of arms and a crest.
"There's been a transfer of the insignia with people associating it with Wales, but if you want to make use of heraldic devices it's good to stay under the conventions.
"Respective royal households do dislike the [unauthorised] use of royal insignia."
'Have it out in court'
The Royal Welsh regiment and the Welsh Rugby Union may sport the Prince of Wales' Feathers, but traders use the heraldic badge at their peril.
Strictly speaking, according to the guardians of British Heraldry, the College of Arms (a branch of the Royal Household), the badge is not the possession of the Prince of Wales but the Heir Apparent.
He may give his personal permission for it to be used in the same way that a royal warrant is issued.
A vigilant body, the Royal Warrant Holder's Association, which dates back to 1840, exists to police the use of these coveted emblems.
But Welsh cultural historian Professor Peter Stead believes Prince Charles should be challenged in court.
He said, "On one level, I feel all heraldic things are a bit ridiculous. In fact the whole situation is ridiculous.
"I'd like to see it challenged in the courts so we can get a definitive legal reply.
"We need to invent new iconography and not have to rely on medieval royal devices to define our nationality."
Page 2 - History and legend intertwined in the story of the Prince's heraldic badge