When Edward VIII wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, divorced persons weren't received at court -- even if they were the "innocent party." In 1955, Princess Margaret, the queen's younger sister, had to give up the love of her life, war hero Group Capt. Peter Townsend, because he was divorced. In 1978, her marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones, Earl of Snowden, was dissolved, making her the first British royal since Henry VIII to get a divorce.
She started a trend. Charles and Diana split; Prince Andrew, the queen's second son, divorced Fergie. Princess Anne, the queen's only daughter, divorced Capt. Mark Phillips, with whom she had two children, and married Timothy Laurence in a Church of Scotland ceremony.
Charles and Camilla will be married in a civil ceremony, but Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the Church of England, will preside over a prayer service afterward. He's giving the marriage his blessing. Apparently he's not the only one who sees nothing wrong with a middle-aged couple making it legal after three decades. The queen and Prince Philip have both OK'd the marriage; Princes William and Harry, now 22 and 20, issued a statement expressing their "delight" at their dad's engagement.
As for the public, they seem to be warming to Camilla. Her decision to be known as Duchess of Cornwall, rather than Princess of Wales, is a sop to those who may be reluctant to see Diana's former rival in the late princess's place. And it's hard not to be impressed by the way the couple has stayed together, through more than 30 years and countless scandals. Camilla's loyalty to the prince is unquestioned. However she may have felt about Diana, she has maintained a dignified public silence.
People who know her say it's hard not to like Camilla, who's been described as being great fun. She certainly has a sassy streak. Legend has it that when meeting the heir to the throne for the first time, a young Camilla Shand pointed out that her great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, had been the mistress of his great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII. "So how about it?" she asked the prince.
Charles' feelings for Mrs. Keppel's descendant have never been clearer. When his engagement to Diana Spencer was announced, a reporter asked if they were in love. "Of course," Diana replied. "Yes," said Charles, "whatever love is."
Today, it's a different story. "I'm just coming down to Earth," Camilla said, showing off her engagement ring.
And Charles? "I'm very excited," he said.
Andra Varin has written extensively about the British and other royal families.