Reflections on a royal marriage

Last updated at 08:18 11 February 2005

As in any engagement, royal or otherwise, the first word has to be one of warmest congratulation. Whatever their faults, Charles and Camilla are entitled to a new beginning. We wish them every happiness.

Who in their heart of hearts would really deny this middle-aged couple the contentment of a stable marriage?

At least the unseemly and frankly demeaning charade of the last few years is over: the pretence of being separate in public, while "living in sin" at home and the carefully choreographed campaign to win wider acceptability.

That said, this paper - in common, we suspect, with countless readers - has mixed feelings about yesterday's announcement. While it is impossible to deny this couple happiness, it is difficult not to sympathise with those for whom this new union rekindles anguished memories of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Charles's adultery... the insensitivity of the royals to Diana's bulimia... the Camillagate tapes... ruinously indiscreet TV confessions... all this wreaked immense harm on the House of Windsor.

So is the public now in a mood to forgive the shabby way Diana was treated? We suspect Britain is split down the middle, but one thing is certain: palace advisers are right to want a ceremony that is understated and low key.

Where they are wrong, however, is in allowing Camilla to be known as Her Royal Highness - the very title so ruthlessly stripped from Diana after her divorce.

And it doesn't stop there. Camilla will be Princess Consort when Charles becomes King - a neat way of sidestepping the vexed question of whether she will be Queen, but in reality solving nothing. As became clear yesterday, she is entitled to be called Queen, even if for now she decides not to be.

And it doesn't help that Charles, the future Supreme Governor of the Church of England, can't marry in a religious ceremony, because Camilla is divorced. We will be left with the head of a Church at odds with its own rules and a Princess Consort who won't quite be Queen.

But what may prove more damaging is the way they have become New Labour's unwitting catspaws. Under the Royal Marriages Act, Mr Blair is ultimately responsible for allowing them to marry. And of course he saw his opportunity.

With his agreement, the wedding on April 8 will be just three days before he launches his formal election campaign. And the royal feelgood factor promises him the best possible start.

Sadly for him - and it is enough to make a cat laugh - somebody leaked the wedding plans early, thereby eclipsing the publicity he expected from Labour's Spring conference this weekend.

That still leaves Charles and Camilla indebted to the most cynical politician of the age - not the happiest of omens.

But there could be a wider significance to this marriage. The very fact that it will be a low-key affair suggests the slimming down of the royal family is beginning.

After all, Camilla, a commoner, is full of common sense and could become the perfect symbol of a more modern and modest royalty. And the importance of our Royal Family to the health of the British constitution cannot be overstated.

Whether all the Ruritanian flummery of convoluted titles, vast retinues and grand palaces is either necessary or seemly for a modern monarchy is open to question.

What is not open to question is that Charles and Camilla are not bad people. Yes, they were partners in events that still haunt the House of Windsor, but if this really is a new beginning and they learn from their mistakes, they may find the public more forgiving than anything suggested by the current polls.

If the monarchy is to survive, we need just such an outcome. We wish them well.