Earlier this year, Queen Elizabeth released a letter that has been seen as a major moment of recognition for a long-beleaguered member of the Royal Family, intended to ease her ascent when the inevitable finally happened.
In a statement marking her 70 years on the throne, the Queen explained how her daughter-in-law Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall and wife of Prince Charles, was expected to become Queen consort when Charles, “in the fullness of time”, ascended to the throne. Elizabeth also asked the nation to pass on the goodwill she had long shown her to the woman who would bear the title of Queen.
So when Elizabeth died on Thursday aged 96, there was no doubt that with her eldest son becoming King Charles III, his wife would become queen consort – a title indicating she is the wife of the reigning king.
In everyday contexts she will be known simply as Queen Camilla, although as Queen Consort she is not included in the line of succession.
Elizabeth’s declaration had ended years of uncertainty about the role she would play. But more importantly, Camilla’s rise was seen by many royal watchers and historians as the culmination of years of painstaking image repair by the royal couple, who had often suffered outright abuse, including much of it was directed disproportionately at Camilla by British tabloids.
Arianne Chernock, an associate professor of history at Boston University and an expert on the modern British monarchy, said the images of Charles and Camilla had been rehabilitated thanks to the Queen’s work and the couple’s own efforts. But both are also keenly aware of the public’s perception of their past.
“If we think back to 1992, it’s actually quite hard to imagine that they would be where they are today, with that kind of dignity about them, the sense of approval from the general public and a genuine desire for them to be successful in their roles,” she says.
Some of that public approval was on display on Friday when the new King and Queen greeted crowds who had gathered outside Buckingham Palace as the royal couple made their first public appearance with their new titles.
Dressed in black and wearing pearls and an elegant diamond bow brooch, Camilla walked alongside her husband and waved to the crowd before the two entered the legendary palace together.
Later that day, in his first address to the nation as king, Charles spoke of his “dear wife Camilla”, who has now become queen, saying: “I know she will bring to the demands of her new role the unwavering devotion to duty on which I have relied so much.
In royal historian Penny Junor’s book ‘The Duchess’, which follows Camilla’s remarkable rise from maligned mistress to key member of the royal household, Junor describes Camilla as playing a pivotal role in restoring her own reputation. of Charles, and a true partner for him.
“The person who gave Charles the courage and the encouragement to do half the things he has done in the past decades is Camilla,” writes Junor.
The public perception of their union has come a long way. During the 1990s, after Charles’ marriage to Diana broke down, which branded Camilla a “third person” in their failed marriage, the British tabloid press branded Camilla “Britain’s most hated woman”.
While acknowledging that Camilla will probably never be universally loved, Junor writes that she is a warm and welcoming woman with “a twinkle in her eye” – and a stabilizing force in the royal family as she has endured the ups and downs of the last years. decades.
In an article for The Daily Mail about the publication of the book in 2017, Junor wrote: ‘Watching the Duchess today, appreciated for her work, successfully juggling her roles of duty and family, beautifully presented and walking serenely to alongside a much, much happier Prince Charles on the world stage, it’s easy to forget what she went through to get there.
Charles first met Camilla in the early 1970s, and they dated for a while, but Charles went overseas for military service, and Camilla soon married Andrew Parker Bowles, a cavalry officer. of the Army. The couple would have two children.
Charles later married Diana, but their marriage painfully dissolves in front of the entire world. Camilla seemed to bear much of the public disapproval of the Prince’s split from beloved Diana in 1991.
Then came the release in 1993 of an embarrassing secret recording of a conversation between Charles and Camilla – known as the “Camillagate Tapes”. In the recording, Charles said he wanted to “live in his pants”.
Charles’ subsequent admission of adultery, in a television documentary aired a year later and intended to repair the image, dealt a further blow to the couple’s reputation.
Camilla and her first husband divorced in 1995, and Charles and Diana’s divorce was finalized in 1996. After Diana’s death in 1997, Charles and Camilla’s relationship was kept out of the public eye. But in 1999 they began making their first public appearances as a couple, and in 2003 they moved into the royal residence of Clarence House together.
In early 2005, Charles and Camilla announced their engagement, and in April of that year they were married in a civil ceremony. Prince William was his father’s best man. Elizabeth was notably absent from the ceremony, although she did attend the reception afterwards.
And with the wedding, Camilla received the title Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall.
In the years since their wedding, speculation has swirled over what title Camilla would bear and whether she would receive the title of queen, a title filled with symbolism in a country that for 70 years had been ruled by an unforgettable monarch.
Analysts say the couple’s position could benefit from the precarious situation Britain finds itself in at the moment, amid a cost of living crisis and an unstable political landscape.
“It is widely recognized that the UK really needs the sovereign to remain a stable entity,” Chernock said. “And that the monarchy must remain this tradition which unites the United Kingdom.”
But, she added, Camilla’s role alongside her husband can be seen as a transitional role. She said if and when Charles’ son William and his wife Kate take the throne there could be bigger changes, but “in harmony and mindful of tradition”.
While the monarch has a constitutional role to play as head of state by approving bills before they become law, the queen consort does not hold an official position in government. But Camilla will be crowned in a ceremony and will be alongside Charles at his coronation.
Elizabeth hasn’t always been the biggest champion of her son’s union with Camilla. But in one of her last attempts to ease the transition to Charles’ rule, she published the letter in February specifying that Camilla should be called queen, in what many saw as an official stamp of approval of their union.
Camilla’s new status could pave the way for her to capture some of the affection given to a queen that so many in Britain mourn.