Royal Wedding Intrigue…

No, not this piece of nonsense in the Mail (which basically amounts to “Bishop is not a monarchist – shock horror” and is especially amusing since the very same newspaper last week called the Royal Family “one of the most notoriously dysfunctional families in the world“) but rather this piece of legal insight in the Telegraph a few days ago.

The issue of whether the Duchess of Cornwall could be given the title of “Queen” when Prince Charles ascends to the throne doesn’t just turn on whether the public would accept the idea. There’s also the thorny question of whether she and Charles are legally married.

Charles and Camilla were married in a register office at the Windsor Guildhall on April 9, 2005, but it’s far from clear that that marriage was lawful. Civil marriages were introduced in England by the Marriage Act of 1836 but in section 45 it says that the Act “shall not extend to the marriage of any of the Royal Family”. This was a factor in Princess Margaret’s decision not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend in 1955. Because Townsend was divorced, a church wedding was out of the question and a civil ceremony was their only option. The view of the then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was that Parliament would only regard such a marriage as lawful if the Princess renounced her right of succession. It subsequently came to light that Churchill was acting on the advice of Lord Kilmuir, then Lord Chancellor, who took the view that clause 45 of the 1836 Marriage Act forbade a civil marriage between Townend and the second-in-line to the throne.

A second Marriage Act was passed in 1949 and that contained a similar exclusion clause: “Nothing in this Act shall affect any law or custom relating to the marriage of members of the Royal Family.” On the face of it, that is pretty clear cut: the prohibition on members of the Royal Family getting married in civil ceremonies remained.

That was certainly the view of John Major’s government. This was clear from a government briefing document circa 1996 that was uncovered by The Times under a Freedom of Information request. “Members of the Royal Family are excepted from the provisions of the Marriage Act of 1949, and their marriages in England and Wales must therefore be performed by Anglican clergy under either a Special or Common Licence,” it stated.

This was also the view of Lord Lyell of Mary-yate, the Attorney-General at the time of Charles’s and Diana’s divorce. He raised doubts about the lawfulness of a civil marriage between Charles and Camilla in February, 2005 when they first announced their intention to marry.

Hmmmm…. So basically, a civil wedding doesn’t count and they’re actually not married. If that’s the case, the “Blessing” in St George’s chapel now looks a bit silly doesn’t it?

I think we need some Bishops to comment. Where’s Pete Broadbent when you need him?

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