Charles to Be Understudy King As 'Marriage of the Century' Ends


Britain's royal family, battered by divorce and scandal, is pinning its hopes on a five-year plan to restore itself in the eyes of the British people.

Helping to lead the bid for a return to public favor will be Charles, Prince of Wales, whose 15-year marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales, effectively ended on July 15 in a two-minute session at a London divorce court.

A well-placed royal source says that with the approval of Queen Elizabeth II, the heir to the throne will take on the role of "understudy king" and attempt to raise his public profile by taking on more and more of his mother's duties.

Meanwhile Diana, stripped of the title "Her Royal Highness," will walk away from a failed marriage with a payoff of about L17 million ($25 million), plus an annual income of $600,000 paid by the prince.

She and her former husband will share the upbringing of their two children. Their elder son, Prince William, is in direct line, after Charles, to the throne.

But as Charles and his mother attempt to guide the British monarchy into a calmer, less trouble-ridden era, experts forecast challenges ahead.

David Cannadine, a New York-based British historian who is writing a book on the British monarchy, says Charles has a long way to go before he can recover the confidence and affection of the British public.

If he decides to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles, whose long affair with the prince helped wreck the "marriage of the century," Mr. Cannadine says "perhaps insuperable problems will arise."

An attempt to marry the divorced Mrs. Parker-Bowles, Cannadine says, could make for problems "much worse" than the crisis created in 1936 by Edward VIII, whose marriage to an American divorce led to his abdication.

A more immediate challenge for the queen and Charles, says Harold Brooks-Baker, a London-based analyst of royal matters, will be "convincing the British people that a new beginning is possible."

Mr. Brooks-Baker claims the royal family has treated Diana "very badly."

"The public perception," he says, "is that not enough was done to help her in the early years of the marriage."

Brooks-Baker suggests that Diana "should follow the example of Jacqueline Onassis and marry someone immensely rich."

In addition, Brooks-Baker is "deeply critical" of the royal family's "poor media relations," which have helped to "undermine the public's faith in the monarchy itself."

If Charles and his mother are to succeed with their five-year plan, they will have to reverse a trend of lessening public support for the institution of monarchy.

Last year a widely quoted public opinion survey showed that while about 70 percent of Britons thought Queen Elizabeth was doing a good job, less than half thought the monarchy would exist in 50 years.

A key question is whether Charles, who is far less popular than Diana, can begin to build the public support he will need to become a respected figure.

The five-year plan, royal sources say, will include Charles sharing his mother's duties on state occasions, sitting in on the queen's meetings with the prime minister and foreign dignitaries, and reading the state papers, which flood into Buckingham Palace every day.

The sources say, however, that there is no question of Elizabeth abdicating at the end of Charles's five-year stint as shadow-king.

So long as this is the case, many will believe Charles will never succeed to the throne but, on his mother's death, may decide to let William be king.

Charles will have plenty to take his mind off royal duties.

The exact terms of the divorce settlement remain confidential, but all analysts agree that it will leave him short of cash.

To come up with the $25 million, Charles has had to borrow heavily. Bankers put his annual interest payments at around $1.5 million.

Profits derived from the lands of the Duchy of Cornwall earn Charles around L3 million ($4.5 million). This means that the interest payments, plus Diana's annual stipend, will halve Charles's annual income.

Part of the plan to begin rebuilding the monarchy appears to depend on an early (and successful) marriage of the queen's third son, Prince Edward. He is reported to be on the verge of announcing his engagement to a commoner.

Having seen the failed marriages of her other children (Charles, Prince Andrew, and Princess Anne), the queen is certain to give close scrutiny to any person hoping to wed her youngest son.

Elizabeth and Charles are not short of advice as they scan the horizon.

An acerbic editorial in the July 14 edition of London's Sunday Times said: "The challenge for Charles is to seize the opportunity the next five years presents before his mother celebrates 50 years on the throne."

If Charles does not "shape up," the Sunday Times added, "his sister Princess Anne would make an admirable sovereign until Prince William earned his spurs."

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