LONDON — The title “queen” looms large in the British public consciousness, never more so than during the rule of the nation’s longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
So when the queen, who is 95, announced that her daughter-in-law Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall and wife of Prince Charles, should become the queen consort when Charles takes the throne, it put to rest years of speculationabout Camilla’s future status.
The announcement, which came on Saturday in a letter to mark 70 years since Elizabeth’s ascension, could be seen as an official stamp of approval of their union, as well as an effort to smooth the path for Prince Charles’ own journey to the throne, historians and royal experts say.
“In the royal family, and in the U.K., titles matter in a way that is sometimes hard for Americans to parse,” said Arianne Chernock, an associate professor history at Boston University.
In many ways, the move can be seen as an effort to ensure at least one challenge is removed from Prince Charles’ path as the inevitable transition to his role as monarch looms large.
“It seems increasingly clear to me that as much as he can claim to be working in the tradition of his mother, carrying out her vision, the better for him,” Professor Chernock said.
The queen consort title would elevate Camilla’s status, solidifying her role as the regal partner of Charles. It also means she will also play a more significant role at his coronation and be crowned.
Camilla’s royal role has already expanded since she and Prince Charles married in 2005, but royal watchers were uncertain what it might look like when Prince Charles becomes King. It was the second marriage for both, and Camilla was dragged by Britain’s tabloids for years after her romantic involvement with Charles during his marriage to Diana, the Princess of Wales, became known.
Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997, five years after her separation from Charles and a year after their divorce. Camilla was previously married to Andrew Parker Bowles, but the pair divorced in 1995. In the midst of all of the relationship drama came tell-all interviews and the publication of a recording of a tapped call that offered sordid details about Charles and Camilla’s private life.
Camilla isn’t the first royal spouse to come up against public skepticism and controversy over his or her title. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, had to fight for years to be named consort because of wariness over his German background.
“With Camilla, there is a similar kind of wariness and skepticism,” Professor Chernock said. “It doesn’t stem from being a foreigner in her case, obviously. It just stems from the origin story of their relationship.”
But in the nearly 17 years since Camilla and Charles were married, they have worked to cultivate a public image of service, stability and discretion.
“It was all profoundly uncomfortable — we know more than we ever would want to know about this couple — and so this is part of a very careful, very long term rehabilitation strategy,” Professor Chernock said.
Apart from helping repair the couple’s public image, the queen consort announcement also signals full acceptance for a spouse who has been divorced. All of Queen Elizabeth’s children save one are divorced, so it is something to which the family has grownaccustomed.
“It could be an opportunity to showcase a more forgiving, more flexible, more modern idea of what the monarchy represents,” Professor Chernock said.
Edward Owens, a historian and the author of “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-53,” said the queen’s decision to offer Camilla the queen consort title suggests that the crown is moving with the times when it comes to divorced people.
The queen famously did not attend Charles and Camilla’s wedding, since she is the head of the Church of England, which did not allow divorced people to remarry then (it now does).
Some Key Moments in Queen Elizabeth’s Reign
Becoming queen. Following the death of King George VI, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary ascended to the throne on Feb. 6, 1952, at age 25. The coronation of the newly minted Queen Elizabeth II took place on June 2 the following year.
A historic visit. On May 18, 1965, Elizabeth arrived in Bonn on the first state visit by a British monarch to Germany in more than 50 years. The trip formally sealed the reconciliation between the two nations following the world wars.
First grandchild. In 1977, the queen stepped into the role of grandmother for the first time, after Princess Anne gave birth to a son, Peter. Elizabeth’s four children have given her a total of eight grandchildren, who have been followed by several great-grandchildren.
Princess Diana’s death. In a rare televised broadcast ahead of Diana’s funeral in 1997, Queen Elizabeth remembered the Princess of Wales, who died in a car crash in Paris at age 36, as “an exceptional and gifted human being.”
Golden jubilee. In 2002, celebrations to mark Elizabeth II’s 50 years as queen culminated in a star-studded concert at Buckingham Palace in the presence of 12,000 cheering guests, with an estimated one million more watching on giant screens set up around London.
A trip to Ireland. In May 2011, the queen visited the Irish Republic, whose troubled relationship with the British monarchy spanned centuries. The trip, infused with powerful symbols of reconciliation, is considered one of the most politically freighted trips of Elizabeth’s reign.
Breaking a record. As of 5:30 p.m. British time on Sept. 9, 2015, Elizabeth II became Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, surpassing Queen Victoria, her great-great-grandmother. Elizabeth was 89 at the time, and had ruled for 23,226 days, 16 hours and about 30 minutes.
Marking 70 years of marriage. On Nov. 20, 2017, the queen and Prince Philip celebrated their 70th anniversary, becoming the longest-married couple in royal history. The two wed in 1947, as the country and the world was still reeling from the atrocities of World War II.
Losing her spouse. In 2021, Queen Elizabeth II bade farewell to Prince Philip, who died on April 9. An image of the queen grieving alone at the funeral amid coronavirus restrictions struck a chord with viewers at home following the event.
The queens’s intervention, Dr. Owens said, means that Camilla has “the royal stamp of approval.”
“This is the queen dispelling all doubt, by making it known very publicly that it is her personal wish that Camilla take this title,” Dr. Owens said. “To oppose this idea that Camilla would be made queen is now to oppose the personal wish of the queen, so it takes advantage of the public good will toward Elizabeth II.”
Over the years, Camilla’s efforts to quietly serve the public has helped bolster both her and Charles’ image. Along with the queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, she is seen as one of the more active senior members of the royal family, doing the fundamental work that props up the monarchy, like charity events and meeting with the public.
The public perception of Camilla has changed markedly during her marriage to Prince Charles, Simon Heffer, a historian, wrote in The Telegraph. “Her success is not because she has changed as a person to make the people admire her more,” he wrote, “it is because the people have changed their view of her and realized she was a very good sort all along.”
On the streets of London on Monday, many who spoke about the future consort seemed to agree.
“People have accepted her now after that Diana business and what have you,” said Eamon Gunn, 56, who works in the music business.
“She just stays in the background and doesn’t get involved,” he said. “I think she does a good job at what she does. She just minds her own business behind the scenes.”
Popular culture has brought the story of Camilla and Charles to a new generation, with the latest seasons of “The Crown” and films like “Spencer” bringing fictionalized versions of their relationship to the masses.
Stephanie Martin, 36, a screenwriter and playwright, said so many people have watched “The Crown” that they feel “quite invested in their love story.” She said she was glad to see the new title. “I’m up for it,” she said. “For me it’s about a real love story in its final conclusion. Good for her.”
Some felt it was much ado about nothing.
“It wouldn’t bother me either way,” said Oliver Foley, 43, who works as a decorator. Mr. Foley said: “I’m not a royalist. I do admire the queen, but I don’t think about the monarchy on a daily basis.”
Gary Power, 56, an artist, said the royal family has become less important to the British people.
“When it became national news,” he said, “I thought: ‘Really? What else is going on in the world?’”