This article was originally published on February 10, 2022. This is a version, updated on September 9, 2022.
“Did you know that my great-great-grandmother Alice was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII? So we have something in common,” Camilla joked while meeting Prince Charles in the summer of 1971. Itʼs possible to believe in this legend. 22-year-old Charles just finished another love affair. And 23-year-old Camilla was experiencing yet another betrayal of her lover, an officer of the Royal Horse Guards, Andrew Parker-Bowles. They were rumored to have been introduced by the princeʼs ex-girlfriend, the daughter of the retired Chilean ambassador, Lucia Santa Cruz, who decided that Charles and Camilla wouldnʼt mind a little fling.
Camilla actually did see the relationship with Charles as a way to annoy Andrew at first, it wasnʼt the first time for her. Parker-Bowles also did not care and started an affair with Charlesʼ younger sister, Princess Anne. But the prince really fell in love. He showered Camilla with love letters and pestered her with long nightly phone calls.
Camilla was not like the girls from Charlesʼ circle. Instead of dresses and shoes, she preferred riding breeches and soldierʼs boots, used almost no makeup, and never reached into her pocket for a word. She and Charles also shared common hobbies — horses, dogs and hunting. They even liked the same comedy radio shows. After all, in half a year, their affair turned into a whirlwind romance. In November 1972, Charles was already thinking about asking Camilla to marry him. But he could not dare, realizing that the royal family would not approve this union.
Today, some historians and biographers say that the royal family could have avoided all further scandals if they had immediately allowed the heir to the throne to marry Camilla.
But in the 1970s, this was out of the question. Camilla came from a wealthy, but not too noble family of gentry — the English untitled petty nobility. But even that was not the main thing. The reputation of the future princess was important to the royal court. The family was literally fixated on the fact that Charlesʼ chosen one must be a virgin. Back in 1971, journalists compiled such a dossier on Camilla that made Elizabeth II simply horrified. Camilla, with her passions and manners, and moreover, with numerous love affairs, did not correspond to the image of a pious lady.
Therefore, at the royal court, Charlesʼ relationship with Camilla was viewed as a "experience out of curiosity", nothing more. But when it became clear that the prince was seriously in love, in January 1973 he was sent away — on a seven-month expedition with the British navy to the Caribbean Sea.
However, Camilla herself perfectly understood that marriage with Charles did not shine for her. Her ex, Andrew Parker-Bowles, also had no chance to be related to the royal family. Elizabeth II, as the formal head of the Anglican Church, would not marry her daughter to a Catholic. In the spring of 1973, Andrew left Princess Anne and immediately confessed to Camilla.
Some biographers of the royal family believe that the passion of Camillaʼs life was not Prince Charles at all, but Andrew Parker-Bowles. Camilla fell in love with him at the age of 17. Since then, they have been separated because of Andrewʼs constant betrayals, but after all they have come together again. Therefore, when he returned again, but already with a wedding ring in his hands, Camilla happily agreed to marry him.
Prince Charles was very upset when he read in the newspaper in March 1973 about the engagement of Camilla and Andrew. According to eyewitnesses, Charles sobbed for six hours, locking himself in the cabin. The wedding took place in July of the same year. The ceremony was attended by Andrewʼs ex-girlfriend, Princess Anne, and other members of the royal family. Charles was also invited, the command was even ready to grant him leave, but the prince refused.
Camilla and Andrew settled in a country estate, soon they had two children. Charles gradually got back to his senses and began to communicate with Camilla again and even became the godfather of her son. During these years, their relationship was friendly.
At first Camilla really hoped for a happy family. However, nothing happened. Andrew did not change and continued to cheat on his wife with whoever he could find. He preferred to spend more time in a rented apartment in London, where he organized parties with his friends.
In 1978, Prince Charles turned 30 years old. The royal family thought about marrying the heir to the throne. During this time, Charles had several fleeting love stories. But to find candidates who would correspond to the royal family values was already difficult in aristocratic circles at that time.
The story of the princeʼs relationship with Lady Sarah Spencer was very telling. At the beginning of 1978, they were vacationing together in a Swiss resort, and there Sarah agreed to give an interview to British journalists. It turned out to be as frank as possible, Sarah talked about her struggle with drunkenness and anorexia. And when it came to their relationship with the prince, Sarah said that "he is an incredible person, but I donʼt love him, and I wouldnʼt marry someone I donʼt love, even if he were the king of England."
Charles began to visit the Parker-Bowles estate more and more often under the pretext of "visiting the godfather." Andrew was not against such visits, his marriage with Camilla at that time had already entered the stage of "free relations". All this, of course, did not escape the attention of the press, which closely followed the personal life of the heir to the throne.
The royal court sounded the alarm. Elizabeth II was seriously concerned that the prince might follow in the footsteps of her "crazy uncle" King Edward VIII, who abdicated to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson.
Therefore, they urgently began to look for a bride for Charles. And the choice fell on the younger sister of his ex-girlfriend Sarah Spencer Diana. She perfectly suited the requirements of the court: she was from a noble, albeit impoverished family, had a reputation as a quiet and modest girl. But the main thing is that she had no known romantic relationship before Prince Charles, so she was most likely a virgin.
