King Charles III is the first British monarch to have previously had a civil marriage and a civil divorce.
In 1981, Charles, then the Prince of Wales, married Lady Diana Spencer in a fairytale wedding, watched by 750 million people worldwide.
However, the royal couple divorced in 1992 and they were divorced in 1996. The marriage had failed spectacularly.
Charles later married his longtime love interest Camilla Parker-Bowles. They married in 2005 in a civil ceremony. This broke with the tradition of members of the royal family marrying in an Anglican ecclesiastical ceremony.
Charles and Camilla’s extramarital relationship prevented them from remarrying in the church. But a sequel came service of prayer and devotion. Queen Elizabeth II refused to attend the weddingallegedly because it conflicted with her role of upholding the Christian faith as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
Charles’s accession to the throne is not only politically important, but also carries a religious significance. Charles is the “Defender of the Faith” and Supreme Governor. Charles’ status as a divorcee puts him at odds with his religious roles.
Read more: King Charles, defender of the faith: what the monarchy’s long-standing relationship with religion may look like under the new sovereign
King Henry VIII was notorious for having six wives in the 16th century. He dissolved his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon. This meant that the marriage was never legal to begin with.
King George IV nearly succeeded in divorcing his wife, Queen Caroline, in 1820. At that time, divorce could only be granted by law. The trial took place in the House of Lords. The king accused his wife of committing adultery as grounds for divorce. Prime Minister Lord Liverpool eventually withdrew the divorce bill due to political pressure.
King Edward VIII was forced to resign in 1936 because he wanted to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. This conflicted with his role as Supreme Governor.
Although Charles was in a similar position to his great-uncle in his marriage to Camilla, they lived in different worlds. The Conservative government and the Church of England simply could not tolerate Edward’s marriage to a divorcee. It was seen as an insult to morality.
Likewise, Princess Margaret was pressured not to marry divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend. As the Queen’s sister, the marriage would have been scandalous in some quarters.
Queen Elizabeth called 1992 the “annus horribilis(terrible year) for the royal family. The marriages of her three children Prince Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew had broken down. Divorce was then increasingly accepted in society.
Read more: Australia has a new head of state: what will Charles be like as king?
Royal civil wedding
Charles had to ask his mother’s permission to marry Camilla. The Royal Marriages Act 1772 stipulated that all descendants of King George II must seek the sovereign’s permission to marry.
This law was repealed in 2013. Only the first six people in the line of succession must now ask the sovereign’s permission to marry.
There was controversy at the time over whether a member of the royal family could legally marry in a civil ceremony. The Marriage Act 1836 permitted civil marriages. But according to the law, this did not apply to members of the royal family.
The British government has one rack declare that Charles could legally enter into a civil marriage. The view was that the Marriage Act 1949 had repealed previous legislation. The government also argued that there was a right to marry under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Charles and Camilla’s civil marriage symbolized society’s changing values. The view of marriage had shifted from a moral commitment to a celebratory one. This marked the modernization of the monarchy over tradition.
A modern monarchy
The accession of a divorced woman to king a generation earlier would have been unpalatable to many. But Charles embodies the modern character of the monarchy and the liberal values of wider society.
Charles has recently confirmed his devotion to Anglican Christianity. This is in recognition of his constitutional role in the Settlement Deed 1701. Only Protestant Christians can claim succession to the throne.
It also confirms his role as ruler on behalf of the Church of England. The frost still appoints bishops on the advice of the Prime Minister. Anglicanism is the official state religion of England.
Read more: Beheaded and banished: the two previous King Charleses booked the abolition of the monarchy
Yet Charles also pushes for a modern monarchy. He has seen himself as one defender of diversity. Maintaining a space for multifaith practice and expression of secular ideals are part of his administration’s agenda.
The monarchy represents a tension between modernity and tradition. As a divorced and remarried monarch, Charles III represents the reinvention of the crown, an ancient institution trying to embrace its role in a multicultural, religiously diverse and more open and tolerant society.