Ending speculation that the Royal Family might skip a generation because of Prince Charles's public marriage humiliations, Buckingham Palace announced that the he had "no intention" of taking a wife, a prospect that could have led to a rift between the monarchy and the Church of England.
The announcement came in the wake of yesterday's disclosure that the Queen had written to the Prince and Princess of Wales on Monday urging them to divorce as soon as possible. It is understood that the ill-feeling generated by the Princess's appearance on BBC's Panorama programme last month was further inflamed by her decision on Sunday not to join the rest of the Royal Family for Christmas celebrations at Sandringham.
Yesterday, amid tight security on the royal estate, trusted BBC technicians and cameramen filmed the Queen's Speech in preparation for Monday's broadcast. Anxiety over leaks may have been partly responsible for it being recorded just four days in advance.
The Prince has told the Queen that he agrees a divorce is necessary but there was no word from the Princess - who yesterday took her sons, Princes William and Harry, to her gym in west London - on whether she would give her consent. If she did not, the Prince would have to wait five years from the date of their separation in November 1992 to petition for divorce.
A friend of the Princess said that although she would not want to "put a spanner in the works" indefinitely, it might take six months for her to agree the terms of a divorce. While she did not want to put herself at odds with the Queen, she would not go out of her way to help Prince Charles either.
The friend said that pounds 500,000 a year - about the annual cost of financing a junior ministerial post - was not an unreasonable figure to seek, given the fact that she would almost certainly have to run a private office, provide transport and a wardrobe estimated to cost at least pounds 100,000 a year.
The Palace's announcement ended speculation over the possibility of the Prince marrying Camilla Parker Bowles - with whom he has admitted committing adultery - in the near future. A spokesman told the Press Association: "The Prince of Wales has no intention of remarrying. This has been the subject of great speculation and we are now making clear the Prince's position."
It was not clear, however, whether the Prince's decision was final. One source said that it was not possible to say whether, at the age of 47, he was prepared to rule out marriage for the rest of his life.
The Church of England and constitutional experts confirmed that divorce would have no constitutional impact. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, declined to comment yesterday, but he has said in the past that he did not see any problem with the Prince divorcing, remarrying and still becoming King.
However, some hard-line sections of the Church warned the Prince that they thought remarriage would rule that out, and some warned him against continuing his relationship with Mrs Parker Bowles.
The Bishop of Wakefield, the Very Rev Nigel McCulloch, said: "If the Prince of Wales is divorced he can still be the supreme governor of the Church.
"If at some stage in the future he decided to remarry then that would be a different issue because the regulations of the Church of England provide that remarriage after divorce during the lifetime of a former partner involves a departure from the principles of the Church. To have a supreme governor who was departing from the principles of the Church would involve some considerable difficulties."
Political response was muted, concentrating mainly on sadness that the marriage should finally be coming to an end.
John Major refused to comment on the Queen's call for an early divorce, although a Downing Street spokesman said he backed it.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World at One, the Labour leader, Tony Blair, said: "It is very sad for them. It is also the case that it is immensely difficult for them to work out their future path now.
"I think most people, myself included, would want to see, should a divorce take place, some role for Princess Diana and some chance for her to use her undoubted ability and esteem that she has in the interests of the country.
"She is a popular figure. She is held in very great esteem and it would be good to see her being able to perform some useful role for the country."Reuse content