Camilla Parker Bowles won her man the hard way. She earned him. She overcame the disapproval of relatives, public resentment and the humiliation of seeing her most intimate conversations with Prince Charles become grist for the tabloids, late-night comics and louts in the pubs.
Here was fresh evidence that love, as long as it is fully requited, conquers all, even for the woman once accused not just for breaking up a marriage, but for trashing a fairy tale.
Prince Charles' announcement that he would wed Mrs. Parker Bowles after an off-and-on (and mostly on) courtship of 30 years, was British royalty's Valentine to their subjects. In fact, the announcement was originally scheduled for Valentine's Day, and was moved up four days only after word of it inevitably leaked to a London tabloid.
The announcement was carefully written, and vetted by no less than Queen Elizabeth II; the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury; and several other men wise in the ways of royalty, religion and the law. The queen said she and her consort, Prince Phillip, "have given them our warmest blessings."
The palace and the government want most of all to avoid anything remotely like the controversy that dogged the crown in the wake of the abdication of Edward VIII, who gave up the throne for the hand of Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee from Baltimore. That was in 1936, a time now far behind us in a place now far away; the world has turned over several times since then, with the "liberation" of blacks, women, gays and just about everyone with a legitimate (or sometimes even illegitimate) complaint against society.
The first public reaction surely warmed Camilla's heart; 65 percent of the respondents in a snap poll by the London Daily Telegraph said they thought it was only right for the pair, who had been living together, to marry at last. But only 7 percent said they thought Camilla should ever sit on the throne as the queen.
The announcement from Buckingham Palace attempted to take care of this: She would always be called Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall, which had been one of Princess Diana's minor titles. She and the prince would be married not in the Anglican church, of which the reigning monarch is by law the governor of the established state church and "the defender of the faith," but in a private ceremony at Windsor Palace, with a "blessing ceremony" presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury in the castle's St. George Chapel.
But the soap opera is not over. All the obstacles in the way of Camilla's journey to the altar have not been swept away, after all. We may not be as far from 1936 as we thought. The learned men of the law say there are technicalities. (Aren't there always?)
Even casual readers of the newspapers are learning a little history. Civil marriage, which everyone takes for granted, was not available in England until 1836, and this did not include Britons of royal blood. Royalty were required to seek the benefit of clergy, and the deed had to be done in an Anglican church. The law was amended in 1949, but none of the changes, apparently, included loosening the requirements of a royal in pursuit of marriage.
"There is no statutory procedure whereby members of the royal family can marry in a registry office," said one distinguished fellow in legal history at Oxford. "Nonsense," said a lord of the law. The prince insists there's no problem, and if you're a prince with a good chance to one day be the king who's a lawyer to stand in the way?
Some of the wise men of the established church have stepped up to the task. One of them says permitting the ceremony in the church "would be tantamount to consecrating an old infidelity."
Well, the intricacies of the law are for others to sort out, and it's surely my business to step aside when theologians wrestle with the doctrines of a faith that is not mine. But who among us doesn't root, at least a little, for Camilla. She didn't actually break up a marriage that was doomed from the start, and it's not her fault that, in one wicked court jest, "she was twice Diana's age and only half as beautiful." Another "friend" told the Guardian newspaper: "She's actually very attractive, and not a dog at all."
"She has no great ambition to be the queen," one of her friends told the newspaper. "All she wants is for people not to hate her. She takes the view she's only got this far by keeping her mouth shut. Like the queen, nobody knows how she feels about anything."
That can't be quite right. We know how she feels about catching her prince, who's a little older and lot more wrinkled than the prince in your ordinary fairy tale, but he's hers and that's all she ever wanted.