In profile: Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall

Camilla Parker Bowles was ‘the other woman’ in the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer and played a central role in the couple’s split, in what royal biographer Penny Junor describes as the darkest days of the modern monarchy. Here, ahead of the fourth series of The Crown, which is expected to feature the notorious love triangle as a central plotline, we explore the life of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and her portrayal in the epic royal drama…

Emerald Fennell plays Camilla Parker Bowles (then Shand) in 'The Crown'

Camilla Parker Bowles: a biography

Maiden name: Camilla Rosemary Shand

Born: 17 July 1947, at King’s College Hospital, London

Married to: Prince Charles (m. 2005–present); Andrew Parker Bowles (m. 1973–95)

Children: Thomas Henry (born 1974) and Laura Rose (Lopes) (born 1978)

Grandchildren: Eliza Lopes (born 2008); Louis Lopes (born 2009); Gus Lopes (born 2009); Lola Parker Bowles (born 2007) and Freddy Parker Bowles (born 2010)

Parents: Major Bruce Middleton Hope Shand and The Hon Rosalind Maud Shand (née Cubitt)

Siblings: Annabel Elliot (born 1949) and Mark Shand (1951–2014)

Educated: Dumbrells School in Sussex; Queen’s Gate School in South Kensington; Mon Fertile School in Switzerland and the Institut Britannique in Paris

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Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was born Camilla Rosemary Shand on 17 July 1947 at King’s College Hospital, London. Born into a well-to-do family, Camilla grew up on a sprawling country estate in Plumpton, Sussex. Her father, Major Bruce Shand, was Vice Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, while her mother, Rosalind, came from the aristocratic and wealthy Cubitt family – her ancestor Thomas Cubitt made his fortune as a property developer in the 19th century. Her father’s rank meant Camilla and her family lived somewhat regally and socialised with Britain’s high society.

Camilla Shand and sister Annabelle at the 1952 wedding of Jeremy Cubitt and Diana du Cane
Camilla Shand, aged four (left), and her three-year-old sister, Annabelle, at the wedding of Jeremy Cubitt and Diana du Cane in St Mark’s church, North Audley Street, London, 17 January 1952. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Camilla, the eldest of three children, was first educated at Dumbrells School, a co-ed school in Sussex, and later attended the fashionable independent all-girls boarding school Queen’s Gate School in South Kensington. There she acquired the nickname ‘Milla’ and, according to the journalist and author Christopher Andersen, was known to boast about the fact her great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, was the mistress of King Edward VII. “Fellow pupils remember 10-year-old ‘Milla’ waltzing into class and grandly ordering the other children to bow before her. ‘My great-grandmother was the lover of the King,’ she proclaimed. ‘We’re practically royalty’”, writes Andersen in his 2016 book Game of Crowns.

Camilla was described as a tomboy and said to possess a “boisterous sense of humour and utter lack of self-consciousness that made her a favourite of both sexes – but especially the boys”. Camilla left Queen’s Gate at the age of 16 with a love of reading – but with only one O Level to her name (in kennel hygiene).

When did Camilla meet her first husband, Andrew Parker Bowles?

After attending finishing schools in Switzerland and France, Camilla returned to London to work briefly as a receptionist at a Mayfair-based decorating firm. It was around this time, in 1965, aged 17, that she first met Andrew Parker Bowles, an officer in the Royal Horse Guards, at a debutante party. The pair proceeded to date on and off for seven years, during which time Andrew was said to also been involved with a number of other women – including Princess Anne, whom he dated briefly in 1970.

Andrew Parker Bowles playing polo in Kenya, 1971
Andrew Parker Bowles playing polo in Kenya, 1971. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)

When did Camilla meet Prince Charles?

It was in the summer of 1971 when a 24-year-old Camilla first met Prince Charles, who was then 22. A legend has been fostered that the couple were introduced at a polo match at Smith’s Lawn in Windsor, but, according to Jonathan Dimbleby’s authorised biography, The Prince of Wales (1994), the introduction was in fact made by a mutual friend, Lucia Santa Cruz, daughter of the Chilean ambassador to the United Kingdom, whom Charles had met when he was a student at Cambridge.

Charles and Camilla were instantly attracted to one another and over the next 18 months their friendship became a love affair. But “Charles knew that his parents would not approve of the relationship,” writes Marlene Koenig in this article for HistoryExtra. Camilla’s background, while well-to-do, was not sufficiently aristocratic, and Camilla had what Prince Charles’s godmother, Patricia, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma, described as a “history”.

So it was that as Prince Charles prepared to join HMS Minerva in mid-January 1973 for a seven-month voyage in the Caribbean, he refrained from expressing the depth of his feelings for Camilla. Two months later, in March 1973, Camilla became engaged to Andrew Parker Bowles.

