... someday, ROSALIND MILES looks at Camilla Parker Bowles’s determined climb, from mistress to Duchess of Cornwall, and beyond

April 11 2005


... someday, ROSALIND MILES looks at Camilla Parker Bowles’s determined climb, from mistress to Duchess of Cornwall, and beyond

April 11 2005



... someday, ROSALIND MILES looks at Camilla Parker Bowles’s determined climb, from mistress to Duchess of Cornwall, and beyond

WHO WOULD BE CAMILLA PARKER BOWLES? Thirtyfive years ago she kissed a frog, and did not turn into a princess. Decades of misery followed, involving constant ducking and diving, marital treachery, two divorces and Diana’s untimely death. Wallis Simpson could have told her that it’s hard work being the mistress of a depressive with an uneasy relationship to his future role as king. It’s even harder being the mistressin-waiting of a king-in-waiting who by all accounts is in for a very long wait. Especially when you are a persona so non grata that you don’t really exist.

Fast forward to the present, and all that nasty business is in the past. Camilla is with her prince, the first official mistress at the Court of St. James’s since the 18th century. She has her horses and her gilded apartments in the palace, along with the rocks and the frocks and her place in the sun. Then Charles decides to make her Mrs. Wales, and all hell breaks loose.

It’s a national crisis. The Queen is not amused. Night after night the monarch lies alone in the great bed of state, unhappy in the knowledge that the woman in line to be the next queen is deeply unpopular, detested by many of the people of the land. The wife she has supplanted, her long-time rival, was as much loved as the current royal consort is disliked and abused. Can

The relationship started 35 years ago with Camilla’s opening

gambit: ‘My great-grandmother was your great-greatgrandfather’s mistress, so how about it?’ Charles was smitten.

this marriage take place, the nation moans. Every day Camilla picks up her morning newspaper to the same old whinge, “Can you do it, Charles?” and “Can the monarchy survive?” Well, yes, and yes again, possums, because it has done so before. The troubled monarch who weathered this same crisis in 1533 was Henry VIII. His wife was the tall and beautiful Catherine of Aragon, who promptly won all hearts with her sideways smile. And when Henry’s affections strayed to Anne Boleyn, the people took against her with all the violence that still characterizes British soccer hooligans worldwide.

Camilla will know little about Anne Boleyn, and will not be troubled by her ignorance. Born in 1947 to parents who were well-bred and both rich in their own right, she was woefully undereducated, like Diana and all British women of the upper class: keeping the females stupid is an essential plank in perpetuating primogeniture and the dominance of the male. Despite being notionally “finished” in Switzerland, Camilla’s entire education consisted of being prepared to make as lustrous a marriage as she possibly could.

And she aimed for the top. In 1970, she reportedly frisked up to the heir to the throne on a polo field (where else?) with the line, “My great-grandmother was your great-great-grandfather’s mistress,

so how about it?” Charles instantly fell for Camilla’s high-spirited reference to the couple’s amorous forebears, Alice Keppel and Edward VII. He loved her British sense of humour (read “puerile and often gross”), and her refreshing lack of deference toward him. Within weeks he felt sure that Camilla was The One.

But he was only 21 and she was 23, in an age when men deferred marriage for as long as they could and girls were often married at 18 or even younger. As a female in those days, from 24 onward the danger loomed of being “on the shelf.” Charles was too young to commit, and Camilla was too old to wait. Notoriously shy, stiff and emotionally clumsy as a young man, Charles drifted off on a protracted tour of duty with the Royal Navy and Camilla married the dashing officer Andrew Parker Bowles. Some time after that the relationship began.

Those who make a fuss about Charles and Camilla breaking their marriage vows forget how deeply adultery is ingrained in the British upper classes. Young wives were openly groomed by older women with the adage, “the lovers are the flowers: the husband is the tree.” Charles’s unsavoury great-uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, elected himself as the young man’s pimp in his determination to ensure that Charles knew how to play the field, with safely married women being the targets of choice. Before he died, Mountbatten confessed to his official biographer, “Edwina [his wife] and I spent our lives getting in and out of other people’s beds.”

With his goatish great-uncle’s connivance, then, Charles sowed a few unconvincing wild oats. But neither they nor the marriage to Diana compared with what Camilla offered him. In her he found the

woman he now openly proclaims as the love of his life, his “sounding board,” his “touchstone” and, some say, the person who gave him the maternal warmth and devotion he never had. Through her, Charles has found the strength to oppose his formidable mother after decades of dithering and griping, and to put his personal happiness above his duty to the throne. But the marital transgression darkened Charles’s marriage to Diana, and haunts Camilla to this day.

