I don’t mind that Prince Charles is marrying his mistress. Nothing wrong with making an honest woman out of Camilla Parker Bowles. I don’t mind, either, that she’s a commoner.
As a medievalist by training, I know there’s precedent: John of Gaunt, son of England’s King Edward III and father of Henry IV, married his own longtime commoner-mistress, Catherine Swynford, in 1396 and legitimized the children he had by her. They became known as the Beauforts, and one of their offspring was Henry VII, England’s first Tudor monarch. Before Catherine, Gaunt had made a loveless marriage of diplomacy to a Spanish princess, Constance of Castille (sort of like Diana, shopping princess, in Charles’s life), and when Constance died, Gaunt decided it was time to marry for love, as Charles seems to have done. I never cared much for ditz-brain, trend-obsessed Diana (and the more I learned postmortem about her own behind-the-scenes sexual escapades, which, unlike her husband’s, were never discreet, the less I liked her). Keeping a mistress, or in the politically correct terminology of the New York Times, a “partner,” is not the most noble thing a married man can do, but there’s something to be said for honoring the institution of marriage at least in outward form while one’s wife is alive. As Oscar Wilde said, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.
What I do mind is that Camilla is, ahem, divorced. Yes, respectable people get divorced and remarried all the time, and many undoubtedly have good reasons for doing so. But royals, whose lives are never their own but always their subjects’ as well, are supposed to live by mores above those of ordinary people. One of the classics of medieval history is Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies (1957), which argues that the king had both a “body natural” like the rest of us and a “body politic” that represented the ideals and aspirations of his country.
This was something that the British people recognized very well when they reacted with outrage at King Edward VIII’s decision to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson in 1936. Edward was forced to abdicate his throne, which was probably a good thing, because the younger brother who succeeded him, the happily married and devoted father George VI, proved to be the inspiring example the British needed to get them through the rigors and horrors of World War II. George bravely refused to move out of Buckingham Palace, choosing to risk his life in solidarity with other Londoners whose homes were bombed nightly by the Germans. The dilletantish Edward, who spent the rest of his life going to parties with Wallis, was not exactly leadership material.
Maybe Charles, in line for the British throne, isn’t much of a leader, either; he seems, like his great-uncle, to have frittered away large portions of his life, and he could have been a little nicer to the dopey Diana. As I said, I’m glad he’s finally able to marry for love and I’m glad he’s making an honest woman out of Camilla. But can’t she do something about getting her 22-year marriage to Andrew Parker-Bowles annulled? After all, she was already seeing Charles when she married Andrew, so you can certainly surmise that she didn’t contract that union in the spirit of “till death do us part.”