When a 21-year-old Prince Charles met Camilla Shand at a polo match in the early 1970s, he was immediately smitten. According to journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, “he lost his heart to her almost immediately.” So why is it that they didn’t get married in the first place?
When Charles and Camilla first met, she was involved in a relationship with Andrew Parker Bowles.
Charles and Camilla met for the first time at a polo match at Windsor Great Park. During that first meeting, Camilla apparently joked about the fact that her great-grandmother had had an affair with King Edward VII, saying, “My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather. I feel we have something in common.”
At the time, Camilla was in the middle of a years-long on-again, off-again relationship with Andrew Parker Bowles, the man who would go on to become her first husband.
“Prince Charles sort of parachuted in the middle,” Patrick Beresford told Prince Charles’s biographer Sally Bedell Smith. Parker Bowles happened to be on a six-month deployment to Northern Ireland and Cyprus, at the time and the Prince of Wales “landed at a convenient time,” wrote Bedell Smith.
A relationship between Charles and Camilla blossomed as they got to know one another, but Charles was still young, and he wasn’t ready for something more serious. He was also about to deploy with the Royal Navy for eight months.
Camilla wasn’t considered a suitable match for the Prince of Wales.
Even if Charles had wanted to settle down, he would have encountered those with serious doubts about whether Camilla was an appropriate bride for the heir to the throne. As Charles’s relative Patricia Mountbatten told Bedell Smith, there were “obvious problems” with the idea of Camilla marrying the future King.
Though it seems almost comically old fashioned now, the fact that Camilla had a dating history was a major strike against her. “The conventions of the time called for the heir to the British throne to marry a woman who at least appeared to be virginal,” writes Bedell Smith.
“You didn’t want a past that hung about,” Mountbatten said.
In 1973, Camilla married her first husband.
Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles had continued to see each other, and by 1973, pressure was mounting on Parker Bowles to make it official. The couple became engaged, though only after Camilla’s father, Bruce Shand, and Parker Bowles’s father, Derek Parker Bowles, published an engagement notice in The Times for their children. According to Andrew’s cousin John Bowes Lyon, the families had conspired to force the groom-to-be’s hand.
“Camilla was very much in love with him,” Bowes Lyon told Sally Bedell Smith. “Her parents were very keen that Andrew should marry her.
They married that summer in a Catholic ceremony at the Guards Chapel in London, and the wedding was quite the society event, with the Queen Mother, Princess Anne, and Princess Margaret all in attendance.
Prince Charles was reportedly devastated. “I suppose this feeling of emptiness will pass eventually,” he wrote to his mentor, Lord Mountbatten.
Camilla and Andrew went on to have two children together, Laura and Tom Parker Bowles, but in January of 1995, they announced their divorce. In public statements, they say the end of their marriage was “a private matter.” They did not give a specific reason for the end of their relationship, but did offer a window into their life together. “Throughout our marriage we have always tended to follow rather different interests, but in recent years we have led completely separate lives.”
Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in July of 1981.
As most every royal watcher knows, when he was 32, Prince Charles married Diana Spencer, and they went on to have two children, Princes William and Harry. Charles and Camilla began an affair in 1986. It eventually became public, a royal scandal that made headlines around the world. Charles and Diana divorced in 1996.
Eventually, Charles and Camilla did marry in a civil ceremony in 2005.
A change in the Church of England’s rules about remarriage after divorce, which took effect in 2002, made it possible for Charles to marry Camilla.
In an attempt to avoid controversy given their relationship history, the couple opted not to have a grand royal wedding, but instead married in a civil ceremony at the Guildhall in Windsor, and then had their marriage blessed by the Church in St. George’s Chapel. While the Queen approved of the marriage, she was not present at her son’s wedding ceremony. But she did attend the church blessing and reception.
“The venue was never the issue for the Queen,” a senior royal aide told The Telegraph at the time. “The civil nature of the service is the issue. She did not feel it was appropriate for her to attend.”
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