THE HOUSE OF WINDSOR
Camilla’s Coronation Quiche, Catherine’s Headpiece, the Princess Diana’s Shadow, the Coronation Rain, and No Tiaras
The post-Coronation notes on the margins
By Elena Vassilieva
“And fragrant oils with ceremony meet…” – John Keats, Lamia (1820)
Rainy days are made for lovers, of course, but evidently also for the British kings and queens on their Coronation days. It rained on the day of the Coronation of Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953, but judging by the photos and the film, the rain didn’t seem to matter at all. On the contrary, it added a very romantic touch of tenderness and love to the event. The 27-year-old Queen, escorted by her husband, Prince Philip, was smiling and waving inside the Gold State Coach, and people were joyously greeting them on the streets. Inside Westminster Abbey, somehow, it was arranged for eight thousand guests to be seated. The partakers were clad in their ceremonial robes and fur mantles, also wearing hats and diamonds. Despite the “heavy smell of mothballs,” as Lady Glenconner, one of the six maids of honour, recalls, the reigning air of this highly religious ancient ceremony was similar to that of the theatrical spectacle. The young Queen dazzled the world with her innocence and beauty, generously, yet, very tastefully, bejeweled with all the historical articles once worn by her predecessors, for the sake of tradition, but also for good luck. It was the day and the rare occasion for the unbounded Royal splendour.
But then there was also the moment, when she was sitting in that ancient Coronation chair, still without the crown on her head, but with the most innocent look on her face that betrayed her fear. That moment will stay forever with many who watched the Coronation. One could feel the Queen’s sincere desire to be a committed and selfless servant of God and her Queendom. It was the turning point in her life, the Rubicon, from where there was no way to look or to go back at all. It’s the destiny of the strong, not of the weak, and she knew it, despite her young age. There haven’t been many of those who were to be crowned and who would be defeated by their own weakness and turn back. Most recently, only the King Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1936, without ever being crowned. At that instant, one could also see the young Queen’s fearful anticipation of the future, as at that crucial moment in her life, she entrusted herself, before God and her subjects, with the duty of being at their disposal as long as she lived, of placing the needs of others always before her own. Of course, she was an ideal and natural fit for this very honourable but also burdensome role, displaying these qualities already as a child. After cooking with her friends, during the war years at Windsor Castle, nobody wanted to clean dirty dishes, writes in her Diary the Queen’s childhood friend, Alathea Fitzalan Howard, but the then Princess Elizabeth seemed to enjoy it, always volunteering to do all the dirty work. It must have been the joy of being conscientious, responsible, and in charge, without shying away from thankless chore, but setting a good example for others to follow instead. And so she stayed this way throughout her whole life, leaving the Crown, I thought, in safe hands.
The Royal Guessing Game of ‘to Invite or Not to Invite,’ and the Coronation Rain of 2023
Prince William crossed his fingers, pleading for no rain on the day of the Coronation, when he and his wife were greeting the well-wishers on the Mall the day before. But, alas, on Saturday, May 6, 2023, the rain didn’t fail to embrace the King and his subjects, only confirming that the weather caprices are now part of the Royal tradition. Despite it, the well-rehearsed coronation procession to Westminster Abbey exuded high spirits and was warmly welcomed by the gathered crowd on the streets. Many had been camping on the Mall for days, guarding the space to have the best view on the day of the event. The Abbey was filled with more than two thousand guests, nearly four times less than in 1953, due to husbandry of the ‘slimming down’ monarchy. To invite or not to invite had become quite a Hamletian conundrum for the King, causing His Majesty a head-splitting migraine, a controversy in the media, and probably a huge disappointment for many. Thus, the King didn’t send an invite to even not very distant blood relatives, his own goddaughter, India Hicks, who was a bridesmaid at his and Princess Diana’s wedding in 1981, and Ms Hicks’ 93-year-old mother, Lady Pamela Hicks, the late Queen’s cousin and friend, and the daughter of the Lord Mountbatten. On Instagram, Ms Hicks shared that “The King was sending his great love and apologies, he was offending many family and friends with the reduced list. [I]nvitations to the coronation were being sent based on meritocracy, not aristocracy.” Lady Pamela said that she wasn’t offended at all, in fact, she was “pleased to see this change.” But I thought such an unexpected turn of events very sad and harsh, after all, the Coronation is also a family affair, almost like marriage, and to exclude blood relations, especially those who played a significant role in the lives of the King’s parents, is incomprehensible, let alone a very regrettable personal act.
