Let’s Not Weaponize the Waleses

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I’ve had on my docket for a while a blog post focused on Catherine as Princess of Wales. I’d like to do one that’s focused on the issue of the royal workload and a brief look back on the Princess’s Early Years campaign update from a few months back; however, in the meantime, Hilary Rose for The Times wrote a feature on Catherine that I think is worth covering, particularly in light of some of the issues we’ve started discussing in the last couple blog posts.

So, with that in mind, here’s the full article. Below, I’m going to react to certain snippets.

“The Princess of Wales knows exactly what she’s doing. As of this weekend there is no longer any trace of the slightly nervy, unremarkable middle-class girl from the home counties. Somewhere along the way Kate Middleton has acquired more star power and charisma and regal bearing than all the other royals combined. How ironic that Prince Andrew bangs on about his ‘blood princess’ daughters, but it’s actually the girl from Berkshire who makes the monarchy look exciting and relevant.”

What I like most about this is that while praising Catherine, we’re actually all reminded of how just how classist news coverage of her was for so many years. I don’t know how many of you were closely following the Royal Family back in 2007 when William and Catherine broke up (for about six weeks), but headline after headline banged on about her mother’s former job as an airline attendant and just “new” their money was. So, yes, this is a compliment of sorts, but it’s a rather twisted one.

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“Charles and Camilla are all very well. They seem good people with the best of intentions. I’m pleased he has finally got the job he was born to do. But who would you be more interested to meet, Kate or Camilla? Kate has the mysterious air of Queen Elizabeth about her. Every so often during the fandango I found myself thinking: ‘Where’s the Queen?’ It’s going to take a very long time, if ever, before ‘the Queen’ means anything other than Elizabeth II to a lot of us. And I suspect, whisper it, that it’s going to skip a generation. I look at Camilla and I think: ‘Well done, love — crack on, excellent diamonds.’ I look at Kate and see Queen’.”

Let’s bear one thing in mind: After a 70-year reign, this was always going to be the case, regardless of who the next consort was. A very similar dynamic has played out throughout history, but most recently in 1901 when Queen Victoria gave way to Edward VII and his wife, the long-standing Princess of Wales became Queen Alexandra. We have no idea how long the reign of King Charles will be, but I would hazard to guess that over time, yes, it will feel less foreign to say Queen Camilla because, well, that’s how time works.

At the same time, sure, Catherine will likely have an easier go of it in this regard because she’s a less controversial character. She’s also a more glamorous figure and, whether you personally care for it or not, she’s the resident fashion icon within the Royal Family. All of that is true, but I have a hard time with leveraging that to insult Queen Camilla because some of it’s unfair, some of it feels rather ageist, and some of it feels like the construction of yet another gilded cage in which we’re pushing royal women. Not all royal women are going to look like Diana, Princess of Wales, Catherine, or even a young Queen Elizabeth, and insinuating that that goes hand in hand with looking royal is a bit problematic.

I’ve met neither woman, but to use the old campaign metric of who would I most like to have a drink with? Honestly, Queen Camilla seems pretty fun.

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“There’s a photograph of her arriving at the abbey and looking over her shoulder directly into the camera. Compare it to one taken in the same place on her wedding day and see the transformation. There’s a steeliness to her gaze that wasn’t there 12 years ago. There’s an alchemy at work that the other royals must desperately wish they could bottle. It’s the title and the history and the clothes, sure. It’s about being comparatively young and slim and brushing up extremely well. As Prince William put it recently, bless him: ‘Oh, she always looks stunning.’”

To be honest, I think it’s the confidence that comes with experience. Yes, I think that over the last four to five years we’ve absolutely seen a transformation in Catherine. Looking back, the first seven years of her marriage seem to have been defined by slowly and cautiously learning the ropes and devoting a good bit of her time to having and then caring for her three children when they were very young. What we’ve seen since is a woman who has found the causes she’s interested in investing in and is comfortable leveraging her position on behalf of her work. She’s established herself within the family and with that has come more a meeting of equals when she’s next to the rest of the Royal Family.

I don’t think that’s a magic potion – I think that’s actually a very relatable evolution that many women experience professionally and personally over the course of their 30s and 40s. And once again we have a paragraph reducing what we expect from a woman in Catherine’s position to her looks. If this were about being young, slim, and pretty, then we’d all still be besotted with The Duchess of Sussex, no? Actions and character have something to do with it.

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“I’m not sure it’s in anyone’s interests, least of all theirs, for Charles and Camilla to bat on until death. We all know they’d be happier feeding the chickens at Highgrove. I get that William and Kate may not want the top jobs just yet. Their children are still young, and Charles and Camilla are still hale and hearty and up for it. I get, too, that the monarchy is more heredity than celebrity, but you know what? Sod it. Kings and queens abdicate in other countries. So do popes. Let’s not wait until William and Kate are in their sixties; let’s crack on and crown them. Meghan: start practising your game face.”

