A Time of Gifts

The most interesting part of the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla to Pope Benedict never happened. The Pope never did present the royal couple with a facsimile of the letter written by English nobles to Pope Clement VII in 1530, pleading for the annulment of Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, as The Times had said he would.

It would have been a fascinating gift: it is a key document in the history of the English rift with Rome, kept in the Vatican archives. But as a present from the Pope to two royal British divorcees it might have been a little, you know, undiplomatic.

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No wonder Fr Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, quickly wrote to The Times to deny the story. It "is completely untrue and has no basis whatsoever in fact", he clarified.

Instead, the papal gift was an etching of St Peter's prior to the Michelangelo makeover. Boooooring.

And Prince Charles to Benedict XV? A decorated set of plates from Highgrove, the Prince's estate. "I'm not sure what use these will be to you," mumbled Charles, as the Duchess of Cornwall, in protocol black veil, looked on amused.

"Perhaps I could smash them in frustration every time The Times gets a story wrong," Pope Benedict ventured, before adding: "On second thoughts, there wouldn't be enough of them". 

(That last sentence is entirely untrue and has no basis whatsoever in fact).

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