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Divorce of Charles and Diana formalized

By PAUL GOULD

LONDON, Aug. 28 -- The 15-year marriage of Britain's Prince Charles and Princess Diana came to a formal and long-expected end Wednesday with the granting of a decree absolute -- a short, rubber- stamping procedure in London which neither of the estranged couple attended. The prince was taking a summer break at the royal castle of Balmoral, hundreds of miles away in northern Scotland, while the princess attended a lunch for the English National Ballet, of which she is patron. A simple rubber stamp on a piece of paper cost the couple's lawyers just 20 pounds ($30) and came 15 years and 30 days after a fairy-tale wedding attended by world leaders and other royals in St. Paul's Cathedral. The divorce allows Diana to continue living at Kensington Palace, west London, and offers her a settlement believed to be about 15 million pounds ($23 million). But she will lose the title 'Her Royal Highness' and will instead be known as 'Diana, Princess of Wales.' The breakdown of their marriage set in after only a few years when the prince and princess showed signs of strain and distance from one another at public engagements. Their growing estrangement culminated in the announcement -- made to a hushed Parliament by Prime Minister John Major in 1992 -- that the royal couple were to separate. In summer 1994, Prince Charles used a television documentary to confess his adulterous affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, a married woman who had been a friend of the prince before he was engaged to Diana.

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The princess responded in November 1995 with a television interview, arranged without the consent of Buckingham Palace, in which she confessed her affair with former tank commander and polo-player James Hewitt. Questions about the future of the divorced royal couple focus on whether or not Charles will re-marry or become king as a single man. Although there is nothing in the constitution to prevent him becoming king if he remarries, the prince may have to heed public opposition to his marrying Parker-Bowles. Opinion polls in the popular tabloid Sun and Daily Mirror newspapers showed over 80 percent of readers oppose Charles marrying her. As a divorcee herself, there would also be questions about her acceptability as the wife of the future king -- a situation that recalls the abdication 60years ago of Edward VIII in order to marry his divorced American mistress Wallace Simpson.

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