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Why Wallis Simpson could never be Queen, but Camilla can

With the question still looming over whether The Duchess of Cornwall may be Queen, I have seen the question proposed as to why divorcee Camilla may be Queen, but King Edward VIII had to abdicate from the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson who was at divorced once and pursuing her second divorce.

First of all, the chances of Camilla becoming Queen are slim as at the time of Prince Charles and Camilla’s 2005 wedding, Clarence House announced that when Charles’ ascends the throne, Camilla will be known as HRH The Princess ConsortEven so, why could Wallis Simpson not take that title and King Edward continue to reign?

When Edward announced his intentions to marry American Wallis Simpson in 1936, a constitutional crisis arose. Not only did the governments of the United Kingdom oppose the marriage but so did the Dominions of the British Commonwealth.

There were multiple reasons the marriage was so opposed by all. Edward was the nominal head of the Church of England, during that time the church did not allow divorced people to remarry if their ex-spouse was still alive. If Edward married Wallis in a civil ceremony it would conflict with his ex officio role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

Wallis’ first divorce in the United States was based on “emotional incompatibility”, which the Church of England would not recognize. If anyone had challenged her first divorce in the English courts, it may not have been recognized under English law. The Church and English law only saw adultery to be grounds for divorce, therefore, her second and ultimately third marriages would have been considered invalid and bigamous.

Wallis was said to be an unsuitable match for the king, not only because of her two failed marriages, but many believed she was only after his money and power. Future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain wrote in his diary that she was  “an entirely unscrupulous woman who is not in love with the King but is exploiting him for her own purposes. She has already ruined him in money and jewels …”

During the inter-war years, the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States was not strong, and many Britons would not have accepted an American as queen consort. On the opposite side of pond, the American’s were very much in favour of the marriage, especially the American press.

Edward didn’t get along with republicans, who insisted the Wallis was an agent of Nazi Germany. It was said the Wallis had access to confidential government papers that Edward left out in the open at his Fort Belvedere residence.

Whether these were just rumours or facts, it was decided that Wallis could not become a royal consort. There were three choices at stake:

  1. Edward and Simpson marry and she becomes queen (a royal marriage);
  2. Edward and Simpson marry, but she does not become queen, instead receiving some courtesy title
  3. Abdication for Edward and any potential heirs he might father, allowing him to make any marital decisions without further constitutional implications

The British government, along with the prime ministers of the five dominions (Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Irish Free State) came to the agreement that there was “no alternative to course” his third option.

After tense talks with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, Edward felt there was no other choice but to abdicate.

The marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles was a long time coming, for those who do not closely follow the royal family it may seem to have just popped up but winning over the public took years of careful planning. Like Edward’s marriage to Wallis, the British public was not in favour of Camilla marrying their future king.

Thanks to Charles’ Deputy Private Secretary, Mark Bolland, who previously worked in public relations, he carefully crafted the public’s relationship with Charles and Camilla after it was damaged following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. His work helped pave the way to the public’s acceptance of the marriage.

Luckily for Charles, in 2002, the Church of England changed their ways to allow for divorced people to remarry in certain circumstances. Although the couple decided to avoid any controversy of the future supreme governor of the Church of England marrying Camilla who divorced in 1995, they would wed in a civil ceremony.

The BBC did find documents from 1956 and 1964 that stated that it was not lawful for members of the royal family to marry in a civil ceremony in England and Wales, the statements were dismissed by Clarence House on the advice of four legal experts. Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor, made a statement in the House of Lords approving the marriage of the two in a civil ceremony.

Charles’ also needed his mother, Queen Elizabeth’s consent, as required by the Royal Marriages Act 1772. On 2 March 2005, the Queen’s consent was recorded in a Privy Council meeting. The Department of Justice in Canada announced that its decision that the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada would not be required to meet to give their consent, as the marriage would not bring offspring and would have no impact on the succession to the Canadian throne.

On 9 April 2005, Prince Charles and Camilla wed in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall.

While Clarence House has said the Camilla will go by the title Princess Consort, the British public has greatly warmed up to her and half want her to be Queen, so only time will tell what will ultimately come.