First of all, we don’t know that the King and Queen would be happier at Highgrove. We know that the King has been a workaholic his entire adult life, and while it’s possible that the Queen would enjoy a slower pace, I also think she well knows that’s not in her husband’s makeup. And yes, William and Catherine have made it pretty clear over the years that they’re not gunning for the top job. I think today they feel by far more comfortable with their destiny than they did 10 years ago, but no, I don’t think it would be in anyone’s interest for us go through the trauma of an abdication just because more people like looking at Catherine in jewels than the current queen. Like, what?

And second of all, none of this is really about the consort, it’s about the monarch. Love him or hate him, King Charles has a depth of experience that at this point in his career, William does not. He’ll get it, but my God, are we really arguing – even facetiously – in a huge news publication that the younger duo should get the gig now because they’re prettier?

As for the question of whether the British Royal Family should embrace the more European model of elderly monarchs abdicating, there’s a time and place for it. But at no point in this article is there is a respectable argument for it. Some of you may remember, I didn’t think it was a possibility that should have been entirely discounted towards the end of Queen Elizabeth’s life, though I understand why it was. Personally, I doubt that King Charles will go that route, but we’ll see what the future holds. I find it by far likelier, actually, that if the Windsors decide to move in that direction it will be William in favor of George, depending on timing and longevity, but we’re a long ways off from that conversation.

And finally, what does Meghan have to do with it? What an absolutely unnecessary line.

So, anyway, I didn’t love this article and I’m perfectly fond of Catherine. My reason for linking it to the conversation we’ve started having about Buckingham Palace versus Kensington Palace is that this is the sort of narrative that the King’s household is no doubt afraid of. The King’s reign being defined as a waiting game for the more beloved Waleses is absolutely an obstacle they have to fight against.

But the most effective way of doing it isn’t by diminishing William and Catherine, it’s by bringing them closer into the fold. They’re *not* dying to take over and the moments when the King and Queen are most beloved is when they appear to be doting parents and grandparents. Let’s all remember, Queen Elizabeth’s reputation was enhanced by a similar makeover at various points in her reign. And the best balm for the level of dysfunction that’s defined the Royal Family over the last three years is for the rest of the parent and sibling relationships to appear happy and healthy.

5 thoughts on “Let’s Not Weaponize the Waleses

  1. LEW

    Totally agree. The PoW has undoubtedly grown in to her role in a fine way and will be no doubt an excellent Queen, but the Queen at the moment is Camilla (who I have extreme doubts about actually wanting the job, TBH)

    I can’t imagine there is a dirtier word in the Royal vocabulary than abdication. If it didn’t actually kill the good and decent George VI it certainly put extreme strain on an ill prepared man (no fault of his own) and possibly caused issues in the relationship of his successor with her eldest son, because of her role and the demands. I don’t wish it for the Wales’s at the moment. Let them have a more normal life, let their kids grow up and let Charles have his moment in the sun.

    1. That’s always been my sense of the Queen as well, which is part of why I found all the accusations in Spare so strange. Yes, we know that Clarence House engaged in some dark arts, but I’ve never seen or heard any indication that that stemmed from Camilla or that she had any real ambition for the crown. To be fair, I believe that she’s co-signed the King’s strategy at various points and understands how much this all means to him, but I would never describe her as “power hungry” or needing/wanting the spotlight for her own sake.

      1. LEW

        Yes, I found that a very odd take from Harry. We’ve all heard bad things said about her for decades, but Medici level plotting for power is a new one on me. Certainly if I sensed anything about her on Saturday, it was more that she’d have happily exchanged that crown for a very stiff gin, a comfy sofa and a couple of terriers in a heartbeat. I saw no triumph there.

        I think sometimes people look at eg the Netherlands with their happy precedent of “abdication as retirement” (which they handle very well, TBF, being able to pick the right moment for all concerned) and think we could do the same. There is nothing wrong with the Dutch way at all, but those holding it up as am exemplar ignore the fact that our sovereigns are crowned and anointed and still have an officially quasi religious role. We also have a different and much more fraught understanding of what abdication means and it isn’t for us a succession of elderly and well loved Queens handing over to their child, at a time of their choosing.

  2. I’ve often wondered, Rebecca. That speech that the queen gave about serving her people no matter how long or short her life. Did it commit her to staying on till the very end?

    You’re right. Megan is a waste of space.

    1. In a legally binding way, no. But I think it was seen by her and a lot of the public as a life-long commitment to rule until death, which, at the time that she said it, was close enough to the Abdication Crisis that it struck a chord.

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