For most of the problems now spring from the guilt that the Great British Public expects the couple to feel about Diana, and which they don’t. All Charles cares about is having his own way, and all Camilla cares about is Charles. Which is why the Queen is having to think for both of them about what the marriage means. Will public devotion to the dead Diana scupper this union before it begins? Will the monarchy withstand a public rebellion against Charles’s conduct and the royal right to choose? The Queen is certainly thinking about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, even if Camilla is cheerfully

Diana’s partisans have portrayed Camilla as a horse-faced and

heartless devourer of an innocent girl’s happiness, remorselessly stalking Charles till she destroyed the marriage and snagged him

blowing such concerns out of her well-upholstered posterior.

The parallels are striking, even at a remove of almost 500 years. Like Camilla, Anne Boleyn took the flak when the besotted monarch divorced Catherine and insisted on marrying her. And when Catherine died, the public blamed Anne for her death. She was hounded through the streets with cries of “Death to the goggle-eyed whore!” Like Diana, the defeated Catherine was always seen as a champion of the underdog, and was adored even more when she was cast offby Henry and became an underdog herself. Contemporaries openly marvelled that Henry could choose the unappetizing Anne over the lovely and gracious Catherine, and many men felt the gallant urge to take up her cause and knock Henry’s block off. Like Diana too, Catherine did not give up without a fight, refusing to accept her divorce, with her supporters dubbing her rival “the Witch,” “the Concubine,” “the Great Whore” and “the Punk from Satan’s stews.”

By these standards, Camilla has got off lightly in the recent drubbing she has received in the British press. But it is no secret that both she and Charles are bitterly disappointed that the announcement of their wedding, intended to be a touchy-feely-good-newsy event, has been so drowned in discord and disarray. There have been signs of princely exasperation: last week, during a ski holiday photo-op with his sons in Switzerland, Charles muttered “I hate doing this—bloody people” about the attendant journalists, apparently unaware of ground microphones in front of him. And the marriage itself, which the couple has wanted since their first meeting, is threatening to explode in a welter of grotesque blunders, family disapproval, tabloid schadenfreude and public bile.

What was the problem? It all seemed simple enough. All Charles

wanted was to marry Camilla in a low-key ceremony at Windsor Castle, the Royal Family’s favourite home. As a divorced woman, and worse, a woman “taken in adultery” after Charles foolishly blabbed the specifics of their relationship to a slavering world press, Camilla could not be married in the Church of England. Charles, too, was tainted by the adultery in sternly religious eyes, though some felt Diana’s death had made him a widower (and therefore marriageable in church) rather than an excluded divorcee.

Still, as the man bom to be supreme governor of the Church, Charles could not push the envelope to accommodate not one but two people who, on his own rattle-headed admission, had flagrantly and repeatedly broken their marriage vows. No church wedding, then, although the Archbishop of Canterbury would bless the union. So what about a quiet civil ceremony en famille, eminently suitable for a couple pushing 60? The advisers were set to work. Make it happen, boys: find the way to arrange this marriage without frightening the horses or waking up Diana’s frail and baleful shade.

Absolutely, sir, right away. Omigod and whoopsi-doodle-do.

How could they all have got it so horribly wrong? Never in the history of British royalty has man or monarch been so ill-served. Alongside the newspaper attacks on her, Camilla has woken every day to face another revelation in a catalogue of cock-ups by a raft of courtiers, lawyers and government ministers.

The questions were clear: could the heir to the throne and future head of the Church of England be married in a civil ceremony and not by the Church? And could he marry Camilla at Windsor Castle as he had always hoped? The answer to the second question was clear: according to the legislation regulating non-religious weddings,

anyone can marry on their own premises, provided the place has dignity, space and the appropriate facilities, which we may assume Windsor Castle has. The catch is that once the venue is licensed, everyone else has the right to wed there too. The wedding itself must also be open to the public, so that any “just cause or impediment” against the marriage, such as bigamy, may be raised. If Charles married Camilla in the castle’s chapel, as planned, could the Queen countenance her subjects traipsing en masse through her parlour, or Joe and Joelene Public subsequently using her pad to tie their humble knot? Not a lot.

So Camilla and Charles couldn’t marry at dear old Windsor. Since he is subject to the Royal Marriages Act with all its antique prohibitions, and she was a divorced bill of goods, could they, in fact, be married at all? Caught on the hop, the lord chancellor rushed out a statement approving the marriage a fortnight after the announcement had been made. But by then, the frenzy of questioning was unstoppable. The crassest and most illiterate of the nation’s red-topped tabloids hurled money at constitutional lawyers, clerics and academics for their expert advice.

Meanwhile, Charles’s own staff did no better in protecting their master and his long-suffering mistress from ongoing humiliation and blame. Charles’s private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, had assured Charles that Windsor would be okay, tainted like all royal servants by the fixed conviction that royals should simply be able to do what they want. With the castle a no-go, Peat hastily shifted the venue to the Windsor town hall, before discovering that the legislation requiring weddings to be open to the public applies there too.

