The book became an obsession, filled with trivial delicious gossip and detail as well as history, and ending with flimsy folded pages of yard long pull-out family trees of all the British and European monarchies, their marriages and inter-marriages, offspring, ancestors… and genealogy became another hobby.
A friend gave me my own copy of the book, and I followed it up with the acquisition of biographies of everyone else, from Queen Victoria and her numerous offspring, who became Queens, Grand Duchesses and Empresses of duchies, kingdoms and empires all over Europe. I gobbled up the histories of her successors, the Edwards, the George’s, Alexandra, Elizabeth’s, and so on.
I devoured Victoria’s letters to her daughter, the Princess Royal who became Empress of Germany, who with her tragic husband battled Bismarck and then Bismarck’s pupil, her son, the notorious Kaiser Wilhelm; Victoria’s letters to her second daughter Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse-Darmstadt, and the disaster of both haemophilia and diphtheria which claimed her family. And Alice’s six-year-old son saying why can’t we all go together, as another sibling died. And the eerie events that followed, when his sister Tsarina Alexandra and all her family died together in the cellar at Ekaterinburg, and he, by now, Grand Duke, dying in an air crash with all his family, wife, children, mother in law, on their way to a wedding in England, and finally Mountbatten, Alice’s grandson, dying with members of his family and others in the IRA atrocity in Ireland.
I learned about Edward the Seventh’s affairs, including his longest and deepest commitment to Mrs Keppel, the present Duchess of Cornwall’s great grandmother, the anorexia and vanity of ravishingly beautiful Empress Elizabeth of Austria who used to wear damp skin-tight leather riding habits to accentuate her figure, and was assassinated by an anarchist as she walked to a ferry in Geneva; poor George who became King when his brother abdicated, in agony for much of his childhood from splints to correct knock knees, and the physical strictures he suffered from having to stop being left handed – no wonder he stammered as an adult.
I absorbed Sir Charles Petrie’s acute psychological analysis of the ruling house of Britain when he described the brutal Cumberland streak, a reference to Queen Victoria’s sadistic uncle; the conscientious Coburg inheritance, from noble Prince Albert, whose last action as he was dying of typhoid was to avert war between the US and Britain in 1861, a war which could have changed the course of history; and the artistic, self-indulgent, party-loving, charming Hanoverian streak inherited from the Prince Regent who was known as Prince Charming back in the 1840’s, and personified more recently by Princess Margaret. These personality types are still obvious to this day in each generation of the Royals.
So when a publisher commissioned me to write a book on the Royal’s relationship with NZ, I had already primed the pump, as it were. One of the fascinating aspects of following such a well -documented family is to see how heredity plays its part in each generation – including William’s conscientious Coburg nature, like his grandmother the Queen’s, to Harry’s red Spencer hair, a legacy of Sarah, first Duchess of Marlborough three hundred years ago. She had a mane of glorious red hair which in one of her famous rages, she chopped off to spite her devoted husband, John. After this great Duke of Marlborough died, she found a box with her hair in it, lovingly preserved by her husband. That red hair has descended through every generation of the Spencer – Churchill family including to Winston Churchill and Princess Diana’s brothers and sisters.
So when Prince Harry married his American bride with her exotic heritage, like everyone else I was fascinated and intrigued for all the many reasons commenters and pundits have expounded. And fascinated too, by the enthusiasm with which the British people took the newcomer to their hearts – great crowds wherever the couple went, huge mobs of thrilled and enthusiastic spectators at their lavish wedding and the excitement when a new baby was announced ( though somewhat mixed, since the announcement seemed timed to overshadow the Queen’s grand daughter’s wedding)
Since then as everyone knows, the fairy story has dissolved in the light of common day, diverse personalities and controversial decisions. As the opposing sides have argued, Royal Family fans versus the Sussex’s, I’ve been saddened by the distortions of truth, which have ended up tarnishing the Queen and Catherine, William’s blameless wife.
For example, the defenders of Meghan’s decision not to bring Archie, the Queen’s great grandson, to see his family, argued that the Queen left her two eldest toddlers for six months. She did. But she left them with their doting grandmother, the Queen Mother, and their aunt Princess Margaret.