The Coronation invitation appeared on the Royal Family’s website on April 4, 2023. The heraldic artist and manuscript illuminator, Andrew Jamieson, was chosen to design and paint it, and he performed the task splendidly, highlighting the King’s humour and love of the countryside. The cheerful card was much to the liking of both the public and the environment-friendly and eco-conscious King, who is said to talk regularly to the flowers in his garden. The unostentatious and jolly design of the invitation was then reproduced and printed on recycled paper. But there was one thing to meet the eye on the card that neither the mischievous unicorn and the lion, nor the Green man, nor the pretty cornflowers and the roses could possibly make one miss it. There the King’s wife was styled as Queen Camilla, instead of Camilla, the Queen Consort, as she had been officially known in the recent months. The waves of surprise, bewilderment, and even indignation crashed onto Twitter. Who would have thought that the King would disobey the wishes of his late mother that soon and make the change? Even the title of the Queen Consort was only tepidly supported by the public when the official announcement was made by the Royal Family on February 6, 2022. The Queen’s gracious move to bestow the honourable title of the Queen Consort on the then Duchess of Cornwall had taken off guard quite many Royal followers, myself included.
But after pondering over it, I found the Queen’s decision fair. The then Duchess of Cornwall had been escorting her husband to so many engagements of his, in addition to promoting cultural, educational, and social values on her own, with a special focus on literacy, books, dance, theater, and domestic abuse of women. In spite of these successful endeavours of hers, I didn’t expect that the title of the Queen Consort would be changed to that of Her Majesty the Queen Camilla that soon after Her late Majesty’s death. It seemed the King was in a rush to drop the word ‘Consort’ from the given title, and one can comprehend his feminist logic. After all, his wife has been his faithful companion and partner for so many years, therefore the wish to appreciate her efforts and make her officially his equal is only natural, and his actions are perfectly justifiable. However, the matter isn’t entirely uncontentious and should have been handled with greater care and tact. First of all, the late Queen’s last word differed a great deal from what had been decided lately, and it can be perceived as a disrespectful act towards Her late Majesty and even towards the King’s subjects.
Secondly, the King was once married to Diana, the Princess of Wales, with whom he has two sons. Hence, it’s rather insensitive towards the Princes to bestow Camilla with the title of the Queen. The Princes conceded once already, when their father made a decision to marry their mother’s rival. According to Prince Harry, it felt like an utter blow. Clearly, both women aren’t in competition any longer, and the convoluted love triangle isn’t something we should be discussing here, nonetheless, Princess Diana’s persona should have been given more love and kindness, out of respect for her, her sons, and for all her admirers. Even more so, because the love triangle was resolved to Camilla’s advantage. Here, on Earth, she is the winner. It’s no secret that Princess Diana’s feelings for the King were intense and deep, but unrequited towards the end of their relationship, and that alone is the reason why the King should have acknowledged his first wife. Also, it’s a pity that the King seemed to have consigned to oblivion the fact how much in awe and in love with the Princess he was once, even if he eventually found Diana unbearably hard to please. To reprove him for the latter would be unwise, as Princess Diana was an extraordinary and rare woman, strong and numinous. It’s hard to imagine anyone who would match her and who would be her equal. Little wonder that her persona invites a metaphorical way of speaking about her. She could easily be compared to a divine woman, a goddess, who came to Earth by pure chance, for a short visit only, but, unable to find her true love and happiness here, dismayed by the cruelties of this world, had to leave this place way too soon, rising above the calamities and unfairness of mankind, up to the stars.
