A rubber stamp in a poky office ends royal fairytale

The Queen takes action as Waleses get decree absolute.
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The Independent Online
Within hours of the divorce of the Prince and Princess of Wales being made absolute yesterday, the Queen released new rules on changes to royal titles in the event of future divorces.

In letters patent to be published in tomorrow's London Gazette, the Queen made clear that in future divorced wives of male descendants of the sovereign will not be entitled to use the Royal Highness title.

Such provision has not been necessary until this year and although, like the Duchess of York before her, Princess Diana accepted the loss of the Her Royal Highness title, she only did so after often-public debate.

The statement, in what is in effect the official government newspaper of record, was deemed necessary because the issue had never been addressed in previous letters patent on the HRH status. It was intended that yesterday's changes would serve future generations. No one, however, was named in the declaration. It reads: "The Queen has been pleased by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm dated 21st August 1996 to declare that a former wife (other than a widow until she shall remarry) of a son of a Sovereign ... of a son of a son of a Sovereign and of the eldest living son of the eldest son of The Prince of Wales shall not be entitled to hold and enjoy the style, title or attribute of Royal Highness".

Buckingham Palace was anxious to make clear that although the proclamation starts with the historic wording: "The Queen has been pleased ... to declare", it was not intended to snub to Princess Diana.

Yesterday the Princess attended her first engagement - at the English National Ballet and still wearing her wedding and engagement rings - as Diana, Princess of Wales, as opposed to Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales.

Five hundred miles away, the Prince was with their sons at Balmoral. He had already written to more than 40 of his ex-wife's favourite retailers informing them he would no longer be picking up her bills.

Earlier, at precisely 10.27am, in a poky office in Somerset House in central London, the marriage ties between the Waleses were severed. Just one mile from Westminster Abbey, where the fairytale wedding of 15 years ago took place, the decree nisi was stamped and the marriage declared over.

Six weeks and two days after the decree nisi was lodged, the formal written application for the decree absolute was delivered by Charles's solicitors, Farrer & Co. The whole process took approximately five minutes and cost pounds 20 - paid in cash by Farrer & Co. Both parties will receive a photocopy of the document from the Principal Registry of the Family Division.

Robin West, the family proceedings department manager who oversaw the rubber stamping, took to his 15 minutes of fame without fuss. He said that although he carries out between 60 and 100 decree absolutes each day, the memory of the Waleses' will linger longer than most. "It's something that is certainly different and unusual to the normal course of events," he said.

But Mr West added that the divorce - the 5,029th this year - was really no different to any other. "I don't feel any more sadness in relation to this [divorce] as to any other."

He had no recollection of where he was at the time of the royal wedding and he refused to be drawn on whether he was monarchist or republican. "Pass," he replied coolly, before turning his attention to the rest of the day's divorces.