The Monarchy in Turmoil: Palace cool while book fuels speculation: Future of 'prince of despair' darkened by constitutional and legal complexities. James Cusick reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE FAMILY is not at war. There is no rift. There is no constitutional crisis. Yesterday, Buckingham Palace portrayed itself as a routine Royal Household, surprised at the furore over 'the book'.

As analysis of the first of three extracts from Jonathan Dimbleby's authorised biography of the Prince of Wales deepened into concern over the future of Britain's monarchy, palace insiders were confident that the remaining instalments would deliver a portrait of Charles as a 'useful and truthful King-in-waiting'.

In The Prince of Wales, the heir to the throne is described as being bullied into marriage to the former Lady Diana Spencer without ever having been in love with her. His childhood is marked by bullying at Gordonstoun, alongside paternal bullying by the Duke of Edinburgh. 'A prince of despair, adrift in a sea of loneliness' was how one public relations guru described the opening chapters.

Palace insiders hinted that 'before people rush into judgement, they should pause and wait to consider the whole book'.

The Queen's private secretary was shown drafts of the book. Other members of the Royal Household were given access to it to check factual details.

Changes were made. But only a few.

The 'whole' book, according to one source, 'will present a truthful and accurate account of how the Prince of Wales has developed and defined his role alongside that of the Queen'. In prospect is a defined monarch-elect, confident that delivering the 'black alongside the white' was necessary to rewrite what a close confidant described as 'past inaccuracies'. 'Black' may again be the dominant colour next week as the second extract is expected to concentrate on the Prince's relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles.

The Duke of Edinburgh will again be asked for his view. It is likely that he will repeat what he told one newspaper yesterday: 'I have never discussed private matters and I don't think the Queen has either. Very few members of the family have.'

Despite the Duke's insistence - given before he set off for Moscow - that whatever the monarchy had done 'it had been done for the benefit of the country', the Dimbleby book has nevertheless reignited constitutional debate.

On 9 December, the Prince and Princess of Wales will have been formally separated for two years. When their separation was announced it was stated that they would remain married; they would attend functions together; they would dine together on the Royal Yacht. The expensive Royal Yacht's future is in doubt. 'The book' will have increased doubt that divorce for the royal couple can be avoided.

Pamela Scriven QC, a barrister specialising in family law, said petition for divorce could be filed in December. Adultery, unreasonable behaviour and separation are all grounds for divorce for ordinary subjects. However, the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, according to the Solicitors' Family Law Association, indicates that the Prince could not petition for divorce, although his wife could.

The decree, according to Ms Scriven, would be made formal, in private, by a judge. As in the divorces of Princess Anne and Princess Margaret, there would be no public spectacle.

The Children Act of 1989 would make it unnecessary to identify who would be awarded custody of the two princes. Only 'residence and contact' need be decided. Constitutionally, the Act of Settlement 1700 says nothing about disqualification from inheriting the throne on the grounds of divorce. Dr John Hapgood, the Archbishop of York told the Lords in December 1992 - when John Major told the Commons that Charles and Diana had separated - that the monarch was 'Supreme Governor by virtue of being sovereign; there is no other legal requirement'.

Comments