The Cultural Dissonance between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the House of Windsor

Notes on the Oprah Winfrey’s Interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

By Elena Vassilieva

Image: Lion: “Que dites-vous là ?” Licorne: “À qui a jouer ?” Lion: “À moi !” Licorne: “Memento: clavum clavo pellere.” © Elena Vassilieva

Last night something utterly unusual and peculiar happened. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex walked into my dream. Prince Harry, while taking care of chickens at their new beautiful house in California, rather concernedly and earnestly said to his wife that they ought to apologise to his grandmother, the Queen, and the Firm as well. To which his beloved wife replied, appearing also concerned and moved almost to tears, “Oh, honey, you are so sweet, so caring and selfless, you really are. And I’m so proud of you and I appreciate it, you know I do. It’s so cute you would have such thoughts, hon, but don’t you think they ought to apologise to me, to us after what we’ve been through?” “You know, Meghan, I sort of regret we had that interview with Oprah. Now we are berühmt-berüchtigt more than ever, and how I wish we never went there. I said too much. And you said even more, often pointing at me as your source of information. What’s gonna happen now? How shall I look them in the eye?” Harry was putting his hands on his head and seemed to be genuinely embarrassed and distressed, Meghan rolled her eyes, then said firmly, “Don’t you remember, honey, how much I suffered there? We suffered? Don’t you remember how trapped we were there? And they didn’t care! We are so happy now. We have everything one could wish for. Didn’t you say it yourself that the main thing we have each other?” Harry seemed to agree, yet, looked frustrated and stricken with sadness. At that point the dream was interrupted by a rooster.

Thank God, the rooster was that loud that he woke me up in the middle of the night and took these heroes away from my dream where they didn’t belong at all. Mea culpa. The evening before, I watched their infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey. My friend, a human geography professor, agreed to keep me company, although, after seeing only a quarter of the interview, he excused himself and left. He thought it was boring and, frankly, he couldn’t understand what Meghan Markle was talking about. A university professor and a native English speaker, whose ancestors sat at the same table with Abraham Lincoln, asked me several times what Meghan meant. Then, giving up completely, he just said how oblique her speech was and how hard it was not to notice her sense of entitlement. “If she was like that inside the royal circles, she must have made a very unfavourable impression. She seems to lack humility, too. And who has time to read and listen to the tabloids, anyway?” was his verdict. Oprah herself at times looked as if she struggled to follow Meghan’s string of words. Although I thought she had, indeed, a very empathetic way of interviewing. Clearly, she was very smart and careful not to upset the pregnant woman she’s befriended over the years. When the Duchess of Sussex said that some members of the Firm were curious about the skin colour of their then unborn baby, taken aback by it so much, Oprah didn’t insist Meghan disclose the names of those who said it. Right now, it seems, anyone at the House of Windsor, except for the Queen and Prince Philip, could be a suspect, and it’s rather unfair. Had she revealed their names, at least, they would have had a chance to defend themselves or felt pressured to make a public statement.

Another thing that makes one’s eyebrows raise was her complaint that she wasn’t assisted in preparations for the royal role at all. What was Samantha Cohen doing there then? Catching butterflies with her perhaps? According to the article in the Harper’s Bazaar, she had invested many hours (for 6 months!) into couching the then future Duchess of Sussex for her royal duties. Did Meghan Markle expect to have a souffleur for every single occasion and in every corner of the Commonwealth? She didn’t arrive at the House of Windsor as a helpless ingénue. She entered the Firm as a woman who had a previous marriage and a career in show business. So how could she have possibly underestimated both the seriousness of her personal responsibility and the load of her royal duties while inside the Royal Family? Didn’t Prince Harry warn her and others publicly, saying that not every woman will be willing to be his wife, given the circumstances (a complex book of the Royal dos and don’ts, let alone the annoying and ever present tabloids)? Why did she take this fact so lightheartedly?

Another comment she made regarding the ones who are not the immediate Family goes back to that same compartment of the ethical codes and norms established at the Royal House. Even if one lacks experience and knowledge as to how to behave in this or that situation, doesn’t one rely then on common sense and intuition guided by kindness, intellect, and basic civility of hers/his? Conforming to the traditional social norms isn’t something as difficult as building a starship, or is it? Also, one certainly shouldn’t have such expectations that, once married into the Royal Family, everyone there from now on would be at his/her disposal night and day. Even if one had in mind the Hans Christian Andersen’s “Princess and the Pea,” it still would work the way it did in the fairytale only if the attitudes and interests of both parties/sides coincided. The puzzle-trap (i.e., the pea) the Prince’s parents prepared for the rain-soaked Princess was effortlessly solved by her, and hence her ‘princessness’ was proved and approved. In other words, her capriciousness was anticipated and even encouraged. Was the same thing expected of Meghan when she appeared on the scene? I doubt it.

