- Rachel Burchfield
Charles (and Camilla): I forgive you
Earlier this year, I started meditating.
I am an anxious person by nature, and practicing stillness for at least 10 minutes daily has really helped me center myself. And, in my forever quest to become a better, more compassionate person, I’ve really started practicing the art of forgiveness. Letting bygones be bygones. Letting grudges go. Inhaling positivity, exhaling negativity.
And yes, I know I’ve never met Prince Charles, so why would I need to add him to my list of people I need to forgive? But, it turns out, I did.
You see, the monarchy has evolved substantially even since 1980, when Charles, at 32, was being pushed (read: forced) to get on with this marriage thing and do one of the major duties he was assigned at birth as an heir to the British throne – produce more heirs and ensure the longevity of the monarchy. Not only was he being forced to settle down, but his bride, the Princess of Wales, couldn’t be just anyone. She had to be British. She had to be aristocratic and from royal blood (royal, not Royal – there’s a difference; they’re not incestuous, people). She had to have never been married. And, oh yeah, she had to be a virgin. Not to mention she had to be willing to take on the often daunting prospect of everyone in the world knowing who you were. That woman would be damn near impossible to find in 2019, and it was in 1980, too. That’s why, when Charles found a suitable bride, he locked her down after only about six months of dating and asked for her hand in marriage in February 1981. He and Diana were married on July 29 of that same year, having only known one another in a romantic sense for less than a year and having only been in the same room – and not just talking on the phone – a handful of times. I look at Diana, so beautiful, walking down the aisle to get married and I don’t see happiness – I see a lamb being led to the slaughter. Charles didn’t love her – hell, he barely knew her. And she, at barely 20, was just a young, dumb kid in love, caught up in the idea of marrying her Prince Charming.
And we wonder why this thing went to hell so quickly.
Let me back up for a moment, though. Charles has never had it easy. Okay, yeah, he is the heir presumptive to the British throne and grew up in the lap of luxury. Anything he wanted, he got. But his mother ascended to the throne when he was just three years old, and he took a massive backseat to the Queen’s love of country. Her job was (and is) the love of his mother's life; her children had to take a distant backseat. Charles, even as a young boy, was emotionally in tune and deeply empathetic; his father pushed his own feelings so far down in the quest to be the most masculine man possible that he could barely find them, ever. Charles was a shy, awkward boy who led with his heart and not his head; all his father wanted was a rough and tumble son who could get dirty and define machismo just like he did. And that was not, could not, and never could be Charles. Combine this with the fact that he’s growing up with the world’s eyes on him, on the world stage, being forced to go to all boys’ schools like Gordonstoun – watch The Crown for an example of how he was treated – away from his parents who were oftentimes too busy running a country to care about how Charles felt. And Charles did feel. A lot. He had everything in the world, but nothing that really mattered.
And then he met his soul mate, Camilla Shand, in 1971, when he was 22.
Camilla had just broken up with Andrew Parker Bowles (whom she would later end up marrying; wait for it), and Andrew was actually, weirdly enough, courting Charles’ younger sister, Princess Anne. Charles and Camilla became the best of friends – they shared so many interests in common; from the start, Charles felt comfortable around her, and he so rarely felt comfortable around anyone. Eventually, they began dating, rather seriously. Then Charles, a member of the Royal Navy, went overseas to serve in early 1973; Charles made the mistake of not formally asking Camilla to wait for him, and Camilla, a woman driven towards what she wants, married her ex-boyfriend Andrew Parker Bowles while Charles was still abroad. When Charles found out that Camilla had married Andrew, he was leveled. Devastated. Crushed. She was and always would be the love of his life. He wrote in a letter at the time to Lord Louis Mountbatten, his great uncle, mentor, his honorary grandfather, and the only elder who could ever give him the paternal love he so desperately desired: “I suppose the feeling of emptiness will pass eventually.”
It wouldn’t have mattered – there’s no way in hell the Royal establishment would have approved a Charles and Camilla marriage at that time, anyway. She was certainly not a virgin and wasn’t nearly as blue-blooded as she needed to be. After Lord Mountbatten – the one person Charles could turn to about anything – was assassinated in August 1979, he turned to Camilla for emotional support that was impossible to find within his own family. They purportedly rekindled their romance then and, off and on to the present day, never stopped.
But she was married, and even if she divorced Andrew, in 1980 it was still a no go to marry a divorcee, especially the Prince of Wales, the direct heir to the British throne. Charles proposed to other women, and they all declined. Then, in 1980, he looked at the younger sister of Sarah Spencer, a girl Charles used to date – who by now was Sarah McCorquodale, having gotten married in 1980 – a little bit differently. She was 13 years younger than him and only 19. Diana Spencer possessed one thing that at that time captivated him but years later he would come to despise about her – she was an emotional person, too. While sitting on a bale of hay at a friend’s barbeque in July 1980, Charles mentioned how shaken up he still was about Lord Mountbatten’s brutal murder. Diana, a caretaker, a classic middle child and a peacemaker, told Charles that he looked like he needed someone to care for him. That was really all it took for Charles to see this woman – who checked all of the boxes needed to make a Royal bride – as his wife. He might have loved her but was not in love with her; she was in love with him, but in the way that youth and inexperience and the fascination of a fairytale makes a little girl love a grown man. I think she thought, as so many of us women incorrectly have, that he could save her. When they got engaged in February 1981, she looks smitten; he says his famous line in their engagement interview, after asking if he was in love: “Whatever ‘in love’ means.”
