By Nnamdi Elekwachi
Before the reigning British king and queen were born, Queen Camilla’s great-great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, royal historians had said, dated King Charles III’s great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII who also was the great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II. In fact, like Camilla, Alice’s marriage was contracted with an army officer, George Keppel. Prince Edward (later King Edward VII), then heir apparent to the British throne, was the son of Prince Albert, a prince consort who had European descent (German), similar to the late Prince Philip, Charles’ father, another prince consort with a European descent (Greek).
Some say the Camilla and Charles of today are a perfect reenactment, if not rematch, of an old love affair that had existed a half century before King Charles III was born. When I shared this parallel history of the royals with a mechanic friend of mine yesterday, especially when I mentioned that like Charles, Edward’s mother, Queen Victoria, had been the longest-reigning monarch until Queen Elizabeth II, the mother of Charles, my mechanic friend was to have an aha moment, would even jocularly conclude that he was happy “reincarnation is not limited to Africa alone.” Well, he is still standing me a bottle of beer he promised to fulfil later today. Reincarnation is not my business, mine was to emphasise that Charles and Camilla’s is a love story with perhaps a sad ending, Diana being the tragic chapter. Then, the historical parallel here also needs to be spotlighted. Finished.
The first time Camilla met Charles was in 1970 before the latter married Diana in 1981, a little more than a decade later. Too, Camilla met and dated Charles before her first and former husband, Andrew Parker Bowles whom she married in 1973, three years after she had met Charles in 1970. Charles’ heart remained with Camilla, but since he was on a naval assignment on the seas, Camilla married Andrew Parker Bowles. In all, the love between Prince Charles (now King) and Camilla (now Queen) was so passionate that it continued through their respective marriages until both divorced their spouses in the early and mid ‘90s only to reunite a year after Diana’s death, which was a bit sudden (to me). It was wrong by all conventional standards then, but the duo stayed in touch even after marriage separated them.
To the British public, it would become clear, albeit a bit later, that Diana was never the woman for Charles who had courted her elder sister, Sarah Spencer, before marrying Diana, the younger. I agree totally that Diana did not deserve most of the treatment given to her by the royals, being the free spirit that she was, but Diana was never in Charles’ love picture. A certain wedding picture of her with Charles had analysts arguing that the late Princess of Wales was contriving smiles yet still looking expressionless on a day she was supposed to live as her happiest! Later pictures of the couple together at public outings showed they had only been in an affair, but not in love. It was to be utterly strained relationship but the Prince and Princess were bluffing it out just to remain together as royally fated.
The history of love stories of the royals, partly, is replete with true love resisted by often aristocratic rules. It was not easy for Charles to marry Camilla initially because she was a commoner, unlike Diana whose father had been an equerry (just like our own Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi in 1956!).
Many marriages and love affairs meant certain persons in the royal line of succession, having taken those love paths, simply ended up as unceremonious renegades or “abdicated” as kings. If you had known what happened between: Edward VIII, Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle and his lover Wallis Simpson, an American actress in the 1930s; between Peter Townsend, another equerry and Margaret, Queen Elizabeth II’s sister in the 1940s through ‘50s; and between Andrew Parker Bowles, Camilla’s former husband and Princess Anne, Charles’ sister and the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, then you’d understand that tradition, in the form of genteel and rules, limited love among the royals in Britain. “Tradition show love shege for Britain,” to mildly put it in the latest Nigerian colloquial parlance.
The Royal Marriages Act of 1772, for example, prohibited the royals from marrying from certain backgrounds, mostly Catholics; reason Andrew Parker Bowles, Camilla’s former husband, though an equerry, could not marry Princess Anne, the Princess Royal and Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter! The amended version of the 1772 Act itself, known as Succession to the Throne Act of 2013, only granted the Queen or King (that is the monarch) prerogative of approval to be given when a royal wishes to marry from the “outside,” say, a commoner, hence the late Queen Elizabeth II would, during her reign, approve of the marriage between Charles and Camilla, and then much later that between Harry and Meghan Markle.
Diana and Charles were never a happy pair. They were never really in love either. They were married for the institution, just to preserve the nobility. Even the whole marriage of a thing was a charade that Diana herself admitted in an interview that there were three of them involved in the “crowded” affair, her way of saying Camilla was still in Charles’ life.
If things had gone to plan or if given the choice, I’m not sure Charles would have married Diana. I could be wrong.
Today, with social media and attendant cancel culture interrogating religion, racism and how people are governed and by whom, definitely, it will be hard to have the kind of one-time all-powerful monarchs like the Victorias, the Elizabeths, the Georges, and the Edwards that once reigned in the United Kingdom. Already, people protested against King Charles III’s coronation ceremony with others attacking Queen Camilla, accusing her of covetously taking late Princess Diana’s place.
Truth be told, if there was ever a place Diana longed to be in, it was a place of love, where to feel a sense of belonging, not bound by the kind of royal genteelism the late Princess of Wales was expected to live by daily. Diana wanted to live like a commoner unfettered and not bound by public glare, but she never had it. To her, perhaps, the bejeweled Spencer Tiara diadem felt like crown of thorns from which she tried to run away, but not with her life. It would show in the affair she would have with the Pakistani and then later the Egyptian. I’m not sure today that her death had been properly interrogated as it should. Old ways are caving in, in a world were people are seeking for freedoms. Even the current Catholic pontiff, Pope Francis is aware and currently making adjustments that point to revisiting celibacy and other canons.
Times have changed. Charles and Camilla should not expect to be loved as certain past monarchs were. People will always push for change, review of the taxes that go to royal spending in the form of Civil List (known as Sovereign Grant since 2011). Queen Elizabeth II faced a harsh criticism over tax spending on the royals in 1992 when she said it was her “annus horribilis,” could the years ahead, for Charles and Camilla, be anni horribiles, “horrible years”?
Call her side chick or whatever, Charles’ heart is with Camilla. Diana was, sadly, a tragic victim, even though she remains forever in our hearts as the “Queen of Hearts.”
Nnamdi Elekwachi, historian and public affairs analyst, can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org