Somewhere, Princess Diana is probably turning in her grave. And the Duchess of Windsor is spinning.
Prince Charles announced Thursday that he will marry Camilla Parker Bowles, the divorcée who has been his mistress for several years. The woman Diana blamed, publicly and bitterly, for the breakup of her marriage. "The Rottweiler," as Diana called her.
Parker Bowles won't be known as Princess of Wales when she marries her prince on April 8. Instead, she will be called the Duchess of Cornwall, taking one of Charles' other titles. When he succeeds to the throne, she won't become queen. Instead, she will be known as "princess consort."
But she'll have an honor that was taken away from Diana, an honor that was always denied the Duchess of Windsor.
Camilla Parker Bowles will become Her Royal Highness.
It's a coveted title, that HRH. It has a sort of magic. It means one has become a member of the inner circle of the royal family. It means other women have to curtsy to you.
Diana was stripped of those three special letters when she and Charles were divorced in 1996. It rankled her. It rankled her admirers, too.
Queen Elizabeth II knew it; she reportedly offered to restore the title a year later, during the public outpouring of grief after Diana's death in a car crash. The Spencer family declined.
Wallis Warfield Simpson wanted to be HRH too. When King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 to marry "the woman I love," he soon learned that it's the person who's currently on the throne who makes all the rules. Edward, then the Duke of Windsor, married the twice-divorced Mrs. Simpson, and he expected that she would automatically share all his titles -- including that HRH.
Nothing doing, said the new king, George VI, who had been left holding the bag when Edward left the throne. King George (egged on by his wife and his mother, Queen Mary) didn't feel an American adventuress who had already gone through two husbands should be recognized as royal. Edward and Wallis never forgave the snub.
In a way, Camilla is getting something else Edward and Wallis tried for -- a sort of morganatic marriage, in which a royal personage legally marries someone of inferior rank, but the spouse does not take the title, and their children cannot inherit. (Since Camilla is 57 and Charles 56, the rights of future children are moot. Besides, Diana already produced the heir and the spare.)
Before he gave up the throne, Edward tried to find a way to keep his crown and still marry Mrs. Simpson. He proposed a morganatic marriage in which Mrs. Simpson could not become queen. Since William the Conqueror came charging across the channel in 1066, the wife of the king had always been styled the queen, but perhaps there was a way around it.
The prime ministers of the British dominions (then Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Irish Free State) were approached about this possibility, but no one went for it. If one had a king, they reasoned, then that king's wife was automatically the queen. And Queen Wallis wasn't something the people were prepared to stomach.