Well, what do you know? It’s always a surprise to British royals

when they have to obey the law of the land. Unhappy with Camilla from the first, the Queen was incandescent that the marriage of the heir to the throne had to take place in a shabby civic venue, right above the town’s public toilets, under the scrutiny of the Great Unwashed. Her disapproval was swiftly made plain. Camilla was winded but not at all surprised when the Queen announced that she would not attend the civil ceremony, and that the promised wedding banquet would be reduced to a “finger buffet.”

But where is the bride-to-be in

_ all this? We know nothing from

Camilla directly, because, unlike Diana, she unquestioningly obeys the British upper class imperative, “Never complain, never explain,” and keeps her mouth shut. Like the Queen Mother, Camilla never gives an interview, never speaks to the press. Brits will never know the sound of her voice, as they all instantly recognize every note of the Queen’s. Charles loves Camilla extravagantly for this loyalty, baffled and tormented as he was by Diana’s compulsion to kiss ’n’ tell.

Camilla’s reticence allows the world to make of her what it will. The blank screen she offers has created some predictable projections,

and scorn. When Diana was alive, nothing could dent the people’s adoration for the Teflon Princess. Diana, as we now know, was working her way through a small tribe of inappropriate lovers, making Charles’s life as miserable as she could, using her sons shamelessly in the war against her spouse and teetering on the verge of going nuts. By contrast, Camilla was a model of reticence and fortitude, displaying unswerving fidelity to Charles, devotion to the Royal Family and willingness to obey any orders to make things work. Yet Camilla was the one taunted and vilified by the press. Fortunately, she eats and sleeps well, and does not brood.

She will need all her strength. As it now emerges, Charles was trying to mask a deeper issue about Camilla and bamboozle both public and Parliament in his fixed determination to get his own way. He wanted to marry Camilla, but he knew that many Brits were opposed to the idea of her stepping into Diana’s shoes. So he came up with a plan to have his cake and eat it, to marry Camilla but pretend he hadn’t put her in Diana’s place and made her his queen.

At first, it looked as if he had got away with it. When the announcement was made, Britain’s shameless and vindictive tabloid press went to work on the mistakes of the arrangements and the miserable wedding venue, and little comment was aroused by Charles’s state-

If Charles married Camilla in Windsor Castle’s chapel, as was

originally planned, could the Queen countenance her subjects traipsing en masse through her parlour? Not a lot.

showing that the War of the Waleses is still alive years after Diana’s death. Diana’s partisans have her as a horse-faced and heartless devourer of an innocent girl’s happiness, remorselessly stalking Charles till she destroyed the marriage and snagged him for herself. Her champions, and they are not all Charles’s PR men or his sycophantic friends, believe that she enhances his life and softens his public image, showing him lit by the light of love, laughing and relaxed. On Charles’s visit to Perth, Australia, this March, crowds gathered to shout “Good luck, Charles! Have a lovely wedding,” and “Give our love to Camilla.”

But back in Britain, the anti-Charles-’n’-Camilla fun goes on. It’s just as well Camilla has a cheerful disposition and a sturdy character, formed in the saddle and the great outdoors. Camilla learned all she knew in the hunting field, the original school of hard knocks and painful falls, where muck and nettles are the options of the day.

Previously part of the royal inner circle thanks to her husband, who was a senior member of the Queen’s Household Cavalry, she was made persona non grata when the Queen learned of her involvement with Charles, and cast into the shadows behind the throne, where she has languished to this day. The very shadows, indeed, that Charles intended to rescue her from, before the courtiers did their worst. Under Henry VIII, heads would have rolled. But the Queen is not troubled that Camilla has become the current whipping boy for the errors of those paid to iron out such problems. Nevertheless, a number of her subjects think that Camilla has every right to feel aggrieved at the way she has been hung out to dry.

Yet once again Camilla’s robust British common sense has come to her aid. She already knows what it is to be the butt of public hate

ment that Camilla will never be queen. The couple’s choice of a title for her after the wedding, Duchess of Cornwall, was hailed with general approval as a sensitive gesture towards Diana’s still-lingering ghost, recognizing that In this generation, there will only be one Princess ofWales. As the second wife, Camilla takes Charles’s secondbest title, and that’s fine.

But if he becomes king, Charles slipped in, Camilla will be known as the Princess Consort, not queen. Fine again, no? Another delicate nod of respect toward Diana, the Queen Who Never Was. And there was a recent historical precedent when Queen Victoria made her husband, Albert, her Prince Consort in 1857, not her king. Reaching farther back, which Brits love to do when attempting to stand up some especially egregious piece of dissimulation, look at Philip II of Spain. When His Most Holy Catholic Majesty married Henry VTII’s daughter Mary Tudor in 1554, he was never made king of England despite pushing for it with all his Spanish might and main.

