Prince Charles-Camilla Parker Bowles: Settling the Civil Ceremony Question

Far be it for me to suggest a possible compromise settlement to any of the controversies relating to the Prince Charles-Camilla Parker-Bowles wedding (royal controversies give the British press their raison d’etre), but I have a suggestion that could resolve questions regarding the legality of Prince Charles marrying in a civil ceremony.

Specifically, since a good argument can be made that British law proscribes civil weddings for royals, but reasonable doubts exist, and given widespread and not unreasonable sentiment that the head of the Church of England ought to be married in a church (should not he who is the shepherd lead his sheep?), Parliament should approve a compromise bill, to whit:

No Act of this government should be interpreted to prohibit the legal marriage of a member of the royal family by a civil ceremony under the same laws applicable to the civil marriages of British subjects, save that no offspring of a purely civil marriage will be considered legitimate descendants for purposes of succession to the throne.

I’m sure I wrote that in American-ese (it was very hard for me to even type the word “subject”), but the Parliamentary fellows could hoity-toity it up in a few seconds flat.

This compromise settles the matter neatly, in my view. As a biological child is unlikely to result from a marriage in which the bride is 57 (adopted children are ineligible to succeed under British law), it is unlikely that any individual will be denied succession under this plan. Yet, deference to the Church is retained, as is the incentive for future royals to marry within the Church.

Furthermore, there is precedence for this in the “His Majesty’s Declaration of Abdication Act 1936,” the law under which Edward VIII not only abdicated, but formally renounced all rights of his descendents to the throne. The 1936 law was approved by Parliament in a single day, though the circumstances then were a bit more compelling than those at work in this case.

In addition to the United Kingdom, 15 other countries (the so-called “Commonwealth Realm” nations) recognize the British monarch as their head of state. Any change in the laws governing the succession to the British throne must also be adopted by the Parliament of each of these nations in order for the changes to apply in these nations. Thus, if my suggestion were to be adopted by the British Parliament, yet not adopted by all or some of the other Commonwealth Realm nations, a split could develop if both William and Harry died childless and Charles and Camilla had a biological child.

This scenario, while unlikely, at least has the entertainment value of permitting us to envision a world in which countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and tiny Tuvalu recognized the British monarch as their head of state — but did not recognize Britain’s choice of monarch.

The tabloids would love it.

E-mail in response:

Before you begin to pontificate at least TRY to get your facts straight … I’m sorry to hear that it was “very hard for [you] to even type the word ‘subject’.” You really shouldn’t have struggled so …

Britons have not been considered “subjects” of the Queen for many years. In common with nationals of other democratic countries we are known as “British citizens.”

The term “British subject” means one who has allegiance to the crown. It was last used as a legal term referring to individuals in the British Nationality Act of 1948.

Jennie Martin

So the British monarch has no subjects? How can one be a monarch without subjects?

Addendum 2/25/05: The term “subject” continues to have legal meaning and official use in Britain — see this list of types of British citizenships on a British government passport application website, for instance — but the legal definition of “British subject” (as a citizenship class) now appears to apply only to a narrow group of individuals born before 1949.

So, should we replace the word “subject” in my proposed law above with the rather wordy phrase “British citizens who are not members of the royal family”? Seems rather awkward… but then, everything about this wedding appears to be a bit on the awkward side.

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