Should Camilla Be Queen?

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Well, Melanie McDonagh at The Spectator certainly doesn’t think so. She argues that 2017 isn’t going to be a great year for the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall as they wince their way through the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and all the re-surfacing of old stories emerges. Specifically, the re-hashing of the Wales’s famously unhappy marriage will undermine efforts to have Camilla named as queen when Charles eventually succeeds his mother on the throne.

Personally, I think the campaign to make Camilla palatable to the public since the events of 1997 has been one of most effective and ruthless displays of PR ever executed by the Royal Family, so let’s dive right in:

McDonagh: The Prince wants her to get the ultimate recognition, the 15-gun salute, that goes with the title of queen. It may have been good enough for Prince Albert to be prince consort and for the Duke of Edinburgh to be the Duke of Edinburgh, but Prince Charles — a notoriously stubborn man — wants us to have Camilla on his terms.

This is a weird comparison because Camilla is being compared to Prince Albert and Prince Philip, two men. The consorts of queen regnants works differently and their husbands aren’t given the title of king. I’ll grant you there was a strange interlude when Mary I married the future Philip II of Spain, but that was the 16th century and that union was such a political and domestic disaster the only precedent it set was to never, ever repeat it. The point is, the discussion of Albert or Philip ever being made king is very different than that of Camilla being made queen.

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This exact situation is actually unprecedented in Britain, which for an institution that’s been around for about 1,000 years in its current form makes it quite fun! The last time there was a divorced monarch was George I, who reigned from 1714 to 1727, and he never remarried. And before him it was Henry VIII whose second wife (the “Camilla,” if you will) was Anne Boleyn and that’s probably not the template Clarence House is looking to follow.

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McDonagh: Plainly she likes her position — unlimited means, beautiful jewels, lovely clothes and an undemanding and agreeable lifestyle — and when she does her charity work (her pet project is osteoporosis) she’s respectfully received, though there’s nothing like the adulation Diana got. Her children are kept judiciously, amicably, separate from Clarence House and Sandringham — contrast with the Middletons, who are very much in evidence.

None of this false, per se, but I would offer some perspective. We have no idea if Camilla likes her position. Presumably she likes Charles and was willing to marry him and take on a public role, but beyond that she hasn’t exactly been jaunting around England clicking her heels so that feels like an overly confident statement. As for the “unlimited means,” is there anyone who wouldn’t? The jewels and the clothes I actually don’t necessarily agree with as Camilla spent the majority of her life famously “undone.” She was never a fashion plate and didn’t seem too fussed by any of it. She’s slightly more groomed and put together now, but she’s also photographed about a million times more than she was before, so who wouldn’t be?

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Regarding her reception, sure. But she’s also not a glamorous 20 or 30-something wearing the show-stopping designs. She was in her 50s when she married Charles and a grandmother. The interest and scrutiny is naturally going to be less, but that’s the case with literally anyone that isn’t Diana. I don’t read that as a condemnation of Camilla herself.

And her children, well, they are both grown, married and have children of their own. So, yes, they are separate. No, they aren’t at Christmas at Sandringham, etc., but 1) I don’t think there was ever an expectation that they would be 2) I don’t know why they would want to be and 3) If they did pop up, I really don’t think anyone would really care much past the inevitable commentary that it’s their first time there. Also, that might very well change once Charles is king. She wouldn’t be the first queen consort to have children from a previous marriage.

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Camilla with her children, Tom Parker-Bowles and Laura Lopes

McDonagh: The PR from the Palace is that William and Harry are best friends with Camilla; the reality may be a little edgier. They know how their parents’ marriage unravelled. But they are, crucially, financially dependent on their father. William will cease to be only when he’s Prince of Wales; that may affect their behaviour.

“May” being the operative word here. We have no idea what William and Harry make of Camilla, but I would posit that they’re both grown men in their 30s and their thoughts and feelings have probably evolved quite a bit since they were teenagers. While unnamed sources go back and forth claiming that William and Harry alternately love or hate their stepmother, I think the clearest indication is actually the warm relationship that Camilla has with Kate – one that is evidenced in photos, but also from anecdotes here and there, such as the lunch the two had during Kate’s engagement to chat about wedding plans. I have no idea whether William has a close relationship with Camilla, but a civil, pleasant dynamic is perfectly adequate for one to have with the woman that married your father when you were 23.