But the British monarchy is based on the system of male primogeniture, which favours the first-born son over all. A female only ever rules in the absence of the male, and must be succeeded by the next available male. Also, queens never have all the rights of a man: Mary and Victoria did not have the power to make their husbands kings. The reverse is true for Charles when he sits on the throne. By age-old precedent, under British law, a wife takes her husband’s status, not the other way round. If Charles becomes king, he does not have the power to deny Camilla her due. Whatever he styles her, she will be queen. Charles, his mother and all those who work the hidden strings of state know this, of course. The flim-flam about Camilla’s titles is simply a ruse to placate

It’s impossible to overestimate the cold ferocity of Charles’s

determination to be king. And Camilla will be his queen-in spite of his ploy to present her in a deceptively lowly role.

Diana’s vengeful spirit and the still-twitching rump of her faithful followers, many of whom are as suggestible, unstable and emotionally violent as their patron saint. Why bother about any of this, you may ask, or indeed, who cares? Charles cares and the Queen cares even more. Nothing must be done that might rock the royal boat.

Alas, Charles’s leaky vessel has shipped so much water that public esteem of him has now fallen to an all-time low. His efforts to protect Camilla from comparison with Diana have only succeeded in awakening that sad and unquiet shade. His ploy to present Camilla to the Great British Public in a deceptively lowly role, then simply confront his subjects with a fait accompli when he becomes king, has blown up in his face. With only days to go before the wedding, the government has been forced to admit that Camilla cannot be un-queened on Charles’s decree. Once they are married, it will take an act of Parliament to deny Camilla the rank of queen, and no one supposes this would take place.

Charles had already declared his relationship with Camilla “nonnegotiable,” and now his future subjects understand what he means. And he has not given up hope of bringing everyone round. The Queen condoned the marriage on the grounds that it would regularize an awkward situation and might even bring the Royal Family some goodwill. Everyone loves a wedding, and the elderly lovers could have touched the Great British Heart, if the nuptials had been handled with a modicum of tact and skill.

And no one does state occasions and royal weddings like the Brits. At 57, Camilla may not get the crinoline, the tiara, the glass slipper and the golden coach of the Princess Bride, but after 35 years in the shadows, surely she has earned her moment at centre stage? Well, not quite. The Royal Family has overplayed the marriage card, many feel. The wedding of Charles and Diana had the nation all agog, but Andrew and Fergie, alas, brought in the clowns. And after the public derision aroused by the sexual and financial shenanigans of “the Duchess of Pork,” even the deliberately reduced ceremony of Edward and Sophie looked overblown. Yet in the great British spirit of tolerance, let us wish Charles and Camilla well. Their life together will not be an easy ride. For there will be three of them in the marriage, just as Diana complained of Charles’s first time around. Whatever they do, they will always be under the power of the Queen. “What will your mother think?” will dominate their breakfast-table conversations, and pillow talk at night.

It’s the ultimate non-job, waiting for your mother to die. Especially when the said mater is “as tough as a yak,” according to one of her closest courtiers, and when the mater’s mater lived to be 101. The Queen, by these stakes, is a girlish 78, a non-smoker, moderate tippler, daily exerciser, and looks destined to live to 201. So one of Camilla’s never-ending tasks will be to keep Charles’s spirits up as he slogs through the Arctic wastes of Not-Now toward the land of Yet-To-Be. But it’s impossible to overestimate the cold ferocity of Charles’s determination to become king. Ascending the throne, in

Charles’s mind, is the only way to vindicate all he has done before. The most recalcitrant of his subjects will have to bend the knee to the will of King Charles III. And his queen, formerly Mrs. Parker Bowles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Will the marriage, complete with the splendour that even a lowkey royal wedding must provide, catch the hearts of the generally easygoing Brits and make them smile on Camilla? In truth, neither Charles nor anyone in his party gives a damn. Camilla is the one: Charles will marry her, and if he accedes, she will be queen. As for Diana’s faithful but dwindling band of loyalists, poof! This is the reality of royal power. At last it will come true, in life and on the commemorative wedding mugs, C and C forever intertwined, just as they were on the fateful initialled cufflinks, Camilla’s 1981 wedding present to Charles, that devastated Diana on their illstarred honeymoon. The people don’t like it and Parliament is in a state? Too bad. Let them eat cake. I?il

Rosalind Miles Isa British novelist, academic and social commentator. Among her many books are Who Cooked The Last Supper?: The Women’s History of the World, Guenevere, and /, Elizabeth.