But the most disappointing thing, in my opinion, is that Camilla herself hadn’t objected to the elevation of her title. I thought it was out of character. But maybe I was mistaken all this time, overrating her sensibilities and moral proprieties? Last summer, while reading Robert Lacey’s Battle of Brothers, I found one particular remark about Camilla rather unsettling. He maintained that, “[a]ccording to Stuart Higgins, a royal correspondent in the 1980s and later editor of the Sun, Camilla Parker Bowles provided him with regular off-the-record briefings about the state of the royal marriage from 1982 to 1992.” Reluctant to believe it, I put the remark aside in my mind, but now, I fear, it might be true. Why couldn’t Camilla have refused the title out of consideration for Diana, just as she did in the past with the Princess-of-Wales title? All this time, Camilla seemed to be uninterested in the Royal regalia at all, all she wanted was the love of her husband, and that’s what made the couple not only romantic and adorable, but also quite inspiring in affairs of matrimony. Their mutual fondness made people forgive them the unpleasant intricacies of their love triangle in the old days. In addition to her hairdo, Camilla’s (seeming?) humbleness and lack of the apparent ambition to be in the limelight were her most powerful weapon. She also seems to know the boundaries and how to position herself physically in public, so that the view of the King remains unobstructed. And she’s been doing it effortlessly, projecting an image of the down-to-earth, unaffected, contented, and self-assured woman. I admired that attitude of hers, so, upon the title change, it felt as if my perception of her public persona hadn’t been entirely accurate. By no means, it’s a good feeling.
On Camilla’s Inclusiveness
The King’s wife’s widely praised inclusiveness should have been questioned and revised by Camilla herself more often than not, because ultimately any unrestrained inclusiveness just backfires. Think of the Lady Susan Hussey affair at Buckingham Palace, at the end of 2022. The woeful incident on November 29, 2022 could have been easily avoided, had Camilla been more selective as for whom to invite to the party. Less would’ve been obviously more. The place was swarming with just too many guests, there was no room to swing a cat. One can only imagine what ran through Lady Susan’s mind when the whole absurdity of the situation erupted. She had provided the monarchy with 60 years of loyal service. Yet, her tireless volunteer work had been unjustly questioned, after the unscrupulous Londoner opportunist, Ms Ngozi Fulani, eager to exploit the event at any cost, played dumb with her, pretending not to understand the innocent question about her origins. As if that weren’t enough, Fulani victimised herself, dragging the incident into the political realm and claiming publicly that she was racially abused at Buckingham Palace. So, if one is of no Caucasian origin, she may not be asked about her ethnic heritage? How preposterous is that! Not to Fulani, she is an overnight self-made sensation, with her own Wikipedia page now.
How much sense does it really make to invite and include those who are disloyal, perfidious, and venal? And to exclude and not to take into consideration the one who used to be the King’s wife with whom he has two children? What kind of inclusiveness is that? I wonder how many members of the Spencer family were invited to the Coronation? Earl Spencer didn’t get an invitation, he said, but he wasn’t expecting it, either (The US Magazine, May 6, 2023). But all the main members of the Middleton family were invited to the event. They proudly paraded their self-regard, while walking to their seats in the Abbey. On what exactly merits of theirs had they the honour to be there? Only because their daughter and sister is the King’s daughter-in-law? But that’s not a merit. And if it were a merit, why Lady Pamela Hicks wasn’t treated equally? The Mountbatten family is directly related to the Queen Victoria, with plenty of good deeds of their hands. As for the Spencer family, they had been faithful servants of the Royal Family for centuries. The meritocracy isn’t far away from the mediocracy in this case, I fear, and it leaves a rancid aftertaste. The aftertaste of the new era Royal nepotism? I certainly hope not. How odd that the new Princess of Wales, who unceremoniously took Diana’s title, didn’t feel a single ounce of shame that her family was at Westminster Abbey, but the family of her late mother-in-law wasn’t. So much for the eulogized politeness of the new ‘meritocratic’ Princess of Wales, and so much for the inclusiveness of the ‘meritocratic’ King’s wife, and so much for the cult of kindness of His Majesty himself.