Prince Charles on board HMS Minerva, 1973
Prince Charles on board HMS Minerva, 1973. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Camilla and Andrew married at Guards’ Chapel, Wellington Barracks, on 4 July 1973. The wedding was attended by Princess Anne and Charles’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Charles, meanwhile, sent his regrets from the Minerva.

The following year Camilla gave birth to her first child, a son named Thomas Henry, and just under four years later, in January 1978, welcomed a daughter named Laura. Interestingly, Thomas is today not only Prince Charles’s stepson, but also his godson.

Camilla marries Andrew Parker Bowles, 1973
Camilla Shand and Andrew Parker Bowles outside the Guards’ Chapel on their wedding day, 4 July 1973. (Photo by Frank Barratt/Keystone/Getty Images)

When did Charles and Camilla begin their extra-marital relationship?

In the early years of Camilla’s marriage to Andrew, her relationship with Prince Charles was said to have remained platonic, writes Koenig. But the pair became romantically involved again after Charles turned to Camilla for consolation for his grief following the death of his beloved great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten, in August 1979. This second affair lasted until Charles’s engagement to Diana in 1981.

Camilla remained Charles’s close friend and confidante throughout the 1980s – the pair were seen going to the theatre together and attending many of the same parties – but the prince would insist years later that he had been faithful to Diana until their marriage had “irretrievably broken down”. Charles says he rekindled his affair with Camilla only in 1986, when his marriage was beyond repair. This was five years after he married Diana.

Lady Diana Spencer and Camilla Parker Bowles at Ludlow Races, 1980
Lady Diana Spencer and Camilla Parker Bowles at Ludlow Races where Prince Charles was competing, 1980. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Archive Photos)

In 1989, while attending the 40th birthday party of Camilla’s sister, Annabel Elliot, at the home of Lady Annabel Goldsmith in London, Diana is reported to have confronted Camilla about the nature of her relationship with her husband. According to Andrew Morton’s controversial 1992 biography, Diana: Her True Story, Diana told Camilla: “I know what’s going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that.”

Morton claims Camilla told Diana “you’ve got all the men in the world fall in love with you and you’ve got two beautiful children, what more do you want?”, to which Diana responded: “I want my husband.”

The affair reportedly continued, and in the summer of 1994 Charles’s interview with Jonathan Dimbleby was televised “in which he admitted infidelity and revealed both a lack of sympathy for Diana… and a worrying distance from his family,” writes Sarah Gristwood in this article for HistoryExtra.

The following year, in January 1995, Camilla and Andrew announced their divorce. “Throughout our marriage we have always tended to follow rather different interests, but in recent years we have led completely separate lives,” the couple said in a statement. A few months later, in November 1995, Princess Diana gave her famous Panorama interview with Martin Bashir in which she told viewers “there were three of us in this marriage – so it was a bit crowded”.

Within weeks of the interview, the Queen suggested the couple should divorce – and quickly. Charles’s marriage to Diana was dissolved in August 1996, after four years of separation. On 31 August 1997, Diana was killed in a car accident in Paris.

Martin Bashir interviews Princess Diana for the TV programme 'Panorama', November 1995
Martin Bashir interviews Princess Diana in Kensington Palace for the television programme ‘Panorama’, November 1995. (Photo by © Pool Photograph/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

When did Charles and Camilla get married?

Charles and Camilla kept a low profile in the months after Diana’s death. “Camilla was the wicked witch and marriage wrecker, globally loathed,” said royal expert Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine. “The Queen really wanted him to say goodbye to her [Camilla], and he refused,” says royal biographer Penny Junor, author of The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles and the Love Affair that Rocked the Crown. “This man, who has duty written through him, did not obey his mother on this occasion.”

It was not until January 1999, some two-and-a-half-years after his divorce from Diana and more than 18 months after her death, that Charles and Camilla made their first public appearance together as a couple. At a 50th birthday party at the Ritz Hotel in London for Camilla’s sister, Annabel Elliott, the pair signalled that their long-running love affair was now official.

The couple’s engagement was announced on 10 February 2005, with Camilla wearing a ring widely believed to have come from the Queen Mother’s collection. The ring features a five-carat emerald-cut diamond in the centre, and its extensive family heritage means it could be more valuable than more modern royal engagement rings.

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles engaged
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles arrive for a party at Windsor Castle after announcing their engagement, 10 February 2005. (Photo by John Stillwell/AFP via Getty Images)

Camilla and Charles were married on 9 April 2005 at a civil wedding at Windsor Guildhall, followed by a Service of Blessing at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. At the reception, Queen Elizabeth II offered a toast to the newlyweds in which she said: “They have come through and I’m very proud and wish them well. My son is home and dry with the woman he loves.”

Will Camilla become queen when Charles accedes the throne?

Camilla is legally the Princess of Wales, but because the late Diana, Princess of Wales was primarily known by that name, Camilla has instead gone by her secondary title, Duchess of Cornwall.

