Why do Prince Charles and Camilla have permission to marry?

Why do Prince Charles and Camilla have permission to marry?

by Susan Funaro, December 2009

After a thirty year romance, Prince Charles will finally wed his partner Camilla Parker Bowles on April 8. Evidently, the royals believe major obstacles have been surmounted. However, since the announcement on February 10, minor impediments to ceremonial plans have surfaced. It appears preparations for the royal wedding is less about tradition and precedent than mastering current law and public opinion in time for the nuptials. We nostalgically recall how King Edward VIII (aka the Duke of Windsor) gave up the throne rather than his love, Wallis Simpson. Did Charles succeed where his great uncle, the Duke of Windsor, failed in holding the throne and the "other" woman?

The Great Compromise

Wedding planners are still dashing about ensuring the event is above legal reproach and minimally offensive to the public. One new wrinkle that appeared in the royal starch since the announcement is location. The original wedding ceremony site was to be at WindsorCastle. It has since been switched to the local town hall. The problem: Having the civil service at WindsorCastle would have opened the royal door to allowing commoners to marry there for up to three years.

The second wrinkle appears to be security. The wedding may be open to the public. As of 1994, Britain's Marriage Act allows "unfettered access" to witness a marriage, in order to object, if desired. Needless to say, this raises security concerns not to mention the possibility of unruliness.

But those are not the only hurdles these two lovebirds have faced. The original announcement proclaimed the wedding would be a civil ceremony rather than in the Church of England to appease traditional Anglicans who disapprove remarriage of divorcees. Instead, the Archbishop of Canterbury will provide a blessing after the civil ceremony at the castle's St. George Chapel, followed by a reception. However, the latest debate by constitutional experts is whether royal family members are even allowed to marry in a civil ceremony, since there is no statutory procedure for royalty. There is current speculation that to avoid any emergency legislation the pair may marry in Scotland.

Then, there is the problem of title. Parker Bowles will likely take the title of Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall, rather than beloved Diana's title of Princess of Wales. If and when Charles ascends the throne, Camilla will be named Princess Consort but not queen.

The reception itself will be vastly understated compared to Prince Charles' prior nuptials. About 700 friends and family are expected to attend. A small affair compared when compared with the 3,000 guests who attended when Princess Diana married.

Constitutional Constraints

The question remains: Aren't there constitutional constraints against an English monarch from marrying a divorcee? The English monarch becomes supreme governor of the Church of England and "Defender of the Faith." And, marrying a divorcee it has been said would compromises this role.

Ironically, the Church of England was established in the 1530s by the first "Defender of the Faith," Henry VIII, when he wanted to rid himself of his first wife, Catherine, and then another and another, etc. Divorce was unseemly even in Henry VIII's time. In his time, to remove the stigma of divorce, he had his wives executed.

King Edward VIII impending marriage to Wallis Simpson was depicted in headlines of the day as a "constitutional crisis." She was an American, a divorcee, and a commoner. His abdication in December 1936 and lifetime of exile from England was perceived as the ultimate sacrifice for love.

But, royal disapproval may have been more than moral superiority and snobbery; it may have involved national security. Documents surfaced after the deaths, of the Duke in 1972 and Simpson in 1986, that reveal the amorous pair was frozen out of Britain because of pro-German sympathies that were even under FBI investigation in 1941. Simpson was suspected of passing information to a former lover, who was the Nazi's foreign minister. Simpson was involved with Joachim von Ribbentrop in 1936 when he was ambassador to Britain, and she was supposedly the love of the Duke of Windsor's life.

As Time Goes By

Some obstacles are attenuated by time. Princes William and Harry are grown up, appearing sometimes publicly with their father and Camilla. They will not be perceived as being under the grasp of the wicked stepmother.

The Queen Mother, protector of royal protocol, died in 2002. The Queen Mother's husband ascended the throne as King George VI, December 1936, when his brother abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson. Also, Diana's maternal grandmother was a close friend and lady in waiting to the Queen Mother. These memories were laid to rest with her.

The largest obstacle for Prince Charles and is Camilla is public adulation of Princess Diana and contempt for making her miserable. Diana blamed Parker Bowles for the failure of her marriage, calling her a "Rotweiller" and said the three of them were crowding the royal marriage. But it has been seven years since Princess Diana's death. Parker Bowles divorced her husband in 1995 and has been openly sharing the Prince's residence at the Clarence House in London. Today, the couple even makes public appearances together.

An opinion poll taken last June to test the sentiment about the marriage reveals that the public is still in fact very much split on the subject: 32% approve, 29% opposed, 38% don't care.

The core issue is that the real power behind the modern English Throne is popular opinion. The monarchs of England reign rather than rule with largely ceremonial roles. However, since the royals are subsidized by British taxpayers, it's vital that the royal family not bite the hand that feeds them. What seems to be in their favor is that Charles and his new bride are not on the brink of reigning anytime soon. With longevity running in the family, it is much more likely that Queen Elizabeth may rule for several more decades.

As the big day approaches, scrutiny grows even though it seems clear that the couple's intent was to gain the mass approval that has so eluded them.

Hopefully, by April 8, the hue and cry of loyal subjects will be one of: "Let them eat wedding cake!"