A Second Chance for Prince Charles?
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
In the latest chapter of Britain's Royal soap opera, Prince Charles has finally married Camilla Parker Bowles, his former mistress and the woman he has loved for more than 30 years. His marriage to Camilla, who takes the title the Duchess of Cornwall, has split British public opinion and put the couple in the international spotlight. Polls suggest that Britons are divided about the marriage with a majority opposed to Camilla becoming queen if Charles one day takes the crown.
Because both Charles and Camilla are divorcees, they had to tie the knot in a private civil ceremony held at Windsor Guildhall. This was followed by a blessing conducted by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. This ceremony was attended by about 750 guests and televised live.
A crowd of 20,000 well-wishers gathered outside Windsor Castle to cheer the happy couple. However, these were ardent royal supporters and the same enthusiasm was not to be found in the rest of the country.
Will Charles ever be king?
Remarriage does not officially affect Prince Charles' position as the heir to the throne, but a very real question mark hangs over his position.
Many are suspicious the Prince because of his highly acrimonious divorce from the late Princess Diana. Nora Curtin, a 90-year-old keen royal watcher, sums up this feeling, "I think Charles should abdicate and [Prince] William should be next in line. Charles' treatment of Princess Diana and Camilla's role in the marriage break-up should disqualify both from office."
Until Charles can effectively dampen such sentiment, it will be difficult for him to successfully ascend the throne. The next few years will be absolutely critical for the prince and his chances of becoming king. Regaining public trust will be his number one priority.
Fairy tale turned horror story
In 1981, Charles' fairy-tale marriage to Lady Diana Spencer in St Paul's Cathedral caught the imagination of the nation and catapulted the shy prince to the heights of popularity. For the first few years it was literally happy ever after and people looked forward to the future of reign of King Charles III and Queen Diana.
I recall meeting Prince Charles on 20th June 1982, the day before his first son Prince William was born. He was dynamic, cheerful and radiated self-confident. However, the next time we met, just a few years later, he looked dispirited, tired and his confidence was waning.
Charles' reputation began its sharp downward spiral as the serious problems with his marriage began to emerge. Crucially, in the public battle for hearts and minds, Princess Diana skillfully presented her side of the breakdown, winning widespread sympathy and firmly casting Charles as the villain.
In November 1992, the Prince's tarnished reputation took a severe blow when the press released a secretly-taped, and highly sexually explicit, conversation between himself and his mistress Mrs. Parker Bowles. Overnight Charles' battered credibility hit zero and he has never fully recovered from the highly embarrassing "Camillagate" episode.
In December 1992, Charles and Diana announce their separation. In the complete reverse of the fairy tale, the press transformed a dashing prince into an unattractive toad.
Diana's shadow haunts Charles
In 1997, the dramatic death of Princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash with her lover, Dodi al-Fayed, represented yet another massive blow for Charles as well as the very institution of monarchy itself.
A huge outpouring of public grief over the tragic death forced Charles and Camilla to adopt an extremely low profile. It was years before they even dared to be seen together in public. Eight years later, the prince finally feels enough time has elapsed to allow him to marry his long term lover, but the shadow of Diana still hangs heavily over him.
If Charles becomes King, the new Duchess of Cornwall would be entitled to be Queen Camilla. However, Charles has been forced to say she would be known as Princess Consort, and use the title Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall. Legally, upon marriage she became the Princess of Wales, but the title's strong association with the late Princess Diana makes this usage unacceptable to the public.
Princess Diana's infamous "three in the marriage" remark to describe Charles' extramarital relationship with Camilla makes it impossible for Camilla to adopt any of Diana's former titles. Charles' affair with Camilla has also led some religious conservatives to question the Prince's fitness to become head of the Church of England if he becomes king.
Prince William, Princess Diana's eldest son, is still next in line to the throne as Camilla's son, Tom, from her first marriage does not join the line of succession upon marriage. This fact has made some people feel William should become the next king instead of Charles.
Parallels with the Chrysanthemum Throne?
In Japan, the controversial union has led to much discussion on TV chat shows and produced a whole new series of books and magazine articles on the subject. The extraordinary lives of the British royals have long fascinated a large swathe of the Japanese public, many of whom are surprisingly well versed in their tangled affairs.
The popularity of the House of Windsor may stem from the fact that the Japanese Imperial family is a much more sedate institution than its colorful British counterpart. Nevertheless, some believe that eventually the pressures of the modern media age will have a similar impact on the Chrysanthemum Throne. So far it has managed to avoid the very public woes that have befallen the family of Queen Elizabeth.
At one level, there are fascinating parallels between the lives of Prince Charles and Japan's Crown Prince, Naruhito. Intensive media intrusion made it tough for both men to find a suitable bride, their wives suffered from media-induced depression and both princes must wait decades in the public glare before assuming a hereditary position.
On the other hand, the dissimilarities are just as striking. Charles' first marriage to the late Princess Diana ended in a highly public and extremely bitter divorce which has cast a dark shadow over his future as well as that of the monarchy itself. In contrast the Crown Prince Naruhito has been extremely protective of Princess Masako, drawing veiled criticism from the rest of the Imperial family. Even so, despite his gentle manner, one wonders if the Crown Prince could survive the lethal slings and arrows of the outrageous British tabloid press?