Marriage? Let's Wait and See; Britain's Most Distinguished Constitutional Historian Considers Charles and Camilla's Future
Byline: LORD BLAKE
THE HISTORIC meeting between the Queen and Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles at Highgrove - where they reportedly chatted for a few minutes at a lunch party - has, of itself, no immediate constitutional significance.
However, it carries great public relevance and in the longer run does have the potential to open up questions of considerable constitutional importance.
Now formal recognition has been given to the relationship between Charles and his mistress, it must inevitably lead to debate about the prospect of marriage.
Ultimately, this could call into question the role of the Monarch as the head of the Established Church. It could even add new weight to the rumbling debate about disestablishment.
Symbolically, Charles's two sons were both present at the lunch, and, indeed, William has met Mrs Parker Bowles on a number of occasions since the summer of 1998 when they were introduced at St James's Palace.
My impression is that William has come to terms with his father's relationship, and that this was one of the factors influencing Her Majesty.
Be that as it may, it was a carefully
orchestrated encounter after a long period in which the Queen had resolutely refused to meet Mrs Parker Bowles or even to attend events - such as the Prince's 50th birthday party - because his partner would be present.
Saturday's meeting was designed to signal the fact that the Queen now accepts that the relationship between Prince Charles and Mrs Parker Bowles is lasting, open and should be recognised for what it is.
To put it bluntly, the message is that, if the Queen and the children of the late Princess of Wales can accept Mrs Parker Bowles, it is not for prelates, politicians or the rest of us to be less generous and understanding.
Whatever one's view of the duties of the heir of the throne, the sanctity of marriage, or of the way in which Charles and Diana handled their doomed relationship, one can only wish the prince and his companion well, and heave a sigh of relief that the seemingly endless period of ambiguity, subterfuge and apparent social snubs to a woman who has stood by Charles with such discretion and courage for more than two decades, has finally come to an end.
The key point is probably that public opinion has changed.
While the Princess of Wales was alive, and especially before she and Charles divorced, there was considerable animosity towards Mrs Parker Bowles.
That bitterness was painfully apparent in the weeks and months after Princess Diana's tragic death.
However, time moves on and the simple dignity with which the couple have handled their relationship since the tragic accident which killed Diana has won many hearts.
But setting aside the ordinary, human feelings of sympathy we would naturally have towards any couple in a similar situation, there is another aspect to all this. Surely it is good that the heir to the throne can be open and contented about what is obviously the crucial relationship in his life.
A happy and secure prince, properly supported by a recognised partner, is likely to make a better and more popular king, when his time comes, than one who is burdened by guilt and resentment.
If he is to serve his people well, as he so painfully and obviously wants, it will be easier to do so from a solid domestic base.
Moreover, much of the earlier speculation - in my view illfounded even at the time - that Charles might step aside and allow the Crown to pass directly from the Queen to William, was based on the feeling that he might be unable or unwilling to cope with the burden of office without the support of the woman he loved. …