The prince, his lover, the archbishops and the press

The British press has predictably had a field-day with the forthcoming memoirs of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, containing their author’s reflections on the prospects for the Prince of Wales at last getting around to marrying Mrs Camilla Parker-Bowles. "Royal tax breaks are more dangerous than saga of Charles and his mistressâ€?, said one rather mystifying headline (royal tax breaks?). "Will the public accept Camilla?â€?, asked another, more pithily. For those who couldn’t be bothered to read further than the headline there was a useful summary of the whole story: "A LEADING BRITISH ANGLICAN SAYS THAT PRINCE CHARLES COULD WELL MARRY HIS LONG-TIME LOVE, CAMILLA PARKER BOWLESâ€?. A serious broadsheet poured cold water on one enticing assertion made by some of its tabloid sisters: "Williams [Dr Rowan Williams, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, evidently recognisable to Daily Telegraph readers from his surname] ‘has not approved Charles wedding’â€?. Others focused on the spiritual dimension: "’Faith is all about forgiveness,’ex-archbishop of Canterbury saysâ€?, challenging the reader to read on for more – forgiveness of whom and for what?

Some of the media seized the opportunity to stick their tiny knives into the inviting bodies of the protagonists in the drama: for example, the unfortunate former archbishop, Dr Carey:

‘I suppose we should be used to it by now – public figures betraying the secrets of the rich and famous to pep up otherwise insipid life stories. When it comes to promoting their latest book, everyone from Jordan to Edwina Currie seems prepared to kiss ‘n’ tell. Even so, it came as a bit of a shock to find the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey indulging in a bout of Royal name-dropping last week as he promoted his autobiography, Know the Truth. You would think that if one person could be relied on to be the soul of discretion vis-a-vis their pastoral duties, it would be the leader of the world’s Anglicans. But there he was, raking over the dying embers of Charles and Diana’s marriage, and unveiling the details of a clandestine meeting he arranged with Camilla Parker Bowles shortly after the death of the Princess of Wales. In a move guaranteed to reap him the front page in half a dozen national newspapers, he said he believed it was “natural” for Charles to marry Camilla and described the heir to the throne as “a man as much sinned against as sinning”.’
That was Dani Garavelli in ‘Scotland on Sunday’, with his intriguing ‘tax breaks’ headline.

Others were no more generous:
‘Lord Carey’s revelation that he used to pop round to comfort Mrs Parker Bowles after her affair with Charles became public (and his claim that the Prince was “more sinned against than sinning”) were [sic] almost certainly an attempt by this weak, silly man to promote his autobiography.’ — from an editorial in the Mail on Sunday.

Prince Charles too presented an irresistible target:

‘Not that Prince Charles seems to give a whit about what the Archbishops have to say on the matter. According to well-placed “sources”, he has sworn he will never marry Camilla because he doesn’t want to “betray Diana’s memory”. The idea that he should be fretting over his ex-wife’s dignity more than a decade after he inadvertently told the world how much he’d like to be Camilla’s tampon [actually, he said the opposite] is risible. What he is really worried about is how such a move would be received by the general public, but his reputation is now beyond besmirching. This is a man who, at the time of the Paul Burrell and Michael Fawcett affairs, was portrayed as a louche, indolent incompetent who employs an army of flunkies to do his bidding; a man who, if you believe the Royal gossip, is scarcely capable of squeezing his own toothpaste, never mind ruling the country. It is difficult to see how marrying Camilla could further dent his standing with his subjects, who have become inured to relentless Palace scandal and are in any case less hung up than previous generations about who marries into Royalty.’ (Mr Garavelli again.)

Nor is the present Archbishop entirely spared: ‘The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who has opposed the remarriage of divorcees when their former partner is alive (as Andrew Parker Bowles is) except in exceptional circumstances, was also – shock, horror – said to have cleared the way for the pair to be wed, but only if they expressed repentance for past wrong-doing in the presence of their priest.’ (And again.) This bit of the saga was, of course, authoritatively denied, adding to the speculation: what is really going on?

