The Duchess of Cornwall: A History
Though the Duchess of Cornwall is commonly identified by her first husbands last name as Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess was born as Camilla Shand in London. Her father, Bruce Shand was an officer in the British Army and her mother worked at an adoption agency and after marrying she volunteered at the Chailey Heritage Foundation throughout the 1960's and 1970's.
Her family has several connections with British aristocracy and nobility as her maternal grandfather was Roland Cubitt, 3rd Baron of Ashcombe and her paternal half-aunt Elspeth Howe, is Baronness of Idlicote. Her maternal great-grandmother, Alice Keppel was a mistress of King Edward VII and it is rumored Camilla used to boast about this family history when she was in school.
She grew up in East Sussex at the Laines, and regularly stayed at her family's second home in South Kensington. Her father used to read to her and as such she became an avid reader, a trait that remains to this day. The Shands were an upper class family and as such always had help within the house as well and Camilla grew up partaking in traditionally "wealthy" activities such as riding ponies and hosting garden parties.
The future Duchess of Cornwall attended Dumbrells beginning at age five where she stayed until she was ten, at which point she began to attend Queens Gate School in South Kensington. She left Queens Gate when she was sixteen with one O-Level and attended finishing school at Mon Fertile in Switzerland. After completing her courses in Switzerland she decided to study French and French Literature at the University of London institute for six months.
After Paris, she returned to London on was one of 311 debutantes in 1965. She lived in a few locations in London with some friends and worked as a secretary for firms in the West End. She had several interests at this time including horseback riding, painting, fishing, and gardening.
Camilla married her long time on and off again boyfriend, Andrew Parker-Bowles, in 1973. Their engagement was announced in the times and the ceremony was held at the Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks in London. with 800 guests, a dress designed by Bellville Sassoon and royal guests including Princess Anne, The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret it was considered the "Society wedding of the year". Camilla and Andrew had two children together, Tom and Laura. They were married for 21 years before divorcing in 1995 on the grounds that they had been living separately for years.
The Duchess had met Charles in 1971 and the couple dated until Charles went overseas with the Royal Navy in 1973 and Camilla married Parker-Bowles not long after. Prince Charles is said to have written to Lord Mountbatten about how upset he was upon hearing that Camilla had married. While there is now much debate about how and why Charles and Camilla's relationship ended in the 70's, it is agreed that had they sought approval for marriage, at that time, it would have been declined.
Prince Charles went on to meet and marry Diana, Princess of Wales in 1981. Five years after Charles married and thirteen years into Camilla's marriage, the pair began to have an affair. It was reported that Andrew had taken several lovers throughout their marriage but the Charles and Camilla affair became a massive tabloid story throughout the 1990's after telephone conversations between them were leaked to the press which became known as Camillagate.
While Camilla has never spoken publicly about their affair, both Charles and Diana gave interviews in the 90's sharing their perspectives on the breakdown of their marriage. Prince Charles admitted the affair began after his marriage to Diana had "irretrievably broken down" in 1986. Meanwhile, Princess Diana famously said during the panorama interview that her marriage to Charles didn't work because "there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."
Following both of their divorces, Prince Charles was said to have declared that his relationship with Camilla was "non negotiable" and he hired Mark Bolland to try and help repair her public image. Following Princess Diana's tragic death in 1997, the couples plans to go public were put on hold indefinitely as Prince Charles focused on helping his two sons through the sudden loss of their mother.
Two years later, the pair made their first public appearance together at the Ritz Hotel in London. Over the next six years, Camilla began to accompany Prince Charles to more and more events, with the Queen giving her approval by meeting with her during the King of Greece's 60th birthday.
Over thirty years after first meeting, Camilla and Charles announced their engagement on February 10th 2005. Since they had both been divorced previously and Charles, as future monarch, would be Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the wedding consisted of a civil ceremony and a service of blessing. Neither Charles nor Camilla's parents attended the marriage ceremony, instead they had their two eldest sons (Prince William and Tom Parker Bowles) act as witnesses to the union. The entire family attended the service of blessing.
After their marriage, Camilla acquired the titles of Princess of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and Duchess of Rothesay. Since Diana was so beloved and had used the title of Princess of Wales, Camilla instead opted for one of her husbands secondary titles and became known as the Duchess of Cornwall. While the rehabilitation of her image has not been easy and taken time, patience and (on occasions) a stiff upper lip, the public perception has shifted drastically in the last twenty years.
Having suffered from media harassment for decades, she doesn't often give interviews and tends to only engage with media when necessary to carry out her work. Though it has taken years to get to the point, she is now said to be a favorite among royal reporters as she always makes certain to have fun, when appropriate, and keeps the attention on the work that she is doing.
Camilla has focused much of her work on domestic and sexual abuse, animal welfare, osteoporosis and literacy. She is patron of over one hundred charities and has brought her work home with her after adopting dogs from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. More recently, she gave a rare speech on domestic violence and helping to launch the #everyonesproblem campaign for Safe Lives.
In addition to her personal charity work, she supports her husband and the Crown on foreign and domestic visits, representing the United Kingdom and Commonwealth nations during state visits, annual services and government events. She has undertaken dozens of official tours alongside her husband of Commonwealth nations as well as spending weeks in both Scotland and Wales each year in addition to regular engagements across the whole of the United Kingdom.
Over her last fifteen years of marriage to Charles, she has gone from being one of the biggest scandals in the royal family to one of the biggest blessings. It is clear that she and Prince Charles make one another very happy as they are often seen laughing and enjoying the very unique life that the royals live. Much like her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, she has come to embody the famous British mantra of Keep Calm & Carry On.