For decades, Camilla Parker-Bowles (née Shand) was painted as the intrusive third party in the romance between Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana. But with the arrival of The Crown season 3, that narrative is being re-examined. Showrunner Peter Morgan told Entertainment Weekly, “People always assume Charles cheated on Diana with Camilla. It’s absolutely the wrong way round. He was deeply in love with Camilla and forced to marry Diana.”
As Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Camilla (Emerald Fennell)’s forbidden love story begins to unfold on the Netflix series, relive the royals’ real-life romance.
1970 or ’71: There are several conflicting reports about how Charles and Camilla met, historian and The Crown advisor Robert Lacey writes in The Crown: The Official Companion Volume 2. Charles swears they met through their friend (and his ex), Lucia Santa Cruz, and Cruz corroborated this in later interviews. Historian Sally Bedell Smith, author of Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, also confirms this, telling ELLE.com, “Charles fell instantly in love, and Camilla, who had been dating Andrew Parker Bowles on and off for six years, was ready for some fun with the Prince of Wales.”
However, other reports state Charles and Camilla met in the early ’70s at a polo match in Windsor Great Park, per the BBC, and People reported in 1992 that the couple met at a party in 1972, where Camilla’s opening line to Charles was allegedly, “My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather. I feel we have something in common.”
In The Crown‘s third season, the couple’s meeting isn’t shown. What is depicted is how their bond formed via private meetings and calls. Royal biographer Penny Junor chronicles Charles’ infatuation in The Duchess: The Untold Story: “He loved the fact that she smiled with her eyes as well as her mouth, and laughed at the same silly things as he did. In short, he was very taken with her, and after that first meeting he began ringing her up.” It’s important to note, however, that although Camilla was from an upper-class background, she wasn’t aristocratic, making her a less than suitable partner for Charles in the eyes of the monarchy. Additionally, Camilla had a reputation for dating a lot of men, and Patricia Mountbatten, daughter of Lord Mountbatten (“Uncle Dickie”), told Smith, “you didn’t want a past that hung about.”
1972: Camilla and Charles spent a lot of time together this year, according to Lacey, going to Annabel’s nightclub in London’s Berkeley Square together and visiting Camilla’s family in Sussex on the weekends. The two also stayed at Lord Mountbatten’s Hampshire estate, Broadlands, when the prince trained for the Royal Navy navy at Portsmouth. Uncle Dickie was very fond of Camilla and thought she would be a suitable mistress for Charles, Lacey writes.
However, Lacey cites biographer Sarah Bradford, who reports that when Mountbatten realized how serious Charles was with Camilla, he arranged for Charles to be assigned to the West Indies for an eight-month period, as shown in the ninth episode of The Crown season 3. (The Queen Mother was likely not involved in the scheming.) People reported in that 1992 piece, “Although the smitten prince courted her for six months, he failed to propose before returning to sea in February 1973.” Lacey cites Caroline Graham’s Camilla and Charles, which quotes Camilla as telling a friend in 1972, “I love Charles very much but I simply can’t forget about Andrew…I think of him all the time. Is it possible to love two men at the same time?”
1973: On July 4, Camilla married British Army captain Andrew Parker Bowles, a former boyfriend who was previously linked to Princess Anne. Camilla and Andrew would go on to have two children together, son Tom in 1974 and daughter Laura in 1978. Charles is even Tom’s godfather, per E!.
Junor writes in her book that Camilla’s marriage only intensified Charles’ longing for her. “It was only when she was irretrievably gone that the Prince realized what he had lost,” she wrote in The Duchess: The Untold Story, per People.
1975: Charles and Camilla’s friendship continued after her marriage, and were photographed together this year at a polo match.
1977: Then Diana Spencer entered the picture. In another twisted relationship web, Charles first met a 16-year-old Diana while he was courting her sister, Lady Sarah. The Guardian later reported that Sarah not only approved of the relationship between her former beau and Diana, but is quoted saying, “I introduced them. I’m Cupid.”
