Charles and Camilla: My View

On February 10, 2005, blogger Mark Sullivan e-mailed me to ask my reaction to that day's news that the Prince of Wales would marry Camilla Parker Bowles on April 8. This is my reply.

I have mixed feelings about this marriage. On the one hand, I am relieved that an issue that has dogged the monarchy for almost nine years has been resolved. Clearly it would not do to have a king with no wife but only a "companion" who everyone knows is his mistress but with no official title or role. As Duchess of Cornwall and (eventually) Princess Consort, Camilla will be able to be treated officially as the wife of the Prince of Wales and (eventually) King, without excessively antagonizing the fanatical Diana loyalists who regard the titles of Princess of Wales and Queen (Consort) as somehow rightfully belonging to Diana alone. (One wonders if the adherents of the Diana cult will object to the wife of Prince William taking the title of "Princess of Wales" when he is heir to the throne.) So I can understand why Clarence House came up with this settlement (which has precedents in the history of continental royalty but not in Britain, where royal wives have always taken their husbands' titles). As unmarried "companion," Camilla's situation has been a protocol headache as well as a moral concern.

On the other hand, I am enough of a traditionalist to be a little uncomfortable with the prospect of an official royal consort, which Camilla will be even if she is not styled "Queen," whose ex-husband is still alive. (Reports that Andrew Parker Bowles, a Catholic, was granted an annulment by the Catholic Church would seem to make this concern a moot point.)

It is also disturbing that Camilla was a central figure in the very public and embarrassing breakdown of Charles and Diana's marriage. (This is troubling even though I certainly do not idolize Diana, and feel that there was blame on both sides.)

However, I think it has been obvious for some time that Charles had no intention of ending his relationship with Camilla. I suppose the hardline traditionalist position would be to demand that in this case he renounce the throne as Edward VIII did. I would not favor this for three reasons:

So, if one accepts that Charles and Camilla's relationship was not going to end, and rejects (as Charles himself obviously does) the idea that he should be forced to renounce the throne in order to marry her, there remain only two possibilities: either an indefinite continuation of their public non-marital relationship, or marriage. When the issue is framed this way, I think all monarchists have to be glad that Charles and Camilla have chosen the latter.

I do wonder if the announcement that Camilla will be merely "Princess Consort" and not "Queen" when Charles becomes King is merely a ploy to try to gradually prepare the public to accept her, and if they are hoping that by the time he succeeds to the throne, memories of 1992 will be so distant that it will be politically possible to proclaim her Queen after all. [I suppose I had this thought because I've read that Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, whose assassination in 1914 provoked WWI, secretly intended to raise his morganatic (unequal) wife to Imperial status after he became emperor.] But this is pure speculation on my part.

In summary, I would say that while I have my reservations, I am basically glad at the news and wish the couple all possible happiness.

--Theodore Harvey
February 10, 2005

Since I wrote this, two commentators I respect have expressed more critical views of the marriage. I present below their articles for an alternative view which, at least, merits consideration.

Gerald Warner, Charles ought to give up either Camilla or the throne (February 13, 2005)
Peter Hitchens, Charles has gained a princess...and lost his right to rule (February 15, 2005)

Further thoughts, inspired by this analysis: Charles -- Defender of the Faith? (March 10, 2005)

In general, I respect intransigent clerics such as Rev. Paul Williamson. I applaud his opposition to women's ordination and his medieval understanding of the spiritual dimension of monarchy. In fact, I think that if there were no significant republican movement in Britain (as there was not in 1936), I might be right there with him, demanding that Prince Charles choose between Camilla and the throne. But I don't feel comfortable with adding to the constant negativity towards the royal family from the Left with more attacks from the Right.

[This may seem an inconsistent position for me to take, since I am fairly sympathetic to traditionalist Catholics who criticize the Pope from the Right. But there are these two crucial differences: the Papacy cannot be abolished, and the Pope is still (at least theoretically) in charge of the Church as the Queen is not in charge of Great Britain. Therefore I don't think the two situations are equivalent.]

If I had the opportunity to talk to Rev. Williamson, I would ask him if he would rather Britain become a republic than have Charles as King with Camilla as his "Princess Consort" (whatever that is). He might very well answer "yes." If so, then that is where I part company with him; I refuse to make the Perfect the enemy of the Good.

Any Christian could defend Prince Charles by pointing out that we are all sinners. I think part of the problem for people like Rev. Williamson, though, is that there has never been any indication that the Prince of Wales is truly sorry for the way he acted (his reported comment "I refuse to be the first Prince of Wales in history not to have a mistress" is most unfortunate) or fully grasps the depth of and reasons for popular opposition to Camilla.

Throughout his relationship with Camilla, Charles's only thought has seeemed to be to somehow force people to accept it by declaring it "non-negotiable" and presenting the country with a fait accompli. As reported following the February 10 announcement, he probably even hopes that public opinion will eventually shift enough for her to be proclaimed Queen and fully accepted as such. I would not be so optimistic.

I am sure that Prince Charles regards the idea that he should have to choose between the throne and Camilla as ridiculous and cruel. In his defense, he works extremely hard in his role; reading about his tour of Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji this morning I was struck by how tired he must be and how consistently cheerful and friendly he nevertheless appeared in the photographs. I suspect that the Prince of Wales is all too aware of how hard he works and what a difference he has made in so many people's lives, and consequently feels, perhaps understandably, that given all he has done to prepare to be King he ought to be able to do what he wants in his private life.

It is not that Prince Charles lacks any understanding of the obligations and sacrifices inherent in being royal; in most areas he outshines all previous Princes of Wales. But he will not even consider the possibility that such sacrifice should extend to his private life; he is determined to marry the woman he loves and be king even at the risk of alienating both the many ordinary people with whom Camilla is unpopular and his natural allies among those (like Rev. Williamson) who most fully appreciate the importance of the institution he serves.

For an unconditional monarchist like me, the future King Charles III's obvious dedication, compassion, enthusiasm, intelligence, thoughtfulness, and patriotism is enough. But will it be enough for Britain, given his refusal to extend that selflessness to his personal life? I'm not sure.

--Theodore Harvey
March 11, 2005