The royal court, as biographers will write, "was in too much of a hurry to get such a valuable asset as Diana." No one thought about whether the 20-year-old could handle the enormous pressure that comes with being a member of the royal family. And Charles did not have time to get acquainted with his future wife well enough. He only knew that she loved children very much. Therefore, the prince doubted whether he should hurry with the proposal. Then his father, Prince Philip, took up the matter. Although he did not like living in the shadow of his wife Elizabeth II, he defended the royal family values no less zealously. He pressed his son, saying it was time for him to "do the right thing for his country and his family."
Charles fulfilled his duty — in July 1981, the wedding took place, and Diana became the Princess of Wales. Diana did a great job of maintaining the image of the royal family. She quickly became a favorite of the public, and not only in Britain, but also around the world. Charles and Diana had two sons, Prince William in 1982 and Prince Harry in 1984. But the coupleʼs relationship quickly fell apart. Already after the birth of her second son, Diana moved to Kensington Palace, and Charles — to the country residence of Highgrove.
Diana knew Camilla even before the wedding and knew that she and Charles were connected by more than just friendly relations. In fact, from the first days of their marriage, she began to suspect that Charles and Camilla were dating behind her back. Gradually, this became an obsessive idea for Diana. And Charlesʼ move to Highgrove only added fuel to the fire. This residence was literally a few minutesʼ drive from the Parker-Bowles estate, where Camilla lived.
But Charles insists he remained faithful to Diana at least until 1986, when their marriage "irretrievably broke down". And for a certain period of time living alone in Highgrove, he did not even try to contact Camilla, but painted watercolors, did gardening and was sad.
Around 1986, the golden age for British tabloids began. Charles cheated on his wife with Camilla, and Diana cheated on her husband with whoever — a riding instructor, a bodyguard, an art dealer, a car dealer. In the press, Dianaʼs betrayals were often presented as revenge for an unfaithful husband, and Camilla became the main scapegoat. She was labeled the "destroyer of the royal family" and was hunted by the paparazzi. However, royal biographers still donʼt agree on who began cheating first — Charles or Diana.
The royal family had not experienced such a blow to its reputation since the abdication of Edward VIII. Prince Philip was especially furious. He was angry with his son for his softness, and with his daughter-in-law for too frank interviews about his personal life. After all, during Elizabethʼs time, the royal family reacted to all scandals related to her according to the principle of "never complain, never explain." "I want to remind you that membership in the royal family is not a popularity contest, but our joint work for the good of this institution," wrote Philip to Diane.
In 1993, the press published intimate phone conversations between Charles and Camilla, as well as of Diana with one of her lovers. The royal house had to officially admit that Charles and Diana have not lived together for a long time, and to announce the beginning of the divorce procedure.
In 1996, all formalities regarding the divorce of Diana and Charles were completed. In terms of reputation, there was nothing to lose, so the prince finally decided not to part with his long-time lover Camilla, who had also gone through a divorce a year before. He expected to gradually prepare both the royal family and the public for their marriage.
But something unexpected happened. In August 1997, Diana died in a car accident. It became a tragedy on a global scale. The public immediately accused Camilla of almost causing the accident. After that, there was no question of their coming out into the world together with the prince. The Queen demanded that Charles leave Camilla. And when he refused, Elizabeth and Philip did not come to a private party in honor of their sonʼs 50th birthday in 1998.
But Charles still did not give up and from about 1999 began a long campaign to recognize Camilla as his companion. At first, the couple simply tried to appear in public as little as possible. In 2000, Elizabeth II met Camilla for the first time at a private event. In 2003, the couple moved to Clarence House, the former residence of members of the British royal family. And on February 10, 2005, Charles and Camilla announced their engagement — almost 35 years after they met.
Finally, their relationship was approved by everyone — the royal family, the British Parliament, and even the Church of England. The last approval was one of the most important, because according to the canons, the future king cannot marry a divorced woman. But for this case, an evasive maneuver was invented. For the first time in the history of the British royal family, the wedding ceremony took place in a civil way, and not as a church ceremony. Charles and Camilla held the ceremony at Windsor Town Hall, then received a blessing from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and only then they went to the official reception of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
Having become part of the royal family, Camilla tries not to attract too much attention to herself. After the wedding, she received all the titles of Charles, including the Princess of Wales. But as a sign of respect for Diana, Camilla does not use this title, she chose a less loud one — the Duchess of Cornwall. Prince Charlesʼ children, William and Harry, sometimes quarrel with their father, but always speak well of Camilla. "William and I have always had a good relationship with Camilla. She does not look like an evil stepmother from fairy tales. So donʼt feel sorry for me or William, show some sympathy for her. She is a wonderful woman and she has made my father very happy, which is the most important thing for us. We love her very much," said Prince Harry.
Charles and Camilla are already married for more than 17 years. And until recently, the last question remained unresolved — what title Camilla will receive after Charles ascends the throne. In British custom, the wife of the reigning king is called the queen consort, but the husband of the reigning queen is called the prince consort, not the king consort.
After her engagement to Charles in 2005, Camilla was expected to become an exceptional princess consort, meaning the kingʼs wife without the royal title. But Elizabeth II still decided not to break the tradition. And in a recent address in honor of the 70th anniversary of her reign, she said that she wanted Camilla to automatically become queen consort after the coronation of Prince Charles. After all, even to her husband Philip, Elizabeth II gave the title of prince consort not immediately, but only four years after she became the queen.
Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.