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The new year brought a new honour for Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
The title is a long one — she’s now a Royal Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. It’s also full of significance, coming as it does directly from her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth.
“The Garter is a special and well-considered gift from the Queen,” said royal author and biographer Sally Bedell Smith.
The Queen is recognizing Camilla’s service to the monarchy since she married Prince Charles in 2005, Bedell Smith said via email, noting her work expanding her patronages and charities.
“She has also been discreet and loyal, two traits prized by the Queen.”
It is, in ways, the latest step in a careful evolution for Camilla.
Observers note how she has gradually gained more acceptance from a public that held little warmth for her before her marriage to Charles, remembering her ongoing involvement with him during his ultimately doomed marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales.
Now, however, with the latest appointment, Camilla has become a member of the highest order within the United Kingdom’s honour system.
“Unlike most other honours … which are awarded on the advice of the government and are selected by expert committees, this is in the direct gift of the Queen,” said Craig Prescott, a constitutional expert at Bangor University in Wales. “This is entirely her decision.”
Appointments to the order fall within three categories. The monarch and the heir are ex-officio members, Prescott said via email.
“The core of the order, however, are the 24 Knights and Ladies,” he added, noting they tend to be senior figures from public life, including former prime ministers — Tony Blair was appointed this week, too — the former head of MI6 or former Supreme Court judges.
And then there are the Royal Knights and Ladies, the category Camilla has joined, and to which other members of the Royal Family are appointed.
“Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (wife of George VI) was appointed as Royal Lady of the Order of the Garter, as was Queen Mary (wife of George V) when their husbands became King,” said Prescott.
Camilla’s appointment is a signal that the Queen considers her “on a similar footing to those Queen Consorts,” he added.
Following the appointment, curiosity and speculation in the U.K. media considered whether it was a further signal Camilla will be called Queen when Charles becomes King.
That has been a point of some contention and sensitivity since their marriage — and something Fascinator readers have regularly wondered about.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, royal biographer Hugo Vickers said the appointment “paves the way for the duchess to become not only Queen by right when Prince Charles succeeds the throne, but Queen by name.”
But Bedell Smith says Camilla being given the Garter “has nothing to do with her status on Charles’s accession.”
“By English law and precedent, Camilla will be Queen the moment Charles becomes King.”
Before they married, it had been announced that Camilla would be known as Princess Consort — and not Queen — when the time came.
But putting that idea out in the public domain may have been something of a public relations exercise.
“The ‘Princess Consort’ title was an ill-advised invention at the time of their marriage to make Camilla more acceptable when sympathy for Diana was still running high,” said Bedell Smith.
“Prince Charles’s advisers tried to hedge the issue at the time by saying that it was only ‘intended’ that Camilla be Princess Consort.”
Princess Consort is a lesser title and an act of Parliament, ratified by the Commonwealth realms, would be needed for Camilla to be given it, Bedell Smith said.
“That process could create unnecessary controversy and prevent a smooth transition for Charles.”
Prescott says Camilla has become “a safe pair of hands” since she joined the Royal Family, becoming accomplished at public engagements and increasingly comfortable appearing in the media. She has also promoted causes such as her book club, The Reading Room, guest-edited radio programs and campaigned against domestic violence.
Perhaps the closet precedent to her appointment, Prescott suggested, would be that of Prince Philip, the Queen’s late husband. He was appointed to the Order of the Garter in 1947, before Elizabeth became monarch.
“It would have been perfectly legitimate for the Queen not to have made the appointment, and for Charles to have made the appointment when he became King,” said Prescott. “The fact that she has chosen to make the appointment speaks volumes.”
Waiting for the next ruling
Prince Andrew’s legal troubles were long expected to cast a shadow over the Royal Family this year, and already there have been more headlines as he tries to have the sexual assault lawsuit he faces tossed out of court in New York City.
The Associated Press reported a few days ago that a U.S. District Court judge was “mostly dismissive” of oral arguments from Andrew’s lawyer in his bid to win fast rejection of the lawsuit that alleges that two decades ago, he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old American who was trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein.
A settlement between Epstein, a convicted sex offender who died by suicide in jail in 2019, and his accuser — Virginia Giuffre — was also made public in the case being heard in U.S. District Court.
Andrew has vehemently denied the allegations at the heart of the sexual assault lawsuit brought by Giuffre, but many of the headlines of late have suggested that the case is not going his way, and that his stature is falling in the court of public opinion.
“There’s a sense that things are starting to close in on him, and I would agree,” said Rob Currie, a professor in the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Still, there is no decision yet from Judge Lewis A. Kaplan on Andrew’s bid to have the lawsuit tossed, and Currie cautions that it’s important not to make too much of a judge’s comments during arguments.
WATCH | Judge to rule in case against Prince Andrew:
“The judge’s function there is to make sure that she or he understands the parties’ arguments, and that involves of course asking the lawyers lots of questions,” said Currie.
“On the one hand, it’s not unheard of for judges to telegraph how they’re feeling about a particular issue…. There’s nothing improper or even unusual about that.”
“On the other side of it,” said Currie, “sometimes a judge will in fact ask fairly penetrating questions of the lawyers, but that might very well reflect the fact that the judge is probably convinced by the argument and they want to make sure they’re not missing anything.”
Still, Currie said, his read of Kaplan’s comments “was that it seems pretty clear he was quite skeptical of the arguments being made” by Andrew’s lawyers.
