The love affair between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles has become infamous — and was the cause of a great deal of negative publicity focused about him. Seeing Camilla while married to the much-loved Princess Diana is a scandal from which his reputation has never fully recovered. But what happened when? Did Charles know Camilla before he knew Diana? If he did, why didn’t they marry? When did their adulterous relationship begin? Just what is the timeline of the whole affair? Here’s what we know.
Prince Charles met Camilla — whose last name was Shand at the time — at a polo match in Windsor Great Park in 1970. Cheat Sheet reports that the two shared a love of polo and the outdoors as well as something rumored to be one of the first things that attracted Prince William and Kate Middleton to each other — a sense of humor. They spent a great deal of time together at polo matches, and at Lord Mountbatten’s estate Broadlands, before Charles had to leave in order to serve in the Royal Navy for eight months. He didn’t ask Camilla to wait for him to return. He didn’t even tell her his true feelings at that point.
This turned out to be an overlooked opportunity to propose to the woman he loved, but Camilla wasn’t a true aristocrat — and so the royal family probably would not have seen her as a suitable wife for Prince Charles in any event. A staunch and pervasive sense of royal propriety at the time would also have likely prevented their union, with Lord Mountbatten being said to have told Charles that he should “choose a suitable attractive and sweet-character girl before she has met anyone else she might fall for.”
While Charles was gone, Camilla reunited with Andrew Parker Bowles — whom she had known since 1965. They were engaged when Charles returned, and were married in 1973. Charles and Camilla remained close, and Camilla and Andrew even named him a godfather to their son Tom.
Charles and Diana began dating seven years later, and in 1981 news of their relationship first became public knowledge. Advice from another older royal male, this time Prince Philip, urged Charles to ask Diana to marry him. Although it’s believed that it wasn’t his intent to pressure Charles into proposing, that’s how Charles took the advice provided through a letter. So he proposed to — and married — Diana, although by many accounts his heart wasn’t in it. He is said to have written to a friend about his feelings when he received the letter, saying that he wanted to “do the right thing” for the country and the royal family but that he also feared “making a promise and then perhaps living to regret it.”
Two years after the birth of Harry, Charles resumed his relationship with Camilla. Diana knew about the affair. There are many stories about her knowing that Charles and Camilla were in love even when she married Charles. Camilla and Andrew divorced in 1995. After Diana’s death, Charles and Camilla gradually went public with their relationship. They have now been married for 13 years.