A few weeks ago, I covered the fact that there are so many royal books coming out in the next few months, as royal reporters and biographers try to publish their stuff before Prince Harry’s memoir drops at some point this fall. At the time, I thought the biggest concerns would be Valentine Low’s book about royal courtiers and maybe Katie Nicholl’s book, which should be heavy on Middleton propaganda. I didn’t have any expectations for Catherine Mayer’s book, mostly because Mayer isn’t a regular royal commentator. We knew she was publishing a biography of Prince Charles, and I just thought it would be Embiggening King Charles. Turns out, not so much. Mayer is actually doing a new edition of her 2015 book, Charles: The Heart of a King, with new chapters and updates for all of the sh-t that’s gone down in the past seven years. The Guardian excerpted part of the new edition in a piece called “King in waiting: Prince Charles’s tortured path to the throne.” What’s fascinating is that Mayer actually acknowledges that Charles and the institution have f–ked it all up. Some highlights:
The royals are coddled idiots: The royal family inhabits a parallel universe, reliant on aides and allies to explain us to them and them to us. The arrangement has kept most members shielded from close scrutiny, but also detached from reality and protected as much by public lack of interest as active support. Courts are accidents waiting to happen, medieval structures only partially adapted for the modern age and headed by people who have never, in the ordinary sense, held a job.
The past eight years have been a disaster for the monarchy: The past years – the Meghan-and-Harry years, the Andrew-and-Jeffrey-Epstein years, the cash-for-honours-and-access years, the fragmenting-and-fracturing-of-family years – have hit the institution like a wrecking ball.
The Cambridges’ Flop Tour: Barbados didn’t bother to wait for a new sovereign, breaking with the crown last year. Six of the remaining Caribbean realms have already signalled a desire to follow suit. The painful progress of the Cambridges, William and Kate, across the region in March prompted dismay in the royal palaces, but too little understanding to change the jarring choreography of a similar expedition by the Wessexes – Prince Edward and wife Sophie – the following month. Protesters at every stage pointed to the ways in which the royals are beneficiaries in economic and social terms of empire and inequality, enslavement and exploitation. None of the palace officials involved in planning either trip seemed to have grasped how this heritage twines with Windrush and other fresher narratives of injustice, whether of Black lives extinguished by the police supposed to protect them or of a woman of colour crushed and cold-shouldered by the institution in whose service her in-laws travelled.
Profound damage from the Sussexit: Meghan, like Diana, has not gone quietly, but the remaining royals appear not to comprehend the scale of the fallout from the Sussexes’ departure, instead still squabbling over recollections that do indeed differ. In writing a substantial new section of my biography of Charles, it seemed important to unpick the claims and counterclaims of this conflict, but not at the expense of the bigger picture. Whosesoever truth you come to believe, the damage, personal and institutional, is profound.
A fractured family: People who know Harry report that the breach with his family has floored him, and he is not the only one hurting. His brother, William, is wound tight, says one of these sources, his distress expressing itself, as it has done since the loss of his mother, as fury. Another source speaks of Charles’s “deep, deep pain”.
The Cambridges & the Sussexes: These days the Cambridges and the Sussexes are proxies in culture wars that rage across social media and in banner headlines, with William and Kate standing for a stodgy status quo and Harry and Meghan for progressive ideals. Neither characterisation is full or fully accurate. Those fighting the Cambridges’ corner assume the Sussexes must be losing the battle for hearts and minds, as UK-based polls show Harry’s popularity plummeting and Meghan’s, never high, slip further into net negative. Once again, this misses the point. A YouGov survey taken in the wake of the Sussexes’ allegations, in their interview with Oprah Winfrey, of racism by an unnamed senior royal and William’s riposte (“we are very much not a racist family”) showed that 20% of respondents believed the royal family was in fact racist. That figure rose to 43% among respondents of colour, with 40% in favour of Britain switching the monarch for an elected head of state.
Tainted Keens: William and Kate appear irretrievably tainted in the eyes of significant sections of their potential future subjects in the UK as well as the overseas realms, and that’s by no means the only legacy of the split. Who knows what wounds Harry’s memoir, expected later this year, will inflict – and his father has much to fear. Charles’s obvious affection for his boys and glowing happiness with Camilla had begun to endear him to the public. That image is under pressure just as older scandals are coming home to roost.
Money: “The royals have relatively little private money,” says a former palace insider. “That’s why they’re always trying to get money… There is also the question about where [their money] comes from since they cannot own anything they are given in their public roles.” This definition of “relatively little” is open to challenge, but the former insider cites an interesting example: “Whenever the Saudis give the Prince of Wales a horse, he views it as a bill, not a present. He can’t sell it. He has to house it and feed it for the rest of its life.”
Before Robert Lacey was co-opted by Kensington Palace, he honestly tried to tell people this very same thing: everything that went down with the Sussexes was bad for the monarchy, and the monarchy would have a hell of a time surviving unless they found some way to bring back Harry and Meghan. Or at least, make a generous and substantial peace with the Sussexes. I appreciate that Mayer doesn’t even seem to believe that peace is an option. It’s almost as if she’s saying the fractures – and the damage – are irrevocable. I love that she points out that it’s not about some Salt Island-exclusive popularity contest between the two couples either – the Sussexit (and everything that came after) has irrevocably tainted the Cambridges. William and Kate are SEEN as regressive, conservative, parochial figures by younger generations and by people outside of Salt Island. Because they are.
Also: “William, is wound tight, says one of these sources, his distress expressing itself, as it has done since the loss of his mother, as fury…” William’s rage is well-known and freely discussed constantly by historians and biographers. Fury and rage are his default emotions and no one thinks that this too is a bomb waiting to go off in the heart of the monarchy?
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Instar.