World·Royal Fascinator

From pariah to the future Queen Consort: Camilla's rare royal transformation

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, who recently turned 75, has seen a marked change in her stature — in public and within the Royal Family — over the years.

Recent events have cemented stature of Duchess of Cornwall within Royal Family

A person stands in front of a group of other people.
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, attends the 40th anniversary of the Falkland conflict in Portsmouth, England, on Thursday. (Eddie Mulholland/Reuters)

Hello, royal watchers. This is your regular dose of royal news and analysis. Reading this online? Sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox.

It is a royal evolution with few — if any — precedents.

And recent events have further cemented the stature of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, within the Royal Family.

Observers have long been noting how she has gradually gained more acceptance from a public that held little warmth for her — or saw her as a pariah — before her marriage to Prince Charles, given her ongoing involvement with him during his ultimately doomed marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales.

A significant seal of royal approval came earlier this year when Queen Elizabeth said it was her "sincere wish" that Camilla be known as Queen Consort when the time comes.

As Camilla marked a milestone birthday a few days ago, further focus was cast upon her — with magazine covers, a TV documentary in the U.K. and headlines along the lines of The Telegraph's: "As 'charming' Camilla turns 75, the future Queen Consort's long probation is finally over."

"Whatever else, 30 years since Charles and Diana announced their marriage was ending and 17 years since Camilla wed the future King, the Duchess of Cornwall's future role in the monarchy has been secured," Chris Ship, royal editor for ITV, wrote on the network's website.

Two people leave a church after a church blessing of their civil wedding ceremony.
Prince Charles and Camilla leave St. George's Chapel in Windsor, England, on April 9, 2005, following the church blessing of their civil wedding ceremony. (Alastair Grant/The Associated Press)

Tina Brown, a longtime royal chronicler and author of the recently released book The Palace Papers, says the Queen's statement earlier this year regarding Camilla's future title was shrewd.

"She did that really as a kind of estate planning," Brown told the CBC's Andrew Chang recently. "She did that as saying, 'Charles, let me take this off the table [as] a controversy when you take over. I'll now announce her to be Queen, because once it has my blessing, you know, you're not going to see much protest about that.'"

Brown considers herself a "big fan" of Camilla.

"Talk about stalwarts, talk about stoic. And that's really what the Queen was recognizing when she said that she could be Queen coming up."

The Queen has seen that Camilla has been "absolutely supportive" and loyal during her marriage to Charles, Brown said.

"She has done every royal duty she's been required to do with grace and charm."

WATCH | Tina Brown on Camilla: 

How Camilla has adjusted to her role

9 months ago
Duration 0:42
Author Tina Brown says the Duchess of Cornwall has done all her royal duties with ‘grace and charm.’

Brown considers that Camilla fitted into her role "with the kind of ease that I haven't really seen since the Queen Mother, actually."

"I mean, Camilla is a naturally charming and warm and stoic person, which are qualities which you need if you're going to be in that quite frustrating role, frankly."

Historians see few precedents for what Camilla has done when it comes to her change in royal stature, and they are from a long way back in time. 

One example, from the 1300s, is John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster and third son of Edward III. His third marriage was to his mistress, Katherine Swynford.

And Henry VIII pursued Anne Boleyn while he was still married to Catherine of Aragon in the 1520s, although it isn't clear whether Anne had a physical relationship with him before she was sure he would marry her.

While Camilla's changing stature has been gradual, it has also been the result of deliberate and strategic public relations moves to manage the way she emerged into the public eye.

Two people leave a hotel.
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles leave the Ritz Hotel in London on Jan. 28, 1999, the first time that the couple appeared together in public. (Alastair Grant/The Associated Press)

Marc Boland, a public relations guru who was born in Toronto and was Charles's deputy private secretary from 1997 to 2002, is widely considered to be behind the early years of the transformation.

All this is not to say all controversy and scrutiny of Camilla have now disappeared. In public opinion polls, other members of the family routinely outrank her in popularity. And Fascinator readers routinely write in with comments, both positive and negative.

Observers have noted that Camilla has benefited from her own actions, keeping quiet and carrying on, saying little if anything publicly, no matter the vitriol or controversy that might have been directed toward her.

She alluded to the attention she received over the years in an interview recently with British Vogue.

"It's not easy," she said. "I was scrutinized for such a long time that you just have to find a way to live with it. Nobody likes to be looked at all the time and, you know, criticized and…." she said, trailing off.

"But I think in the end, I sort of rise above it and get on with it. You've got to get on with life."

That getting on with life has also seen her pursue several charitable interests, including literacy and aid for survivors of domestic violence.

Camilla poses for an official portrait to mark her 75th birthday at her home in Wiltshire, England. (Chris Jackson/Clarence House/Reuters)

As much as there has been a transformation for Camilla, observers have also noted that she seems to have had an effect on Charles.

"Charles has been transformed by his marriage to Camilla," Brown told Chang. 

"He was a very unhappy man. And it showed. And now he's an unapologetically contented man and has become so much more benign, you know, so much more relaxed. He loves being a grandfather, and it shows."

