LONDON – Buckingham Palace says Queen Elizabeth II (search) won't be attending her son's wedding to keep the occasion "low key." Fat chance.
"Queen's anger at wedding shambles," said London's Evening Standard newspaper on Wednesday, while The Sun headed its coverage "Royal bombshell."
Among royal watchers and wedding organizers alike, there was agreement that the impression of slipshod planning, a hint of queenly disapproval and lingering questions over the civil ceremony's legality were tipping the coming nuptials of Prince Charles (search) and Camilla Parker Bowles (search) toward farce.
"I'm actually quite shocked," said Emma Pattison, director of Zen Events, a firm of wedding planners. "They don't seem to have thought it through at all."
Buckingham Palace announced Tuesday that the monarch would not attend the April 8 wedding of her son and heir "because she is aware that the prince and Mrs. Parker Bowles wanted to keep the occasion low key."
Prince Philip, the queen's husband and Charles' father, also is unlikely to attend, although Charles' sons, Princes William and Harry, and Parker Bowles' two grown children are expected to be there.
A spokesman for Charles' Clarence House office said the prince was "happy with the arrangements," and a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman insisted the queen's absence did not imply criticism.
"The queen is attending the service of dedication and paying for the reception — this is not a snub," she said. She spoke on condition of anonymity.
Royal watchers found that hard to believe.
"I think any parent would be a bit fed up with the way this has unfolded," said Dickie Arbiter, a former royal spokesman. "When it was announced there was a tremendous fanfare but the goal posts have moved considerably."
When Charles, 56, and his 57-year-old consort announced their wedding plans on Feb. 10, they seemed ready to alleviate public concerns about their 30-year relationship and respect the memory of Charles' first wife, the late Princess Diana.
In a nod to those who have not warmed to Parker Bowles — the "other woman" whom Diana blamed for the breakup of her marriage — Clarence House stressed that Charles' new wife would never hold the title of queen.
To allay the concerns of Anglican traditionalists, it was announced the couple would not marry in a church, although Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will lead a blessing at Windsor Castle afterward, attended by the queen.
The Church of England — of which Charles will become titular head when he takes the throne — frowns on church marriages for divorcees whose former spouses are living. Diana died in a car crash in 1997, but Parker Bowles' ex-husband is still alive.
Flaws in the wedding planning soon began to emerge, however. Last week, it was announced the couple would not marry at Windsor Castle but in the Guildhall, Windsor's town hall. Planners had discovered that under British licensing law, registering the castle as a wedding venue would mean opening it to commoners' weddings as well.
Holding the ceremony at the Guildhall, however, meant it was officially open to the public — perhaps too open for the queen's taste.
Some legal experts suggested the marriage might be illegal under the 1836 Marriage Act, which legalized civil unions for everyone but royals. It was superseded by another act in 1949, but some argued the law's wording was ambiguous.
The government said there was no bar to the marriage. Lord Falconer, Britain's chief legal officer, said he was "satisfied that it is lawful for the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Parker Bowles, like anyone else, to marry by a civil ceremony."
Sir Nicholas Lyell, a former attorney general, said the legal advice was not entirely persuasive. "The Lord Chancellor's statement at least clarifies the government's thinking, but I fear that responsible lawyers will still regard the argument as rather tenuous," he said.