It was a day of celebration after years of controversy. The marriage of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall has produced a union that has stood the test of time. But the build-up to the royal wedding that took place on 9th April 2005 had seen the couple and their relationship put under a public spotlight like no other.
Charles and Camilla announced their engagement on 10th February 2005 in a short statement that took on some very big questions. After years of debate, and a relationship that had been played out very publicly in the early 1990s during the end of Charles’ first marriage, a few sentences confirmed that the Prince of Wales would wed Camilla Parker Bowles in a civil ceremony at Winsdor. The bride would take the title of Duchess of Cornwall after her marriage and, when her husband eventually became king, she would be known as Princess Consort.
The Queen, the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury quickly issued statements welcoming the wedding. Just hours after the announcement, Charles and Camilla made their first joint appearance as an engaged couple at a reception at Windsor Castle. Camilla told reporters she was “just coming down to earth” after the proposal which had been sealed with a ring featuring a large square-cut diamond surrounded by three smaller stones on each side. The Prince, who had previously said his relationship with Camilla was “non-negotiable”, had underlined the importance he placed on his engagement by selecting a ring that had once belonged to his beloved grandmother, the Queen Mother.
It was hoped that a clear statement on the marriage and a short engagement (the date was set for April) would ensure this royal wedding went off without a hitch. However, given the controversy that had surrounded the couple’s relationship for years, that was always going to be easier said than done.
The first opinion polls taken after the wedding announcement showed general support for the marriage. However, dissenting voices were still heard. The relationship, which had first begun in the 1970s and which had been blamed by Charles’ first wife, Diana, Princess of Wales, for the ending of her own marriage, retained the power to divide opinion.
There were also arguments over whether a senior royal could marry in a civil ceremony – legal experts soon put those to one side. However, initial plans to hold the civil ceremony at Windsor Castle itself had to be changed quickly when it was discovered the royal residence would then have to be available to other couples as a marriage venue for three years afterwards. Final plans were made for Charles and Camilla to marry at Windsor Guildhall on 8th April 2005 followed by a blessing at St George’s Chapel the same day. However, when Pope John Paul II died on 2nd April 2005, Charles flew to the Vatican to attend his funeral, set for 8th April. The royal wedding, decades in the making, was moved one more time to 9th April.
When the royal wedding day finally arrived, the crowds that turned out to see the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles on their way into their civil ceremony were put at around 20,000. The couple came by car and looked happy, if ever so slightly nervous, as they made their way into the private ceremony. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh didn’t attend, but many other senior royals were present to watch the couple finally become man and wife over thirty years after first meeting. ]Charles and Camilla were cheered back to the Castle where they immediately began preparing for their blessing ceremony which took place at St George’s Chapel that afternoon.
The Prince of Wales and the new Duchess of Cornwall walked into the chapel together to the strains of Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto in D Minor. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, led the service which included the hymns ‘Love Divine, All Loves Excelling’, ‘Immortal, Invisible’ and ‘Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven’ and which saw the couple, along with the congregation, read an act of penitence from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Their wedding rings, as is traditional for the Royal Family, were made of Welsh gold.
The Queen led guests at the blessing and was joined by the whole of her family as well as overseas royals including King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie of Greece and the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway. The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was there along with other leading politicians while other guests included Sir David Frost, Joanna Lumley and Jilly Cooper. The ceremony was broadcast live on the BBC and carried around the world.
Camilla ended up with two wedding outfits, both designed by the London house of Robinson Valentine. For her civil ceremony, she wore a cream silk chiffon dress with an eye-catching hem covered by a deep cream basket weave coat. It was accompanied by a hat from Philip Treacy (another guest at the wedding). The outfit for the blessing consisted of a pale blue coat dress with gold embroidery worn over a matching dress. There was no tiara for this royal bride who instead opted for an eye-catching spray of gold feathers in her hair. Camilla only carried flowers at the blessing ceremony – her bouquet was made up of spring blooms including primroses and lily of the valley as well as myrtle.
Following the blessing, The Queen hosted a wedding reception for the couple at Windsor Castle before they headed off on honeymoon to Balmoral where crowds waited to greet them on their arrival. After years of debate about their relationship and an eventful lead up to the big day itself, this royal wedding had proved popular and successful. Much like the couple in the years that have followed since.