Diana would later describe her meet-cute with Charles in a 1981 post-engagement interview: “It was 1977, Charles came to stay. He was a friend of my sister Sarah’s. [He came] for a [hunting] shoot. We sort of met in a plowed field.” Camilla remained a part of Charles’s life during this time, appearing by his side at a polo match in 1979. “Curiously, and with an ominousness that was to become clear only years later, Andrew and Camilla Parker Bowles were present at most of Charles and Diana’s courtship venues—Sandringham, Balmoral, Windsor, at the homes of friends,” The Telegraph reported in 2005.
1980: Diana became an acquaintance of Camilla’s (in public, anyway). They were photographed together attending the Ludlow Races, where Charles was competing.
1981: Diana and Charles announced their engagement on February 24 (there are reports he popped the question in Andrew and Camilla’s garden) and were married on July 29 in a ceremony watched by 750 million people.
However, prior to the televised fairytale, Charles made a memorable comment during an interview in which he was asked if he and Diana were in love. After Diana replied, “Of course,” Charles added, “Whatever love means.”
The Guardian describes Diana as “intensely jealous” of Charles and Camilla’s friendship at this time. According to royal biographer Andrew Morton, with whom Diana spoke in 1991, she scanned the room for Camilla at her wedding. “I knew she was in there, of course. I looked for her,” Diana told Morton, per Good Housekeeping. She continued, “So walking down the aisle, I spotted Camilla, pale gray, veiled pillbox hat.” Morton also wrote that while opening wedding gifts, Diana allegedly found an engraved necklace intended for Camilla. Charles’ response was that “a certain amount of time would always be put aside for Camilla.”
Charles and Diana would go on to have two children: Prince William in 1982 and Prince Harry in 1984.
1986: According to People, Camilla and Charles officially began their affair during this time.
1992: In June, Andrew Morton’s book Diana: Her True Story was released. It included several stories about Diana’s jealousy of the relationship between Charles and Camilla. In one interview Morton used for the book, Diana admits to confronting Camilla at a 1989 party. “I know what’s going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that. She said to me: ‘You’ve got everything you ever wanted. You’ve got all the men in the world fall in love with you and you’ve got two beautiful children, what more do you want?’ So I said, ‘I want my husband.'”
That 1992 People article also speculates about Charles’ position in the line of succession if he divorced Diana. As the secular head of the Church of England, People writes, he would likely not be able to remarry, since the church prohibits it.
In November, tapes of intimate phone conversations between Charles and Camilla were released in a scandal referred to as Camillagate. “I want to feel my way along you, all over you and up and down you and in and out…” Charles is heard saying in the explicit recordings. The 1989 tapes confirmed the nature of the his relationship with Camilla. A month later, Prime Minister John Major announced Charles and Diana’s separation.
1994: Prince Charles permitted a TV documentary to be made about him and it aired in June. When asked in the documentary if he had been “faithful and honorable” during his marriage to Diana, he responded, “Yes, yes…until it became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried,” per The New York Times. When asked about Camilla he replied, “She has been a friend for a very long time—and will continue to be a friend for a very long time.”
Diana gave an unprecedented interview to BBC One’s Panorama in November. She admitted to her own infidelity with her former riding instructor James Hewitt. She also famously spoke about Charles and Camilla’s affair, saying, “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” This moment is directly foreshadowed in The Crown‘s third season, when Princess Anne warns Charles that if he marries Camilla there could be “three people in the marriage,” including Andrew.
Public perception of the royal family was impacted during this time and led to a shakeup at Buckingham Palace. The New York Times reported that within a month of Diana’s interview, her press secretary resigned. She also skipped Christmas 1995 at Sandringham. Shortly after, the queen sent Charles and Diana a letter letting them know that a speedy divorce was desirable.
1996: The couple finalized their divorce in August.