She had no choice. When she took up the tour of the Commonwealth to thank each country for their support during WW2, which George VI had been unable to do because of ill health, it was aborted in Kenya on the death of her father. The following year she tried again and during my research for the book I’d been commissioned to write, I found they stayed nearly every night at a different town and new hotel all over the world.
Even when they wearily got to their destination each night in this country, choirs came and serenaded them outside, every evening, so they had to go out and thank them before collapsing inside. No point in dragging their toddlers from one strange place to another every day. By contrast, when Charles and Diana brought William, he learned to crawl on the lawn of Government House in Auckland where they were able to make their base.
Others pointed to Catherine leaving her children for a week’s second honeymoon, but again they were with their doting grand- parents, not just a friend of their mother’s. Which is one of the odd things about Arche’s situation, that his grandmother, his only other family member, doesn’t do what most devoted grand-parents do, and take the opportunity to be with him when his parents aren’t. Though Meghan says she’s done the right thing as she wants her son to grow up in a loving fun-filled environment, he’s actually been wrenched away from his wider family, with a clutch of happy fun-filled young cousins, family summer holidays at Balmoral and Christmases at Sandringham.
The worst thing of all, to me, is the way both the Royal Family and the UK have been vilified in order to justify what many people feel is a dereliction of duty. To call the family ‘toxic’, and the country ‘racist’ is not just untrue but deeply hurtful to everyone involved. To those who call England racist I can only point to the front bench of the present government. The three great offices of state in Britain are the First Lord of the Treasury, the Prime Minister’s formal title, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary. The last two offices are held at this moment by the sons and daughters of Pakistani and Ugandan immigrants. The Lord Mayor of London is the son of Muslim Pakistani immigrants. Similarly, the Labour party is well stocked with WOC and even Men of Colour both from the West Indies and other parts of the world!
Sadly these accusations are repeated by some vocal and disaffected men and women of colour and others, both in England, and on American television and in their media, blackening England’s name and reputation as a kind and tolerant society, which it always has been, which is why so many refugees have made their way to it over the centuries.
It was in England that Lord Chief Justice Lord Mansfield, made the first great declaration on freedom and slavery, when he decreed in 1772 that the slave Somersett, who had escaped his American master, should be free, and that any slave who set foot on English soil automatically became free. Slavery, he said, was odious and had no basis in English common law. It was finally abolished in 1834 throughout the much-maligned British Empire, and the Royal Navy patrolled the seas for sixty years with a special anti-slavery squadron to stamp out slave trafficking by other nations. It cost some thousands of sailor’s lives, as well as money.
George Orwell wrote in 1940 that ‘England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box.‘
Sadly the huge rent in the fabric of the Royal family with the defection of two senior members, is being reflected in the country as a whole; in a split between the voices of common sense and tradition, and the voices of woke, liberal elites – the ones George Orwell was describing eighty years ago. The voices of common sense and tradition were those which rejected ‘isms and ideologies of the ‘woke’ factions in the recent election.
And these decent hardworking people are for the most part, patriotic – anathema to liberal elites. Yet as Orwell explained: ‘By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power.’
The people who cheered on Meghan and Harry at their wedding, were patriots, and they welcomed the introduction of a lively new foreign addition to their ranks. Yet now those same decent people of England with their proud history of tolerance, and of opposition to racism/slavery when it was still accepted elsewhere, are having to live with the label of racism pinned on them by their own much-loved Prince Harry and his wife of less than two years.
And the Royal family who welcomed that wife are having to live with the label she gave them of being ‘toxic.’ As usual they are carrying on, keeping on, doing their duty to their dynasty and to their country. The monarch has the daily three-hour long perusal and signing of Parliamentary business, and constant reception of overseas diplomats and potentates, as well as the obvious tasks – like opening a sewerage plant in Norfolk, (as the 93- year- old Queen did a few weeks ago).
