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Camilla as Queen Consort: The Second Wife Wears a Crown

The death of Queen Elizabeth means King Charles' second wife will have power.

Key points

  • Fifty-five percent of people interviewed want Camilla to be known as "Queen Consort." The public has become more accepting of Camilla over time.
  • Camilla has earned the title of “Queen Consort.” She has also earned the title of “wife” without the qualifier “second” preceding it.
  • What happens occasionally when someone is around for a long time, works her tail off, and acts appropriately is that she becomes family.

Many of us have been married more than once. Yet we tend not to like second wives. Second husbands seem less unnerving.

We think second wives are sneaky. We think they've set out sexual bait and sung a siren song to lure otherwise hapless husbands into the depths of infidelity and then somehow drag them back to the shallows of domestic life renewed and faithful for a second wave of marriage.

But the British newspaper The Daily Mail reported, just in time for Valentine's Day of 2022, results from a poll declaring that 55 percent of the people they interviewed wanted Camilla to be known as "Queen Consort." Folks in the U.K. were becoming rather fond of her, or at least regarded her as having earned her post. She was familiar. She was a settling force for their future king. She wore big hats.

What happens occasionally when someone is around for a long period of time—sixteen years or so—and smiles appropriately, works her tail off, and tries to do her best even when faced with a lack of general approbation is that she becomes part of the family. If the family is royal, maybe that’s a little different, but not terribly different.

Initially the good people of England, Scotland, Wales, and the rest of the galaxy regarded Camilla Parker Bowles as a cross between a harpy, a dragon, and (as some of the press dubbed her) a Rottweiler. They were collectively unsure of how to deal with the information that their next king had been a bad husband to his young and naive first wife and had been terribly bad (or “naughty”) with Camilla before, during, and after his first marriage.

Some of the public’s dismay was based on the fact that they couldn’t comprehend why Charles would make such a choice.

How could a woman less young, less pretty, less innocent, as well as apparently less selfless and less emotionally honest, capture the heart of the prince? The fairy tale doesn't work that way unless witchery abounds.

Surely when an older and less fetching female keeps the heart of the prince there's evil afoot. Somebody is cackling into a mirror, offering a toxic apple, brewing something with toads-in-the-hole

It was unsurprising, then, that tales thrown by the bucketful from every corner, window, cellar, and trapdoor of the palace covered Charles with the taint of the-lousy-first-husband.

Diana claimed her relationship with Charles never had a chance because "there were three of us in this marriage."

How, then, could Charles be forgiven? And if Charles was having trouble achieving forgiveness, how could anyone dare forgive Camilla, who held his heart even as he fathered the next generation of royalty with the ideal subject, a requisite virgin, with a hymen intact?

How do we find forgiveness?

Let's admit a few things. Grudges are hard to maintain, especially when they're not personal. It's easier to put down the mean-spirited baggage when nothing of real importance to you is in it.

We can revise fairy tales if we choose. Intimacy, companionship, a shared sense of humor, and love can become more meaningful choices in relationships than securing primogeniture.

Most of us no longer immediately think of every couple being one man and one woman, with the man being older, taller, more educated, more wealthy, more capable of handling the outside world, and the little woman being submissive, quiet, flighty, and silly about things like money and politics.

We no longer believe that beauty and innocence are the only virtues a woman needs to possess. For that matter, we no longer believe a woman needs to possess virtues alone. Women are, after all, human beings, with desires, appetites, wills, and strengths; these define their lives. They might not be pretty, pure, or aiming for perfection.

Maybe we’re willing to see flaws, understand them (not necessarily approve of them, but realize it is not up to us to approve or disapprove), and then accept them as a new trajectory of the story.

One such perspective was offered in another pre-Valentine's Day article by Kate Zernike on Charles and Camilla, published by the AP in February of 2005 when the couple first announced their engagement.

“From Diana to Camilla: A Fairy Tale for the AARP Set” set out the first-wife/second-wife dynamic in unflinching terms. In an interview, British novelist and playwright Fay Weldon explains that she found the romance between Charles and Camilla “quite satisfactory.”

Weldon, whose novels include Life and Loves of She-Devil and The Cloning of Joanna May suggests that mature people might be more adaptable and less judgmental when considering the couple. Says Weldon about Camilla, "She's sort of older...and everybody says she's plain, and actually she's not, she just doesn't photograph well."

Weldon goes on to argue that Camilla “[H]eld her counsel and kept her cool, and in the end he married her and the marriage is a happy ending, which no one is ever sure of any more...She stays in there through all this and then she comes out a winner, and I think, 'good for her,' not because she's a winner but because she loves him, and he apparently loves her."

Charles’ predecessor Henry VIII, after all, had six wives and didn’t seem to love many of them, and God help the ones he did love. Charles has had two wives—and this one will be by his side as he takes over as king, whatever that job will look like.

I believe Camilla has earned the title of “Queen Consort.” She has also earned the title of “wife” without the qualifier “second” preceding it. As a wife myself to a man in his seventies, I wish her luck and I wish her well.

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