Queens, their consort Kings, and when a queen is not a queen
The future titles and status of Camilla, Princess of Wales-to-be (not) and Queen-to-be-later (even more not), are an inexhaustible source of enjoyable discussion. A friend recently wrote to me in an e-mail that he couldn’t recall the husband of any reigning female monarch ever being called King, so there was nothing unusual in denying that title to Queen Victoria’s eminently worthy husband Albert. Prompted by this observation, my historical adviser jotted down some thoughts in a little paper (which you can read, if interested, here), including the reminder that two husbands who did manage to acquire monarchical titles through their marriages to reigning queens were William of William-and-Mary, and Philip of Spain, or so I’m reliably informed.
The precedents for the current carryings-on of HRH and his betrothed are not of course exact, since in the past it’s generally been the reigning monarch or heir to the throne trying (by and large without success) to secure a corresponding title for the spouse, whereas in this case he’s trying to deny her one.
My e-interlocutor also wrote:
… it has been a settled convention for more than a millennium that the wife of a reigning male monarch is known as Queen…. I’m surprised that more attention has not been paid to the point raised by one or two commentators – namely, the exact wording of the Clarence House statement, which said it was "intended" that Camilla should be titled Princess Consort. "Intended" strikes me and quite a few others as carrying several degrees less of certainty than "will". The speculation seems to be that Charles insisted on this choice of words because he still hopes that he will be able to get Camilla accepted as Queen in the end. Is this totally impossible?
I’m happy to find that in his (as usual) splendid column in last Sunday’s Indie-on-Sundie (readable online by subscription only), Alan Watkins made in much more scholarly fashion the same point that I have been mulling over since the terms of the royal engagement were announced: namely, that whatever Prince Charles might say, with or without the present prime minister’s approval, and whatever titles his bride-to-be might care to use before and after Charles becomes King, Camilla will become Princess of Wales upon her marriage to the Prince of Wales, and she will become Queen upon her husband becoming King — unless an Act of Parliament decides otherwise. And, as Watkins remarks, the prospect of debates on the future and character of the monarchy, inside and outside Parliament, while such a Bill was going through all its stages in both houses, would perhaps be viewed by both the royal family and Mr Blair with distinctly modified rapture. The Bill would also require the assent of all the other realms whose heads of state we share, and – as I have remarked in an earlier entry on this blog — there are 15 of these, some very large like Australia and Canada, some pretty small like Grenada and St Vincent: any one of these could well decide to stir the pot a little by raising objections to this or that provision of the Bill on these grounds or those. (His Excellency the High Commissioner for the Bahamas in London has already put down a quietly ticking marker.)
Whether by the time Charles succeeds to the throne the public will accept the idea of Camilla as Queen (the point about which my e-friend properly speculates), is of course another matter. Accepted or not, absent an Act of Parliament to the contrary, Queen Camilla she will be. Titter ye not: it’s treason.