- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

LONDON — A day later than planned, Prince Charles yesterday finally married his on-and-off love of 34 years, Camilla Parker Bowles, in a low-key ceremony at a town hall in Windsor, west of London.

In contrast to the jinx that seemed to hover over the royal wedding plans for two months, the divorced heir apparent to the British throne and his divorced bride tied the knot in a 20-minute, snag-free civil rite attend by 28 guests, most of them family, in Windsor Guildhall’s Ascot Room.

A witness and his ring-bearer was Charles’ older son, Prince William, but notably absent was his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. She elected to remain at Windsor Castle itself, a few hundred yards away, to greet the bridegroom and his new wife a couple of hours later at a service of blessing.

In that service, at St. George’s Chapel inside the castle precinct, Elizabeth arrived for her first public encounter with Camilla, now her royal highness, the duchess of Cornwall, the second-most powerful woman in the land, behind the queen herself. Many of the hundreds who waited outside the chapel and the millions who watched on television had waited for that meeting.

Then, Queen Elizabeth smiled as she lined up on the steps behind her son and her newest daughter-in-law, a woman she had kept at considerably more than arm’s length for years.

Thousands of well-wishers jammed the streets of the tiny town of Windsor to cheer Prince Charles and Camilla, first at their arrival after a short limousine ride from Windsor Castle, then as they emerged from the Guildhall. Clad in an oyster silk dress with matching coat and wide-brimmed hat, Camilla tightly clutched her new husband’s left arm.

“Thank you very much,” the beaming prince mouthed to the crowd as they left to get ready for the blessing service presided over by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the Church of England. About 750 guests, ranging from the queen to a pub landlady, attended the service.

As the crowd cheered and waved flags — most of them English, but also a few American and Canadian — a smattering of boos reminded them of the shadow of Prince Charles’ first wife, the late Princess Diana, that still hangs over the royal newlyweds.

By then divorced from Charles, Diana was killed in a late-night car crash in Paris in August 1997, but her memory remains a power in the land among her legions of supporters, who for a time made Camilla one of the most despised women in Britain.

They have not forgotten that Princess Diana referred to Mrs. Parker Bowles in a television interview, when she said of her marital troubles with Charles that “there were three” in the marriage, “so it was a bit crowded.”

When Charles married Diana at a sumptuous wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, about 600,000 spectators showed up. Yesterday, in Windsor, the crowd estimate was about 15,000 — but that size crowd may well have been as the new duchess of Cornwall preferred.

“We are just a middle-aged couple who want to get hitched,” Mrs. Parker Bowles told friends after her and Prince Charles’ somewhat surprising wedding plans were announced two months ago. She once had said she had “no intention” of ever marrying the prince.

A wedding of traditional pomp initially was planned for Windsor Castle itself, but legal experts pointed out that the ceremony would have to be open to the public — and the castle itself open to civil weddings for the next three years.

Then other legal wizards questioned whether the heir to the throne could marry legally in a civil ceremony. The question remained unresolved within minutes of the wedding yesterday, when three more challenges to the marriage were lodged. All were dismissed.

Then, the queen triggered a minor shock when she decided that neither she nor Prince Philip, her husband and Charles’ father, would attend the nuptials.

Even the wedding, originally planned for Friday, had to be postponed for a day because Prince Charles had to fly to Italy to attend, as the queen’s representative, the funeral in Vatican City of Pope John Paul II. Charles flew back home Friday evening.

But the big day dawned under radiant blue skies that seemed to augur well for what finally happened — a jolly marriage that went off without a single flaw, aside from the homosexual-rights activist with the “legalize gay marriages” placard and the unemployed vagrant walking around with a plastic sheep on his shoulders.

“It’s brilliant,” said Vivienne Reay, 53, standing outside the Guildhall. “I think it’s really nice that they’re married. They’ve waited long enough, and I’m just really pleased for them.”

After the reception, where the queen gave the couple a toast, the newlyweds sped away for their honeymoon on the prince’s Balmoral estate in Scotland in a car festooned with red, blue and white balloons and the words “Just Married” scrawled on the back window.

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