The Glimpse of the Ceremony inside Westminster Abbey
Goodness gracious, but I’ve nearly left out another main character of this coronation fairytale, the new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Do you think this charming chap with the energy of a teenager conducted the ceremony behind the scenes, reducing the number of guests and ordering no tiaras at the event? I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. That indefatigable proponent of mediocracy and wokeness in Great Britain is propagating his own views with such ease that the King seems all ears. But if the historical diamonds were unwelcome at the ceremony, luckily, the music made up for that miss. If not for this magical feature of the Coronation, I would have dozed off. But there were also the fairy-like Princess Charlotte and the Spring-like Lady Louise who both looked lovely, unwittingly bringing hope with them, as for the future of the House of Windsor. Penny Mordaunt’s Valkyrien solemn beauty was eye-catching throughout the ceremony, what a right decision it was to entrust her with the sacred sword. She is said to have been vigorously exercising for the task, in order to excel during the event. Only paralleled by the Prince of Wales’ solemnity, whose part in the ceremony was particularly invigorating. His expressive, stately voice, bestowed with the power of persuasion, is enough to convey his message the most prevailing way. The Prince was wearing the Ceremonial dress uniform of the Welsh Guards and his Garter mantle. His pledge had been prepared ahead of time, but at the moment of speaking, he cast a sort of see-through glance at the King, as if he meant to say that he will be the King’s faithful servant, but only if the King himself is a faithful, trustworthy, and sensible partner. It was the pact of reciprocity, and that is a very important point. Unlike the Queen Elizabeth II on her Coronation day, the King isn’t in his roaring twenties anymore, he is in the glory of his maturity and, undoubtedly, he will appreciate greatly the help of his heir apparent during his reign. The King was a very successful Prince of Wales, with many laudable enterprises, which he enjoyed a good deal and earned a solid reputation for his causes. It makes one hope that he is going to be a very good ruler. For Prince William, in turn, it’s worth considering with thoroughness and care how he should best approach his new role of the Prince of Wales in order to achieve as much success as his father.
The Princess Diana’s Shadow and Catherine’s Headpiece
As for his wife, Catherine, alas, she hasn’t withstood the test of vanity and joined Camilla in accepting the elevated title without any doubts or scruples. Kate Middleton quite boisterously appropriated the title of the Princess of Wales on the next day after the Queen’s death. Who encouraged and advised her so poorly? Her husband? But it can’t be. Why would he disregard his own beloved mother? The speedy decision came across almost as a ploy to undermine the Princess Diana’s legacy, whose ring she has been wearing since 2010. The world (at least my world, every single one of my friends!) gasped when Prince William had proposed to Kate Middleton with Diana’s sapphire ring. Not because of the woman he chose, not at all, but because of the Princess Diana herself, whose public persona, to this day, radiates sacredness. “And how could he possibly give his mother’s ring away that soon after her death? Shouldn’t it have been locked in a museum or in a vault, for the next generation, for his children?” – Some wistfully sighed. The sacred memory of his mother didn’t stop him from giving the ring to his girlfriend, although she had the chance to accept the Prince’s hand and heart, but politely to decline the ring. The latter lost Diana’s magic touch forever the minute it was put on Kate Middleton’s finger. In the same fashion, unyieldingly, Kate accepted the Princess-of-Wales title, acting with such an astonishing swiftness and arrogance, and showing a total lack of thoughtfulness for Princess Diana. Yes, of course, it was hard to resist the temptation to have the title all for herself and, at last, to play the role of the princess in an official capacity, but ethically speaking, it was very unkind to Diana.
Soon after, as if to prove to be qualified, Kate Middleton sent a rather presumptuous message to the world through an unidentified source. “She appreciates the history associated with this role,” said the source, “but will understandably want to look to the future as she creates her own path” (The Daily Mail, September 9, 2022). What is the meaning of the message? I’m afraid it might have revealed more than was intended, namely, her excessive self-confidence and even superiority over the previous Princesses of Wales, and also, perhaps, her self-seeking, secret desire to leave her mark on the principality of Wales. Every step of hers is being recorded by the media with the speed of light, and they construed her choice as her unwillingness to live in Diana’s shadow. Although few would argue that Catherine hasn’t been an assiduous working member of the Royal Family lately, many would agree that, despite her sufficient popularity, for which she should thank her Royal status, and many years of her apprenticeship at the House of Windsor, she is still poorly prepared to win the race with the Princess Diana, despite her best intentions to take her own road.
