If you have been fretting about the “unprecedented” royal rumpus, then relax. The good news is that it has all happened before and, what’s more, it has been so much worse. Here are some books to help you take the long view.
Let’s start with a warning for us all, principals and gawkers alike. Craig Brown’s Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret shows the Queen’s late sister setting dazzling standards in wanting to have her royal cake and eat it. It didn’t work and the result was profound dissatisfaction, not only for Margaret but with her, too. Gradually Britain fell out of love with its fairytale princess and came to see her as a spoilt and sullen old soak. In this masterly work of bricolage, Brown assembles vignettes that build up a portrait of profound sadness as Margaret fails in her attempt to forge a space where “senior royalty” can do exactly what it wants while still hanging on to the sparkles and the perks.
Before she married into the royal family, Meghan Markle had her own lifestyle website called The Tig. Those who saw it before she shut it down in 2017 will remember her “badass reading list” which included Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. The novella’s fox is the character with whom Markle identifies most and who tells the Prince: “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
A dip into the Duchess of Windsor’s memoir The Heart Has Its Reasons offers further clues as to what makes the royals tick. Wallis Simpson wrote it in 1956, 20 years after Edward VIII’s abdication. The duchess’s wounded narcissism is palpable throughout, and so too is her bewilderment at her inability to take on the British crown and win.
And it’s worth bearing in mind that the royals are old hands at being on “nonspeakers”. David Duff’s classic biography The Shy Princess tells the story of how Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter and constant companion, was obliged to spend seven months communicating with her mother in writing, even when they were sitting at the same table. Beatrice’s crime was to express a desire to marry. Only after hundreds of notes had been passed back and forth did Victoria agree to her “Baby’s” marriage to Henry of Battenberg, on condition that the prince moved in with her and Beatrice and they lived à trois. Harry and Meghan should count their blessings.
Finally, if the royals want a steer on how to deal with tricky inlaws, they should read Jean Plaidy’s The Sun in Splendour. This bestseller by the queen of popular historical fiction tells the story of how the Plantagenet Prince Edward of York was besotted with Elizabeth Woodville who, unusually for a royal bride, had been married before. Once he ascended the throne, Edward promoted Elizabeth’s interests at court to the point at which everyone began to murmur disapproval. “Everyone” included the Earl of Warwick, AKA “the king maker”, and Richard of Gloucester who – spoiler alert – later became Richard III. You’ll have worked out where this is going. When Edward died in 1483 Elizabeth’s young sons were locked up in the Tower and would never be seen again. Thank heavens we live in modern times.