Later today the Prince of Wales is due in France to honor of the centennial of World War I’s Battle of Vimy Ridge with the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry. But it’s also his 12-year wedding anniversary with his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall – a wedding that was unprecedented, wholly modern, and paved a grey area that won’t be fully formed until Charles ascends the throne.
Charles and Camilla’s engagement was announced in February 2005 with a wedding date initially set for April 8th. It was further announced that the ceremony would be a civil service followed by a religious prayer, a necessary specification because of Charles’s future role as the Head of the Church of England, and the fact that this would be a “remarriage,” the couple having divorced their first spouses. Even so, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed their full support for what was a controversial union.
Notably, Charles didn’t elect to marry Camilla in Scotland as his sister, the Princess Royal, did when she married her second husband in 1992. There’s considerably more flexibility for remarriage in Scotland, however it’s likely that given Charles’s future as monarch it was considered preferable that he marry on English ground and circumvent the idea that anything about this marriage was secret or less than ideal.
Charles is the first senior member of the Royal Family to be married in a civil ceremony. He’s also the first senior royal to divorce and remarry in modern times. (Let’s go ahead and set aside the example of Henry VIII for obvious reasons.) Since then, divorce, even as a subject to brush up against, has been rare. When George I ascended the British throne in 1714 he was divorced from his wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, on the grounds of her adultery (his, of course, was acceptable). He amused himself with mistresses, but never remarried. Between 1818 and 1821, George IV tried unsuccessfully to divorce his wife, Caroline of Brunswick; he would be saved by her death a year-and-a-half after his accession, but he never attempted to remarry.
The next serious case of divorce was that of Edward VIII and the “woman he loved,” Wallis Warfield Simpson, but the issue there wasn’t his or their divorce, but hers. As a twice-divorced American, Simpson was considered wholly unsuitable and largely hated by Edward’s government and extended family. He abdicated in December 1936, the idea that a king could force “such a woman” on his people too much to be borne.
Some 20 years later, his niece and Charles’s aunt, Princess Margaret, would be forced to choose between duty and love in the form of Group Captain Peter Townsend, a divorced member of George VI and the Queen Mother’s household. She chose duty at age 25 and ended up marrying Antony Armstrong-Jones, Earl of Snowdon five years later, a union that would end in the first notable divorce in modern history of a senior royal.
In that way, Margaret gave Charles some cushion when, in 1992, his separation from his first wife, Diana, Princess of Wales, was announced. Even so, it was a scandal of epic proportions, not helped by Diana’s fame, beauty, and popularity, all of which made her a figure of worldwide fascination. Their divorce was finalized in 1996, a year before her shocking death in Paris.
So, where did that leave Camilla? Well, where indeed? Charles and Camilla had a brief relationship in 1972 when she was in an “off” period with her long-term boyfriend, Andrew Parker-Bowles. To make matters more complicated, during one such break, Andrew had a romance with the Princess Royal before she married her first husband, Mark Phillips, in 1973.
Anecdotes from that initial relationship speak to the couple’s compatibility and to Charles’s strong feelings. However, the narrative that’s sprung up that he would have married her but for the fact he needed to marry a virgin is a bit misguided. Yes, there was an outdated (and unhelpful) expectation in the 1970s and 1980s that the future queen appear virginal, but that’s not what stopped Charles from proposing. It’s worth remembering he was only 24.
Charles left for a stint in the Navy and Camilla rekindled her relationship with Andrew. They married on July 4, 1973 in a Catholic ceremony attended by the Queen (who liked Camilla), Princess Margaret, the Princess Royal and the Queen Mother. The couple went on to have two children, Tom (born in 1974 and of whom Charles is a godfather) and Laura (born in 1978).
The Parker-Bowles marriage was reportedly on the rocks by 1978 due to Andrew’s infidelity, and Charles and Camilla resumed their relationship. There’s not too much to say about this; for some, the fact that they engaged in adultery is a deal breaker. Others are willing to argue in shades of grey. But I would add in here that for all that Camilla became the poster child for the “other woman,” she was first on the other end of it. Whether that makes her later actions worse is up to you, but I do think it adds a bit more depth to what her choices looked like from the outside.
As for Charles and Diana, the story has been re-hashed enough times, I won’t get into the details here today. They married in 1981, had two children, William and Harry, in 1982 and 1984, respectively. Infidelity was mutual by 1986, though likely begun with Charles and Camilla picking back up. Much has been made about to what extent the couple was in touch or romantically involved in the first five years of the Wales’ marriage, but I personally buy that while there was a friendship, nothing really happened until 1986 when both parties had essentially given up. By all accounts, the couple had been sleeping apart (and all that insinuates) since Harry’s birth and bitterness, weariness, and unhappiness had seemingly grown insurmountable.
From that point on, the Charles and Camilla affair was in full swing. And no, it wasn’t a good look. I’ve no idea whether there’s any truth to Charles defending his relationship by saying he wasn’t going to be the first Prince of Wales without a mistress, but if it was said in earnest, it’s mainly annoying because it’s historically inaccurate…unless there’s some dirty laundry he cares to share about his ancestors. When Edward VIII was Prince of Wales, he wasn’t married – his partners may have been, but the fact that there wasn’t a Princess of Wales at home with the kids gives it a rather different twist. As far as we know, too, George V wasn’t carrying on affairs behind Mary of Teck’s back between 1901 and 1910. I’m also assuming he’s talking about the Windsors and not every Prince of Wales in history, because, well, that would take a long time to refute.
But as we know, the infidelity was mutual. The (presumably) unspoken set-up was that the couple essentially became co-parents and co-workers, carrying out engagements publicly and carrying out their personal lives with discretion. At least, I think this is what Charles probably landed on; as we also know, this wasn’t a deal in which Diana was particularly interested in participating. What she wanted was likely not wholly based in reality – a husband that wasn’t Charles, or a Charles that was a completely different person. And Charles had Camilla.
