The British monarchy is still a big topic of interest among Crikey readers.
Our coverage of the Charles and Camilla nuptials began with these two pieces in the second subscriber email of 11 February
Front page news in every paper this morning is the impending marriage of Prince Charles, heir apparent to the British (and Australian) throne, and his long-time mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles.
The general reaction seems to range from “who cares?” to “that’s what he should have done 25 years ago.” But even so, the palace thought it necessary to head off objections by an announcement that Camilla would not become either Princess of Wales or Queen, but would be known as Duchess of Cornwall (Charles, as the monarch’s eldest son, is automatically Duke of Cornwall) and, after her husband’s accession, Princess Consort.
A couple of points on this:
(a) British law is crystal clear: the wife of a King becomes Queen. Full stop. It has never been necessary to do anything else to secure her that status. Ditto for wife of a Prince becoming Princess, etc.
(b) That position can be changed in Britain, like anything else, by legislation. But at least since the Australia Acts of 1986, any change in Australia requires legislation by the Australian parliament(s) (federal at least, possibly state as well – who knows?).
(c) Of course Camilla can call herself “Duchess of Cornwall”, or indeed anything else, as she wishes (just as Prince Edward’s wife calls herself “Sophie Wessex” rather than “the Countess of Wessex”). But if she marries Charles, she will still be Princess of Wales, unless the law is changed.
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It seems overwhelmingly likely that when Charles actually succeeds to the throne, all this halfway nonsense will be forgotten and Camilla will be acclaimed and duly crowned as Queen. The palace is just concerned to make sure that it stays ahead of public opinion: the first stage was making the relationship public, now the marriage, and full status for Camilla will be the final step.
The only thing that might complicate this would be if the Queen were to die or retire in the next couple of years – but she seems to be in fine health (her mother lived to be 100, remember), so the chance of that is probably fairly small.
With any luck, Australia will have made the transition to a republic before Charles and Camilla reach the throne. In the meantime, however, watch our various pundits tie themselves in knots with the unfamiliar minutiae of the ‘unwritten’ British constitution.
The first entry in this competition comes from a former broadcasting regulator and Crikey favourite, as reported in this morning’s Australian:
But Australians for Constitutional Monarchy convener David Flint said last night that while all Australians would be delighted with news of the engagement, Mrs Parker Bowles would not become Queen of Australia.
“The Australian laws are quite clear,” he said. “She would only have a courtesy title – Queen Consort – and therefore never have a constitutional position in Australia.”
What he means (we think) is that she will never be Queen in the sense that Queen Elizabeth is – she will never reign. But that’s obvious, and applies just as much in Britain as here. Her title will still be “Queen”, not “Queen Consort”, and it is not a “courtesy title” in the way that expression is normally used.
See Chuck’s official announcement on the Prince of Wales website here: http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/news/index.php (we didn’t know there was one either).
Royal aides conceded that the announcement, intended for next week, was brought forward once it was known that the London Evening Standard was going to splash on the news.
This makes Prince Charles not only the first royal to be married in a civil ceremony, but the first royal whose wedding announcement was made to pre-empt a newspaper exclusive.
But what brought about the announcement after more than 30 years in the on-again, off-again relationship?
The Times said the Prince was told by his most senior advisers that he must choose between marrying or banishing his long-term partner and that Camilla only agreed to marriage after being persuaded that the Prince needed to place his personal affairs on a conventional footing before he could become King.
For some the prospect of a royal wedding signals the arrival of monarch-mania, a feverish condition feared by all good republicans. The Independent even reported that some senior Tories fear Tony Blair will try to exploit the wedding by announcing the general election just a few days before the nuptials.
Meanwhile, she may be no Diana, but The Washington Post cuts to the chase and sums up the wedding like this:
If you’re looking for a good fairy tale, the story of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles is a rotter. Their love story is full of false starts, bad choices and lousy luck. So the announcement yesterday that the two will be married in April is not the stuff of romantic dreams. It’s a tale of two grown-ups who loved, lost, took their lumps, still loved, and hope to live happily ever after, despite everything …
The fact that Charles and his mistress can finally become husband and wife without creating a massive scandal is the triumph of real life and adult love over fantasy.
In Australia, the engagement was lead story in most of the papers – although The Australian, Charles to wed Camilla, but she won’t be Queen, rated it below North Korea’s nuclear weapons. The backlash has already started, however, with the republican movement claiming it as the biggest boost to their cause since Prince Harry’s visit to Australia.
A torrent of feedback
This produced a huge response from readers. The following, from a staunch monarchist and former Liberal Party activist, was fairly typical:
Am afraid I must correct Charles (Richardson) once again. Although he spouts forth in a slightly hysterical article, he is quite wrong.
NO legislation needs to be changed either here or in the UK. Charles (R) says that “British law is crystal clear: the wife of a King becomes Queen. Full stop.” To what ‘law’ is he referring?
There is NO law either here in the UK or in Australia that says the wife of the King is called the Queen, it’s just the way it has always happened. Although, as historians will know, not all Queens have been crowned. George IV so reviled his wife that he locked Queen Caroline out of the Abbey at his coronation leaving her banging on the door outside. Besides, the husband of the Queen isn’t called the King! Queen Victoria made Prince Albert, Prince Consort – a neat symmetry with the proposed arrangements on this occasion.
If there is still some debate about possible legal changes in the UK, there is absolutely no question for Australia. The only person mentioned in the Constitution and in the Royal Styles and Titles Act, or any other Act referring to the sovereign, is the sovereign. NO mention is ever made of a spouse. As it will not affect the succession to the throne – no child of Camilla’s will ever be in line – there is even less to fret about.
