THE announcement by Clarence House that Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles have postponed their wedding for twenty-four hours is just the latest unfortunate coincidence in a string of events which seem to have jinxed this marriage from the start.
With the funeral of Pope John Paul II now scheduled to take place at 10am local time on Friday, the prince and his advisers have decided a postponement is the only possible course of action. There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, protocol. Although Britain is not a Catholic country, The Vatican is a state and the Pope is head of that state. The Queen does not attend State funerals other than those of her closest family members. Although she is head of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith, she would not be expected to attend the funeral of the Pope, yet the funeral of a head of state requires the presence of a senior member of the Royal Family. Prince Charles is the Queen’s designated representative at the Pope’s funeral, whenever that event should have happened.
That it has occurred now is unfortunate to say the least, but the prince has a strong sense of duty, as well as a strong religious faith. He has already cut short his skiing holiday to attend a memorial service for the Pope in Westminster Cathedral with Mrs Parker Bowles and will see his attendance at Friday’s funeral as a mark of respect to the pontiff. Duty comes before pleasure.
Having established that Windsor Guildhall is available on Saturday morning it is not only possible, but sensible, to move the date of the wedding in order that various high-ranking guests will not have to choose between the Pope’s funeral and the heir to the throne’s marriage.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who is due to conduct the religious blessing after the civil ceremony, will be required (and indeed will want) to represent the Anglican Church at the funeral. He cannot be in two places at once. Nor can Tony Blair. Although it has been said that there is no requirement for the Prime Minister to attend the funeral (the obsequies of the previous two Popes were not attended by the Prime Minister of the day), Mr Blair met the Pope in private audience, and his wife and children are Catholic. With President and Mrs Bush attending, as well as other world leaders, all the signs are that Mr Blair will also want to be seen in Rome.
Yet, if he was placed in the extraordinary position of having to choose, Mr Blair’s absence from the wedding could be seen as downgrading the monarchy, an indication that he sees the Pope’s funeral as more important than the Prince of Wales’s wedding. The Queen and the Royal Family would certainly want to avoid this kind of situation. By delaying the wedding they have signalled the importance in their eyes of this funeral of a head of state.
There are also personal reasons for the prince’s decision. Camilla’s children Tom and Laura Parker Bowles are Catholics, as are other guests such as the Duchess of Kent, Princess Michael of Kent and Charles Kennedy, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. A wedding under these circumstances, with many of the guests unable to attend for religious reasons, would make the Royal wedding even more low-key than it already is.
Questions of taste and decorum are also involved. On Friday, all eyes will be on events in Rome. Millions of Catholics will be mourning the Pope and can hardly be expected to celebrate Prince Charles’s wedding a matter of two or three hours later. If the wedding went ahead regardless on Friday, it would be viewed as insensitive and bring more bad publicity in its wake, which the Prince of Wales can hardly afford in the light of recent events.
There is also a strong feeling in Poland, the Pope’s country of birth, that the wedding should not take place on the day of the funeral. The Royal advisors have doubtless taken all this into account. A postponement until the following day sends a signal to them, and Catholics everywhere, that the prince and Mrs Parker Bowles respect their feelings.
The announcement that the wedding had been postponed was taken only a matter of hours after The Vatican’s announcement of the date of the funeral. Very quickly, the prince has been seen to be doing the right thing and all the signs are that Catholic leaders have welcomed this initiative.
Protocol and precedence are the mainstays of the Queen and the Royal family. In a wedding that has been beset by so many problems and so much controversy, a few spoiled canaps are a small price to pay in order to avoid yet more negative publicity.
Prince Charles’ attendance at the Pope’s funeral, instead of celebrating his own wedding, will be seen in a positive light. The Prince of Wales has frequently been portrayed as a spoilt, selfish man. Although protocol has interfered in the prince’s personal plans, the sacrifice of his own happiness and that of his bride for just a few more hours can only win general approval.
Coryne Hall is a regular contributor to Majesty magazine, Royalty Digest and the European Royal History Journal. Her latest book, Imperial Dancer: Mathilde Kschessinska and the Romanovs, will be published on 14th April.