King Charles III now presides over the British monarchy. And by his side: Queen Camilla.
Wait a second. When Queen Elizabeth II, who died Thursday, reigned for her 70 years, her better half wasn’t King Philip but rather HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. As with many things royal, it’s complicated.
Camilla’s new title was set in motion last February, when Queen Elizabeth decreed during festivities marking her seven decades on the throne that the Duchess of Cornwall should be known as “Queen Consort,” as opposed to “Princess Consort,” when Charles ascended to the throne.
“Queen Consort” is the fancy name for the wife of a reigning king, which the United Kingdom has not had since 1952, when King George VI died and his widow, Queen Elizabeth, became the Queen Mother.
Confused? You’re not alone. We shall endeavor to explain.
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What is a queen consort?
All previous wives of British or English kings were queen consorts (that includes all six of Henry VIII’s wives, at least while they were married to him). In the 20th century, there were two: Queen Mary, wife of King George V, and Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII (Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother and great-grandmother, respectively).
Handy hint: Here’s how you can tell the difference between the two Elizabeths: The queen who just died, Elizabeth II, had a Roman numeral after her name, signifying her as the second sovereign of that name, not a consort.
Also for the record, there have been only six British or English reigning queens among the 41 monarchs since 1066 – Mary I, Elizabeth I, Mary II, Anne, Victoria, Elizabeth II – so it’s easier to tell them apart.
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What does a queen consort do?
As with the first lady of the United States, there’s no job description, no official duties and no salary. But there’s high visibility, high pressure and high expectations from the public whose taxes pay for the monarchy.
In general, a queen consort’s job is to support the king in any way she can. Job No. 1 is to birth heirs, but this isn’t an issue for Charles, 73, and Camilla, 75, who each have children from their previous marriages. The royal succession is set for three more generations: After Charles comes his elder son, Prince William, 40, and after that William’s elder son, Prince George, 9.
As the wife of the Prince of Wales for the last 17 years, Camilla has already been doing what a queen consort would do: She is a royal patron to scores of charities and good causes, accompanies her husband on royal tours, meets thousands of people every year and is gracious and charming with everyone.
One no-no: Getting involved in political matters.
Who could be a model for Queen Camilla?
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who became queen consort after her brother-in-law King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, helped save the British monarchy by steeling her nervous, stuttering husband who was nearly undone by the pressures of being an unexpected king, especially during World War II.
She went with him everywhere, visiting bombed-out Londoners in the East End and spreading her brand of royal magic that people remembered fondly many decades later. When Buckingham Palace was bombed in 1940, narrowly missing the king and queen, she said she was glad because it “makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.”
When she died in 2002 at age 101, an estimated 200,000 people filed past her coffin at the Palace of Westminster over three days, with the line stretching more than a mile along the River Thames.
Do we have to call her ‘Queen Consort Camilla’?
No, Queen Camilla will do. It’s nicely alliterative and the “consort” part is understood.
The official palace press operation will always refer to her as “Her Majesty” in any news release but American media rarely use HM or HRH, for “Her Royal Highness,” in referring to Camilla now.
► A newsletter fit for a king:Subscribe to Keep Calm and Carry On, a newsletter answering all of your questions about the royal family following Queen Elizabeth’s death.
Why isn’t Camilla the Princess of Wales?
Because of Diana, the late Princess of Wales, who long blamed Camilla for the breakup of her marriage to Charles (even though that wasn’t all down to Camilla) and because public fury at Camilla remained when she and Charles married in 2005, eight years after Diana’s death in a Paris car crash.
At the time, it was decided that Camilla would take one of Charles’ lesser titles, Duchess of Cornwall, to help soothe public feelings.
How come men married to sovereign queens aren’t called ‘King’?
Because by sexist definition, a king outranks a queen, and if she is the heir – the elder daughter of a king – and she has no brother, as in the case of Elizabeth II, then she is the sovereign and not her husband. He has to walk a few paces behind her for the rest of their married life.
This is especially true if he’s foreign-born, as was the case for Prince Philip.
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Will Queen Camilla be crowned?
Yes. The most important head at any coronation is that of the sovereign but the queen consort is crowned, too.
And according to The Mail on Sunday, Camilla will be crowned with the Queen Mother’s platinum-and-diamond tiara, created for George VI’s coronation in 1937. The crown features thousands of diamonds, including the infamous 105-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond from India, which came into British hands and the Crown Jewels by murky means in the colonial era. It was last seen in public resting on the Queen Mother’s coffin at her funeral.
By contrast, when Elizabeth II was crowned in Westminster Abbey in June 1953, she was alone on the throne above the Stone of Scone, and she alone received St. Edward’s Crown from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
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