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.
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 <http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,12214537%255E601,00.html> :
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.
The British media has always played a large role in Prince Charles’s life and the announcement of his engagement to Camilla Parker-Bowles was no exception.
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 <http://> 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 <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1479771,00.html> 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 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/monarchy/story/0,2763,1410617,00.html >, a feverish condition feared by all good republicans. The Independent < http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/story.jsp?story=609935> 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 <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A15400-2005Feb10.html> 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 <http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,12214537%255E601,00.html>, rated it below North Korea’s nuclear weapons. The backlash has already started, however, with the republican movement <http://www.theage.com.au/news/Breaking-News/Republicans-get-a-royal-boost-ARM/2005/02/11/1108061849287.html> claiming it as the biggest boost to their cause since Prince Harry’s visit to Australia.
Crikey psephologist and part-time constitutional expert Charles Richardson writes:
This morning The Australian followed up Crikey’s comments of last week, on legality of Charles and Camilla’s marriage and whether Camilla will actually be a queen.
The story – Charles and Camilla: will it be legal? <http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,12248925%255E2703,00.html> – 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 from the later update in The Oz – Charles marriage legal, say aides <http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,12251181%255E1702,00.html> – says:
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 <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3284-1479336,00.html>