Skip to main content

Regrettably, the Justice Department decided yesterday that the Queen's Privy Council for Canada does not need to approve the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, thus depriving the nation of Conrad Black and Ed Broadbent debating the nuptial proprieties of the country's future sovereign.

Ticket sales to the event might have erased the national debt.

Lord Black of Crossharbour, the beleaguered capitalist who gave up his Canadian citizenship for the title he loves, and Mr. Broadbent, former federal leader of the New Democratic Party, who is not known as a monarchist, are both members of the Privy Council, which constitutionally advises the Governor-General on government matters.

It met to approve the marriages of then-princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1947, and Prince Charles and Diana in 1981. That was because their children would be in line to become Canada's head of state.

In this case, a Justice spokesman said, Ms. Parker Bowles will not ascend the throne and there will be no impact on the line of succession, a blunt but diplomatic judgment call that, at 57, she is not going to have children.

Thus no need for the Privy Council to meet. The Prime Minister issued a statement wishing the couple happiness. The Governor-General, the Queen's representative, said nothing.

It was that sort of day yesterday in Canada, Britain and likely the Queen's realms elsewhere -- with scholars rummaging through the esoterica of constitutional monarchy and citing centuries-old royal behaviour and statutes to explain the implications of Charles's marriage for church and state.

For church -- Prince Charles will become head of the established state Church of England when he is crowned -- one British observer described it as a tough choice between accepting a royal supreme governor married to a divorcée or a royal supreme governor with a mistress.

There's ample historical precedent for the latter, but the former was deemed to have a far better chance of public acceptance. And, as Cambridge University constitutional historian John Adamson pointed out in an interview, the church's first supreme governor, Henry VIII, was a divorcé.

As for state, said Prof. Adamson, a nice bit of invented tradition has been produced "to satisfy what are probably still widespread reservations . . . on the part of the British public about Mrs. Parker Bowles. There is a sense in which Queen Camilla doesn't sound right."

Therefore, when Charles becomes king, she is to become princess consort -- a title like the one Queen Victoria bestowed on her husband Albert more than a century and a half ago.

"On the whole, it was a gracefully arranged move," Oxford University constitutional specialist David Butler said.

As for what it all means:

When Charles becomes king, how will Mrs. Parker Bowles's status be different from Prince Philip's status now? It doesn't look as if there is much difference. Prince Philip is referred to as the Royal Consort (although not the prince consort), but he does not share what is known as "the crown matrimonial." Neither, as things look, will Mrs. Parker Bowles.

Has the Queen set a big precedent by reaching into the reign of her successor, so to speak, and declaring what Charles's wife's constitutional status will be when he becomes king? No, said Prof. Adamson. "The Queen cannot bind her son in this way. . . . All that has been established in the current case is a public undertaking from the Prince of Wales that, on becoming king, he will state that his wife's title will be princess consort."

Has there ever been a princess consort before?

Yes, said Prof. Adamson. Henry VIII gave the title to former Queen Catherine of Aragon after he divorced her to marry Anne Boleyn. Which doesn't help explain what it means.

Why is this marriage different from that of Edward VIII, Charles's great-uncle, who in 1936 determined to marry divorcée Wallis Simpson?

The British government (and the Canadian government of the day) didn't approve of that marriage. It does approve of this marriage. And social attitudes are different. Nearly half of all British marriages end in divorce.

What sort of deal did Charles make with the Church of England, which still defines marriage as a "life-long covenant."

Deal is probably the wrong word. Two years ago, the church softened its position on divorce and stated that "there are exceptional circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church during the lifetime of a former spouse." Charles's former spouse, Diana, is dead, although Mrs. Parker Bowles's former husband isn't. However, Jonathan Wynne-Jones, news editor of the Church of England Times, said that, because of the messiness of the Prince's marriage breakdown, "there's no way he could have been remarried in the church." The church-approved solution was for Charles and Mrs. Parker Bowles to be married in a civil ceremony in Windsor Castle and then have their union blessed in the church's chapel.

Is there a problem with Mrs. Parker Bowles having been married to a member of the Roman Catholic Church, which does not recognize the right of divorced persons to remarry?

Only for the Roman Catholic Church.