The appointment of the Duchess of Cornwall to the prestigious Order of the Garter is, at its heart, a unifying gesture.
It comes at the beginning of what will be the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year, binding together the inner circle of the Royal Family after 12 months of turbulence, controversy and deep personal loss.
But, more than that, it paves the way for the Duchess to become not only Queen by right when Prince Charles succeeds to the throne, but Queen by name.
That is surely what will now happen. And with this latest announcement, there is no greater honour – or better indication of the respect in which she is held by the Queen.
The appointment of the Duchess of Cornwall to the prestigious Order of the Garter is, at its heart, a unifying gesture, writes HUGO VICKERS
Tellingly, it also gives the Duchess an elevated position in her own right should she outlive her husband. There can now be no doubt: Camilla is central to the future of the British monarchy.
The gesture is the latest in a long line of advancements for the Duchess, who – it is fascinating to observe – changed from hated mistress to supportive wife more or less overnight when she married Charles in April 2005.
It was as though, in becoming an HRH, she became a different person. But her acceptance did, in fact, come in subtle steps.
As Charles’s wife, for example, she could be adorned with the family jewels and was soon to be seen wearing Margaret Greville’s magnificent tiara and five-strand necklace, which the society hostess and philanthropist had bequeathed to the Queen Mother.
Further evidence of the family’s admiration came when Camilla was given the Royal Family Order in 2007 – an image of the Queen worn on a pale-yellow moiré ribbon – which is bestowed on most HRHs except, notably, the Duchess of York and Princess Michael.
She was honoured with the Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order in 2012, which is again usually given to Royal Ladies.
But her appointment to the Privy Council in 2016 was unprecedented. The body of trusted advisers to the Sovereign includes all Cabinet Ministers, the Queen’s private secretary and certain members of the Royal Family, including Prince Philip.
Charles was appointed in 1977 and the Duke of Cambridge in 2016.
It’s worth noting that Queen Mary and the Queen Mother – the last two wives to Kings – were never Privy Counsellors.
But it is the Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, which is Camilla’s greatest achievement to date.
It comes at the beginning of what will be the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year, binding together the inner circle of the Royal Family after 12 months of turbulence, controversy and deep personal loss. Pictured: Camilla with the Queen and Prince Charles at the G7 summit in June
The most highly respected and esteemed order of chivalry in the world has, over its long history, included members such as the Black Prince, the great Dukes of Marlborough and Wellington, Benjamin Disraeli and Sir Winston Churchill.
Membership to its inner circle is strictly limited: the Sovereign and the Prince of Wales are automatically members, along with no more than 24 Knight Companions – appointments made at the sole discretion of the Sovereign, and usually in recognition of a notable contribution to society.
While women have long been associated with the Garter, they could not be made full Lady Companions until 1987.
Today they include former MI5 chief Baroness Manningham-Buller, Lady Mary Fagan, Lady Mary Peters and Baroness Amos. Princess Anne, however, who was appointed in 1994, insisted the Queen make her a Knight of the Garter, not a Lady, to rank equally alongside her brothers.
The Order also includes supernumerary members who do not count towards the upper limit.
This was introduced by King George III to allow him to appoint his nine sons. And it is into this group – known as the Royal Knights and Ladies – to which Camilla has been appointed. She is the first wife of an heir to the throne ever to have received it in its recent history, certainly in the last 120 years.
The Duchess will be invested on Garter Day, normally the Monday of the Royal Ascot week in June.
This solemn ceremony, attended by members wearing the historic dark-blue velvet mantles lined with white taffeta, Tudor bonnets and dark-blue garters, takes place in the magnificent blue-carpeted Garter throne room at Windsor Castle.
But, more than that, it paves the way for the Duchess to become not only Queen by right when Prince Charles succeeds to the throne, but Queen by name. Pictured: Camilla with Prince Charles, the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge in 2016
Camilla will be able to wear the blue Garter riband over the left shoulder, the star and, should she so wish, the Garter itself on her left arm.
There is then a magnificent lunch in the Waterloo Chamber, followed by the procession on foot of Military Knights, Officers of Arms and members of the Order to St George’s Chapel.
There, the Queen will declare her pleasure that Camilla be installed, and she will be led to one of the carved wooden stalls that line the Chapel walls.
Above it will hang her banner, and on top of the stall will be her coronet. The choice of stall will no doubt prompt further debate.
The most appropriate and likely place is to put Camilla’s next to the Prince of Wales’s, which is immediately to the left on entering the Quire.
This would mean moving the Duke of York – who currently occupies that stall – elsewhere.
This is not necessarily significant. In reality they do move the Royal banners around if need be – as happened with the Queen Mother, whose banner was moved three times.
But Prince Philip’s stall, which has remained empty since his death, is likely to remain unoccupied for the rest of the Queen’s reign.