by Susan Flantzer
Camilla Rosemary Shand was born at King’s College Hospital in London, England on July 17, 1947. She is the oldest of three children of Major Bruce Shand, a former British Army officer and later a wine merchant (1917-2006) and The Honorable Rosalind Cubitt (1921-1994).
Camilla’s maternal grandparents were Roland Cubitt, 3rd Baron Ashcombe and Sonia Keppel. Sonia Keppel was the daughter of The Honorable George Keppel (son of William Keppel, 7th Earl of Albemarle) and Alice Keppel (née Edmonstone, daughter of Sir William Edmonstone, 4th Baronet). Alice Keppel, Camilla’s great grandmother, was the mistress of King Edward VII, Prince Charles’ great great grandfather, from 1898 until King Edward’s death in 1910.
Camilla, along with Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York, is a descendant of King Charles II of England through one of his illegitimate children, Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond, son of Charles II and his mistress Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth. In addition, Camilla is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sir Allan MacNab, who was Premier of the Province of Canada before Confederation in 1867.
Camilla has two siblings, a younger sister Annabel Elliot (born 1949), an interior designer and a younger brother Mark Shand (1951-2014), a travel writer and conservationist, who died from a head injury caused by a fall in 2014.
The Shand family had two homes, The Laines, a former rectory, their country home in East Sussex and a three-story Victorian house in South Kensington, London. Camilla grew up as an avid reader, loved pets, learned to ride at an early age, and also learned to hunt. When she was five years old, Camilla started to attend Dumbrells School in Ditchling, a village in East Sussex. At the age of 10, Camilla went to Queen’s Gate School, an independent day school for girls in South Kensington, London, England and stayed there until 1964. She then attended Mon Fertile finishing school in Tolochenaz, Switzerland. Camilla then decided to study French and French literature at the University of London Institute in Paris. In 1965, Camilla was a debutante at a party with 150 guests hosted by her parents to mark her coming out in society.
Camilla Shand and Prince Charles were introduced by Lucia Santa Cruz, their mutual friend who is considered to be Charles’ first serious girlfriend, in 1971. The two became friends and began dating, and eventually, Charles met Camilla’s family and Charles introduced her to some of his family. Their relationship was put on hold when Charles was serving aboard Royal Navy ships, and then it ended abruptly in 1973. Various reasons have been suggested for the break-up, but the exact reason has never been revealed.
Camilla had met Andrew Parker Bowles, a lieutenant in the Blues and Royals in the late 1960s. The two had an on again, off again relationship for a few years. When it broke up in 1970, Parker Bowles dated Princess Anne for a while and played on Prince Charles’ polo team. After the break-up with Prince Charles, Camilla and Andrew started dating again and their engagement was announced in 1973. They married on July 4, 1973 at the Guards Chapel at the Wellington Barracks in London. The wedding was considered to be the society wedding of the year and Princess Anne, The Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret attended. The couple had two children: Thomas Henry Charles Parker Bowles, born 1974, Prince Charles is his godfather; and Laura Rose Parker Bowles Lopes, born 1978. In 1995, Camilla and her husband decided to divorce, stating their divorce was amicable and claimed it was due to different interests, which eventually led to separate lives.
In 1981, Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer and their marriage was not the fairy tale marriage it was expected to be. Within five years, the couple’s incompatibility and age difference of almost 13 years, as well as Diana’s concern about Charles’s previous girlfriend, Camilla Parker Bowles, became visible and was damaging to their marriage. Diana exposed Charles’s affair with Camilla in a book by Andrew Morton, Diana, Her True Story. Audio tapes showing evidence of her own extramarital affairs also surfaced. In December of 1992, British Prime Minister John Major announced the formal separation of the Prince and Princess of Wales in Parliament. Charles and Diana divorced on August 28, 1996. Tragically, Diana died in a car crash in Paris on August 31, 1997.
In 1994, two years after the Prince and Princess of Wales had separated, Charles finally spoke about his relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles in a televised interview with Jonathan Dimbleby. He told Dimbleby, “Mrs. Parker Bowles is a great friend of mine…a friend for a very long time. She will continue to be a friend for a long time.” The same year Charles admitted in The Prince of Wales: A Biography written by Dimbleby that his relationship with Camilla rekindled after his marriage had irretrievably broken down in 1986.
