Queen in People's Hearts
However, my good friend and fellow Royal Forums member Elspeth was aghast by Diana’s wish to become Queen in People’s Hearts, saying that in a constitutional monarchy, the Queen is queen in people's hearts or she's in deep trouble, because that's the source of her legitimacy as Queen. That got me to wondering about the relationship between the British people and the royal family before Diana.
As a young girl, I used to dream about visiting other countries and would indulge those fantasies by reading about them in my World Book Encyclopedia, an American encyclopedia that was a little less scholarly and a little more accessible for a seven-year-old girl than the august Encyclopaedia Britannica. The British Isles seemed a magical land (although I must confess that at that age I still believed that Ireland and England were one and the same and that as America's mother country, England was far larger than the United States; I also believed that leprechauns were dancing in Ireland - I asked my neighbor after he’d been on a business trip if he’d seen one and if everything in the country was really green). England seemed full of hearty fellows who drank pints in pubs, where it was always raining, but where everyone was always cheerful. The Brits seemed to value their way of life and be confident in it no matter what. They had a Queen and a royal family, which we didn’t have in America and which I thought was strange, but they seemed to love their royal family anyway. My World Book Encyclopedia said about the average Briton that he “cares deeply about the Royal Family and holds them close to his heart." Notice that the encyclopedia didn’t state that the British held the royal family close in their minds. Americans would playfully poke fun at their British friends about the British loyalty to the royal family. In one episode of the original Mickey Mouse Club, where one of the Mouseketeers visited a boy in England, he joked about good old Charlie having a lot of space in the palace to lay out tracks for his toy trains (referring to Prince Charles, who must have been around 10 years old at the time) and the British boy got charmingly put out and said, "He is our future King so I wish you would refer to him as His Royal Highness Prince Charles." The American boy just laughed and said, "That’s nothing, back home we call him Chuck."
I used to think that the British people had chosen this rather odd form of government, where the person of the monarch occupied its highest pedestal, for good, commonsense reasons: because a person who had no political influence could represent the whole country better than a politician, who at his most popular would have been elected by less than 100% of the population. But now I think the British chose the crown less from an appeal to reason than from an appeal to the heart. The royal family had always been there - comfortable and familiar. It seemed more personal to pledge allegiance to a King or Queen rather than to an impersonal flag as we in America preferred to do. The Brits, it seems, wanted a person to be loyal to, someone to devote their lives to, someone to sing God Save the Queen to, someone to fight for and defend, and, in cases of dire need, someone to die for as soldiers in wars past have devoted their lives "to King and Country." They wanted a royal family that they could care about. They didn’t judge the royals by how much money they spent or the number of duties they completed in a year or how hard they worked (everybody knew that the Queen Mother spent oodles and oodles of money, but that did not detract from their loyalty to her). The Royal Family showed their worth by their very existence - they were a symbol for the nation and not a family of clock punchers for the nation.
Yes, people knew that the Queen Mother could be ruthless underneath her exterior of wisteria and hyacinth. They knew that Charles was hopelessly fuddy-duddy and a little bit pompous, expecting even his close friends to call him Sir; and they knew that Margaret was wild and could be very rude. They knew that Anne and Andrew could be hot-tempered and treated their servants badly. And that Philip thought the Chinese had slitty eyes. They also knew that the Queen was not going to do anything about it. But despite all this, the Brits didn’t care; this was their family, and with family you accept them and defend them, warts and all, the way you would defend your own family to an outsider even though privately you may harbor reservations about them. In the preparations for the Queen's visit to America during the Bicentennial of 1976, I remember an article in the Ladies' Home Journal written by an American journalist who had tried and failed to write a daring exposé of the British royal family. She wrote that she was dumbfounded how deeply entrenched the loyalty to the royal family was in Britain and complained that whenever she wanted to get some dirt on one member of the family or another (mostly Princess Anne), she was told, "no we only want to read nice stories about the Queen and her family; if there is anything unsavoury, we don’t want to read it."
