PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES
The Queen has written to the Prince and Princess of Wales urging them to seek a divorce as soon as possible, Buckingham Palace confirmed last night.
She sent the letter to each earlier this week amid continued public debate about the effect of the marital disagreement on the future of the Royal Family and the monarchy. She ugred an early divorce, a Palace spokesman said. Prince Charles responded by indicating that he agreed with his mother, but Princess Diana's response was not known, the spokesman added.
Few knew of the existence of the letters, delivered to Prince Charles at St James's Palace and the Princess of Wales at Kensingtion Palace, apart from senior courtiers and John Major.
The Prime Minister yesterday held an hour-long meeting with Princess Diana which led to speculation that the Government was trying to find a public role for her in the wake of her Panorama appeal last month that she become an "ambassador for Britain".
Mr Major and senior Conservative MPs believe the divorce became inevitable after the Panorama programme in which the Princess of Wales admitted adultery with James Hewitt. Prince Charles had already admitted adultery in an earlier television interview.
Close friends of Prince Charles said a divorce was now necessary. "It cannot go on like this," one said. Cabinet ministers have been appalled by the spectacle of the royal couple competing with each other for publicity.
The couple have been separated for three years. There was disbelief in the Commons when Mr Major announced that at the time of their separation that the Princess could still become Queen. Her action since then has convinced the establishment - who she describes as "the enemy" - that a clean break is essential.
The Government fears the collapse of their marriage and their bitter rivalry has undermined the institution of the Monarchy. The Princess deeply annoyed the Palace in her Panorama interview by casting doubt on Charles's fitness to become King.
James Hill, chairman of the Tory backbench constitutional affairs committee said: "I think it is excellent news because I have said for some months that family and domestic problems should be resolved. I am very pleased that the Queen is acting to obtain a divorce.
"There is the problem of the young children that has to be clarified and I am hopeful the Prime Minister has discussed it. I hope it is amicable and it is no longer tit for tat. I think it will be best for the children."
Sir John Wheeler, the Northern Ireland minister, said: "I welcome the decision of the Royal family. I think it is a good thing to clear the air in the interests of a constitutional monarchy and for the good of the two people concerned."
Meanwhile, the Queen's dramatic intervention has become known days after Diana revealed she had changed her mind about spending Christmas with her estranged husband and the rest of the Royal Family at Sandringham.But the Palace last night denied the suggestion that the two developments were linked in any way.
The Archdeacon of York said last night that a royal divorce would not be an issue for the Church, but a remarriage would. The Ven George Austin told BBC2's Newsnight: "There comes a time, sad and painful as it is, that a marriage has to be recognised as dead, and after the shenanigans of the past few weeks, it has been obvious that it does seem to have died."
The fairytale marriage between the Prince and Princess of Wales started with the "wedding of the century" in 1981 - but soon became a public prison for both partners trapped in a loveless union.
n 1982 - Prince William is born in June. Charles is away from the public gaze while Diana basks in public affection.
n 1984 - Prince Harry is born in September.
n 1987 - A rift in the marriage becomes increasingly obvious, prompting media speculation about a split.
n 1991 - By their 10th wedding anniversary, the relationship seems to have died. They have separate holidays, separate friends, separate and rival households, and almost, but not quite, separate homes.
n 1992 - Andrew Morton's book Diana: Her True Story, is published in June. It says the princess feels "trapped in a loveless marriage".
In August the "Squidgygate" tape scandal breaks, giving details of an intimate telephone conversation said to be between Diana and long-standing friend James Gilbey.
In November comes the "Camillagate" tape - allegedly a highly personal conversation between the prince and Camilla Parker Bowles.
In December, the Prime Minister announces to a packed Commons that the couple have agreed to separate.
n 1993 - In December the princess announces her withdrawal from public life.
n 1994 - In June Charles admits in a television documentary, that he has been unfaithful to his wife.
n 1995 -In November, in an interview on Panorama, the Princess reveals that she often feels under attack from "the enemy''.
mas with the Royal Family at Sandringham, but a few days ago it is announced that the Princess has changed her mind.
The decision is interpreted as a snub to the royals, but it is not yet known if the Princess had received the Queen's letter before deciding to stay away.
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