Marrying into the Royal Family is the main prerequisite for the stardom. Didn’t Prince Philip famously say to Catherine that it’s her role and her status, not her private persona, everyone is after? But, paradoxically, to reach the stardom isn’t enough to compete with such extraordinary historical figures as the Princess Diana and the late Queen. She must have realised long ago how difficult it is to escape from Diana’s shadow, simply because Princess Diana is more than just a Royal star or an icon. The key to Diana’s uniqueness is her personality along with the circumstances of her life, but this isn’t something new to anyone. Unlike Diana, Kate Middleton is an aggressive self-promoter, and she believes, apparently, that such are our modern times, one just needs to be this way, even at the House of Windsor. The mass and social media are all saluting her strategy, because it’s profitable for them, and she seems happy to play along. Praising every move of hers, the media have been turning her public persona into a well-vendible Royal product for a dozen of years now. But any self-promotion, read ‘boast’ and ‘boastfulness,’ in the Royal context is a tricky business, just like Camilla’s all-embracing inclusiveness (forgive me this awkward phrase!). It’s very easy to cross the line here or there, and one ought to be extremely cautious, in order to avoid public faux pas. I must add that I don’t concur with the view that self-promotion is necessary for the members of the Royal Family at all. On the contrary, it appears to be cheap and tacky, creating the impression of disingenuousness. To me, the very notion has a negative connotation in the Royal etiquette, as it inevitably lowers the Royal standards of their members’ public behaviour, even when a self-promoter is advertising good deeds.
As an example, I’d like to mention one well-intentioned deed done by Ms Middleton a couple of years ago. In March of 2021, in the troublous times of pandemic, she kindly brought flowers to memorial of the murdered woman, Sarah Everard. When you look at the photos, nearly everyone was wearing a face mask, as it was mandatory at that time, but Catherine had no mask on. The striking contrast between her without a mask and all the people around with their masks on made me wonder why on earth would this usually prim Royal woman disobey the rules? And one other example, when, on May 13, 2023, the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 video was released by Kensington Palace. Elegant in her blue silk dress, sitting at the piano, in the airy Crimson Drawing Room at Windsor Castle, Catherine engagingly played Stefania, last year’s Eurovision champions,’ Ukrainian Kalush Orchestra’s, song. That was a great tribute to Ukraine, an excellent deed of the Royal member’s hands. But despite the best intentions, the excessive luxuriousness of the place from where she sent her message felt quite insensitive. In the context of war, the splendour is just as incongruous as accepting the Princess-of-Wales title.
She would have won more praise, had she decided not to take the title, letting the world know how much respect and love she has for her late mother-in-law, Princess Diana, and how little she cares for the Royal regalia. That and only that should have been the starting point for her own honourable path. In fact, it would’ve been the best self-promotion ever, in my view, if the latter is so desperately aspired. Instead, she has invited unfavourable comparisons and criticism from the Royal observers like myself. It would have been a very wise decision from the geopolitical perspective, too, as the title is being contested. By rejecting it, she would have gained more appreciation in Wales. More people would have wanted to address her as their princess there. Besides, after the Coronation of the King, she would have been officially a queen-in-waiting, anyway, so why this self-indulgent greediness instead of modesty and humility? “All that cometh is vanity?” Probably.
She is a competitive woman beyond doubt, quite often walking or rushing to greet people before her Prince during their shared engagements. Whether it’s just a playful competition between the two or her mishap, it’s hard to know exactly, but her body language suggests that she, at the very least, wants to be on the same level as her husband, not an inch behind him. But is such an obvious aggressiveness really necessary, given the traditional setting? Look at the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, how delicately she moved, with her lovely petiteness, showcasing a grace of swan and self-confidence of lioness. She warmly and earnestly greeted their well-wishers and artfully complimented her King. To change the ground of the “competition” between Catherine and Prince William, why is there a banner on their joint Twitter account only with an advertisement for Catherine’s project, Shaping Us? I gather Prince William doesn’t mind at all, and needs no advertising, remaining a gentleman, but it still gives one food for thought. At the moment, I’m afraid, she is inept to compete with someone like the Queen Elizabeth II or Princess Diana, or the Princess Royal. The bitter truth is they are all streets ahead of her, no matter how much pampering she gets from her social media followers and from the media. It’s nice that she has her supporters who instill confidence in her, but, from time to time, she may want to look at herself not in their looking glass, but in her own, preferably the one that has no Royal frame, if she doesn’t want to end up competing only with people like her sister-in-law, Meghan Markle. Today, Kate Middleton can throw her hat in the ring, but only if the other player is someone like Meghan Markle. They didn’t get along on the same territory, not only because of their cultural differences, but, foremost, because of a very similar bourgeois mindset of the aspirational competitor. Besides, both seem to lack a very important ingredient of the late Queen and Princess Diana’s essence, – humility.
