Understanding a monarch

It was a year ago – on 6 May 2023 – that Charles and Camilla had their formal coronation as King and Queen of the U.K. Charles is about the same age as me and I have seen his pictures on TV, newspapers, magazines, and books all my life but without an understanding of his personality.

Understanding a monarch

King Charles III and Queen Camilla [Photo:SNS]

It was a year ago – on 6 May 2023 – that Charles and Camilla had their formal coronation as King and Queen of the U.K. Charles is about the same age as me and I have seen his pictures on TV, newspapers, magazines, and books all my life but without an understanding of his personality. He was always in the shadow of his mother. I watched the entire ceremony of his wedding to Princess Diana on TV.

It was a modern-day fairytale. Although Charles did not quite fit my image of a prince, with his big ears and somewhat awkward mannerisms, I accepted him as the future British king. Princess Diana was bigger than life: strikingly beautiful but at the same time loving and kind. They had two adorable sons in due course and were destined to live happily ever after. I never followed stories in British tabloids. As a result, it took me a while to catch on with the saga involving Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. When I learned about the affair between them, it did not make any sense. Camilla was married. Why would the future king of the UK go after a married woman when he himself was also married? Secondly, when it comes to beauty, compared to Diana, Camella was an ugly duckling. Thirdly, Camilla was known to be a heavy drinker – not a desirable royal attribute.

Finally, this affair was apparently an open secret, and the tabloids had a field day with it. Then it dawned on me. Charles and Camilla were in love! No one really knows what love is and why people do crazy things when they are in love. We all know stories of people going to war, killing others, abdicating thrones, building the Taj Mahal, going insane, crossing the seven seas or committing suicide, and yet no one knows what love really is. This mystery will probably continue for eternity. Charles and Camilla fell in love on a polo field at a young age before either was married.


They dated briefly and reportedly shared many common traits and interests. They went their separate ways under the circumstances of their lives; Charles went to serve for his country in the Royal Navy. Camilla knew that she was not qualified to be the wife of a future king because she did not meet two critical criteria. She did not have royal blood and she was not a virgin. As a result, she accepted a marriage proposal from Anthony Parker Bowles. Charles was a womanizer and dated several women (including Diana’s sister, Sarah) after returning from his military duties, but never lost his love for Camilla.

He pursued her even when she was married, first in the form of a friendship which evolved into a relationship. Mr. Bowles was reportedly aware of the affair but did not make a fuss. Charles was pressured by his mother, Queen Elizabeth II to marry Diana Spencer who had royal blood, partly to stop scandalous headlines in tabloids about his affair. Diana was young and stunning in her looks. Most men would have given up Camilla for Diana in a second. While Charles obeyed his mother’s wishes, fulfilled his duty as a husband by producing two sons with Diana, he did not give up Camilla. Their affair continued and apparently everyone knew about it including the queen and Diana. Charles could have indefinitely carried on the affair with Camilla while still being married to Diana, as many kings in history had done, especially since neither the queen nor Camilla’s husband were apparently extremely upset.

However, Diana went into a downward spiral in her emotional state with suicidal tendencies, because of her loneliness resulting from Charles’ neglect and jealousy about Camilla. She cried out for help and reportedly complained to the queen about Charles’ treatment. No one listened to her nor helped her. Charles did the honourable thing; he separated from Diana and eventually divorced her in 1996 to set her free with a generous settlement. He presumably persuaded Camilla to get a divorce from her husband as well. It was a shocking moment when Princess Diana told Martin Bashir in a BBC interview: “There were three people in the marriage; so, it was a bit crowded”. It must have been painful and humiliating for her to declare this to a worldwide audience.

No one blamed her for her alleged affairs before the divorce. When Diana was killed in a tragic car accident in Paris in 1997, many were upset with Charles. However, it was the ever-dutiful Charles who went to Paris to retrieve Diana’s body and bring it back to London. The queen was initially reluctant to publicly express her grief because she still held grudges for Diana’s marital infidelities but eventually caved in, especially at the urging of the prime minister Tony Blair and others.

Then, going against all odds, Charles married Camilla in 2005, presumably with blessings from the queen. Once again, he did not have to do it, but he wanted to give Camilla the dignity she deserved and make her “whole”. The final chapter came last year when Charles was crowned to be the king of the UK. Camilla became the “Queen Consort” – a title Queen Elizabeth reportedly approved and requested. A fairytale-end indeed for Camilla. Charles handled the difficult and delicate task of bringing his sons to accept Camilla, knowing that they probably hated her, very tactfully. This is always challenging for any divorced father whose ex-wife was a doting mother to his kids.

Charles invited Prince Harry to his coronation but not at his birthday parade. He is committed to keep Camilla happy without destroying relations with his son. It is a strange and twisted love story spanning almost five decades. King Charles was fortunate. Unlike his great uncle King Edward VIII he did not have to abdicate the throne to marry his lover and had two wonderful sons with a gorgeous first wife. It seems that even the church of England bent over backwards to approve his marriage with Camilla, perhaps persuaded by the queen herself. I am finally beginning to understand the man.

He was pressured by the queen to marry Diana but apparently lacked the courage to say “no”. The queen probably treated her firstborn and future king as special and raised him as a spoiled brat; Charles was a weak introverted “mama’s boy”. Although he was always faithful to his formal duties, he flaunted his royalty to seduce many women and break their hearts, apparently with no restraint from the queen.

Access to beautiful women probably goes with the royal territory but I will never forgive him for destroying Diana’s life by leading her on to the dream of a happy married royal life. However, I must confess that I admire the man for his determination as a lover who gave all the dignity and attention to Camilla that she deserved; he is a lover at heart. I hope that he can exhibit this kind of determination to overcome his medical problems and remain involved in royal duties involving important decisions and events of his country.

(The writer, a physicist who worked in industry and academia, is a Bengali settled in America.)