LONDON — Since Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, announced in early May that he will retire from royal duties in the fall, Britons are beginning to accept who’s in line to come next: There may well be a King Charles — and likely a Queen Camilla.
Britain and the 15 other countries, including Australia and Canada, are never without a monarch. The very moment that 91-year-old Queen Elizabeth dies, Prince Charles will assume the throne. So, too, will his wife, Camilla Parker Bowles.
It’s a fact the British public seems finally willing to embrace after years of resentment against the woman who replaced the late Princess Diana.
Camilla was largely blamed for the 1996 breakup of Prince Charles and the immensely popular Diana, who referred to Camilla as the “third person” in her marriage.
To this day, many here grumble about how Diana was treated unfairly, despite ample documentation how the fairy-tale romance had given way to a troubled marriage. Some go so far as to say Charles should have wed Camilla the first time around and passed on young Diana Spencer altogether.
“I wouldn’t be fazed by a Queen Camilla,” said Emma Bryce, a 29-year-old science writer from London. “She’s proved herself as a partner, not a mistress.
“They were sort of star-crossed lovers in a way, but now she’s slotted into the royal family and would make a fine queen,” Ms. Bryce added.
Prince Philip, 95, never became king because that title is deemed higher than a queen, and he couldn’t outrank his wife, the sovereign by lineage. Instead he was made a prince and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Camilla, on the other hand, would officially become a queen as the title would still be inferior to that of her husband. Nevertheless, the vitriol against Camilla in the past has been so great that the palace has suggested she may opt for a lesser title.
But some royal observers believe Camilla’s growing popularity makes it more likely for the future King Charles to insist a crown also be placed on his wife’s head — a thought that not too long ago would have been highly unpalatable for much of the kingdom.
Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, enjoy approval ratings of 60 percent, according to the polling firm Ipsos MORI. That’s less than the queen’s approval rating of 81 percent. But their numbers are getting better, leaving experts to believe the regal couple is finally shirking the specter of Charles and Diana’s divorce and her tragic death in 1997.
A poll by YouGov last month found that 32 percent of Brits thought Camilla should be given a lesser title out of respect for Diana.
“The clear shift in attitudes is backed up by survey data,” said Philip Norton, a Hull University government professor and member of the House of Lords. “The animosity has died down.”
Long PR campaign
At the time of Camilla’s engagement to Prince Charles in 2005, another YouGov survey revealed that just 7 percent of the British public thought she deserved to be queen. The shift is the fruit of a long palace campaign to replace Camilla’s chilly other-woman image and replace it with that of an ever-supportive wife and duchess.
“There is no question the public has warmed to her in what has been known as the rehabilitation of Camilla,” said Richard Fitzwilliams, an expert on the British aristocracy. “It’s an amazing PR exercise and has taken years. That’s something Prince Charles would undoubtedly be pleased about.”
Sympathy for Prince Charles, who has waited decades while his mother has become the longest-reigning queen in British history, has played a role in the change, Mr. Fitzwilliams said.
“He doesn’t want to be the only king in history without a queen,” Mr. Fitzwilliams added. “I think it’s clear they’re happy together, and that’s made the difference. People think it’s only fair that after all this time, the prince should find someone who makes him happy.”
But a slice of the British public would still resist the idea of a Queen Camilla. “Some people will never accept her as queen. That’s true and can’t be changed,” Mr. Fitzwilliams said.
Zar Sibbring, a 58-year-old hairdresser from Brighton, would be a reluctant subject under Queen Camilla. “I would not accept her as queen. Neither would other people old enough to remember the Diana scandal,” Ms. Sibbring said.
But others say such feelings are fading among most Brits because Camilla doesn’t try to steal the show from Charles, as Diana often did. “She hasn’t done anything to upset anyone. She just gets on with it and has been very supportive to Charles,” Mr. Norton said.
Mr. Fitzwilliams agreed. “It’s a very long time since I’ve seen anti-Camilla articles because there’s nothing to attack. It’s been so well-handled, and Camilla hasn’t tried to emulate or replace Diana,” he said.
Of course, it ultimately does not matter whether Brits approve of a Queen Camilla or not. That’s not how monarchies work.
“She’ll become queen consort automatically, because that’s the common law,” Mr. Norton said.
While she will officially become queen, Camilla could also theoretically choose to be known by a less august title like “princess consort.”
In a written statement, a palace spokesperson declined to address the issue. “We do not have a comment on any future titles for the duchess of Cornwall,” the statement said.
Mr. Fitzwilliams, meanwhile, said the royals were wise to dial back talk of a princess consort as the sound of Her Majesty Queen Camilla becomes less and less offensive to British ears. There will be time, he said, to iron out the details of the royal succession when the moment is right.
Ms. Bryce added that it’s time to move on. “It’s time for the country to be gracious and say that Prince Charles and Camilla were clearly meant to be together,” she said.