Humility is, sadly, rather underrated nowadays, and someone like Kate Middleton could have cultivated it, given her social status and popularity with the media. This is exactly what both the late Queen and the Princess Diana were doing, without allowing boast to become a social norm. She had joined the Royal Family as Kate Middleton and, it seems, underneath the robe of the Royal Victorian Order, she has remained Kate Middleton. And that’s perfectly fine, as it must be her true self, a tough cookie with an infectious laugh and a tall frame with the additional 10 cm of Gianvito Rossi heels, comfortable to overtower even stateswomen and statesmen. She is eager to be as tall as her husband, I think. It’s ironic that she doesn’t want to be in the Princess Diana’s shadow, but how come she appears to be craving to be the shadow of her own husband? Is it because she is afraid to be in his shadow, too? But her eagerness to emulate him isn’t going to save her from this, unless she is, suddenly and miraculously, as bright a star as Princess Diana. In either case, the imitation is never going to be as good as the original. However, there is hope for Kate Middleton: her absolute normalcy, at times to utter ordinariness, her goal-oriented and determined public persona, her enthusiasm of the polished self-promoter seem to be just the right ingredients for the Royal type the masses and the media would support today. If only, in addition to that, she had acquired the late Queen’s ethical skills: genuinely thinking of others and placing others before herself in all circumstances, even if that requires letting others shine and herself often stepping into the background. Luckily, there is still time for her to learn the late Queen’s ways of being and living, while she is a queen-in-waiting.
Sadly, the two Royal women, Camilla and Catherine, had reduced themselves overnight to “the merry wives of Windsor.” And I dare jump to one conclusion: when it comes to the Royal affairs, love is not enough, the burning desire for power will always lure the players and eventually tarnish their ethics. As for the Royal well-wishers, they will kindly accept everyone or anyone who owns or gains the Royal title, regardless of their behaviour. Without this pivotal logic of the masses, the monarchy is doomed to non-existence, and this is in no one’s interest. The new tendencies of the slimming down of the monarchy and unreasonable frugality are life-threatening for the venerable institution, I’m afraid. It’s a game with so much at stake: the reputation and the future of the monarchy, but also well-being of ordinary people. To a good many, the Royal Family is the source of inspiration, pride, and even happiness. It’s hardly wise therefore to avoid the extravagance of the traditional pomp and ceremonies. People expect to be dazzled by the Royal Family, with their historical dresses, diamonds, palaces, gardens, recipes, their charities and good causes, their traditional codex of rules, let alone their love affairs. Entertainment and distraction from the dreariness of the everyday are generously offered by the Royal Family, often at the expense of their privacy. And it’s clear as day that the monarchy is too precious an asset for Great Britain to lose. The whole world will grieve if the British monarchy vanishes.
Hicks, Lady Pamela (2012): Daughter of Empire. My Life as a Mountbatten. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, New Delhi: Simon & Schuster.
Howard, Alatheia Fitzalan (2020): The Windsor Diaries, 1940-45. My Childhood with the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. New York, Atria Books.
Glenconner, Anne (2020): Lady in Waiting. My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown. New York: Hachette Books.
Lacey, Robert (2020): Battle of Brothers. New York: Harper Collins Books, p. 94.
Prince Harry: The 60 minutes Interview with Anderson Cooper, January 8, 2023.
(Written during the post-coronation weekend, May 13-14, 2023, in the Sky Control Room, on Cape Cod.)
Copyright © 2023 by Elena Vassilieva. All rights reserved.