Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is one of the most impressive, hard-working and dedicated members of the Royal Family, yet her rights as a woman are being denied.
Under British law, women have the right to take the same rank and status as their husbands, yet today Camilla is not the Princess of Wales, and when her husband becomes King she will, as things stand, be the Princess Consort rather than Queen. Despite having been married to Prince Charles for 15 years, during which she has made him happier than at any other stage of his life, she is going to be denied the right of equality that has been accorded every other monarch's wife in a thousand years of British history.
This aberrant – indeed abhorrent – situation is being further entrenched by the fourth season of Netflix's TV series The Crown, which covers the start of Prince Charles's marital breakup with his first wife, Diana, Princess of Wales, before the fifth season covers her tragic death. Despite the fact that it is largely fiction from start to finish, such is its power over the public imagination that it will open up the whole painful, but now ancient, story, to the inevitable detriment of the reputations of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall.
Such is The Crown's subtle but ever-present hatred of the House of Windsor, portraying almost all of them as cold, hard-hearted and uncaring monsters, that the present public affection for Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is bound to be harmed, however unfairly. There are only two exceptions to this rule. The Queen is spared much of writer Peter Morgan's worst vitriol, I suspect because he knows that if he attacked her, then the public would not have put up with his cruel inventions for as long as they already have. The other is Princess Diana, whose sympathetic portrayal stands in contrast to the staid and uncaring Prince of Wales whose refusal to cut ties with Camilla is put down almost entirely to callousness and selfishness.
Of course dramatic productions have for centuries used real people for their stories, and as everyone always trots out in this discussion, Shakespeare wrote about Richard III, Henry IV and Henry V. But the key difference is that those kings were all safely dead when Shakespeare wrote about them. He never put his contemporary Queen Elizabeth I on stage, putting words into her mouth. What Morgan does is effectively blare neo-republican propaganda, secure in the knowledge that his inventions and distortions will never be held to account because the royals don't sue. (Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, no longer being royal, has, but she is hardly setting an enticing precedent.)
The terrible events of the Nineties, ending with Diana's death in the early hours of August 31, 1997, are now nearly a quarter of a century ago. Yet – as the BBC's disgraceful behaviour over Martin Bashir's interview with Diana shows – they still have the power to disinter controversy and reignite media commentary. The more we pore over the gory details of those long past events, the less we will recognise the truth of our present situation. Which is that in Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, we are lucky enough to have a truly first-rate Queen-in-waiting, and we should not allow a muckraking Hollywood excrescence like The Crown to ruin that.
Emerald Fennell, the actress who plays Camilla Parker Bowles, as she then was, has said that, "Even if people behave badly, you understand why they have." Yet the prurient and puritanical are not trying to understand; they are hoping to condemn. They will pick over the details in The Crown as if they were true, such as the fiction that Camilla and Diana had lunch together in a restaurant called "Ménage à Trois".
The historian Hugo Vickers spotted over 500 factual errors in The Crown's first season, and there have been several hundred more in those since. Yet the massive audiences, especially in America, seem to be willing to suspend disbelief and treat the show as genuine history.
The result will be that a good, funny, charming, intelligent and decent person – the woman who ought to have married Prince Charles in the first place – will be denied the right to equal status with her husband on his accession, and Britain will be denied an excellent queen. Left-wing feminists who normally would be up in arms about a woman being denied her rights under the law are universally silent, possibly because so many of them are republicans.
One of the glories of our happily unwritten constitution is that the title Princess Consort could be dropped overnight if the Palace and No 10 agreed on it, but lies peddled by The Crown make that unlikely.
The fact that Camilla has indeed been the perfect consort for Prince Charles, as the couple's recent visit to Germany yet again underlined, does not mean that "consort" is the correct title for her in the long run. We ought not to be bullied by Netflix and its crypto-republican screenwriter into denying Camilla her right. The only proper title for the wife of a king should be reinstated; one day, hopefully many years off, we should be hailing Her Majesty Queen Camilla.