Queen Camilla of the United Kingdom
Why HRH The Duchess of Cornwall will – and should – be Queen Consort
While The Duchess of Sussex creates unnecessary havoc within the British monarchy, keeping the spotlight on herself for all the wrong reasons, the other women of the House of Windsor continue to work. HM The Queen, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, HRH The Countess of Wessex, HRH The Princess Royal, and HRH Princess Alexandra have all continued to attend royal engagements and do the job that is being a working royal. For some of these women, the job is a hereditary one, but for the rest it was something they voluntarily took on when they made the free choice to marry into the Royal Family. They all put the self-serving and insubordinate Duchess of Sussex to shame, but while the most obvious comparisons are made with the Duchess of Cambridge, no one shines a light on the weakness of the Duchess of Sussex more than the Duchess of Cornwall.
For most of her life the Duchess of Cornwall has been known as Camilla Parker Bowles, a name synonymous with scandal, intrigue, and for some, the misery of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. A portion of the British public has always hated her because they see in her everything that made the beloved People’s Princess so miserable. It took more than thirty years for HM The Queen to accept Camilla as part of the Royal Family, and Queen’s absence from her son’s wedding to Camilla was a loud and clear message that her acceptance was a reluctant one. Although Camilla’s relationship with both Queen and country has improved a great deal in the last few years, she continues to be a somewhat controversial figure, and her status as a future Queen Consort continues to be questioned.
Just before the couple married in a low-profile civil ceremony in 2005, Clarence House released a statement declaring that when Prince Charles became King, his new wife would be known as HRH The Princess Consort.
For an institution that puts so much emphasis on continuity and precedence, this seemed very arbitrary and frankly a bit desperate. But if you visit the websites of the Royal Family and of Clarence House (the official residence of The Prince of Wales) you will no longer find this statement anywhere. It was quietly removed some time in the last couple of years, and the couple have offered no further comment on the Duchess’ future title. The simple fact is that under British law, a woman holds the same rank and title as her husband, and this extends all the way up to the highest title in the land. Even if she were to be called something else, the Duchess of Cornwall will automatically become Queen when her husband becomes King, and one need not look far back in British history to see this principle in action.
Caroline of Brunswick – Just 200 years ago, King George IV went to ridiculous lengths to deprive his wife of her place as Queen. He had been forced into an arranged marriage with his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, in 1795, while he was still Prince of Wales. They stayed together just long enough to have a daughter, then they permanently separated, and Caroline moved to the Continent. After he became King in 1820, George IV introduced a bill in Parliament called Pains and Penalties Bill 1820, the stated purpose of which was “to deprive Her Majesty Caroline Amelia Elizabeth, of the title, prerogatives, rights, privileges, and exemptions of Queen-Consort of this Realm, and to dissolve the Marriage between His Majesty, and the said Caroline Amelia Elizabeth.” (https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1820/aug/17/bill-of-pains-and-penalties-against-her)
Yes, that’s right, to deprive this poor woman of a rank and title that she already held and had held since her father-in-law George III had breathed his last breath. The Bill passed in the House of Lords but was ultimately withdrawn due to its controversial nature and public outrage over the treatment of the Queen. She was never crowned due to her husband locking her out of Westminster Abbey on their coronation day, but she died with the title that was legally hers.
Wallis, Duchess of Windsor – In 1936 King Edward VIII did the unthinkable and stepped off the throne in order to marry a woman who would not be accepted by the establishment. But plenty of people marry spouses of whom their families and the neighbours might disapprove, so what made this situation so different? Because the prospective husband in this case was the King, and therefore the prospective wife would become Queen upon their legal union! As the Church of England at that time did not allow marriage of divorced persons who still had living ex-spouses, the couple would have to marry in a civil ceremony. Although the British monarch automatically becomes Supreme Governor of the Church of England upon their accession, a religious wedding is not required to make a marriage legal under British law. The twice-divorced, promiscuous American (who counted among her lovers Hitler’s ambassador to the UK, Joachim von Ribbentrop), whose ex-husbands were both alive, would become Queen by virtue of her legal union with the King. That would mean that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England would, in the eyes of the church, be living in sin with his own Queen.
The concept of a morganatic marriage – a type of marriage used in some countries in continental Europe between people of unequal rank where the higher-ranked person did not share their rank or titles with the lower-ranked spouse – was briefly explored, but there was no precedent for such a thing in Britain, and probably could not exist within the British legal system. When the couple married in May of 1937 in a civil ceremony in France, Wallis automatically became Duchess of Windsor, sharing her husband’s new title. If the letter of the law were followed, her full rank and title would be Her Royal Highness Princess Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, Duchess of Windsor, and she would normally be addressed as Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Windsor. However, her husband’s afflicted successor, King George VI, issued letters patent stating that the new Duchess of Windsor was not entitled to use the style Royal Highness. Although the Duke and Duchess of Windsor respected this decree in public, in theory they could likely have mounted a successful legal challenge against it. My own negative views of the couple aside, the Duchess should have been styled the same way as her husband.
The law would quite literally have to be changed for the Duchess of Cornwall to not become Queen when the Prince of Wales becomes King, and I highly doubt anyone cares for such a thing. She could be call HRH The Princess Consort, but that would be nothing but a fictitious stage name, and her real rank and title would have to be written on legal documents. The legal and historical issues aside, the Duchess deserves to be treated the same as the wife of every other British king.
There are three key issues that have been raised time and again since her marriage to the Prince of Wales that have been used as “reasons” to keep her from being Queen.
