What was the mortifying ‘social incident’ that finally shamed Prince Charles into going down on bended knee and asking Camilla to marry him?

Debate over the propriety of a potential marriage between Charles and Camilla raged to and fro throughout 2004. 

Could a future head of the Church of England marry a divorcee – something that had caused so much trouble to the Royal Family  in the 1930s?

Could a future King who had admitted adultery be permitted a second marriage by the Church?

By November, clerical opinion was starting to shift in favour of the speculated marriage, according to author Tina Brown. 

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, declaring it to be the ‘natural thing’.

Yet, writes Brown, it seems to have been an ‘infuriating social incident’ rather than canonical opinion which finally drove Charles to propose. 

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles pictured at Windsor Castle in February 2005 on the day they announced their engagement

Prince Charles and Princess Diana with their bridesmaids and pageboys along with members of the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on their wedding day in July 1981

Prince Charles and Princess Diana with their bridesmaids and pageboys along with members of the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on their wedding day in July 1981 

Edward van Cutsem's wedding to Lady Tamara Grovesnor was the society wedding of the year. But  godfather Prince Charles was missing on the big day

 Edward van Cutsem’s wedding to Lady Tamara Grovesnor was the society wedding of the year. But  godfather Prince Charles was missing on the big day

The occasion was the marriage between Edward Van Cutsem, son of family friends, and the Duke of Westminster ‘s daughter at Chester Cathedral.

A Godson to Charles, Edward had been a page boy at his wedding to Diana.

It was declared the society wedding of the year. with guests including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Charles and Camilla and William and Harry.

‘Charles and Camilla were apprised of the seating plans the weekend before the wedding,’ writes Brown in her best selling book The Palace Papers.

‘The arrangements revealed Mrs Parker Bowles to be relegated to the social margins of the event.’

Camilla, she writes, had been expecting to sit directly behind Charles, who would joint the Queen and Philip at the front.

‘But no, that “Dutch Cow” as (Camilla reportedly called [mother of the groom] Emilie Van Cutsem had stuck her on the other side of the cathedral with the bride’s friends at the back and told her that she could not enter or leave by the main door.’

A courtier told the Daily Mail at the time that this had ‘sent Camilla over the edge’.

Claiming that she was sticking to protocol, Mrs Van Cutsem refused to upgrade Camilla – and Camilla, writes Brown, ‘refused to be understanding’.

‘She would not be humiliated in front of all of Charles’s snotty circle and, more importantly, the Royal Family.

‘The Prince had to choose between attending the wedding without her or snubbing his closest friends  and his godson. 

‘It was Camilla’s line in the sand.’

Fortunately, a solution presented itself. On the day of the wedding, Charles was obliged to visit the barracks at Warminster in Wiltshire to meet the families of soldiers from the Black Watch. Three members of the regiment had been killed in a suicide attack in Iraq.

At this point, Camilla’s 87-year-old father, Major Bruce Shand, enters the story, according to royal biographer Penny Junor.

Writing in The Duchess: The Untold Story, Junor says

‘Although he loved the Prince dearly, he thought him weak and was worried about how vulnerable he had made Camilla by allowing her to live in limbo.

The late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were among the guests

The late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were among the guests

Prince William and Prince Harry, close friends of the van Custem children, served as ushers in Chester Cathedral

Prince William and Prince Harry, close friends of the van Custem children, served as ushers in Chester Cathedral

Newlyweds Ewdard van Cutsem and Lady Tamara Grosvenor pictured leaving their wedding in November 6, 2004

Newlyweds Ewdard van Cutsem and Lady Tamara Grosvenor pictured leaving their wedding in November 6, 2004

Camilla shows off her engagement ring as she and Prince Charles arrive for a party at Windsor Castle after announcing their engagement on February 10, 2005

Camilla shows off her engagement ring as she and Prince Charles arrive for a party at Windsor Castle after announcing their engagement on February 10, 2005

Camilla Parker Bowles's children Tom and Laura Parker Bowles along with her father Major Bruce Shand stand after the civil marriage ceremony Prince Charles and Camilla in April 2005

Camilla Parker Bowles’s children Tom and Laura Parker Bowles along with her father Major Bruce Shand stand after the civil marriage ceremony Prince Charles and Camilla in April 2005

 ‘He took the Prince aside and said “I want to meet my maker knowing my daughter’s all right.’

 Charles listened and acknowledged what he had to say. It was, he admitted, a nonsensical and insulting position for Camilla, and one which others have suggested, she found deeply upsetting. 

After all, without marriage, she had no status – and Charles knew he had to make it right.

He proposed to Camilla that New Year on bended knee.

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