Prince Charles, Parker Bowles to wed

Even if he takes throne, she won't become queen

February 11, 2005|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - Prince Charles, whose first marriage managed to go from an enchanting fairytale to sordid divorce, had to be aware that no divorced man in the history of the British monarchy had married a divorced woman with children and become - or remained - king.

Rather than figure a way out of the binds of custom, he simply decided to move the monarchy forward, into the realities of the 21st century. Yesterday, he announced that he would wed Camilla Parker Bowles, the woman Princess Diana blamed for her breakup with the man first in line to the British throne.

The news was met with shrugs by some and sirens by others. Especially excited were Britain's television newscasters, whose speculations ranged from the engagement signaling the waning of the monarchy to the April 8 wedding providing a sudden, rejuvenated relevance for the royal family.

Charles and Parker Bowles made their first appearance since the announcement last night at Windsor Castle, where they were holding a dinner to celebrate. They briefly invited the media in, and Charles let it be known that, yes, he went on one knee to ask her hand in marriage.

The Evening Standard, which broke the story, printed thousands of extra copies yesterday morning with the scoop. And television carried virtually no other news items from morning until well into the afternoon.

Many people in Britain had expected the next royal groom would be Prince William, the enormously popular son to Charles and Diana and second in line to the throne.

And despite speculation that, someday, Charles and Parker Bowles might marry, the announcement seemed to take people by surprise. Charles is 56 and Parker Bowles 57.

"I am nearly speechless," said Magdalin Grant, 68, at Liverpool's main train station as she absorbed the news. "I never would have thought he would have the gall to marry again because we now all know how he treated Diana. It was appalling."

Charles is said to have met Parker Bowles at a polo match in the 1970s. It has been widely reported in the British media that he was carrying on an affair with her even while he and Diana were engaged. He has denied those allegations.

The ghost of Diana still looms in England like the morning fog, and she is revered and adored here nearly eight years after her death in a car accident.

Charles has acknowledged his infidelity - after their marriage was clearly unsalvageable, he has said - and because of that and the divorced status of Parker Bowles, the wedding will be a civil ceremony rather than in the Church of England.

Clarence House, Charles' headquarters, said in a statement that the wedding will be "a largely private occasion for family and friends."

The civil ceremony at Windsor Castle will be followed by "a service of prayer and dedication" in St. George's Chapel, at which the Archbishop of Canterbury will preside, Clarence House said.

The ceremony will be in sharp contrast to the prince's first wedding, a lavish gala watched on television the world over and celebrated with uncharacteristic exuberance in the United Kingdom, where people thought they were witnessing the marriage of their future queen.

With all the unflattering accounts of the Charles-Diana marriage, many people here were betting that Charles and Parker Bowles would have to be content with a love never officially recognized by the Church of England, which he would head as king - or even generally accepted by the subjects he presumably will inherit from his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

And there had been questions about Charles receiving permission from the church, strongly opposed to divorce, to remarry and be king. That was apparently answered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who extended his blessing.

The closest parallel to his situation was unpromising: That was in 1936, when King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorcee from Baltimore.

The British Broadcasting Corp. and the Press Agency, Britain's leading wire agency, have both reported that Parker Bowles' great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, was mistress to Charles' great-great grandfather, Edward VII.

Of more concern, though, has been public opinion. Much of Britain still holds a grudge against Charles and Parker Bowles because of the divorce and death of Diana.

"I think the way this has been presented, with such care and in such a diplomatic way, that the prince will win a lot of people over," said Lord St. John of Fawsley, a royal historian. "This takes away the guessing and fills it with fact. It has been said that vacant minds like to work on stuff, and this takes away a lot of vacant minds.

"Divorce, sadly, has become very widespread in this country," he continued, "so I think this is likely to make Prince Charles more real, bringing him closer to the country rather than farther away."

The royal tact he spoke of was the product of a carefully managed announcement - sped up by the Express scoop - to make Parker Bowles' official inclusion into the ruling Windsors more palatable to the public.

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