1) The Diana Factor
Diana, Princess of Wales publicly laid down the gauntlet in her 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir when she said “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” Although she admitted to her own adultery in that interview, much of the public seemed to ignore that part, while Charles and Camilla were demonized. Diana’s tragic death less than two years later made her more popular than ever, and solidified her carefully cultivated image of the wronged woman who just wanted to be loved, but her husband ran off with the ugly old witch. Eight years passed between the death of Diana and the marriage of Charles and Camilla, but Camilla was still occasionally booed in public and Charles’ popularity remained low. As time has gone by Diana’s image has lost some of its angelic polish, and her own flaws and adultery have been acknowledged in more recent films and writing. But there will always be a segment of the population that see her as a saint and martyr and think that Camilla’s elevation into the Royal Family has been somehow disrespectful to Diana’s memory.
But Diana is dead, and has been for a long time. And even before that, her divorce from the Prince of Wales meant that she would never be Queen. I believe that if Diana had lived, and perhaps found a new spouse, Charles would have been allowed to marry Camilla sooner. By choosing to be known as Duchess of Cornwall instead of Princess of Wales, a title that is legally hers, Camilla has demonstrated her respect for the public’s feelings for her predecessor. If Charles had been remarried to anyone else, their right to be Queen would never have been questioned.
2) From Mistress to Queen
This second factor is related to the first, but is simply about adultery, not adultery in the face of a particularly loved Royal. Royal mistresses have long been a staple of royal lore, especially for the majority of history when royal marriages were political, not personal. Very few royal mistresses, however, have become the royal consort; in countries with morganatic marriage, widowed or divorced male monarchs have occasionally married mistresses, but they were not made queen or empress consort. Some have objected to Camilla being rewarded for her interference in the first Wales marriage with a crown, and I understand why this may make people squeamish on moral grounds.
But we must remember that royals are human, too, and avoid pontificating and self-righteousness. Adultery is always wrong, and nothing can change that, but the past cannot be changed. The fact that the Duchess’ ex-husband, Andrew Parker Bowles, and his second wife, Rosemary (who died of cancer in 2010) attended the wedding of Charles and Camilla says a great deal about how far all of these mature adults have come in moving on. Even the Queen, with her deep religious beliefs about marriage and divorce, was willing to bend for her son and heir. She gave her permission for the marriage knowing that whether Camilla would ever be crowned queen consort was ultimately out of her hands. If she can bend, so can we.
3) The Church of England Question
Since the foundation of the Church of England in the reign of Henry VIII, the monarch of England has been the Supreme Governor of the Church of England by virtue of office. This is something that I believe needs to change, but that is another essay altogether. As it stands, Prince Charles will become head of the church upon his accession, and the status of his marriage in the church raises some questions. It is often misstated that when he and the Duchess married in 2005 they were married in a civil ceremony because the Church of England still did not allow marriage of divorced persons with ex-spouses who were still alive. In fact, it was in 2002 that the church decided to allow such marriages in certain circumstances, as decided by the presiding clergy on a case-by-case basis. Whether Charles and Camilla asked for such permission and were denied, or never sought permission for a church wedding is not known. They were given a church blessing after the civil wedding, but that does not mean that the civil marriage is considered canonically valid.
The main issue surrounding the state of Charles’ marriage is his ability to be crowned in a liturgical coronation in Westminster Abbey like his predecessors. It is a deeply religious and solemn ceremony, raising the issue of whether Camilla can be crowned alongside him, the usual practice for English queens consort. There are several possibilities as to how this could be handled:
1) Charles could be crowned without his wife
Both King Charles I and King Charles II were crowned alone without their wives (Henrietta Maria of France and Catherine of Braganza [Portugal], respectively) because both queens were Catholic, and could not participate in Anglican worship. Yet another Charles could be crowned without his queen, this time on the grounds that their marriage is not recognized by their church.
2) The church could “re-marry” Charles and Camilla
The couple could request permission to have a church wedding, and if such permission were granted, they could undergo the Anglican rite of marriage. With their marriage now canonically recognized, there would be no impediment to Camilla being crowned with Charles in a religious coronation.
3) The coronation could be dispensed with altogether
None of the other remaining monarchies in Europe still have religious crowning services, even in countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and Norway which have a religious test for the office of monarch. Low-key accession speeches or civil inaugurations have taken the place of the magnificent coronations of the past. While it would be a shame to miss out on the beautiful state event, it would present a simple solution to a cumbersome problem.
Queen Camilla is a reality-in-waiting, whether people particularly like it or not. But there is plenty to like about the prospective queen consort, who is hard-working, dutiful, and humble. She married the Prince of Wales for love, but understood when she took that step that it would mean a life of royal duties. Marriage to a working prince is a full-time job of public service, and the Duchess has undertaken this role with grace and enthusiasm. She is an advocate for osteoporosis patients, sexual assault victims, animal rights, and literacy, among other things. She has never publicly embarrassed herself or the Royal Family, and has never gone out of her way to draw attention to herself. And despite the vicious way she has often been treated by the media, she has never asked for pity or shirked her duties.
The loss of Queen Elizabeth II will be difficult enough for the Commonwealth and her many admirers around the world. Although her heir is very different from her, he is more than ready to do the job he was born to do. He has devoted his life to public service and the monarchy, and the only thing he has ever fought for that is just for himself is his wife. When that saddest of days comes and Her Majesty goes to her reward, we will be lucky to have the new King and Queen to take up the mantel.