Diana versus the Windsors
Yet something changed when Diana came on the scene. At the beginning it seemed that in the fairytale romance, people were just making some extra space in their hearts for Diana where the royal family already reigned. Yes, people knew Diana was young, yes they knew she was very innocent and inexperienced, and a few people grumbled about why only a virgin from an aristocratic background was considered suitable as a bride for the future King of England. But most people calmly and confidently waved away these misgivings. Of course only a virgin would be suitable; their royal family only deserved the purest of brides, and with Diana’s gentle and submissive nature she would always support her husband and his family and would never go against them. Because what was most important to the British royal family, and without which they couldn’t survive, was loyalty. Her family, the Spencers, were championed as being one of the few old aristocratic families that had never rebelled against the crown, and one story of their loyalty to the crown was of a famous argument in Parliament between the first titled peer in the family, Baron Spencer of Wormleighton, and the Earl of Arundel, heir to the great Duke of Norfolk and the pre-eminent peer in the land. The new noble made his appearance in the House of Lords and promptly began giving advice on the conduct of the government. The august Earl of Arundel thanked the new Baron for his suggestions and reminded him that while the ancestors of the other men present were dying in battle for the glory of the nation, the sheep-grazing Spencers of Warwickshire had amounted to absolutely nothing. Lord Spencer is reported to have answered, "When my ancestors were, as you say, keeping sheep, yours, my lord, were plotting treason." The people were assured that the Spencers were ever loyal, ever trusted servants of the Crown, and so a daughter of their blood and their fine upbringing was the perfect candidate to become Charles’ Queen and help the royal family remain in people’s hearts.
It appeared at first that she definitely did help the royal family to remain in people's hearts. Even in America, where people were often cynical about royals, the popular magazine Newsweek put Charles and Diana on the cover with a simple headline of "Good Show." In truth, not all the coverage was positive. However, the difference in the early years was that, regardless of whether the press was positive or negative, Charles and Diana were seen as a unit. So if either of them received praise, it reflected on the other and the whole royal family. On the other hand, if either of them received censure, that also reflected on their partner and the whole family. Good or bad, Charles, Diana, and the royal family were all thought of as one.
At some point, that began to change. There were stories of Diana’s warmth and success when meeting groups of people, and some people began to talk openly of how they were disappointed to see Charles at some events when they had expected to see Diana. The image of Diana as the perfect fairytale princess within the whole package of the British royal family was replaced by the image of Diana as a fairytale princess in her own right without the royal family. She became a fashion icon for some, an idealized young wife and mother for others, a champion of the underprivileged for yet others. Regardless of why people loved Diana, the family she married into seemed to become less and less important.
Someone once mused that it was unfortunate that Charles didn’t let Diana take the spotlight and accept a supporting role in the same way that President Kennedy had glowed in the admiration that the world held for his First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. The reason for this I believe goes back to the purpose of the royal family and how it is different from the role of the President of the United States. Kennedy was not only Head of State but also head of the government; if Jackie took the center stage from him in the arena of glamour and style, then Jack knew he could banish her from his secret Cabinet meetings, the Cuban missile crisis, his campaign to put the first man on the Moon. As President of the United States and head of the government as well as Head of State, Jack Kennedy had a very distinct and important role as the leader of the country and the one whose actions and decisions could influence a whole nation. While Charles will be Head of State, he will never be head of the government; if his wife replaces him in people’s hearts, in a way he has failed in the role of the heir to the British throne. When Jack Kennedy said something about being the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris, people knew he was joking, and the only reason that the joke was funny was that the people knew it wasn't the truth - no matter how stylish and captivating Jackie was, she could never take Jack's place in the governing of the country. When Charles made a similar joke about Diana, it wasn't funny because it came too close to the truth.
In the meantime, Diana seemed to benefit from the people’s willingness to overlook anything negative about her in the same way the people had overlooked the negatives of the royal family a decade earlier. They now overlooked or made innocent explanations for increasing signs of Diana’s instability in the same way that, a decade before, they had made excuses for Philip’s racist comments and the Queen Mother’s overspending ways. They saw Diana as one of them, and naturally you defend one of your own, no matter what she's done. If loyalties had remained like this, the way they were in the few years after the wedding when the marriage was hopelessly lost but the public didn’t know it yet, then I think the royal family would have muddled through for a while, becoming the supporting cast for the Princess of Wales. They could have been totally dependent upon her popularity and the goodwill of the people for their own existence, which could have bought them some time in the short run but which wouldn't have provided a stable platform for them in the long term.
But the hearts of the British public were changing yet further. The first signs of this new relationship between the British people and the royal family came when elements in the press, and two reporters in particular, appeared to throw down the gauntlet and take up the challenge as the champions and knights in shining armour of the Princess of Wales against the royal family. These two reporters, James Whittaker and Andrew Morton, later claimed that they started to defend the Princess of Wales because they didn’t like the hints from the Prince of Wales’ office that Diana was unstable. Richard Kay seemed to pick up the gauntlet later. This was the start of the War of the Waleses, where the Prince and Princess of Wales were fighting for a place in the hearts of the people. A few people were disgusted with both of them for an unseemly display of one-upmanship, plots, and leaks, but the majority of people fell into camps on either side, and we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the appeal of the royal family had always been that it was the family for whom normal everyday Brits would defend and lay down their lives if necessary because it represented the best of all that the British saw in themselves. If someone, even someone who had married into the royal family, appeared even innocently to challenge the rest of the family for this loyalty, then it was unavoidable that the nation would take sides because loyalty has never been a matter of the mind but one of the heart and in order to remain loyal to either the royal family or Diana required some to set aside some misgivings of the mind.