He also speaks warmly of Camilla in his own public speeches — as recently as this past week, he shared an anecdote with listeners in Cornwall, introducing it by saying: "My darling wife and I remember well…."

For all the public focus there was on Camilla in the days leading up to her 75th birthday on July 17, all indications suggest there would have been a quiet marking of the milestone. 

In the interview with British Vogue, she talked of having a simple day: "I shall spend it with my family and a few friends."

Seeing more of Prince George

A child smiles while standing on a beach.
Prince George is shown in a photo taken by his mother, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, to mark his ninth birthday, which was July 22. (Duchess of Cambridge/The Associated Press)

Prince George turned nine on Friday. As has become a family custom, the occasion was marked by the release of another photo of the third in line for the throne that was taken by his mother, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.

Kate has been snapping birthday photos of her children for several years, and she expanded her subjects when she took the photo of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, that became the recent cover shot for Country Life magazine.

While the family photos of George are nothing new, other recent photos of him have been, as he has been seen more often in public with his parents.

Most recently, he was in the royal box with Prince William and Kate during the men's tennis final at Wimbledon. He was also seen at events marking the Queen's Platinum Jubilee last month.

An adult talks with a child as they sit in front of other adults.
Prince George and Prince William sit in the royal box before the final of the men's singles competition at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London on July 10. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

Those appearances come as there appears to be a concerted effort by the House of Windsor to focus attention on senior royals and those in the direct line of succession.

While there may not be many public appearances over the summer, expect some renewed attention after the holidays, when it is expected George, along with his sister, Princess Charlotte, and brother, Prince Louis, will reportedly start attending a new school west of London.

A rare public appearance — and then off to Scotland

A person smiles while talking with another person.
Queen Elizabeth looks on during a visit to officially open the new building at Thames Hospice in Maidenhead, England, on July 15. (Kirsty O'Connor/The Associated Press)

In recent months, public visits and appearances by Queen Elizabeth have been few and far between, particularly in light of the mobility issues that have developed for the 96-year-old monarch.

So it has become more notable when she is out and about, as happened the other day.

Headlines were quick to call it a "surprise visit" when she travelled from her home at Windsor Castle to officially open a hospice that provides palliative and end-of-life care in nearby Maidenhead.

Elizabeth seemed in good form and had a quick quip when a cellphone went off during the visit, noting, "Typical, a phone goes off immediately," the BBC reported.

For one patient receiving respite care at the hospice, the opportunity to meet the Queen was emotional. "This is a memory I will treasure," Pat White told the BBC.

A person standing shakes hands with a person sitting down.
Queen Elizabeth meets patient Pat White during her visit at Thames Hospice on July 15. (Kirsty O'Connor/The Associated Press)

While the Queen may have had fewer public engagements of late — Buckingham Palace said Friday that Prince Charles will represent her at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, on July 28 — one annual activity continued for her this past week, as she travelled to Scotland for her regular summer sojourn at Balmoral Castle.

But there may be an unusual wrinkle in the stay in the Highlands, which typically continues into late September or early October. 

British media reports have speculated on just what might happen when the United Kingdom gets a new prime minister on Sept. 5, and how the outgoing one, Boris Johnson, might officially tender his resignation to the Queen at Balmoral. That could offset the need for the Queen to make a quick trip south to receive the resignation in the way she typically does during such transitions.

Royally quotable

"As I have tried to indicate for quite some time, the climate crisis really is a genuine emergency and tackling it is utterly essential — for Cornwall, the country and the rest of the world." 

— Prince Charles, who is also Duke of Cornwall, during his annual visit there, which was occurring as "we all swelter under today's alarming, record temperatures across Britain and Europe."

A group of people talk at a farm.
Prince Charles chats with people at Trefranck Farm near Launceston in Cornwall on Tuesday. (Andrew Matthews/Getty Images)

Royal reads and watches

  1. The BBC is paying damages to the ex-nanny to Princes William and Harry over false claims made about her to obtain an interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1995. [BBC]

  2. Senior U.K. government officials privately believed that the practice of keeping wills of members of the Royal Family secret was legally questionable and even warned ministers not to discuss it in Parliament, according to official documents. [The Guardian]

  3. Prince Harry has won a bid to bring part of a court challenge against the British Home Office over his security arrangements while in the U.K. Earlier this week in New York, Harry warned of a "global assault on democracy and freedom" as he spoke about the legacy of Nelson Mandela during an appearance at United Nations headquarters. [ITV]

  4. Items once belonging to the late Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, sold at auction this week. [BBC]

WATCH | Royal watchers on what kind of monarch Prince Charles might be: 

Prince Charles: A King in Waiting

2 months ago
Duration 8:43
As the Queen begins to step back from the spotlight, The National’s Andrew Chang talks to royal correspondents who’ve watched Prince Charles for years for insight into what sort of king we can expect him to become.

Sign up here to have The Royal Fascinator newsletter land in your inbox every other Friday.

I'm always happy to hear from you. Send your questions, ideas, comments, feedback and notes to Problems with the newsletter? Please let me know about any typos, errors or glitches.


Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?