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Byline: Sarah Lyall The New York Times

Princess Diana said Wednesday that she had reluctantly changed her mind and would agree to divorce her estranged husband, Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne.

"The Princess of Wales will retain the title and be known as Diana, Princess of Wales," said a spokeswoman for the princess, in a statement that overshadowed the announcement of a breakthrough in the Northern Ireland peace effort.

Her announcement, issued just before the evening television news, riveted many in Britain, a country hungry for any scrap of information about the princess. But it appeared to be a surprise to Diana's in-laws at Buckingham Palace.

"The queen was most interested to hear that the Princess of Wales had agreed to the divorce," said a palace spokesman who heard about Diana's announcement when reporters called for a response. While Charles and Diana met earlier Wednesday in the prince's house at St. James's Palace, the spokesman said, "details of the divorce settlement and the princess's future role were not discussed."

Nor, he added, is it correct to say that the princess is sure to be allowed to retain her title - an important issue for Diana, who is said by royal watchers to want to keep as many of the perks of royalty as possible. "All the details on these matters, including titles, remain to be discussed and settled," he said. "This will take time."

Diana's lawyer, Anthony Julius, said Wednesday night that her decision to accede to ending her marriage had been a hard one. "It was an exceptionally difficult decision and one which the Princess of Wales has taken with immense sadness and regret," he said in an interview with BBC News.

The princess's spokeswoman, Jane Atkinson, said the next thing to do would be to work out a financial deal. "The lawyers are now in negotiations about a settlement, and we will see what transpires," she said.

Experts say a divorce would not bar Prince Charles' eventual installation as king.

"A divorce does not affect the constitutional position of Charles in any way," said Lord St. John of Fawsley, an expert on the rules governing the royal succession. "His rights of accession to the throne rest on statute, not marital status." Once king, Prince Charles also would become supreme governor of the Church of England.

A divorce would be a problem only if he decided to remarry - something he has said he has no plans to do - and chose to wed in a church. Many Anglican priests do not perform marriages for divorced people.

On the other hand, a divorce would mean that Diana could never be queen. And although her elder son, William, is next in line to the throne after Charles, Diana would never be called the Queen Mother - as Queen Elizabeth's mother, also named Elizabeth, is - if William became king.

But the princess did say in her statement that she would "continue to be involved in all decisions relating to the children."

William, 13, and his younger brother, Harry, 11, attend boarding schools and alternate between their parents during school vacations.

Diana's announcement made it plain that her marriage, often described as a fairy-tale dream before it disintegrated into a public tit-for-tat, is now irrevocably over.

Charles and Diana married in 1981, and it gradually became clear that their relationship had been a disaster almost from the start. Britain's tabloid newspapers began to hear murmurings of discontent issuing from the palaces in which the couple lived, but it was not until 1992, when Andrew Morton published "Diana: Princess of Wales," with its account of her extreme unhappiness, and extreme behavior, that the lid finally was blown off the marriage.

The couple agreed to a formal separation at the end of 1992, and since then the unsavory disclosures about their relationship have come thick and fast. In 1994 Charles admitted in a television interview that he had been unfaithful to Diana after his marriage had "irretrievably" broken down.

And in November Diana gave a television interview of her own, without the authorization of Buckingham Palace, in which she told an unhappy tale of bulimia, self-mutilation and isolation. She, too, admitted committing adultery, with a cavalry officer named James Hewitt, who she said loved her and then betrayed her in a tell-all book.

In the interview, Diana said she did not want a divorce, explaining that her parents had divorced and that she had no desire to repeat their mistakes. But critics said that the princess, a master at public relations, had decided on her anti-divorce position in an effort to put the burden on Charles, gain sympathy and enhance any settlement she might receive in the end.

After Diana's interview, in which she also said she did not believe Charles was ready, or willing, to become king, Queen Elizabeth apparently decided she had had enough. She sent a letter to her son and daughter-in-law - a letter that found its way into newspapers - urging them to get a divorce as quickly as possible.

Charles expressed his willingness, but Diana seemed eager to wait it out as long as possible. But Wednesday, after meeting with her two sons and then her estranged husband, she said she had changed her mind.

If they do split, Charles would become the third member of his immediate family - after his aunt, Prince Margaret, and his younger sister, Princess Anne - whose marriage ended in divorce. One of his brothers, Prince Andrew, is separated from his wife, the Duchess of York.

In Wednesday's statement, Diana's spokeswoman said the princess would retain her house at Kensington Palace and keep a set of offices in St. James' Palace.


What Princess Diana takes away from her marriage:

HER TITLE as princess. Or so Diana says. Buckingham Palace says they'll talk about it.

HER HOME at Kensington Palace, Diana says. Buckingham Palace says they'll talk about it.

HER ROLE as mother of Prince William, second in line to the throne, and Prince Harry.

A LOT OF MONEY, but they'll have to talk about that too.

HER PUBLIC APPEARANCES as informal ambassador for Britain. Prime Minister John Major has already said that would continue.

HER CELEBRITY. Buckingham Palace can't do anything about it.

ADORING SWARMS of photographers, TV cameras, tabloid reporters and royal enthusiasts. No chance they'll leave her alone.

Associated Press


PHOTO[ordinal indicator, masculine]CHART

Photo (1) Charles (2) Diana (3) Prince Charles and princess Diana appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on their wedding day. Associated Press What Princess Diana gets (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 29, 1996
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