It was, by general consent, a significant moment: when the Queen came out on to the balcony after the carriage procession to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, there were only five other royals with her: No Prince Andrew, no Princess Royal; no Prince Edward (he was visiting his father in hospital). This was the inner core of the royal family: Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge; Prince Harry; Prince Charles and—yes—PRINCESS Camilla, the Princess of Wales: for that is what she is by law, and it is time now that that is how she should become officially designated. All this “Duchess of Cornwall” stuff was to cope with the still remaining post-Diana hostility to her. She was treated as a marginal royal, on the very edge of “the firm”, barely tolerated as such. It is a sign of how very well she has done, how hard and successfully she has worked to reverse this perception, that the Queen could make the implicit declaration she did by coming on to the balcony, without Prince Philip, but with those very five carefully chosen members of her family: heirs to the throne with their wives and Prince Harry because he and his brother are so close. It wasn’t principally about Camilla, of course: but it was at least partly so.
The Press has already cottoned on to all this, both Camilla’s personal achievement, and the Queen’s total change of mind (she once described Camilla as “that wicked woman” and refused to meet her). The Daily Mail, once one of the leaders of the anti-Camilla pack, spotted it straight away:
The sad absence of Prince Philip from the final glorious tableaux marking the Diamond Jubilee meant the Queen had the opportunity to decide with whom to share the affection of the public on that last open carriage ride through the streets of London to Buckingham Palace.
She chose the former Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall.
The two women sat side by side, their comfortable level of intimacy plain to see. Prince Charles sat on the seat facing them. How true the old axiom that time changes everything….
Here, the woman Diana described as the ‘third person’ in her marriage has not merely been accepted into the Royal Family. She has clearly turned into its most central figure after the Queen herself, a vital and trusted lynchpin between the young and the old.
During the four-day Jubilee weekend, Camilla has never been without a word: here, to the Duchess of Cambridge; there, to the Queen; an amusing aside with Prince Philip; a giggle with the young Princes.
Throughout the spectacle, she has been the most animated and relaxed figure in the Royal Family, plugged in to them all. The truth is that she has become — as we first saw as the Royals grouped with the Queen on board the Spirit of Chartwell on the Thames on Sunday — an integral element of the so-called ‘Magnificent Seven’.
Now, before going any further, since this is a Catholic site let me just deal with the question which I can just hear some of my readers coming up with if I don’t: why should Catholics accept her as Prince Charles’s wife, when she’s a divorcee with a husband still living? The best answer to that would be that their marriage was annulled: but there seems to be some controversy on the matter (though David Twiston Davies did write in this paper on the occasion of Prince Charles’s second marriage, that her former husband, Andrew Parker Bowles “was able to obtain an annulment of his marriage to Camilla; so, if his former wife had also been a Catholic, she would now be free to marry in the eyes of the Catholic Church”. I have not been able to confirm this, but it may be true. But even if it isn’t, it doesn’t signify. This is not a Catholic country. According to English law, the heir to the British throne is legally married: his marriage is recognised by the Church of England, by Parliament, and by the Queen herself. When in 2009 Prince Charles visited the Pope, Camilla accompanied him as his wife, and the Holy Father accepted her as such.
And so, as English (or British, if you like) Catholics, should we: end of. If she’s good enough for the Pope, she’s good enough for us.
Back to the question of what we should call Camilla. There is, perhaps, still some small residual reason for avoiding the use of a title still associated with the late Princess of Wales (though it’s fading fast). But I shall strongly object, when Prince Charles succeeds to the throne, if she is not generally accorded the title of Queen, and even more strongly if at his coronation she does not take her place at his side for her own coronation as his consort. Anything else would lead to us being saddled with an only partly functioning monarchy: for that is what a monarchy with a king who has a wife who is not his Queen consort would be.
It’s clear, however, that opinion—both that of the public and also inside the palace itself—is changing about the whole thing. The Daily Mirror reported a source within the palace as saying that “The jubilee celebrations not only recognised the Queen’s magnificent 60 years on the throne, they also marked the start of a new era for Britain’s Royal Family – with Prince Charles and Camilla at the forefront. Prince Philip’s absence on the Buckingham Palace balcony yesterday added to the sense that times are changing rapidly for the monarchy. The rest of the royals kept a low profile, and that is how Prince Charles sees the way forward, with Camilla at his side.”
The Mirror (of all papers) commented: “Today, at a time when the Royal Family is basking in popularity on the world stage, Camilla’s continued appearances as the Queen’s right-hand woman is a PR triumph for those in the palace who intend that she will one day be Queen.” This was confirmed by their source in the palace, who declared that “Camilla has proved herself by taking on royal engagements in the last two or three years successfully enough that her future as a Queen seems more assured”.
And so it should be. Her full acceptance by the Queen herself has now been officially conveyed by the announcement that Camilla is to become a Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (which is given only on the queen’s personal decision) to mark the seventh anniversary of her wedding to Prince Charles. The Queen fully accepts her now; and so should we: both as Princess of Wales and as our future Queen.