Britain reeled and tottered Wednesday as it contemplated the possible divorce and remarriage of Prince Charles. Or so you’d think from reading the headlines.
The threat to British life as we know it follows the announcement that Camilla Parker Bowles is getting divorced, and may now be free to marry Prince Charles, reputed to be her sometime lover. Assuming, of course, that Charles decides to dump his wife, Princess Diana.
But will he? Should they?
“It is an issue on which friendships may founder and even husbands and wives may quarrel,” Lord Deedes intoned in The Daily Telegraph. Newspapers did bicker.
The Daily Mirror blared that Camilla wanted to marry Charles. The Sun headlined, “Charles: I won’t wed my Camilla.” A manipulated photograph of Parker Bowles wearing a purple crown graced the front page of Today.
Daily Mail columnist Lynda Lee-Potter warned Camilla not to “push our patience too far,” but Ann Robinson in Today wrote: “May she run to him quickly, whatever the queen and the Establishment say.”
Daily Express columnist Ross Benson revealed that Charles probably wouldn’t marry Camilla, while on the next page columnist Philippa Kennedy suggested “perhaps we should start getting used to the idea of Mrs. Camilla Windsor.”
The precedents of Henry VIII’s six wives, the stormy marriages of Henry I and George IV, and even the passions of Edwy the AllFair (d. 959) were trotted out.
For those who had forgotten that Parker Bowles’ great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, was the mistress of Edward VII, Charles’ great-great-grandfather, The Times had story and photos.
Beneath it all is the assumption that it matters very much, that the throne is the keystone of the whole complex edifice of British government and society, and that the public would not - for the first time in history - abide a king who had strayed from the straight and narrow.
In some quarters, a note of censure was evident.
“Dignity is essential to the survival of an institution, yet the prince’s relationship with Mrs. Parker Bowles has long been deprived of that quality in public eyes,” said an editorial in The Daily Telegraph. (This from a newspaper whose former Sunday editor, Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, boasted in a column a couple of years ago about noisily breaking wind on an Underground train.)
The divorce was splendidly timed for The Guardian, which is running a campaign this week to abolish the throne and declared on Monday: “Britain’s Monarchy ‘Doomed.”’