1997: Diana tragically died on August 31 at age 36 after a car accident in Paris. The collision also ended the lives of her significant other, businessman Dodi Fayed, and the driver, Henri Paul.
1998: Royal aides confirmed a report from The Guardian that Prince William had met Camilla in 1998 and that Harry would meet her at a later date. “A transparent campaign to ‘introduce’ Mrs Parker Bowles to public life began after Charles’s divorce. But it was abandoned following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, last year,” the publication claimed.
1999: And so the campaign began. In January, Charles and Camilla made their public debut as a couple. The Prince of Wales threw a 50th birthday party for Camilla’s sister at the Ritz Hotel in London. Although the couple arrived separately, they were photographed leaving the event together.
Other outings came in May and November, as the couple begins attending theater and social functions together.
2000: Per the BBC, Queen Elizabeth refused to meet with Camilla for years, but that all changed with another birthday party. The monarch attended a 60th celebration for the King of Greece at Charles’s residence, Highgrove. Since the queen knew that Camilla would also be there, the meeting was taken as a public seal of approval for the relationship.
2001: Nearly 30 years after first meeting, Charles and Camilla share their first public kiss at an event for The National Osteoporosis Society at Somerset House in London. It was a noteworthy moment for two reasons: First, the open PDA. Second, Charles showed up to support Camilla in her role as the organization’s patron. Before then, Camilla had only been seen accompanying Charles at his engagements.
2003: Next, the couple moved into Clarence House, Charles’s longtime residence. The royal family publicly declared that no British tax dollars would be used in any of Camilla’s renovations or decorations.
2005: Charles and Camilla announced their engagement in February 2005.
On April 9, when Charles was 56 and Camilla 57, the couple married in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall. Prince William served as best man, while Camilla’s ex Andrew and his second wife Rosemary attended. Not in attendance? The Queen and Prince Phillip, who forewent the ceremony for the reception and official blessing at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.
2007: People reported that although Camilla had been invited by Prince William and Prince Harry to a memorial service for Diana, she would not go. The event marked the ten-year anniversary of the Princess of Wales’ death. In a statement, the Duchess of Cornwall said: “I accepted and wanted to support them, however, on reflection I believe my attendance could divert attention from the purpose of the occasion which is to focus on the life and service of Diana. I’m grateful to my husband, William, and Harry for supporting my decision.”
2010: When Camilla married Charles in 2005, it was decided that in order for Diana to remain the sole Princess of Wales, Camilla would receive the title Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall.
However, in an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, when asked, “Does the Duchess of Cornwall become Queen of England if and when you become the monarch?” the Prince answered, “That’s well…we’ll see won’t we? That could be.”
2011: Charles and Camilla attended William’s wedding to Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey.
2012: Queen Elizabeth offered Camilla more official approval, naming her Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order. Later that year, Camilla sat alongside the queen during a celebration of her Diamond Jubilee.
2015: This year marked Charles and Camilla’s tenth wedding anniversary. In the day’s honor, Clarence House released a photo of the couple at the Balmoral estate in Scotland, the locale for their honeymoon.
In an interview with CNN, Charles confirmed that he and Camilla were stronger than ever. “It’s always marvelous to have somebody who, you know, you feel understands and wants to encourage,” he said about his wife. “Although she certainly pokes fun if I get too serious about things. And all that helps.”
2016: On June 9, Camilla and Prince William were added to the Privy Council, a group of the Queen’s most senior advisors. This was widely believed to ensure that both will be present when Charles is crowned king after the queen’s death.
2017: In honor of her 70th birthday, Camilla spoke to The Mail on Sunday about her life. She discussed the early press attention surrounding her romance with Charles: “It was horrid. It was a deeply unpleasant time and I wouldn’t want to put my worst enemy through it,” she said. “I couldn’t have survived it without my family.”
2018: The couple attended Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding at Windsor Castle, where Charles walked the bride down the aisle.
2019: As of 2019, the pair has been married for nearly 15 years, after first locking eyes in the early ’70s.