When Charles takes the throne, the Duchess of Cornwall will automatically become Queen Consort upon his accession – under common law the spouse of a king automatically becomes queen. But according to constitutional experts at University College London’s Constitution Unit, there are two possible reasons why Camilla might not assume the title. “The first is the argument voiced by the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail Online, that Camilla cannot become Queen because her 2005 civil marriage to Prince Charles was not valid. The argument runs as follows: because the Marriage Acts from 1753 have explicitly excepted royal marriages from their provisions, the only valid marriage which a member of the royal family could contract in England was a religious marriage in the Church of England.

“The Lord Chancellor in 2005 defended the validity of the Prince’s civil marriage, as did the Registrar General. But if Camilla became Queen, it might provoke further legal challenges.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall wedding photograph
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall pose for an official wedding photograph with their children and parents (L-R: Prince Harry, Prince William, Laura and Tom Parker Bowles; Front: Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II, Bruce Shand) in the White Drawing Room at Windsor Castle following their marriage on 9 April 2005. (Photo by Hugo Burnand/Pool/Anwar Hussein Collection/Getty Images)

“The second possible reason is public opinion. In deference to public opinion, Camilla has not assumed the title Princess of Wales. Prince Charles will no doubt have regard to public opinion at the time of his accession, in deciding whether Camilla should become Queen; and he may also want to seek the advice of the government of the day. The fallback position is that Camilla would become Princess Consort as announced at the time of their marriage.”

Sean O’Grady, associate editor at The Independent, writes that the public might never be reconciled to the idea of HM Queen Camilla. “Those that care little about the monarchy or are actively republican probably aren’t much bothered about the Queen Camilla issue; but those who are monarchists tend to be very emotive and divided about the issue,” he says, adding that the monarchy’s “core support… don’t want Queen Camilla”.  

How is Camilla portrayed in The Crown?

Camilla’s early relationship with Prince Charles was a key plotline in series three of The Crown, which followed their meeting in the summer of 1971. She was played by Emerald Fennell, who will resume her role in series four.

In series three of The Crown, Charles confides in Lord Mountbatten that Camilla is “the one” and asks for his great-uncle’s help convincing ‘the family’ to allow them to marry. Horrified at the prospect, Lord Mountbatten is seen conspiring with the Queen Mother to put an end to the relationship; the Queen Mother agrees the idea of marriage is “madness” and says “the sooner that girl is back where she belongs [with Andrew Parker Bowles] the better”.

Left: Emerald Fennell plays Camilla Parker Bowles (then Shand) in 'The Crown'. Right: The real Camilla Shand, pictured with Prince Charles. (Photos by Netflix/Getty Images)
Left: Emerald Fennell plays Camilla Parker Bowles (then Shand) in ‘The Crown’. Right: The real Camilla Parker Bowles, pictured with Prince Charles c1975. (Photos by Netflix/Getty Images)

But in reality there was no such plot, and it is unlikely that Lord Mountbatten was behind arrangements for Prince Charles’s posting abroad. Christopher Wilson, author of A Greater Love: Charles and Camilla, told the Telegraph “I have never heard [such a plot] suggested at all.”

The series also explores Camilla’s on-off relationship with Andrew Parker Bowles, who, it is suggested, is Camilla’s first choice. Princess Anne, following her brief courtship with Parker Bowles, is seen telling her mother in series three that Andrew is “Camilla’s first love and the man she’s still devoted to…. She likes Charles, but she’s obsessed with Andrew.”

Camilla and Andrew marry in the penultimate episode of series three, while a distraught Prince Charles, thousands of miles away in the West Indies aboard HMS Minerva, is seen crying alone in his cabin.

Series four of The Crown, which lands on Netflix on 15 November 2020, is expected to pick up in or around the year 1977, and Charles’s relationship with Princess Diana will be a central plotline. The series trailer features a tantalising shot of Diana’s iconic wedding dress – viewers can expect to see a lavish recreation of the wedding of the century.

The series – which could take viewers up to the year 1990 – is also expected to explore Charles’s extramarital affairs with Camilla and the love triangle that ensued. Actor Josh O’Connor, who plays Prince Charles, told the press that while viewers were left feeling somewhat sorry for the prince in series three, our perception of him might change in series four. The next chapter in the prince’s story is less than sympathetic and “there’s definitely a different side to Charles that we’re going to see,” said O’Connor.

The Crown’s creator Peter Morgan told Esquire: “Charles’s campaign to make Camilla queen is as passionate and as committed and as ruthless, in many ways, as was Henry VIII’s campaign to make Anne Boleyn his queen.”

 Emma Mason is the digital editor at HistoryExtra

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Series 4 of The Crown will be available on Netflix from 15 November 2020. Series 1–3 are available to watch now. Watch the mini trailer for The Crown series 4 here: