A constitution that could make a monarchist paranoid

Political Commentary
Click to follow
The Independent Online
SHE came from a large family but a broken home. Her father was an alcoholic. She hated her step-mother. When she married and moved to Gloucestershire, she was little more than a girl. Her husband, 12 years older, had been denied love as a child and bullied in the school playground. It was not surprising that their marriage turned out as it did. But few, not even in their wildest imaginings, could have predicted just how far they were both prepared to go in pursuit of their strange desires. I refer, of course, to the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Certainly what the Princess wants - or, rather does not want - is very strange. She does not wish either to be divorced or to become Queen. It is what she told us last Monday. But in law this is impossible. One can only suppose that the Princess, in addition to her other strenuous daily exercises, has been believing six impossible things before breakfast. If she remains married to the Prince, she becomes Queen on the death of the present Queen. The new King's succession is automatic, unless it is forestalled by Act of Parliament. The consort of the King becomes Queen, though that of the Queen does not become King. Otherwise we should have King Philip I reigning over us too.

Mr John Major outlined the position to the Commons on 9 December 1992, when he announced the separation of the Prince and Princess. He said that the succession to the Throne was unaffected and that their children retained their positions in the line of succession. He added that there was "no reason why the Princess of Wales should not be crowned Queen in due course". At this there was a gasp from the Conservative benches in which anger and surprise mingled in roughly equal proportions.

Before making the statement Mr Major had consulted Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, and Dr George ("Maggie's Revenge") Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury. They did not give him very good advice. Even three years ago, the spectacle of two people who intensely disliked each other going through various fake-medieval motions in Westminster Abbey, under the superintendence of our happy-clappy Archbishop, would have been enough to make most people queasy. How much more nauseating the prospect today!

However, the whole question of the Coronation is a distraction. Coronation is not necessary. Nor is the Accession Council which proclaims the new Sovereign. Nor again is the meeting of the Privy Council "confirming" the proclamation which was unnecessary in the first place. All are pieces of flummery. The Coronation Oath Elizabeth II took in 1953 was slightly different from the one her father had taken in 1937. It had been altered without statutory authority. Edward VIII reigned for almost a year without being crowned.

The Princess would become Queen if she remained married to the person whom she correctly but coldly referred to as her husband. The only way of avoiding this event, in default of divorce, would be to pass an Act saying that she should not become Queen. Professor Rodney Brazier suggests this possible course in a valuable article in this autumn's Public Law. I was about to write that this would have satisfied the Princess's wishes: she would not be divorced and would not become Queen either. But, on re- viewing Monday's interview, I am not at all sure that this is what she really wants.

For if she does not want to become Queen, as she does not, she does not want "my husband", as she calls him, to become King either. At any rate she says the constraints of the position may be too much for him. She cannot be - she does not wish to be - the Queen Mother. What she wants to be is Mother of the King, the monarch in question being her son William. This course is also possible, if there is a renunciation of the succession by Charles, followed by an Act laying down that, on the death of the present Queen, the King should be her grandson William. No question of a Regency need arise if William succeeds on or after 21 June 2000, when he will be 18.

It was clear to me from the beginning - as it was not to Mr Major, to the courtiers at Buckingham Palace or to various "constitutional experts" of the television studios - that we were confronted by a serious crisis. It arose because the Princess was the mother of the next heir to the Throne. Nothing could alter that fact, which was both constitutional and biological. This meant not only that she would fight for her son, demanding at least an equal part in his upbringing, but also that he was conveniently placed to jump the queue in front of his father. It is this outcome which, it appears, the Princess now has in mind.

No wonder the politicians have become paralysed. There has been no repetition of Mr Major's "all's well" statement of 1992. The two front benches have responded like rabbits caught in headlights. Only Mr Nicholas Soames has been prepared to go off on a frolic of his own. On Newsnight last Monday he accused the Princess of having delusions of persecution. Alas, or happily, that very accusation was taken to bear out the truth of her complaint: they really were against her. They were putting up this great man-mountain on television to tell the watching millions that she was not quite right in the head. The big lad, for whom I have always had a soft spot, was compelled to apologise to the Prime Minister, who was notably chilly on Thursday and called for no further comment.

Conservative backbenchers, who tend to be of the Prince's faction, now favour a divorce. The Queen would not have to be consulted. The parties would be dealt with under the ordinary law, as were Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips. That was a divorce by consent. The Princess of Wales would presumably not consent. But she could still be divorced against her will after the requisite period of separation.

The backbenchers, and some ministers, think this course would "tidy the situation up". I am not so sure it would. The Prince could certainly marry Mrs Parker Bowles. As she is not a Roman Catholic (though her former husband is), she would succeed with Charles as Queen Camilla. Despite the marriage, Diana would be entitled to continue calling herself Princess of Wales; just as Mrs Jones remains Mrs Jones even though she is divorced from Mr Jones. Doubtless efforts would be made to persuade her to become a duchess. But she would remain the heir's mother. Nothing could alter that.

The pusillanimous Church of England would certainly accept a divorced King Charles and Queen Camilla. The then Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood, has already said it would. But would the people? Certainly the Princess of Wales would not. In a debased world, she belongs with Muhammad Ali, John F Kennedy, John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. Four of these are dead, and one is half dead. The Princess remains very much alive. This is what worries the politicians.

Comments