It’s sad and it ended tragically. A lot of adults with a great deal of responsibility behaved very badly and did so publicly while thinking they were a victim. There’s not much of a defense to be made, except that unhappy marriages are a unique sort of hell. It’s easy to judge, particularly 20-30 years later, but I prefer to weigh all of it with empathy. The mistake was the marriage going forward in the first place, but so many factors that would come into play were unknowns; perhaps first and foremost that is true of Diana herself, who was only 20 when she became Princess of Wales.
By the time the divorce was finalized, Charles made it clear Camilla was a permanent fixture in his life. (Camilla and Andrew finally divorced in 1995.) There began a slow, long-term plan to begin to ease Camilla into the public eye as Charles’s partner, largely master-minded by the Prince’s comms team. By the ’90s, of course, Camilla had not only been outed as the Prince’s mistress, but was widely reviled as the source of Diana’s unhappiness. Between that and Diana laying the groundwork with the public that Charles shouldn’t be king, Charles wasn’t in an enviable position – the marriage he had entered into out of duty stood to possibly derail his ability to effectively fulfill his position, and possibly inherit the throne.
Diana’s death in 1997 – and the outpouring of grief that followed it – blew that strategy out of the water. Even the Queen herself found she wasn’t immune to being tarred by public outrage over the Royal Family’s treatment of the late Princess. But while plans to introduce Camilla at Charles’s side before the world were delayed, they weren’t abandoned. They made their first public appearance together in 1999. In 2000, Camilla began to accompany Charles on engagements. By the end of that year, the Queen acknowledged Camilla at an event, marking her approval of (at least) her existence. By 2002, when the Queen celebrated her Golden Jubilee, Camilla was not only invited, but allowed to sit in the Royal Box.
By 2004, a year before their engagement was announced, Camilla was essentially living in Clarence House, though she retained her own private residence (she actually still does) and bets were being taken on when it would be made official. The answer was February 10, 2005 and a poll taken at the time indicated that the majority of the British public was in favor of the match. By then, the attitude was – and kind of has to be, right? – just let them get on with it. They were in their 50s, clearly devoted to one another and had gone through hell to be with each other. Was it elegant or deftly handled? No, but you can’t undo what’s been done.
It was a ruthless PR operation, but it had been effective. As I discussed a couple months ago, the campaign to make Camilla palatable was an impressive animal, one that often offered up the popular William and Harry as leverage, arguing that if they, Diana’s beloved and loyal sons could put up with Camilla then why can’t you?
A week after their engagement was announced, with a wedding scheduled for Windsor Castle, the location changed. Apparently it was discovered after the fact that licensing the castle for a civil ceremony meant making it available for any couple three years hence. Ha, no. The ceremony was moved to Windsor Guildhall. Five days later, the Palace announced that the Queen wouldn’t be attending, but would go to the prayer service that followed and host the reception. The reasoning was that the couple wanted to keep things low-key. Again, ha, no.
I’m fond of Charles, I really am, but this is a man whose valet is as necessary to his upkeep as his right arm. He damned well would have wanted his mother there if she wanted to be, because it marked an approval of not only him and his choices, but his wife, who I believe he views as an extension of the former.
But if there’s one issue where the Queen is immovable it is her position as Head of the Church of England and the couple in question were both divorced. The remarriage was secular and that was that.
A further stumbling block came when the funeral of Pope John Paul II was scheduled for the same day. The Palace made the decision to postpone the wedding by 24 hours, allowing Charles to attend the funeral on the Queen’s behalf and give certain guests the ability to pay their respects at both events.
The wedding took place at 12:30 pm on April 9th, with William and Tom Parker-Bowles standing as witnesses. Fun fact: The event took place only a few weeks before William was due to graduate from St. Andrews and there was speculation as to whether his then-girlfriend, Kate Middleton, would accompany him. She did not.
In one of the most Medieval aspects of the ceremony, Charles and Camilla were prompted to offer a prayer of repentance from the Book of Common Prayer for their prior adultery and divorces. In fact, they had to say the following:
“We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.”
That over, they could finally celebrate. According to The Telegraph’s coverage of the wedding:
Standing beside the couple’s wedding cake at the reception she hosted in Windsor Castle, the Queen told almost 800 guests that she had two important announcements to make: the first was that Hedgehunter had won the Grand National and the second applied to the heir to the throne and his new bride, whom she welcomed to the “winner’s enclosure.”
One guest said the Queen, who toasted the couple, said: “They have overcome Becher’s Brook and The Chair and all kinds of other terrible obstacles, They have come through and I’m very proud and wish them well. My son is home and dry with the woman he loves.”
Another guest said that Prince Charles had replied with an equally warm and appreciative speech in which he thanked “my darling Camilla who has stood with me through thick and thin – and whose precious optimism and humour have seen me through.” The Prince also regretted that the Queen Mother, who died in 2002 aged 101, had not witnessed the wedding.
He specifically thanked “my dear mama” for meeting the bill for the wedding. He also paid tribute to “my sons – they would be annoyed if I called them my children”.
This is so 2005, I love it. First of all, the nod to William and Harry being at the charming ages of 23 and 21. Secondly, the appreciation to the Queen picking up the bill and the horse racing metaphor. And finally, the nod to the Queen Mother, who I’m going to be honest with you, definitely would NOT have been a fan of that whole wedding ceremony – and possibly not of the marriage itself, however much she loved her grandson.
Anyway, the 1981 royal wedding this was not, but as we have so recently seen from the couple in Italy and Austria on their recent abroad tour, they are not only still together, but extremely happy. To that I say, Happy Anniversary.