Queen Camilla's title and role explained if King Charles were to abdicate or pass away before her

King charles and camilla leaving hospital
King charles and camilla leaving hospital (Getty Images)

As King Charles steps back from public-facing duties to receive treatment for cancer, his wife Queen Camilla is continuing to hold the royal fort – alongside her stepson Prince William who has returned to the royal circuit after a temporary break to care for his wife Princess Kate post-surgery.

Camilla, 76, has often been praised for being her husband's "rock".

Her sister Annabel Elliot put it so succinctly when she said in Robert Hardman's BBC documentary, Charles III: The Coronation Year: "They're yin and yang, really, they really are polar opposites, but I think it works brilliantly. She is his rock and I can't actually emphasise that enough. She's somebody who is completely loyal."

While the King, 75, will continue to quietly deal with his state business daily – his infamous red boxes – and conduct weekly meetings with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Camilla will be out and about managing her own royal diary, as well as standing in for her husband at public appearances if need be.

King Charles latest

But what would happen to Camilla's role, and title, if her husband Charles were ever to abdicate or to pass away before her? It's a question that has resurfaced this week following the King's surprising cancer diagnosis.

King Charles III and Queen Camilla wave as they leave by car from Clarence House in London
King Charles waves as he's spotted for the first time since revealing he has cancer (Getty)

Camilla's new title

While we don't know for certain what Camilla's new title would be if Charles were to abdicate, one possibility if he were to die before her is that she would be referred to as "the Queen Dowager" because she is the widow of a monarch.

Dowager simply means "the widow of a king". The last widow to use this title was Queen Adelaide in 1837 following the death of her husband King William IV.

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the late Queen Elizabeth II's mother, could have used this title when her husband King George VI passed away in 1952, however she opted for "the Queen Mother" instead – a choice she was entitled to because she was the birth mother of the reigning heir. This would not be the case for Camilla, who is Prince William's stepmother.

Queen Camilla in teal outfit
Camilla could be styled as "The Queen Dowager" in the future (Getty)

What would her new role be?

If Charles were to abdicate or die before Camilla, it's likely that not much would change in terms of the causes and issues she champions. She is patron or president of over 90 charities, so she may scale back the amount of organisations she is formally associated with, choosing to pass patronages to other members of the royal family, just like the late Queen Elizabeth II and the late Duke of Edinburgh did as they grew older.

During a tour of Brunei in 2017, Camilla also admitted to the Sultan's wife Queen Saleha that her duties are "very tiring". "Every day, we're non-stop. It's more tiring as you get older. I keep trying to tell everybody that I'm not as young as I used to be, and have to slow down." And that was seven years ago.

Could we see the hard-working Queen put her feet up a bit more and retire to her private Cotswolds home, Ray Mill House? Only time will tell.

Camilla greeting well-wishers in Swindon
Camilla is patron or president of over 90 charities and has hundreds of public engagements each year (Getty)

Camilla's title and role before Charles was crowned king

Before Charles acceded to the throne, Camilla was styled as "The Duchess of Cornwall". Her duties were to support the reigning monarch, that is the late Queen Elizabeth II, her husband Prince Charles, as well as manage her own royal diary of public engagements and private meetings.

She has long been passionate about various issues including health, literacy, dance, the arts, and empowering women, while she hasn't been afraid to get into more gritty subjects like supporting victims of rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence.

As Queen, she continues to support these themes.

Queen Elizabeth II made history when she celebrated her Platinum Jubilee in 2022
During the Platinum Jubilee, the late Queen gave her blessing for Camilla to be styled "Queen Consort" (Getty)

What is a Queen Consort?

A Queen Consort is the title for the wife of a monarch. She has no constitutional power but supports her spouse in his duties as sovereign.


Princess Kate wearing black and white polka dots and a hat
Princess Kate wearing black and white polka dots and a hat

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From Queen Consort to Queen 

When the public were still coming to terms with the idea of Camilla one day becoming the monarch's consort, shortly after her wedding to Prince Charles in 2005, it was decided that she would be styled as the "Princess Consort".

But as public opinion turned and people came to accept Camilla for the wonderful, devoted senior royal and wife that she is to Charles, it became clear that her title would need a significant upgrade.

The late Queen Elizabeth II gave her public blessing during her Platinum Jubilee celebrations when she said in a statement: "It is my sincere wish that, when the time comes Camilla will be known as Queen Consort as she continues her own loyal service."

Queen Camilla and King Charles
Ahead of the coronation, Charles issued a Royal Warrant stating that his wife should be named "Queen Camilla" (Getty)

After the late Queen's death in September 2022, Camilla was known as "Queen Consort". But the term "consort" was officially dropped eight months later at King Charles' coronation in May 2023.

He issued a Royal Warrant stating that from Coronation Day itself, his wife should be named "Queen Camilla" in prayers said for or referring to the royal family.

While this did not take effect until Coronation Day itself, Camilla's new title of "Queen Camilla" was already being used in royal documentation, including on the palace's official invitation for the coronation.

On the royal family's website, Camilla is now referred to as "Her Majesty The Queen" or simply "The Queen".

LISTEN: King Charles' health problems and Princess Kate's recovery