Prince Charles, Parker Bowles: a royal couple

April 10, 2005|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WINDSOR, England - Prince Charles, former husband to the late Princess Diana, finally married Camilla Parker Bowles yesterday, at last legitimizing their decades of love in the eyes of the Church of England and making her the wife of the heir apparent to the British throne.

After a private wedding in the elegant but ultimately utilitarian 17th-century Guildhall, Prince Charles, in a formal morning suit, and Parker Bowles, in a simple but flattering cream dress and broad-brimmed hat, walked with linked arms, beaming, Camilla transformed.

No longer will she be the other woman, the royal mistress, the awkward second half of a relationship made uncomfortable by vicious news media and arbitrary traditions in which protocol trumped honesty. The marriage yesterday made her part of the royal family, Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cornwall.

Forgive the romantics if they chalk one up for love.

But their love hasn't conquered all. If Prince Charles, 56, ascends to the throne, his wife, 57, would legally be queen, but public sentiment will keep her title limited to the novel Princess Consort.

She will never be as loved as Princess Diana, whose youthful innocence and husband's boorish treatment of her enhanced the country's love for her to such a degree that only her death nearly eight years ago could enhance it more.

But yesterday, about 10,000 people lined the narrow streets of this riverside Berkshire town, and perhaps it was the moment, but something seemed to change, if just a little.

Though Prince Charles' parents - Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh - were noticeably absent from the wedding, Parker Bowles appeared perfectly at ease as she and her royal groom stepped out of a black Rolls Royce and offered a wave, then followed their families into the Guildhall. Even the charismatically challenged Prince Charles seemed relaxed, or maybe relieved.

"I think it's wonderful, splendid," said Harry Mayhead, who at 79 traveled the 20 miles or so from East London to catch a glimpse Charles and Camilla. "I'm happy for them both, that they've tied the knot and put away the ghosts of these past years. Now they've told the world, `Yes, we are a couple in love.'"

What this wedding could not put away and what the marriage can never eclipse is the memory of Princess Diana and the inevitable comparisons to her wedding with Prince Charles 24 years ago.

Britons unconditionally embraced that union, welcomed the inclusion of a woman so charmingly unworldly to the staid and mechanical-like Windsors. The world was willing to suspend belief, too, believing that a royal wedding between a young prince in a (retrospectively) cartoonish military uniform and a young woman in an overdone flowing dress somehow represented something bigger than a marriage.

Yesterday, though, what perhaps was most remarkable about the wedding was that it did not seem remarkable at all, not in any broad, historic sense, anyway. Rather, despite the royalty and the live television coverage across Britain, it was an event designed not to be an event at all but something more genuine.

At the end of the wedding service, the married couple spent little time with the people waving Union Jacks on the sidewalk and ducked into the Rolls, lent to them by the queen, for the short drive up the hill to St. George's Cathedral for the church's blessing.

Prince Charles could not have been blamed if he had lost his ability to speak at that ceremony, a blessing by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Gathered beneath the towering Gothic arches of the chapel were about 800 guests, including Prime Minister Tony Blair and the duchess' former husband, Andrew Parker Bowles.

Before them, both Charles and Camilla, who started their prolonged journey to marriage when they met more than 30 years ago during a polo match - and who were lovers while married to other people - had to recite the tough prayer of penitence from the Book of Common Prayer, confessing their "manifold sins and wickedness" and pledging to be faithful in their marriage.

Both of them spoke clearly, though, and unlike the rare times before the wedding in which they had been seen together in public, they were physically affectionate, in a royal kind of way, petting each other's hands, at one point Prince Charles helpfully pointing her to a spot on the prayer book in front of her.

With the service ended, they walked from the cathedral to thousands of people on the grounds of the castle, an ancient fortress first associated with William the Conqueror, who invaded from France in 1066.

As expected, the queen and the duke did not attend the wedding, which the Charles-hating tabloids made great hay of in the weeks leading to the wedding. The royal excuse was that the queen wanted to respect the wishes of Prince Charles to keep the wedding low-key, which was a nice way of saying she wasn't about to attend a wedding in a building akin to a city hall.

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