The two main pieces of ammunition Diana lobbed against the royal family were the Andrew Morton book and the Panorama interview. In the time between the two Diana met with members of the press and directly appealed to them to report favorably on her. The ammunition Charles lobbed was the Dimbleby book and interview. People’s loyalties were revealed by which outraged them more. Was it Charles’ public acknowledgement that he had been unfaithful, or was it Diana’s suggestion that Charles go somewhere far away with his lady friend and leave Diana to raise her boys alone? Which one did you simply find misguided, and which one did you find heartless and inexcusable? Your answers to this question determined where your loyalties but, more importantly, where your heart lay.
And for most people, Diana most decidedly won this battle. I’m not so interested in exploring why she won or whether it was right that she won. What’s important to note is that she did win. But in the process, what was won and what was lost? The unsatisfying part of the whole saga for those who cared about all of this is that despite her public relations triumph, Diana did not appear to win out for herself in the end. After her divorce in 1996, she died only a year later in a needless car crash with a man she barely knew. Her fans tried to put a positive spin on the last months of her life. Diana was coming into her own, they said; she was the strongest that she had been in decades. However, her decision as the most famous and beloved woman in the world to forego security, doubts that the main reason that she was in the relationship with Dodi al-Fayed was to either embarrass the royal family or to make a former boyfriend (Hasnat Khan) jealous – these thoughts, which would not go away, really made it harder to believe that her life at its end was a success story.
Yet in Diana’s death, did the royal family come out a winner? Sadly not, if you look at reader responses to the BBC's Have Your Say or the other news outlets. Now every time the Queen makes a speech or a royal dies, as did Princess Alice a few years ago, invariably there will be quite a few complaining that the royals are a waste of space or useless and berating the BBC for giving airtime to this claptrap. The unkindest cut of all is when someone mentions that Diana was of course crazy and off her rocker and that no one should be as immune to criticism as she was in life, and then they mention, as an aside, that the family she married into was even worse than she was. It seems that Diana had damaged the royal family in addition to her own legacy.
Of course Charles had by this time lost any Teflon he had ever had. His elders decried him for being weak for not standing up to his father and opposing the marriage in the first place; women hated him for being cruel for not understanding and supporting Diana’s emotional problems and selfish for seeking his own comfort with Camilla while leaving his wife alone and lonely; and other men actually ridiculed him for not choosing a mistress who was younger and prettier than Diana, for in their opinion that would have been the only reason to have a mistress. If people did not fault him for these things, then they faulted him for not having better public relations and letting his wife beat up on him in public.
But the rest of the royal family took a beating too. Even Margaret and Anne were berated for being cold towards Diana, when in truth they were so busy with their own lives that they didn't have time to mess with Charles'. But for the first time, the Queen was criticized. She was censured for not siding with Diana against Charles and making Charles send Camilla away. Because Diana had already replaced the Queen in people’s hearts, no one questioned the wisdom of a daughter-in-law asking her mother-in-law to side with her against the Queen's firstborn son, whom she had given birth to at the young age of 21. No one seriously considered whether Diana would have sided with a future daughter-in-law against her own firstborn son if William had acted in a similar way to his father. But the important point was that nobody cared about the difficulties that the Queen felt, they only cared about Diana getting hurt.
If there had been any doubt that the Queen had lost her place in people’s hearts, one needed to look no further than the angry crowds outside Buckingham Palace after Diana died, when the Queen did not return from Balmoral promptly enough for the public’s satisfaction to show respect to the woman they had crowned as their Queen – Diana. Her Majesty was seen as an impediment and a disgrace to those who wanted the world to show homage to Diana, and the Queen’s personal feelings didn’t matter. During her life, however, Diana's feelings did matter, for if they were hurt in anyway by anyone that was a sin that was not forgivable. This reaction was considered natural, for this anger on her behalf, this outrage at any injustice done, is generally the right and privilege of the woman who has been crowned the Queen of People’s Hearts. The Queen had occupied that lofty pedestal for her people at one time, and they would have been just as angry with anyone who affronted her dignity as they later were on Diana's behalf. However, that time had passed. If you doubt that, I invite you to ask yourself whose hurt made you most angry when you saw it: Diana’s or Elizabeth's? That was the queen who captured your heart and the heart never lies.
