Leading Article: Too much for a brigadier to bear

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The Independent Online
Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles has apparently decided that he has kept up appearances for long enough already. He is to divorce his wife, Camilla, who has been, and is widely assumed still to be, the mistress of the Prince of Wales.

This divorce has been brought about by the heir to the throne himself - and not merely in the traditional physical sense. The knowledge of his wife's extramarital commitments must have been with the brigadier for some time: they have been the talk of pubs and buses for at least five years. It seemed, however, that the Parker Bowleses had a marriage of the sort which has not been uncommon among the English upper classes and has been revealed to the more conventionally uxorious through the sagas of the RtHon Alan Clark.

The protocol of such arrangements seems to be that all participants remain discreet and keep their original marriages and families intact. The Prince of Wales, however, broke this code by blabbing about his mistress, first on television and then in book form during 1994. Many will conclude that the brigadier could bear gossip and innuendo, but not mass-media exposure as a cuckold.

Although it does not have the constitutional impact of a royal divorce, the snapping of the brigadier's patience is not without consequences for the House of Windsor. Mrs Parker Bowles will soon be free to remarry: a development that significantly altersthe equation of her relationship with the prince. Any hope of the heir to the throne that his marriage need never be formally ended or superseded by another would seem to be receding.

There is a great irony in all this. The Windsors have been presented to the British public in this century as a symbolic family. In fact, the sexual arrangements of the upper classes have always been atypical, particularly in a tolerance of adultery quite alien to the core monarchists: the old mums and widows who wave their flags on coronation days. With the help of Brigadier Parker Bowles, the Windsors are now becoming more like an ordinary British family - one in which adultery leads to divorce. It can only alienate them still further from their natural supporters.

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