Let’s stop this hysteria. What this is about is two middle-aged people who love each other want to formalise their relationship and not have to go around in public as if nothing is happening. (Can you imagine going to a wedding of an old friend but not be allowed to sit next to your other half because it is not deemed proper, as happened to these two late last year?) If we Australians truly believe in a fair go, let’s all give (Prince) Charles and Camilla every good wish for their future happiness together.
Richardson responds as follows:
I didn’t think I was being hysterical at all. I agree entirely that it’s nothing to fret about, I think the marriage is eminently sensible and I concur in wishing them the very best for the future. I do, however, want to get the terminology right.
“To what ‘law’ is he referring? … it’s just the way it has always happened.” But that’s what common law is: it’s not written in legislation anywhere – I didn’t claim it was – but it’s nonetheless a fixed set of rules about inheritance, marriage and succession that the courts have always enforced.
My critics fail to appreciate how deep sexism runs in the British system. You can’t reason by analogy from how men are treated to how women are treated, since at law the two are fundamentally different.
Women take titles automatically from their husbands. The wives of a king, prince, duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron are queen, princess, duchess, marchioness, countess, viscountess and baroness respectively. No separate creation or formality is required; it’s automatic.
Of course there’s a sense in which they’re not “real” queens, princesses, etc. – they hold the titles only in right of their husbands. They’re “queens consort”, not “queens regnant”. But they’re still called “Queen x”, “Duchess of y”, and so on: indeed those titles nearly always refer to consorts, since women who hold them in their own right are quite rare.
But it doesn’t work the other way: if a woman is a duchess in her own right, for example, a man who marries her doesn’t become a duke. Margaret Thatcher after her retirement was created a baroness, but her husband didn’t become Lord Thatcher as a result.
So while it’s quite true that the husband of a queen (i.e. of a queen in her own right, or queen regnant) doesn’t thereby become a king, that’s of no relevance in the Charles and Camilla case. Queen Victoria had to create a special title, prince consort, for her husband. But her son, Edward VII, didn’t have to do anything to make his wife Queen Alexandra.
“George IV so reviled his wife that he locked Queen Caroline out of the Abbey at his coronation …” Er, yes, my point exactly. She was still “Queen Caroline” – even though they were separated, and her husband denied her any recognition, he couldn’t change the fact that she was the queen (not without legislation, which he had unsuccessfully attempted).
Similarly, if the law is not changed, Camilla will become Princess of Wales when she marries (just as Diana did before her), and Queen Camilla when her husband succeeds to the throne.
Queen Camilla here we come
Richardson then returned to the subject with this piece in the 15 February email:
This morning The Australian followed up Crikey’s comments of last week, on the legality of Charles and Camilla’s marriage and whether Camilla will actually be a queen.
The story – Charles and Camilla: will it be legal? – says of the union:
Senior aides to Prince Charles have privately briefed newspapers that he hoped that by the time he became king a shift in public opinion would allow her to become queen rather than princess.
Last week’s wedding statement did not say she would never become queen, only that it was “intended” she should “use the title Princess Consort when the prince accedes to the throne”.
And from the same story:
Mr Cretney and other senior lawyers pointed out that during the 1936 crisis which ended in Edward VIII’s abdication, the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, told parliament that any woman the king marries “necessarily” becomes queen.
Baldwin’s legal advice has been tracked down by the BBC’s Panorama current affairs program. It says: “The wife of the sovereign becomes the Queen Consort … The status of the wife of the king can only be affected by legislation.”
And the later update in The Oz – Charles marriage legal, say aides – confirms the point:
Lord St John said the marriage was valid and Camilla would be queen. Asked whether Parker Bowles would still adopt the title Her Royal Highness Princess Consort instead of Queen when Charles became King, he said: “She may use it. Things will have changed by then.”
Also good is this piece by Roy Hattersley in Uncle Rupert’s London rag, The Times: It must be Queen, or nothing
Yet more comment
There has been a lot in the UK press in recent days about Prince Charles’s eligibility to become the head of the Church of England, given the circumstances of his divorce with Diana, and his new marriage to Camilla The Adulterer.
When Charles becomes King (King Charles III, in case anyone is wondering), he will inherit the title as head of the Anglican Church, and many are wondering if he has the moral authority to assume such a role.
These people seem to be forgetting (or denying) English history. The reason the Church of England was established in the first place was exactly because Henry VIII wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, with whom he had been having an affair for at least 2 years prior.
So, when Charles inherits the title of King and head of the Anglican Church, he will be doing so in the true tradition of the church. The archbishop and bishops should be thrilled.
Tim from the UKay.
CRIKEY: Fair point, although technically the church treated Henry VIII’s divorces as annulments, so you could argue they’re not strictly precedents.
And there’s more:
There is a reason why Camilla can’t be Queen if she is Charles’ wife.
For Camilla to be crowned, and therefore officially recognised, as Queen, she has to be married to him within the Church of England. As current arrangements stand, they aren’t – there is an after-the-event “blessing” by the Church, but that holds no legal power under the antediluvian laws surrounding accession to the throne. So, she will be his wife under common law, but not the Queen under the law of succession. Full stop. End of story.
OK, there’s the Australia Act 1986, but the current PM is a fruit-falling-close-to-the-tree man – that’s one reason why the current Queen of Australia is designated as Elizabeth II, even though Elizabeth I never had dominion over this part of the world.
An interesting point, but I’m not convinced. Certainly there’s an argument that members of the royal family can’t validly contract a civil marriage: the BBC has a story about it here. But if the marriage is valid, I think Camilla becomes queen regardless of what the church thinks about it. For comparison, James I’s wife became Queen of England in 1603 even though they had been married under the Church of Scotland – I don’t think they went through any separate Anglican ceremony.