She and other family members carry on with the cutting of ribbons in Wolverhampton, planting trees in Abergavenny, visiting hospitals in Scunthorpe, meeting ambassadors, conferring with charities who need their support, visiting the regiments of the armed forces, pinning medals on veterans, marking anniversaries and state occasions, shaking hands, making small talk, oiling diplomatic relations between countries and peoples, bringing a sense of caring and continuity to society, swotting up the details of the people they’re meeting and the places they’re visiting, doing the boring unglamorous aspects of being in service, and living their motto: never complain, never explain. It’s served them well for nearly a thousand years. They also know that privilege entails responsibility. It’s called noblesse oblige.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
I needed a cake, but didn’t have the time to nurture a long bake in the oven, so I experimented with this cake that only takes 20 minutes to cook. It was a great success, but tasted even better the next day. It’s all mixed in a saucepan in which 250 gms of butter, one cup of sugar, 2 tablsp of cocoa and one tablesp of golden syrup are melted. Don’t let it boil. When cool, add 2 cups SR flour, one cup of almond meal, a teasp of vanilla essence and a pinch of salt. Mix it all together. No eggs.
Grease and line a cake tin, and bake for 20 minutes only, so it’s a little fudgy. When cool ice with chocolate icing… icing sugar, butter, cocoa and a little milk beaten till smooth. Next time I make it I might experiment with brown sugar …
Food for Thought
Folksinger Pete Seeger has been called America’s tuning fork. He said: ‘I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. I used to say I was an atheist… According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God… And maybe I am… I think God is literally everything, because I don’t believe that something can come out of nothing. And so there’s always been something. Always is a long time.’
22 responses to “Dynasties, duties and decisions”
I enjoyed reading your perspective, drawn from huge research, on the royal family Valerie, and your impassioned defence of Britishness. And those hours of work still done by the Queen in her 90s! Thank you.
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hello Juliet, lovely to hear from you…. hope all is well in your neck of the woods… good to know you enjoyed my take n the R.Family… the Queen is amazing isn’t she… I hadn’t managed to post the pic of her looking so ravishing when she was young when I first posted… finally got it sorted when D came to my assistance!
That photo is glorious Valerie; so glad you managed to post it and that you let me know. All is very well here, with a new book on the way: seasonal celebrations for children & families, tamariki and whanau; very exciting, but it’s kept my head down.
Fascinating, impressive, knowledgeable, sensitive and expertly composed article. I still don’t know what was said to suggest racism toward Meghan, but I probably wasn’t paying attention. It didn’t occur to me there was a problem. She was welcomed by everybody I knew and anything I read, made Harry a happy bunny, seemed lovely and they appeared to be a great team. The fact that she was American was of interest; but ‘race’, or ‘colour’ wasn’t. It is infinitely sad they were unhappy and felt they needed to bow out. ‘Megxit’ aside, ‘racist’ seems to be an accusation levelled by a certain type of immature bigot at the moment against anyone they don’t agree with who happens to be wholly ‘white’ (or pink). This is the 21st century; what people do is more important than what they are.
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Thank you so much for what felt like a bouquet – so glad you enjoyed my take on things…yes, even in the comments sections of the tabloids, race rarely came up, but what did come up was the outrage at what seemed like disrespect for the country and its culture, irritation at being preached at, and told by Harry that everyone was unconsciously racist, among other sources of tabloid criticism..
The humungeous spending on couture clothes, the jetting around and expensive jaunts, the snubbing of the Queen and the arrogance of turfing out forty paying spectators from their seats at Wimbledon and many other things, including constantly upstaging various members of the R. Family, ( especially Catherine ) all prompted the chorus of dislike which grew as time went by..
I also enjoyed your perspective, Valerie, and although I didn’t follow the whole Meghan/Harry vs Britain thing, I find the charge of racism hard to believe. And any time I hear “woke”, I want to break something!! Or go back to sleep. 🙂
Hope all’s well there. Big changes here as we’ll be moving to Arizona in less than a month. Busy, busy, busy. But I’ll still be in the same place online and if you two ever get over here, we’ll have room for visitors. 🙂
Love and hugs,
Good to see you, and thank you for your thoughts… know how you feel about that word ‘woke’!
Well, you will be busy with a big move and upheaval – hope it goes well and you love where you are going, He sends his love to you, with love from me too, Valerie
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Valerie!!!!!! I was so happy to see your name in my inbox & knew there would be a well written, knowledgeable & fair piece waiting to be read…..& I wasn’t disappointed!! Bless you & thank you for putting into words all my seething thoughts over the last few months. I remain bewildered by the whole sad, messy debacle & wish the pair of them would just shut up & go & live that ‘private & quiet life’ they still insist they want….whilst continuing to act completely to the contrary. So sad!
