Did the Royal Family Break Up Prince Charles & Camilla Parker Bowles?

Tea was spilled (figuratively—but also literally, probably).

Prince Charles and Camilla in Scotland
(Image credit: Tim Graham)

One storyline expected to be featured in season 3 of The CrownCamilla Shand (later Parker Bowles) and Prince Charles' passionate, but tempestuous, early relationship. Chief among the challenges for the couple was Camilla's on-and-off boyfriend, Andrew Parker Bowles, whom she would later go on to marry (then divorce, so she could eventually marry Charles. Royal love triangles FTW!).

But the timing on the relationship between Charles and Camilla is intriguing, and there have always been rumors that the palace, who didn't think Camilla was worthy of the young prince, may have taken an active hand in breaking the two up. Whether it was sending Charles abroad, or speaking to the various families involved, the speculation about what might have happened is intense. So what do we know?

Camilla Shand was considered "unsuitable."

What is known is that Camilla wasn't thought of as particularly "worthy" of Charles, who (as heir to the throne) was expected to marry someone who was also aristocratic. Camilla had a baron for a grandfather, but that wasn't necessarily considered "enough"—from the perspective of lineage, she was still considered a commoner. Adding to Camilla's unsuitability was her dating history, including with Andrew—which may have made her seem impure, comparatively (eyeroll, but whatever).

The palace, including Charles' uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten, made it clear that Camilla wouldn't have been their selection. "I think it is disturbing for women to have experiences if they have to remain on a pedestal after marriage," Mountbatten wrote to Charles, which is a tiny bit annoying/funny/ironic because he also told Charles to sow his wild oats and not settle down right away.

It's not verified, but there is speculation that the palace may have gone beyond in making its perspective about Camilla known, going so far as to steer Charles away from Camilla (potentially through an overseas military assignment, a rumor that is brought to life in The Crown). Basically, it's not exactly clear what broke the pair up.

Charles And Camilla In 1979 - Special Fee Applies

(Image credit: Tim Graham)

Palace staff did try to break up the relationship the second time.

According to royal biographer Penny Junor, what is true is that Charles' staff did try to break up Camilla and Charles once they started dating again after his divorce from Diana. The two had been having an affair before the divorce, and their behavior was seen as embarrassing to the entire royal family.

"When Michael Peat arrived from Buckingham Palace to take up the job with the prince, he came with a clear agenda. His instructions were to sever Charles’ relationship with Mrs. Parker Bowles because it was a mess and was detracting from his work,” Junor said. "This is certainly how the people in St. James’s Palace who worked with Peat during those first months viewed the situation."

Of course, this time they were unsuccessful, despite the Queen's reported dislike of the “wicked woman,” whom she may have even forbade from the palace. Camilla and Charles continued to date, and eventually were married in 2005.

The Wedding Of The Prince Of Wales & Camilla Parker Bowles

(Image credit: Antony Jones)

But it was a long, fraught path for the two on the way to marital happiness.

The Crown places the blame squarely at the feet of the royal family.

Spoilers for season three. Perhaps as a means of introducing the doomed marriage between Charles and Diana Spencer (the woman you probably know as Princess Diana), The Crown depicts Camilla and Charles' breakup as one that was forced by the royal family. Specifically, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Charles' mentor, and the Queen Mother, Charles' grandmother, conspire to separate the two at any cost, even inviting the Shands over to discuss how exactly they're going to break up the two of them. Following that Machiavellian moment, Mountbatten uses his military connections to get Charles deployed to the Bahamas for an extended period. It's all part of a theme that figures large in season three of The Crown: Intolerance is quietly passed down from generation to generation of the royal family, with catastrophic effects.

Although it's impossible to say what happened behind closed doors, the most likely scenario in real life is that Camilla Shand simply believed Andrew Parker Bowles to be a better match for her. Both she and Charles were very young when they met—Charles was 22, and Camilla was 23—and she married Andrew when she was 25, so she had a relatively short time to make a life-changing decision at a young age. There are many reasons she may not have wanted to marry Charles, not least the fact that being the future queen is an enormous responsibility.And while the royal family's disapproval of Camilla may have contributed to their breakup, there was probably no dark plotting to separate them at any cost. (Probably.)

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Katherine J. Igoe

Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.