Kaplan also said a discovery hearing could be scheduled, “which means this judge doesn’t anticipate that the case is going to stop any time soon,” Currie said.
As much as there is a focus on what has been going on in the courtroom, there is also the possibility the matter might be settled out of court, something that is exceedingly common in civil cases.
“I think both sides must be thinking about settlement at this stage,” said Trevor Farrow, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto.
“From the plaintiff’s perspective, nothing in law is a sure thing,” Farrow said, noting there are “significant factual issues that the plaintiff will need to get over in order to establish her case.”
Other factors that could come into play for her include the expense of a trial.
“From the prince’s side, I can also imagine that the last thing the Royal Family wants is a public trial of this matter.”
Settling out of court, however, brings its own issues.
“The concern, of course, from the plaintiff’s side is by settling the case, there won’t be a public hearing and a public airing of these allegations from her side of the case and that may be very important to her,” said Farrow.
“From the prince’s side, he would be concerned that by settling the case he would be seen to be somehow admitting to the merits of the case, and that isn’t always true or fair, but it certainly might be a concern for the Royal Family just from a matter of public relations.”
As much as the case focuses on the allegations brought by Giuffre against Andrew, both Currie and Farrow see larger concerns surrounding it.
“Access to the courts has become so expensive that people do not have the resources to pursue their legal rights and that’s really demonstrated when you see powerful parties making legal arguments that really don’t seem to have a lot of ground to them,” said Currie.
“I’m not faulting Prince Andrew or his lawyers for making the arguments, but it really does show that you get greater access to the courts if you have more money, and I think that’s a problem.”
Farrow says it’s “easy to get caught up in the bright lights of celebrities and high-profile litigants and royalty.” But he thinks it’s important “to keep an understanding that at the core of this case are allegations of historic sexual assault against a minor.”
These are the sorts of allegations that often get swept up in terms of other powerful people, procedural hurdles and so on, Farrow said, a situation that makes “it so difficult for complainants to bring cases involving sexual assault to the court.”
“So I think it’s important for us to … not lose sight of that.”
Offering Christmas comfort
While the COVID-19 pandemic cast a shadow over Christmas and prompted some changes in plans for the Royal Family, they also shared some moments of comfort and cheer.
As the Omicon variant surged and families of all sorts juggled their arrangements, Queen Elizabeth remained at Windsor Castle, rather than travelling to her Sandringham estate north of London, where the family had regularly celebrated Christmas until the pandemic upended last year’s plans, too.
Visitors with the Queen on Christmas Day reportedly included Charles and Camilla, but Princess Anne and her husband, Timothy Laurence, reportedly stayed away, after he tested positive for COVID-19.
The Queen’s annual Christmas message took on a particularly personal tone, coming as it did eight months after the death of her husband, Prince Philip.
“Although it’s a time of great happiness and good cheer for many, Christmas can be hard for those who have lost loved ones. This year, especially, I understand why,” she said.
WATCH | The Queen’s Christmas message:
Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was praised for her piano skills that were recorded and shown during a carol concert broadcast on Christmas Eve.
“She picked it up so well,” said Scottish singer Tom Walker, who performed accompanied by Kate.
“It’s really not easy to go from not playing with other musicians for like 10 years to jumping straight in with like a whole band you’ve never met and camera crews doing live takes that’s being filmed at Westminster Abbey — so I thought it went just so well.”
A very special performance of ‘For Those Who Can’t Be Here’ with <a href=”https://twitter.com/IamTomWalker?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@IamTomWalker</a> for <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/TogetherAtChristmas?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#TogetherAtChristmas</a><br> <br>Watch the full performance on our YouTube channel: <a href=”https://t.co/twi2NplxNv”>https://t.co/twi2NplxNv</a> <a href=”https://t.co/4HwGUMvPKe”>pic.twitter.com/4HwGUMvPKe</a>
And Christmas brought an answer to a question several Fascinator readers have had for several months: when would a photo of Prince Harry and Meghan’s daughter, Lilibet (Lili), born in June, be made public?
The couple, who stepped back from the upper echelons of the Royal Family in 2020, have offered few glimpses of family life, but shared a Christmas card featuring them with their two-year-old son Archie and Lilibet.
“As a father, I am proud that my sons have recognized this threat.”
— Prince Charles, in an essay in Newsweek on the battle against climate change and efforts to create a cleaner, safer and healthier planet for future generations. He went on to note Prince William’s launching of the Earthshot Prize and Prince Harry’s efforts to highlight the impact of climate change, especially in relation to Africa.
The Queen’s first home no longer stands in central London – and there’s an air of mystery around it. There is also — albeit quite tangentially — a Canadian connection to the site. [BBC]
Maybe Richard III didn’t kill his nephews after all? [Daily Mail]
Westminster Abbey originally expected Elton John would sing Your Song at the funeral for Diana, Princess of Wales, rather than his reworked version of Candle in the Wind. [The Guardian]
Prince William told Afghan refugees of his frustration that the U.K. evacuation mission this past summer failed to get more people to safety. [Daily Mail]
Police are investigating a video linked to a man who was arrested at Windsor Castle with a crossbow on Christmas Day. [ITV]
Prince Philip once unwittingly saved from extinction a rare Australian marsupial, also known in some quarters as a rat-kangaroo. [Express]
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