Following both Charles and Camilla’s divorces, Charles let it be known that his relationship with Camilla was “non-negotiable.” Charles knew that the relationship was causing much negative publicity and he had Mark Bolland, his Deputy Private Secretary, work on the rehabilitation of Camilla’s image which occurred from 1999 until 2005. Camilla was occasionally seen with Charles at unofficial events, then at some public events, and then Camilla accompanied Charles on some public engagements. Camilla met the Queen at the 60th birthday party for former King Constantine II of Greece in 2000 and this meeting was seen as the Queen’s approval of the relationship. Camilla attended events related to the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. In 2003, she moved into Clarence House which had become Charles official residence that same year. By 2004, Camilla was accompanying Charles on almost all of his official engagements.
On February 10, 2005, the couple’s engagement was announced and polls conducted in the United Kingdom showed support for the marriage. Charles and Camilla married on April 9, 2005 in a civil ceremony held at the Guildhall in Windsor. Prince William and Tom Parker Bowles, Camilla’s son, served as the witnesses to the civil wedding ceremony. Later that afternoon, a Service of Prayer and Dedication was held at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, presided over by The Archbishop of Canterbury. Read more about the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles here.
After her second marriage, Camilla automatically received the female counterparts of her husband’s titles, including Princess of Wales. However, because the title Princess of Wales is so strongly associated with the previous holder of that title, Diana, Princess of Wales, Camilla adopted the feminine form of her husband’s highest-ranking subsidiary title, Duke of Cornwall, so she is styled Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall. When in Scotland, she is known as The Duchess of Rothesay. Queen Elizabeth II granted the Duchess of Cornwall a Royal Coat of Arms soon after her marriage. In 2012, The Queen appointed the Duchess of Cornwall to the Royal Victorian Order, an honor made by the Sovereign in recognition of personal service.
The Duchess of Cornwall supports The Prince of Wales in his work and role as heir to the throne, but she also works for a number of her own charities in her role as Patron or President. The links shown below are the official websites of each organization.
- National Osteoporosis Society, President; The Duchess’ mother and grandmother died as a result of osteoporosis
- Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres, President, provides a supportive and caring environment for people with cancer
- Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, President
- Arthritis Research UK, Patron
- Royal National Hospital For Rheumatic Diseases, Patron
- The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, Patron
- Trinity Hospice and Helen & Douglas House, Patron, looks after children and young adults with life-shortening conditions
- National Literacy Trust, Patron, promotes literacy in young people
- BookTrust, Patron, promotes literacy in young people
- First Story, Patron, promotes literacy in young people
- Emmaus, Patron, provides homeless people of all ages with a home, work and the chance to rebuild their self-respect
- Barnardo’s, President, supports children who have been affected by drug misuse, disability, youth crime, mental health, sexual abuse, domestic violence, poverty , and homelessness
- Royal Voluntary Service, President, supports older people and their families
- Moorland Mousie Trust, Patron, promotes and conserves the Exmoor Pony
- Animal Care Trust, Patron, supports the University of Bristol Veterinary School to promote the practice, advancement and teaching of veterinary science
- Cornwall Community Foundation, Patron
- Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust, Patron
- Public Catalogue Foundation’s Cornish Catalogue, Patron
- ShelterBox, President, provides emergency aid for victims of natural and other disasters anywhere in the world
- Wilts and Berks Canal Trust, Patron
- Scotland’s Gardens Scheme, Patron
- Ditchling Museum, Patron
- Fan Museum, Patron
- Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum, Patron
- London Chamber Orchestra, Patron
- St Johns Smith Square, Patron
- New Queen’s Hall Orchestra, Patron
- Theatre Royal Bath, Patron
A complete list of the Duchess of Cornwall’s patronages can be seen here.
Since her marriage, The Duchess of Cornwall has traveled widely with The Prince of Wales and on her own solo engagements, meeting people from all over the world and all walks of life. Read more about the countries she has visited here and her overseas duties here.
Unofficial Royalty’s Susan Flantzer met the Duchess of Cornwall while on her first official visit to the United States with the Prince of Wales in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States in January 2007.