Most likely, the elementary ethic (discreetness, loyalty, and diligence, this holy trinity, foremost) was hoped for and required by the Firm. It’s always quid pro quo, of course, as everywhere else: if you follow our rules and traditions, we’ll respect and support you. But if someone believes that as a new member of the Royal Family one is automatically entitled to command at his or her discretion, regardless of the traditional behavioural standards of this house, one will always risk to be perceived as transgressive and untrustworthy, no matter how good-hearted his/her intentions are. And if, for instance, something like this occurred: “Hi, guys! I’m Meghan. I left my country and my career for my prince and for my royal title, so make sure you are my obedient servants. And don’t forget that I’m from a free country: I do what I please, and I’m pleased what I do.” Would it be acceptable? No, very unlikely that this sort of attitude of une femme aux manières hardies would be tolerated. Not in the House of Windsor, in any event, and even in America, it would be rejected in many places. To many it would appear as poor taste and rudeness of a vulgar commoner. My professor friend didn’t approve of such manners, in fact, he found it rather disconcerting and embarrassing that an American woman is a cause of so many scandalous moments and so much stress in the British Royal Household. Obviously, at the institution as old as this one, everyone, including every single butler and cook, has a very strict book of rules, which a newcomer simply must study diligently if s/he would like to be accepted and well-regarded there. Besides, is it permissible to enter someone else’s house as a new relation and then try to transform it right away, turning it upside down, simply because one grew up in a different social setting? That goes back to Meghan’s comment regarding losing her voice there. How naïve it is indeed to expect one’s voice to be heard right away at such a conservative institution as the British Royal House. Shouldn’t one first prove oneself and excel? It’s already a great deal of recognition that the Queen has been so welcoming and kind to her. What an honour to receive an invitation to share a blanket to keep one warm while on duty! What an honour to receive a set of pearls from the Queen.

How come one wouldn’t try his/her best to appreciate it instead of crossing the line? How come one wouldn’t think that the Queen is also a human being who has heart and soul, who has served Great Britain and the entire space of the Commonwealth for 69 years, rain or shine, never making a wrong move and never uttering a single complaint? How come one would forget that Her Majesty is also a mother and a wife, whose husband is at this very moment in hospital? Why wouldn’t Her Majesty need moral support at such a sad moment? The more I think about it, the more bewildered I am how one can be such a devoted husband and father as Prince Harry is, but would be so oblivious to how hurtful his actions may be to someone who is related to him by blood and who is his Commander-in-Chief. Wouldn’t it have been possible to resolve all the issues privately first, without going global and public, without creating that awful Billingsgate effect in the mass and social media in particular? True, it’s the time when people get fancied, loved, praised, crushed, judged, and even “cancelled” in the vast space of social media, but there are also those who were reared having a different system of values. Why would one want to subject Her Majesty to this repugnant ordeal? And if Harry and Meghan found themselves ‘trapped’ inside the Firm, Prince Harry shouldn’t have felt ashamed and should have asked for help for his wife when she needed it so urgently. Why and who would have refused to give them a hand? It would have been utterly inhuman if that were the case. Still, it gives the Duke and Duchess of Sussex no right to show this callous disregard for the Queen who has always respected their wishes and values. Clearly, it’s not a game, but, nonetheless, the Queen is a winner, in my view, for Her Majesty didn’t hesitate to apologise for the things she didn’t do, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex haven’t.

As Prince Harry in my dream said he wished he didn’t do that interview, I wish I didn’t watch it. It is heartbreaking and dispiriting to see how awkward and bizarre the world is becoming, from the ethical point of view. How egotistical, narcissistic, and insensitive people can be even towards those who love them. Of course, there is nothing new in it, but each time I observe it I would like to fly to another planet. Mr Musk, please hurry up with your starship. And, yes, it certainly sounds as if I were desperate to harangue on the subject of the contemporary moral codes, and I must say I am, indeed.

(Written on March 8, 2021 in the Sky Control room on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All rights reserved.

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