WINDSOR, England, April 9 -- Thirty-four years after they first met and fell in love, and nearly eight after the death of his first wife -- the glamorous and doomed Princess Diana -- Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles are finally man and wife.
The heir to the British throne and his longtime paramour were wed early Saturday afternoon in a sedate and unadorned civil ceremony behind closed doors at the local clerk's office. It was followed by a regal and solemn prayer service, broadcast worldwide, at St. George's Chapel inside the walls of 1,000-year-old Windsor Castle, the ancient home and symbol of the monarchy.
Prince Charles and his bride Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, leave the Guildhall in Windsor after their civil wedding.
(Peter Tarry - AP)
Royal Wedding:Former Associated Press royal family reporter Leslie Shepherd was online Friday to discuss the nuptials.
The newlyweds emerged arm-in-arm from the chapel smiling widely, visibly relieved to have overcome a series of last-minute obstacles, confusion and intra-family strife that had threatened to undermine this day before it could even take place. In the end the event was considerably less grandiose than the pageantry that surrounded Charles's wedding to Diana Spencer in 1981, but seemed far more in line with the reduced expectations of a middle-aged couple -- Charles is 56, Camilla 57 -- seeking a second chance at life and love.
For their friends and supporters, the ceremony marked the start of a new chapter in which Charles and Camilla -- long cast by Diana's acolytes as an adulterous couple who drove their beloved, despairing princess to an early and tragic death -- would be given a fresh opportunity to endear themselves to the British public.
"It's the beginning of a new era," said Simon Sebag Montefiore, an historian who was one of the 800 invited guests at the church service and the reception that followed. "Everyone who knows Camilla personally knows she's a wonderful person, and they're an absolutely charming couple. She'll prove a great asset to the monarchy and the country."
Others were not so certain. It seemed unlikely that Britain's carnivorous tabloids -- which have feasted off Charles and Camilla in recent years like famished freeloaders at an all-you-can-eat buffet -- would give the couple any more than the briefest of respites.
"I think people are truly ready to give them a chance," said royal biographer Robert Lacey. "But of course it only takes one small mistake or act of extravagance to put them back in trouble. Unfortunately, the tabloid press has been taught how to make money out of being nasty to the royal family and that's a cold hard fact."
Although Charles holds the title of Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall, his new wife has opted not to be called the Princess of Wales, a title famously associated with Diana. Instead, she will be known as the Duchess of Cornwall, palace officials announced earlier. She has said that when Charles becomes king, she wants to be known as the princess consort, rather than queen.
The couple originally planned to wed Friday, but they delayed the ceremony so that Charles could travel to Rome to attend Pope John Paul II's funeral.
Thousands of spectators, many waving Union Jacks, lined the street and cheered as the couple drove up in the queen's Rolls Royce and went into the Guildhall here for the wedding and again when they came out, arm-in-arm, from the double red doors at about 12:50 p.m. (7:50 a.m. EDT). A smattering of boos, however, were heard, too.
The wedding ceremony took just under 30 minutes. Although the prince's children and siblings and Parker Bowles's family were present, Queen Elizabeth did not attend, saying she was bowing to Charles's wish to keep the ceremony low key. Instead, she came to the service at St. George's Chapel and hosted the large wedding reception for her son and his bride at the castle.
Charles wore a formal morning coat. Parker Bowles chose an oyster silk basket-weave coat with herringbone stitch embroidery. She had a matching chiffon dress and a large straw hat with feathers. She carried a clutch purse.
The outfit was designed by Antonio Robinson and Anna Valentine, who have a salon in London.
The royal couple was greeted in the Guildhall by two busloads of guests, including Charles's sons William and Harry. When William got off the rented bus as they arrived for the ceremony he nervously checked his waistcoat, perhaps fingering the ring that he was carrying for his father. But after the ceremony, he and Harry appeared quite relaxed and smiled and joked with the newlyweds as they left.