Her outlook bore the imprint of the abdication, especially while her mother was alive; the success of her own marriage gave fewer grounds for empathy.
Deliberately uncontroversial herself, she recognised the extent to which Charles’ private life continued to polarise opinions. In the short term, the meeting between monarch and mistress at Highgrove made easier a more public role for Camilla in Charles’s life. Elizabeth, as so often, proceeded cautiously.
Loftily the palace dismissed as speculation claims in The Spectator in August 2001 that Elizabeth had agreed to Charles and Camilla’s marriage. The magazine quoted a ‘well-informed Palace observer’ saying that Elizabeth ‘accept[ed] that the last great thing she has to do in her reign is to sort out the relationship between Charles and Camilla, and in practice that means to smile on a marriage’.
Of course, Elizabeth realised that the monarchy’s wellbeing demanded a solution for a relationship that had already caused so much damage; she would take time to agree to marriage.
Elizabeth did not dislike Camilla, who, more than Diana, shared her own country interests and brisk, wry outlook.
In June, she made possible Camilla’s first public appearance alongside the royal family, when Camilla was invited to both Golden Jubilee concerts; she also invited her to the family dinner she held at the Ritz following the jubilee’s success.
Elizabeth was aware of opinions like those expressed in a Panorama documentary in October, that found only 42 per cent of people in favour of the couple’s marriage and 52 per cent opposed to Camilla becoming queen.
Unnervingly for Elizabeth, the recently retired vicar of Tetbury, close to Highgrove, presented Charles’s predicament as a revisiting of Uncle David’s unhappy dilemma: ‘I think that Charles has got to make a decision on where his duty lies. Does it lie with the woman he undoubtedly loves? Does it lie with his position as future monarch?
As supreme governor of the Church of England, and a woman of deep faith who shared her parents’ belief in the sanctity of marriage, Elizabeth could not easily discount clerical opinion. She could, however, seek guidance. Both George Carey and his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, supported Charles and Camilla’s marriage; Williams advised against a religious ceremony as divisive among Anglican clergy.
At Sandringham at Christmas in 2004, Elizabeth agreed to Charles’s remarriage. Months before, a message tied to railings at Kensington Palace for the seventh anniversary of Diana’s death, had read ‘No to Queen Camilla.'
Elizabeth did not attend the civil marriage ceremony in Windsor’s Guildhall on 9 April 2005. She and Philip were among the congregation of more than 700 in St George’s Chapel for the subsequent service of prayer and dedication.
As on other occasions, her decision acknowledged the claims of traditional orthodoxies and her position not simply as mother but the established church’s supreme governor.
Behind closed doors, in the castle’s state apartments, Elizabeth was notably cheerful at the reception she hosted for Charles and his new Duchess of Cornwall, and in June, she and Philip accompanied Charles and Camilla to William’s graduation ceremony in St Andrews.
At last was an opportunity for respite from family troubles. Testaments to family harmony peppered extensive celebrations of Elizabeth’s eightieth birthday, beginning the following spring. Elizabeth’s updating of the Order of Precedence ‘on blood principles’ gave prominence to her closest relations: neither her daughter Anne nor her cousin Alexandra was required to curtsey to Camilla in Charles’s absence.
This is an edited extract from The Queen by Matthew Dennison published by Harper Collins. You can purchase the novel via Booktopia for currently $32.50.
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