THE marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales will formally end next year, following a direct intervention by Queen Elizabeth II.
Under Britain's "quickie" divorce laws it could be all over within two or three months.
A sudden acceleration in the estranged couple's marital crisis came Wednesday evening, when Buckingham Palace said the queen had written separately to Prince Charles and Diana urging them to obtain a divorce "as soon as possible."
Charles has agreed, the palace said, but Diana has given no initial response.
Lord St. John of Fawsley, a constitutional expert and friend of the royal family, says the queen's action was probably triggered by Diana's decision last month to go on nationwide television and accuse members of the royal family of "isolating" her in the early years of her marriage to Charles. "The queen was quite right to intervene," says Lord St. John.
Diana also indicated that she doubted whether Charles wished to become king - a comment that enraged the prince's supporters and, according to press reports, incensed the queen.
Parliament will not object to the divorce itself, according to James Hill, chairman of the Conservative Party's constitutional affairs committee in the House of Commons. "As for the divorce, that is an open-and-shut case, however sad the situation may be," he says.
Charles also eliminated a sticky constitutional issue by releasing a statement yesterday saying he didn't intend to remarry. Church of England prelates said yesterday that a divorce would not affect Charles' role as temporal head of the church when he succeeds his mother. But an aide of Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said remarriage would cause grave problems.
Charles, if he becomes king, will also be "Defender of the Faith" and governor of the Church of England. In a TV interview in 1994, Charles said he was unhappy with the title Defender of the Faith, because it implied that he was not expected to be the defender of all faiths in Britain's multicultural society.
Charles also confessed to have committed adultery with Camilla Parker Bowles, a long-time friend. Diana also admitted to committing adultery. Her friends have indicated that she will drive a hard bargain while the terms of a divorce settlement are hammered out.
They say she will want unlimited access to both her sons, William and Henry; to retain the title princess; and to be given an official role as a roving goodwill ambassador for Britain. But a divorce would rule out any possibility of her becoming queen.
Lord St. John says most of her demands are "likely to be acceded to."
British royalty is no stranger to divorce. King Henry VIII set a precedent in the 16th century when he broke with Rome in order to divorce his wife and established the Church of England.