LONDON — In a statement marking the 70th anniversary of her accession to the British throne, Queen Elizabeth II said she wants Camilla to be known as “queen consort” when Charles becomes king.
But Elizabeth is clearly looking beyond her reign. Her husband, Philip, died this past year, and her own health has kept her away from most public engagements for several months. In a November statement, she acknowledged “none of us will live forever.”
Her Saturday statement clears up a question that had lingered since Charles, heir to the throne, married Camilla in 2005. Before the monarch’s intervention, it was possible that Camilla could have been the first British queen not to be called queen.
Elizabeth wrote: “And when, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes King, I know you will give him and his wife Camilla the same support that you have given me; and it is my sincere wish that, when that times comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort as she continues her own loyal service.”
Prince Charles on Sunday thanked his mother for her blessing, saying he was “deeply conscious of the honour” for his “darling” wife.
Until now, the official position of Clarence House, the couple’s office, had been that Camilla would be called “princess consort” when Charles became monarch. That is what Charles’s office set out in 2005, ahead of the couple’s wedding, when the public’s feelings toward Camilla were frosty.
But in a 2010 interview with NBC, when Charles was asked if Camilla would “become Queen of England,” he responded, “That’s well … we’ll see won’t we? That could be.” (Queen of the United Kingdom would have been more accurate.)
Writing in the Spectator on Saturday, royal commentator Peter Hunt said Queen Elizabeth II was “future proofing an institution she’s been at the head of for seventy years.”
“Camilla has come in from the cold,” he added.
Princess Diana — and some Britons — blamed Camilla for the breakdown of her seemingly fairy-tale marriage to Prince Charles. In a 1995 interview, Diana famously said: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
When Charles married Camilla — eight years after his divorce from Diana and seven years after her death — just 7 percent of Britons thought Camilla should be queen.
But since she became a royal, she has worked hard to improve her image. She is the patron to some 100 charities and organizations. She’s a keen advocate of literacy and a campaigner against domestic violence, among other causes. Those who’ve met her describe her as warm and funny and a calming influence on Charles. When she winked behind President Donald Trump’s back during a 2019 meeting, the video went viral.
Over time, slowly, public perception of Camilla has changed — even if she doesn’t have the same kind of star power that Princess Diana had.
Robert Hardman, a royal biographer, said Camilla is: “pretty down to earth and perfectly happy to be called whatever.” But it would have been an anomaly if she didn’t use the queen consort title.
Traditionally, the wives of British kings are crowned as queen consort, although the reverse is not true with a male consort, which is why Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip, was not known as King Philip or king consort.
Vernon Bogdanor, author of “The Monarchy and the Constitution,” said the only time a queen wasn’t crowned with a king at a coronation was in 1820 during King George IV’s ceremony. He was trying to divorce his wife, Queen Caroline, “and the doors of Westminster Abbey were locked to keep her out, not a very savory precedent really,” he said.
In a separate case, Queen Mary II wasn’t dubbed “queen consort” but rather “queen” — she co-reigned with her husband King William III from 1689 to 1694.
The next question: What would Charles be called. After Queen Elizabeth II dies, he would immediately become “king.” But monarchs can choose a new name when they ascend the throne, and there have been suggestions he’ll use King George VII.