The future Duke and Duchess of Cornwall were 22 and 23 years old respectively. They reportedly dated briefly, after meeting at a polo match in Windsor in 1970.
However, circumstances caused them to separate soon afterwards and it was to be another 35 years before they finally married. In between, Charles had famously been married to Lady Diana Spencer, who was 13 years his junior.
Charles and Diana had two children, William and Harry, before divorcing in August 1996, following unprecedented media interest about the collapse of their marriage. Tragically, Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris on 31st August 1997.
Camilla was married to Andrew Parker Bowles, a lieutenant in the Blues and Royals, between 1973 and 1995, when they divorced. They have two children together, Tom and Laura Parker Bowles.
After rekindling their romance in later life, Prince Charles and Camilla married on 9th April 2005 in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall. Today, as the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, they carry out official duties together.
Charles and Camilla moved in the same circles in their youth. As the heir to the throne, Charles had been romantically linked to a number of women, but was expected to marry a suitable wife, of the appropriate social standing, when he eventually settled down.
When Charles first met Camilla, she had been in a relationship with Andrew Parker Bowles, but they had split up in 1970. Parker Bowles began courting Charles’ sister, Princess Anne. The most commonly-held belief was that they met at the polo match at Windsor, although it was also suggested they had met at the home of mutual friend Lucia Santa Cruz.
Although Camilla was the daughter of former British Army officer Major Bruce Shand, and as such was among the upper classes, it was claimed the royal family opposed her early romance with the Prince. According to media reports, her on-off relationship with Parker Bowles was a problem.
She had been dating him in the late 1960s and although their relationship had ended before she met Prince Charles, the fact she had a “past” was said to be too much for some of the older royals. As Charles and Camilla’s relationship blossomed, the rather old-fashioned protocol decreed she was “unsuitable” to be the future queen.
Charles’ great-uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, reportedly told Charles his future wife must never have “met anyone else she might fall for”. Allegedly referring to Camilla’s previous romance, Mountbatten said later, “You didn’t want a past that hung about.”
Queen Mother’s role
There were differing reports of the role Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother played in nipping Charles and Camilla’s relationship in the bud. For many years, it was claimed she was against their liaison, for the same reason that Mountbatten tried to keep them apart.
It was well-known that Charles often turned to his grandmother for advice, as the matriarch of the family. It was believed that as a senior royal, the Queen Mother would have been against her grandson marrying someone with a “past”.
However, 17 years after her death, the Netflix documentary, The Royal House of Windsor, aired in 2019, suggested the Queen Mother secretly supported Charles in his love for Camilla. It was claimed she played no part in separating them in the early 1970s.
When they met again after their respective marriages broke down, it was claimed the Queen Mother even permitted them to use her Scottish home, Birkhall, in Aberdeenshire, for secret meetings.
Regardless of whether the Queen Mother was for or against their liaison, Mountbatten was said to be instrumental in having Charles sent overseas with the Royal Navy on an eight-month tour of duty.
“Love triangle” claims
Camilla subsequently rekindled her relationship with Parker Bowles. When they married in 1973, it appeared their paths in life were laid out in separate directions.
However, both their marriages collapsed and for a while, there was a media frenzy about an alleged “love triangle” between Princess Diana, Prince Charles and Camilla. Reports suggested Charles had secretly been “devastated” when Camilla married Parker Bowles.
He had met Lady Diana Spencer in 1977, although they didn’t begin courting until 1980. They were married in July 1981, with a global audience of 750 million watching their ‘fairy tale’ wedding.
By 1986, media speculation was rife that Charles and Diana’s marriage was on the rocks. Camilla gained a reputation for being the “third person” in the marriage. In December 1992, the then Prime Minister, John Major, officially announced Charles and Diana’s “amicable separation” to the House of Commons.
Following Princess Diana’s untimely death, the nation went into mourning for the People’s Princess. It would have been unthinkable for Prince Charles and Camilla to publicly date again, even though they were both divorcees. Out of respect for his late wife and their two sons, the prince kept his relationship with his former love under wraps.
It was 1999 before Charles and Camilla appeared in public for the first time, at her sister’s 50th birthday party at London’s Ritz Hotel. More than 200 press photographers were there to capture the momentous occasion, while royal-watchers caught a glimpse of them leaving together. This was the defining moment when their romance became “official”.
It was reportedly still difficult to win over the Queen due to royal protocol – she allegedly refused to attend her son’s 50th birthday party because Camilla would be there. However, eventually, she accepted their relationship and in 2003, Camilla moved into Prince Charles’ residence, Clarence House.
Following their wedding in April 2005, Camilla became the Duchess of Cornwall, as Charles had held the title, the Duke of Cornwall, since 1952.
Legally, Camilla is Princess of Wales, but she chose to adopt the title, the Duchess of Cornwall, because the title “Princess of Wales” has always been strongly associated with the late Princess Diana.
The media saw Camilla’s prominent role in the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations in 2012 as proof she had finally been accepted as a royal: she was seated next to the Queen in her royal carriage for the official procession.
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