Age of Chivalry

updated 02/14/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/14/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

IT HAD All THE MAKINGS OF A ROYAL TEARJERKER, with a twist: Just as his great-uncle Edward had given up his throne for the woman he loved, Prince Charles, 45, was said to have given up his love for the throne he covets. "My Duty Before My Love," trumpeted a front-page exclusive by columnist Nigel Dempster in London's The Mail on Sunday, based on well-meaning leaks from friends of the prince. "After months of heart searching," reported Dempster, Charles had vowed to "remove any obstacle to his succession" by breaking off his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles.

Even the loyal Camilla, a married mother of two who has known Charles since 1970, was said to be resigned to the sacrifice. "If she has him, he cannot have the crown," a friend told the News of the World. "And she would never allow anything lo take that away from him. She loves him too much."

Royal watchers quickly smelled a scam. "Are Charles's friends to be believed?" asked royal biographer Anthony Holden in the next day's Daily Mail. Other reports pointed out that Camilla has phoned Charles several times during his current tour of Australia and New Zealand. Says author Brian Hoey, Camilla, 46, has been "so much a part of Charles's life for so long that he would find it impossible lo give her up now. He's too reliant on her."

Instead, most insiders suspected that misguided friends of the prince's were simply trying to capitalize on Charles's recent good press—including stories from Down Under about his sangfroid during an attack by an assailant firing blanks—to plump up his ratings in the polls. (A recent survey showed 40 percent of Britons believed Charles set a poor example.)

While the ploy seemed to work in some quarters—the Archdeacon of York, who had characterized Charles as morally unfit to be king, praised his apparent repentance—it may yet backfire. As Holden observes, even if Charles has given Camilla the royal boot, it may be difficult "to persuade the nation that this is his finest hour—lo break his mistress's heart as well as his wife's."

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