Charles, Camilla: Together again?


London -- Divorce British-style can be such a mess, especially when you are linked with the heir to the throne.

Yesterday, the acknowledged love of Prince Charles' life, Camilla Parker-Bowles, 47, and her husband, Brigadier Andrew Parker-Bowles, 55, announced they are getting a divorce.

The tabloids have brought out the screaming headlines. The television networks provided wall-to-wall coverage. The royal mess spews on.

The announcement came less than a week after the former secretary to the queen, Lord Charteris, predicted Prince Charles and Princess Diana would divorce "sooner rather than later."

Could Charles divorce his estranged princess, marry Mrs. Parker-Bowles and still assume the throne?

The question was volleyed back and forth yesterday by royals-watchers. Some compared the current state of royal upheaval to the crisis brought on in 1936, when Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry Baltimore divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson.

Others, like Lord St. John of Fawsley, an expert on Britain's constitution, scoffed. "We've had divorced sovereigns before," he said. "Even if Prince Charles wished to marry again, that would not affect his rights of succession under the Act of Settlement."

Others were less certain.

"The rules are very unclear," said Dr. Robert Borthwick, senior lecturer in politics at Leicester University and author of "Long to Reign Over Us?" "In a sense, they are made up each time something like this happens. That's a very British way."

Adultery has been the way, too. But much less publicly.

"Adultery is practically a job requirement for royalty," said Nigel Evans, publisher of Majesty magazine.

Royals have wed one person and loved others for nearly as long as the monarchy has existed. George IV kept a string of mistresses and even banned his wife from his coronation ceremony in 1820. Edward VII passed much of the era named after his mother, Queen Victoria, in the company of women other than his wife. Among his flames was Winston Churchill's mother.

The only difference now is that the lives of the royals are cataloged by the tabloids and television networks, their movements recorded with long-range camera lenses and ultra-sensitive microphones.

"This sort of situation has occurred repeatedly throughout the history of the royal family," Mr. Evans said. "But the person was married to someone who would put up with that situation, someone who put duty first. But now, the royals' movements can be listened to and watched. Putting up a facade for the public consumption is not possible."

The consuming public may not be in much of a mood to indulge Prince Charles if he does decide to divorce Princess Di and marry Camilla. According to two recent polls, Britons blame him for many of the recent problems that ail the royal family.

"A divorced monarch? Yes," said Mr. Evans. "A remarried monarch? No."

Gossip has been a Windsor family industry in recent years. And no story has gone on longer than the travails of Prince Charles, Princess Diana and "the other woman," Mrs. Parker-Bowles.

"This happens around here about every two or three months," said Harold Brooks-Baker, publisher of Burke's Peerage, compiler of royal and noble families. "It makes a change from Bill Clinton's problems, doesn't it?"

Long before Prince Charles met Princess Diana, he was linked with Camilla Shand. He was an awkward prince. She was an upper-class country woman. They met at a Windsor polo match in 1970.

They dated. They split up. She married her long-time admirer, Army officer Andrew Parker-Bowles. And then, she is said to have encouraged the prince to marry a shy teen-ager, Lady Diana Spencer.

On the eve of the royal wedding in 1981, Lady Diana found a bracelet that Prince Charles planned to give Camilla, inscribed with their private nicknames for each other, "Fred and Gladys."

The affair between Prince Charles, who is 46, and Mrs. Parker-Bowles, 47, is said to have resumed in the mid-1980s. But the depth of the relationship didn't become public knowledge until the 1992 release of a 3-year-old, six-minute taped telephone conversation, in which the two pledged their love to one another.

Then, in a June 1994 television documentary, Britons watched Prince Charles effectively confess to having committed adultery once his marriage turned sour.

The monarchy survived the disclosure. But the Parker-Bowles marriage, which produced two children -- Tom, 20, and Laura, 16 -- has not.

"We have grown apart to such an extent that with the exception of our children and a lasting friendship, there is little of common interest between us and we have therefore decided to seek a divorce," the couple said in a statement yesterday.

They said they had been separated for two years. The divorce should be final by the end of this month.

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