There were moments in the 1990s where the Windsors were the most dysfunctional soap opera around. In quick succession, Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated, Princess Anne divorced her first husband (Mark Phillips) and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s marriage crashed and burned. To be fair, Andrew didn’t actually want to divorce Fergie – the Queen and Prince Philip basically forced him into divorcing her, but obviously they remained very close and they still live together. But the others? Anne was desperate to divorce Mark Phillips for years, and she ended up marrying Timothy Lawrence the same year her divorce came through. Anne and Timothy were carrying on an affair during her first marriage. And the Charles-Diana stuff… well, obviously, we know what happened there. All of this ‘90s tumult is part of Robert Hardman’s book, Queen of Our Times: The Life of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen was very upset that three of her children’s marriages crashed and burned.
The Queen was upset about her kids’ divorces: “Outwardly stoical, as ever, the Queen was finding the divorce talks deeply upsetting,” Hardman writes in his book, which is excerpted in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “Another former member of the Household recalls that, every now and then, there would be a glimpse of her despair.”
Sheer sadness: “It distressed her much more than she let on,” a former staffer tells Hardman, recalling his attempt to put the broken royal marriages into some sort of perspective. “I said, ‘Ma’am, it seems to be happening everywhere. This is almost common practice.’ But she just said, ‘Three out of four!’ in sheer sadness and exasperation. One shouldn’t underestimate the pain she’s been through.”
1992, her “annus horribilis”: “I don’t remember a single occasion when I went to see her and she exclaimed, ‘No! What next?’ ” her former press secretary Charles Anson tells Hardman in Queen of Our Times, out April 5. “The issue was sometimes embarrassing, but she got on with it. It is immensely reassuring in those situations to work for someone who isn’t knocked back.” Throughout, he adds, she was “never short; never irritable; completely steady.”
The Stillness Approach: Outwardly, the Queen chose “stillness” amid the drama surrounding Charles and Diana’s split — an approach she learned from her father, King George VI. “Her mother’s strategy in these situations— to carry on as if they were not happening—had earned her the nickname ‘imperial ostrich’ among royal staff,” Hardman writes. “The Queen’s response, as ever, was to follow the example of her father, absorbed from his days at sea, and to treat adversity like the ocean.”
The Queen doesn’t panic: “Storms will come and go, some worse than others,” Sir John Major, who worked so closely with her through this period, tells Hardman. “But she will always put her head down and plough through them. The Queen has always lived by the doctrine, ‘This too shall pass.’ ” Hardman writes, “While the Queen has sometimes been accused of being slow to act, there has never been a charge of panic. Her default mode in the face of a crisis is stillness.”
Panicking isn’t great, but neither is stillness? Sometimes action is needed. In times of crisis, you want someone level-headed and organized in thoughts and actions, not someone who wants to stand still and allow the crisis to wash over them while they ignore it. Why are they trying to make this sound like a good thing, my God. As for all of the ‘90s divorces… Anne, Charles, Edward and Andrew all had massively dysfunctional childhoods. Queen Elizabeth didn’t do a lot to raise them or emotionally support them, and Philip was ill-equipped (if not incapable) of being a hands-on, comforting parent to the children. I’m not saying that everything is Elizabeth and Philip’s fault, but there is so much generational trauma in that family even to this day. Part of that generational trauma is rooted in Liz’s instinct to “ostrich” and ignore every issue that comes up.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Instar.