The age of chivalry is dead. Even the harmless, indeed rather admirable Mrs Parker Bowles gets her share:
‘To my mind, Charles’s love for Camilla is one of his few redeeming features because it marks him out from your average male adulterer: while most men leave their middle-aged wives for a younger, more beautiful model, he has remained true to a woman whose physical attributes are, let’s be honest, not manifest.’ (No prizes for guessing who wrote that.)

Perhaps the oddest feature of the media coverage of this global non-event is its almost exclusive focus on the more arcane problems raised for the Church of England by the prospect of the prince marrying his long-time lady-friend, in view of its curious rules governing the circumstances in which divorcés and divorcées may re-marry (is the former spouse still alive?), and if so where (in church? on the church steps?), and how (a proper wedding? or a civil ceremony followed by a blessing?). With the prince slated to become Head (or ‘Supreme Governor’) of the Church of England, these strange worries are naturally nagging at its senior figures — and apparently at their predecessors. But why working journalists should think these theological niceties should be of the smallest interest to the great majority of their readers, very few of whom ever go near a church unless for a wedding or a funeral, is a mystery.

One might have expected more media commentators to address the several more interesting questions prompted by the story. Would it not be a responsible act by Prince Charles to resolve an inherently unsatisfactory situation before, rather than after, he becomes King? Given that the Queen’s permission would be required for him to marry Camilla, has Charles’s mother indicated that such permission would or would not be forthcoming? The prime minister’s agreement would also be needed: has Mr Blair, mindful of a famous soundbite about The People’s Princess, expressed a view? If the pair were indeed to get married, would the sweaty mob, cheered on by the even sweatier tabloids, make a terrible fuss about Camilla assuming the title of Princess of Wales, one held by many to be forever sacred to the memory of the sainted Diana? If so, could the assumption of that title be avoided, and if so, how? Even more to the point, would the same populace accept Camilla as Queen when Charles at long last ascends the throne? They might create a great fuss about it, but would they eventually get used to it, being unable to do anything to change it? ‘Queen Camilla’ certainly has an unconvincing ring, rather like ‘King Graham’ or ‘Queen Trish’, but time would no doubt in due course bestow familiarity and acceptance. Or would the government of the day, fearful of electoral punishment if it acquiesced in the royalisation of Camilla, insist on a morganatic marriage that alone would enable Charles to become King without his wife automatically becoming Queen? That would require not only legislation passed by both houses of the UK parliament, but also the formal consent of all the other countries which share the same monarch and royal family as our own. What effect would a request for Australian agreement to a morganatic (or any other) marriage have on the powerful republican movement in that country? Or on the equally sensitive situation in both New Zealand and Canada? Might it be taken as an ideal opportunity to break loose from the anomaly that each of these countries has a head of state who lives thousands of miles away, is plainly English (with a touch of the Scots) and certainly not an Aussie, Kiwi or Canuck, and indeed hardly ever even visits? What about the twelve other countries of which Charles will automatically, as matters stand, become King — Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu? Every one of them will have to agree, as well as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, a total of 16 governments and peoples to be asked for their consent. How many media commentators have picked up that little complication? The more one thinks about it, the easier it gets to understand why the whole issue apparently sits motionless and gathering dust in the In-Tray of the hapless heir to the throne.

London, 18 June 2004

2 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Not really anonymous – I just don’t want a ‘blogger profile’, whatever that means! I’m Tim Weakley – I was a year ahead of you in School House – and my e-mail address is I agree with your comments on the Charles/Camilla business, and just wanted to say that I wish the Archbishop hadn’t said ‘Faith is all about forgiveness’, simply because I’m so tired of reading statements that ‘A is about B’ when A is not a story, poem, play, or essay. It generally means ‘There is a connection between A and B but I am too lazy, ignorant, or inarticulate to describe it’. This practice must now cease.

  2. Brian says:

    Amen to that! Even people now claim to be ‘about’ this or that. As you say: it’s indolent.