Dear Angela, I always love to see your name come up here too… yes, we think alike on this subject ( and many others) and I agree and wish they’d they do away… worryingly , I also feel they are loose cannons and you never know what they’ll do next, and what harm will come of their quite ruthless decisions, judging by their actions so far….
Good to see you back.
Whilst they are now living near to me here in Canada I doubt if I will run into them but I do think it will all end in tears…..
Good to hear from you David … I think you’re right… tears and no rainbow at the end of it,!!!
I enjoyed reading your blog and how knowledgeable you are, What do you think will happen to the Royal family when the Queen eventually dies
Hello Margot, good to see you… and thank you for your comment.
Your question is such a huge one, that as I thought about it I felt – here comes another blog… so stay tuned !!!
Valerie – how wonderful to receive your post in my reader. Always a joy to read your insight, which are beautifully and compassionately given. I live in British Columbia Canada, the place where Harry and Megan have chosen to live. The unfolding story continues to be written. I believe that our dear Queen Elizabeth is close to sainthood and I admire her family, which has led a life of dedication. Their journey is not for the faint of heart. When I was reading your post, the quote that came to mind was by Joseph Campbell: “Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.”
Dear Rebecca, lovely to see your name come up, and read your words … what a wonderful quote from Joseph Campbell, so many layers of truth and meaning behind it.
Yes, I thought you might be in shouting distance of the ex-royals! Though presumably they can’t stay there indefinitely, what with renting, and immigration hurdles to overcome…as you say, the story continues to unfold, and I do find it fascinating to see the trajectory of lives in such public view.
I am always so interested in your take on the Royals (and other things, as you well know 🙂 )
I am so disappointed in the American who married a royal…she has given all us a bad name.
I really like the Queen, by the way…she is a world-class hero!
Hugs to you, my friend
Hello Linda, lovely to see you here ( will be writing) thank you for your encouraging words as usual… don’t take to heart that the fly in the ointment is American… tricky people are tricky people!!!
yes, the Queen is really something…hope she keeps going …
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I do too. She is a true hero and a great leader.
I was so happy to see your name in my inbox. i think of the two of you in your hideaway often.
I enjoy your perspectives on all things British and Royal. I only know what I see and hear on the news–which I don’t trust. Although I find the rift in the royal family incredibly disheartening.
Thank you for sharing the historical tidbits. I so love to read them.
The photo of young Queen Elizabeth displays her elegance and charm.
Shalom and hugs to you and himself.
Good to hear from you, and thank you for your enthusiasm … history is fascinating isn’t it … yes, I love that photo of the Queen… Winston Churchill loved it so much he ordered a copy and had it framed to hang in his study.,
I hear your news from Himself…
love from us both, Valerie..
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Like so many things happening today, I find myself stepping back and being the observer, looking for the good in people and the light in things and after someone commented on a review of mine from two years ago, perhaps it was apt, that the title was ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ 🙂 I saw your smiling face in a circle by your comment and decided to come and visit and say hello – we are sitting here in France in a period of social distancing/isolation, so it is a ripe time for reconnecting with communities – and what a great pleasure to come across a wonderful post of equal appreciation and concern, as we shift across generations and time and reflect on the world today.
With your rich interest and reading into the royal family and long, vivid memory, perhaps you might publish a new updated perspective on our relationship to British royalty and how it has until now perhaps, avoided the vitriol and revolutionary reactions that has brought down other monarchs.
People tend to find what they go looking for, and from here I see signs of spring and new growth. Bonne Continuation Valerie.
How lovely to find your thoughtful interesting comment, thank you so much…
You gave me food for thought, as another commenter did also… I will have to let your ideas ferment, and see what bubbles up and boils over!
I loved your idea of connecting with other communities while we all self-isolate ( I have to keep stopping myself saying self-immolate!).
We are tucked away in our isolated forest, but even here, several people are in quarantine, and we had to cancel a visit from the zoo researchers, accompanied by a film-maker and a conservationist from overseas in the interests of social distancing… borders closed last night, but ten new cases since then… ‘these are the times that try men’s souls’.
Our internet communities seem very precious as they keep our connections with the world open…
Good health, good friend, Valerie