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Even if William were biding his time until he was financially independent, I have a hard time picturing there being a dramatic about-face if for no other reason than I think William would hate the press attention and speculation that would garner. Even when William is the prince of Wales, Charles will be king and there will still be a certain amount of dependence, regardless.

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McDonagh: And for Prince Harry, Camilla has meant his relationship with Meghan Markle has had an easy ride. Once, the notion that the Prince of Wales’s son might marry an American divorcee would have been huge — shades of Wallis Simpson. In the wake of Charles marrying his mistress, whose husband is very much alive, Ms Markle doesn’t seem such a big deal.

That’s giving Camilla a lot of credit, when in reality what I think has become clear is that attempting to regulate the personal lives of adult members of the RF has led to more scandal than decency. There’s been a gradual relaxing of these standards following the divorces of the 1990s, from how Prince Edward’s relationship with Sophie Rhys-Jones was handled, to Zara Philips having lived with an ex-boyfriend during their relationship, to no one raising an eyebrow when William and Kate set up house together in Wales prior to their engagement. Camilla is certainly one facet of this story, but to insinuate that Harry is in any way grateful for his father’s relationship with her because it makes life easier for him today as he dates Meghan Markle is a bit much.

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McDonagh: Which brings us to the real reason why I think Queen Camilla would be a bad thing. It would reward adultery, a relationship between two people married to others, which caused enormous hurt to their respective spouses. To crown Camilla queen would be to suggest that adultery doesn’t matter, that if you persist in wrong behaviour long enough it’ll be worth your while, at least in this life. A lesser title would seem less overtly triumphalist. Camilla is a mistress made good; if she were queen, it would be to diminish the residual value of matrimony. That matters.

Yeah, this is the heart of it, really – the belief that Camilla needs to be punished for having played a part in hurting Diana. But that’s not how life works and holding Camilla up as an example 30 years later won’t in any way decrease the rate of adultery. It’s the 21st century equivalent of having the king’s mistress walk through the streets of London as penance (read: Jane Shore). The argument here isn’t that Charles is hardly the first or only member of the RF to commit adultery (though he isn’t), but rather that he is hardly the only person to commit adultery. He was one half of an unhappy marriage in which there was mutual infidelity, so is our argument that…he started it? There’s no need to legislate who was at fault in the Wales’s marriage, because that’s not really the problem here.

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The issue is holding public figures accountable for their personal lives. More specifically, holding members of the RF up as paragons of virtue. Sure, we can all get behind the idea that adultery is bad. No one is “pro-adultery.” But why would we continue the practice of holding the BRF up as the standard bearers for a certain kind of morality? We do realize doing this is part of what prompted the ill-advised match between Charles and Diana in the first place? That led to the consensus that Camilla was “unsuitable” by the standards of the late 1970s? Who wins by diminishing Camilla’s entire existence to that of a “former mistress?” Why wouldn’t we attempt to take a step back and understand that two people having made choices that at one point hurt other people might not be the sum total of their character? And how would doing that be much different from, say, branding Hester Prynne with a scarlet “A”?

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To be clear, setting a public standard for the “residual value of matrimony” is the same argument used against legalizing gay marriage. And I think we all benefit from sidestepping measures that use judging the relationships of others to strengthen our own.

When Charles ascends the throne Camilla will legally be the queen of England, just as she is now legally the Princess of Wales, regardless of whether she uses the title. That was done the moment she married Charles 12 years ago. Her using any other title is just optics and it’s worth considering why it’s being asked of her.

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2 thoughts on “Should Camilla Be Queen?

  1. Pingback: Rebecca Starr Brown

  2. Pingback: Royal Roundup Feb. 25 – March 3: William & Kate Set for Poland & Germany, Felipe & Letizia Might Visit & Meghan is in Jamaica With Harry – Rebecca Starr Brown

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