At most weddings, the bride is queen for a day. But when your mother-in-law-to-be is the queen, just whose day is it, anyway?
News that Queen Elizabeth II will not attend the April 8 town-hall civil ceremony uniting her son Prince Charles and longtime love Camilla Parker Bowles had British tabloids atwitter yesterday, with the announcement viewed as evidence that the monarch will never accept the prince's mistress as his wife.
But royal watchers and etiquette experts said yesterday that the queen is doing the right thing.
"I think it's being handled with great taste," said etiquette maven Letitia Baldrige. "The queen has adjusted a lot since her parents' time. I think she's gone about as far as she can go in relaxing things so that these two can get married."
The queen said she would attend a religious blessing of the marriage at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle after the ceremony. She's even paying for the reception. But, show up or stay away, it's impossible for this mother of the groom to stay quietly in the background -- despite the protestations from Buckingham Palace that her plans did not constitute "a snub."
The ceremony originally was to take place at Windsor Castle, but plans changed after the royal family learned that licensing the queen's residence for weddings would open it to public nuptials for three years.
The civil ceremony was moved to Guildhall, a small town hall. Once he heard that, Joe Little, the managing editor of London-based Majesty magazine, assumed the queen would not attend. She has always put her duty as queen before family ties, he said.
"It just didn't seem to be a suitable venue for a monarch to witness a wedding," Little said.
The queen likely can't help but be fed up with the confusion that has surrounded the wedding details, and how they affect her dueling roles, Little said. She is the titular head of the Church of England, which, in most cases, has frowned on the remarriage in the church of divorced people with living spouses. There are still questions about whether the civil wedding will be legal, though a government official sought yesterday to put them to rest.
But the queen's decision to skip the civil ceremony has fueled speculation that she will never accept Parker Bowles as her son's wife.
"It doesn't help the public in accepting the situation," Little said. "Unfortunately, this has taken on the aspect of farce."
Indeed, some Britons did not agree with her decision. "Her son is getting married to the [woman] he is in love with," Ryan Edwards of Lincoln wrote to The Times of London. "As his mother, the Queen should certainly be there."
The queen said she was staying away to respect her son's wish that his second marriage ceremony be "low key." The couple has already announced that Parker Bowles will not be queen if her husband becomes king, but would be known as the princess consort.
Miranda Lewis, a London wedding consultant whose company Orchid Events has planned the nuptials of dignitaries, said remarrying couples often want a more muted wedding. "The first thing they say is, they don't want it to be the same designer, the same caterer," she said. "And they want it to be more low key."
Sir Peter North, principal of Jesus College at Oxford University, said it is not uncommon for marriages in England to be legally documented first in a bureaucratic setting, then held with more pomp, circumstance and formal wear in a venue of the couple's choice.
North recalled serving as best man decades ago for a bride and groom who showed up in jeans -- and without their parents -- for their legal ceremony. That afternoon, the bride walked down the aisle of a chapel in traditional dress. "All the mothers were there, with nice hats," he said.
With that perspective in mind, North thinks the queen is right to skip the first ceremony. "I think it would have made more of a fuss of it if she had gone," he said.
Peggy Post, author of Emily Post's Wedding Etiquette, agreed. "They are definitely in the limelight, more than most people's weddings," she said. "Any weddings these days, more and more, are a blending of tradition and what the couple's personal preferences and situations are."
With their wedding already seen as a logistical nightmare, perhaps the prince and his fiancee can take solace from Carrie Bradshaw's bon mot on Sex and the City: the worse the wedding, the better the marriage.
Prince Charles' first marriage to Princess Diana, after a wedding full of pomp and circumstance at St. Paul's Cathedral, was riven with unhappiness, infidelity and divorce.
And Parker Bowles as bride is already a survivor. She has waited 30 years for her prince, been pelted with rolls at a supermarket, and -- a bride-to-be's worst nightmare -- been called "plain" in public.
That should put the smaller details in perspective, said Baldrige.
"The ceremony won't mean anything to either of them, when you get right down to it," she said. "It's just getting her accepted as the wife."