What You Can Expect If King Charles Dies Before Camilla

For many, the details of how royalty works in the 21st century can seem pretty obscure — it's rooted, after all, in a bunch of archaic rules and ancient traditions that most people don't have to deal with. For example, Queen Camilla — King Charles III's second wife, crowned in May 2023 — was officially granted the honorific queen consort by the late Queen Elizabeth II, Charles' mother, shortly before Elizabeth died. In her statement announcing the move, the queen said it was her "sincere wish" Camilla would have the title (via Sky News).

The queen's words aside, at Camilla's crowning ceremony alongside her husband, Charles, Camilla became Queen Camilla. (Camilla's still technically a queen consort as opposed to a queen regnant, with much the same ceremonial place of honor — just no sovereignty or powers as head of state, Men's Health points out). And notably, at the time that Charles and Camilla's marriage in 2005, Camilla expressed her wish to be simply the "princess consort," the first of her kind in history. Regardless of what Camilla wished to be called, as the wife of the king, she'd still be queen.

But as even the casual royal observer is likely well aware, the whole royal system works on lineage. In other words, kings and queens typically pass on the throne to their eldest-born child, not their wife or husband. The same can be said for Camilla: Should Charles die first, Camilla's title might change, but the line of succession would otherwise remain intact.

Camilla, queen dowager

Both King Charles III and Queen Camilla were in their mid-70s when they took the throne, making Charles the oldest monarch at the time he became king. At the time of his coronation, Charles was 74 years old, so a short reign is a real possibility, according to USA Today. Camilla was 75.

If King Charles dies first, Camilla would most likely become queen dowager, according to Cosmopolitan. A queen dowager is effectively a widowed queen, who maintains much the same place of honor as she's always had while otherwise stepping aside for the next queen in the line of succession. In Queen Camilla's case, the next queen would be Catherine, Prince of Wales, wife of Prince William, Charles' eldest-born son. 

One other type of queen Camilla will likely never be is queen regent. A regent of any kind takes over for a monarch at their request. Henry VIII's first wife Catherine of Aragon, for example, was queen regent while Henry was away at war. Today, should the king need a replacement, they turn instead to counselors of state, per UK law (via the U.K. Parliament).

Per UnofficialRoyalty.com, should her husband die, Queen Camilla might choose to eschew the "queen dowager" title entirely and revert to "queen consort," instead. Some queen consorts have done so in the past. In the event of Charles' death, Camilla might also elect to become queen mother, according to the Royal Collection Trust.

Camilla will never be in the line of succession

In the game of thrones that the British monarchy can sometimes be, there's no possible scenario where Queen Camilla could become queen regnant, like Queen Elizabeth II. That title is reserved for the true eldest-born daughter of the king or queen in the direct line of succession. On the decision to drop "consort" from Camilla's title, a senior royal aide told CNN, "It made sense to refer to her Majesty as the queen consort in the early months of His Majesty's reign, to distinguish from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. 'Queen Camilla' is the appropriate title to set against 'King Charles' on the invitation."

"The coronation is an appropriate time to start using 'Queen Camilla' in an official capacity. All former queen consorts have been known as queen plus their first name," the aide added. As one royal insider put it, though, it's ultimately Charles' and Camilla's choice. "His Majesty has always seen it as a matter of honour," they said (via Daily Mail). "He is king so, therefore, it follows that his wife should be queen. ... It's entirely up to them whether to choose to be called that, but it's still fundamentally their right to do so."

Here's hoping King Charles III has a long and happy reign, but if he dies first, Queen Camilla can rest assured the British government has a top-secret plan in place to handle the transition. The plan, in fact, already has a name: "Operation Menai Bridge," similar to the plan for when Queen Elizabeth II died, "Operation London Bridge."