They married five months later.
I sometimes forget what a gift it is to marry for love. Some of the Royal marriages were love matches – all of the modern ones are, and Elizabeth and Philip certainly were a love match. But Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, couldn’t marry Peter Townsend, the love of her life, because he was divorced; King Edward VIII had to abdicate the damn throne to marry the love of his life, twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. Though Diana Spencer was a lovely girl and Diana, Princess of Wales, was an incredible woman, Charles did not marry for love. He married out of obligation. The love of his life was Camilla. And I feel sorry for him that it took him until he was 56 to finally marry her, as painful as that was and, kind of, is to accept that they actually are married after Camilla was the other woman for so many years.
Camilla was in the audience at Charles and Diana’s wedding; she never fully left the picture, ever. There would be breaks where Charles would try to be a good husband and try to uphold his vows, but it never lasted. As Diana once famously said, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” By the time Harry was a newborn in late 1984, the Wales’ marriage had irretrievably fallen apart. Charles was back with Camilla, and Diana had affairs of her own. They tried to keep a good face for the public and the press, but just look at photographs of them in the late 1980s and early 1990s – they grew to resent one another. Diana’s fame superseded Charles’ by miles; he, the future king who brought Diana into fame and Royal fortune, not the other way around, was so unpopular while his wife – who, even though I adore her, was not perfect and was actually quite conniving and manipulating, especially with the press – could do no wrong. The People’s Princess. When the Wales would go to events, Charles would take one side of the crowd and shake their hands, and Diana would take the other side. Charles used to actually apologize to his side of the crowd, saying “Sorry – I know you wanted to shake her hand.” This is the future king apologizing to his subjects for, once again, not being enough, the theme of his life. Eventually the pressure got to be too much and they separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996; Diana died in 1997. After his divorce, he declared to his mother, the Queen, that his relationship with Camilla was non-negotiable; they were introduced to the public as a couple in 1999.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but at his core I believe Charles is a good man who was handed a really awful deck of circumstances. He was born to be king, but his emotional makeup was not a good fit for the job. His mother’s emotional makeup was perfect for her role. Charles – not so much. He never really had a chance. And so, in 2005, he finally did something that was so panned and criticized worldwide by Diana lovers – including and especially me – he married the love of his life, the woman he should have married back in 1973. Watch them together. The way they finish each other’s sentences. The way their banter is so easy, so unforced, so familial. I truly believe each of us has that one person that is our person; Camilla is his. He just wasn’t allowed to marry for love the first time around. Had he married Camilla, we would have missed out on Diana, William, Harry, and everyone else; but Charles would have been allowed to be happy, to live his truth, and to be his authentic self, all of which, finally, he is now able to.
(I will say, even at the height of my Charles hatred, he was and always has been a good father to William and Harry. I could never deny him that, and it’s worth recognizing.)
Now, at 70, Charles has long settled into his professional role; he’s been Prince of Wales since birth and has been in training for the top job since he can remember. He is finally at peace in his personal life. His sons have fully accepted Camilla. So why shouldn’t I? And yes, I may still shudder a little when I see Camilla in family portraits where it should have been Diana, but, hell, maybe it shouldn’t have been Diana. Maybe Charles should have married Camilla all along. And maybe – definitely – it’s time for me to get the hell over it.
So, back to the list of people I need to forgive.
Charles used to represent a lot of things for me – every man who chose another woman over his wife. Every man who couldn’t give the type of love a woman needed. Every man who ever hurt a woman, albeit not physically, but emotionally. I think for so many women, Charles is the whipping post for every woman – including myself – who has ever been wronged by a man, cheated on by a man, left by a man. But, while Charles is the future King of England, he doesn’t have that much power.
Team Diana, we’ve got to let it go.
The inevitable truth is that Charles is going to be king. Camilla is going to be queen consort. They are happy. They are in love. And we gain nothing by not accepting what is as what is.
So, I am inhaling positivity, exhaling negativity, and, with it, exhaling my negative feelings towards the Prince of Wales. Charles, while a future king, you are just a man; your mistakes are yours and not any other man’s. I will no longer make you the symbol for every love gone wrong. I will see your life for the complex, often unhappy, often unfulfilling journey it has been and be thankful for you, my fellow human, that you have finally found peace, happiness, and love in a world that seems to be increasingly scarce at doling out all of the above.
I am letting my grudge go and wishing you well, because your success as king is all of our success, and I wish nothing but peace, happiness, and love for you, me, and all of us. I have finally realized, in my increasing maturity, that loving Diana and respecting you do not have to be mutually exclusive.
It’s taken me 32 years to say this, but Charles (and Camilla) – I forgive you. And I wish you well.