A Dangerous Legacy
I think what happened is that the Queen and the royal family forgot that their first order of business - nay, their reason for being - lay in remaining first and foremost in the people’s hearts. When the British papers were first criticized for pushing Diana-mania to its extremes, they responded that in 1979 the Queen would make state visits to other countries and there was so little public interest that their papers couldn’t justify paying for the plane tickets to cover the affair. This was a problem whose gravity a lot of people, including myself, underestimated at the time. However, if people didn’t care what the Queen did, then her rationale for being was slipping. This holds true for Charles and the other royals as well. They didn’t realize that they had to find their own way to matter to their people and make a difference. The royal family had always been in it for the long haul, whereas the popular press is only interested in what sells papers today. That is the way things should be; however, on a more basic level, if at any point if one Briton can say that the royal family is not important or not worth caring about, the royal family is in a bad position. One sign of this is when people start to grumble about misuse of taxpayers' money. When citizens grumble about wasting taxpayer money, it is like employees complaining about their salaries; what they're really saying is, "Give me a reason to care about this so I don't have to grumble about the money." Prince Philip saw that in the beginning; that's why he called the family the Firm and treated it like a business. However, as he was getting older and his life drew nearer to its close, he quite understandably focused on the personal relationships he cared about, like his marriage to the Queen. One saw this in the last years of another great royal, the Queen Mother, as her focus on the afterlife becomes more important than acclaim and her reputation in this life.
The second mistake that they made was when they realized that they needed someone and they tried to import a new member of the family to further the fairytale and be someone that people would care about. Diana gave the people the fairytale, someone to delight in and someone to get excited about; however, if this excitement and caring was not there for the original family members, then in the end they were going to lose. There are some things that the royal family could easily import, such as sophistication, style, and a modern outlook, but caring and devotion had to always be resident in the original royal family. Or, at least, the royal family had to have something that made the people care for them. It didn’t matter what it was, even if it was something totally different than what Diana had, but they had to have something which made them first in people’s hearts. They had had it once with the Queen and the Queen Mother and the identity that people had had with Queen Mary and King George, and they wanted a bit of this caring to come back again. So in one sense, it's fair to say that the royal family missed the boat whereas Diana caught it, regardless of whether we think that Diana made good use of her good fortune.
In that same Ladies' Home Journal where I got my monthly dose of royal comings and goings, the magazine held a regular feature, "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" A marriage therapist would interview a husband and wife whose marriage was on the skids. I think it would be interesting to have an article like this for the royal family. I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I think I have part of the answer. The royals have to bring back something that will make the British people care about them again. It doesn’t have to be the spirit of Diana, but it has to be something that people care about and identify with. The Queen can definitely use this herself, but her reign is on its downside; she’s already reigned for 56 years and she’s not going to be on the throne for 56 more. Charles is the one who needs this. No matter what he’s done or what he plans to do, I think he’s got to find a way to make the people care about him again and want to defend him. As far as approval for Camilla, I think he will be in a better position and I think the monarchy will be more stable if she can be crowned Queen with public acclamation. However, I think Camilla’s public acceptance is less important than Charles’. It may be difficult, but it isn't totally impossible. One only need to look back at Henry VIII and his extraordinary rebound into public affections after casting off the popular Queen Catherine of Aragon and bastardizing his daughter Mary. Anne Boleyn was universally hated, and at one point the King was so hated that assassination plots were uncovered and rebellions to overthrow him in favor of his and Catherine’s daughter Mary (hmm, any resemblance to the murmurings of people wanting William to take the throne in place of his father?). However, even in Anne’s lifetime, the King was able to get back his amazing popularity with the people. One contemporary chronicler noted that when Anne was pregnant, the King went out in a public square and received silence from the masses, a sign of the public’s disapproval of his treatment of Catherine of Aragon. The King made a small joke that he’d heard Englishmen were fools but he’d never had the opportunity to judge the fact for himself. The crowd laughed, and the chronicler noted that during the course of the afternoon the crowd noticeably warmed to him. Henry VIII could be cruel - he set up his best friend, Sir Thomas More, to be publicly tried and beheaded for standing in the way of his divorce, and one of his first acts as King was to order the execution of two of his father’s accountants because they had kept the books that had kept him from his father’s money. He was capricious, sensitive, easy to find fault, easy to take offense, and easy quick to strike out at those who he thought were against him. However, despite all this, he was able to keep the hearts of the English people to the end, a trait that was inherited by his younger daughter, Elizabeth I. Not all monarchs had this ability, but in this day and age when kings and queens have no power, all that is left for them to find their path to people’s hearts.
King in People's Hearts
Can Charles do this? Yes, I believe so. Will he do this? I don’t know. It depends on what he wants. If he wants to have influence in people’s minds, as he mostly certainly does in his many beliefs and causes, he will first need to carve out a space in their hearts. As we have seen, it is possible. Only a few years before Diana came on the scene, a British songwriter and singer, Greg Lake, released the song "I Believe in Father Christmas." In the song, he sang about his childhood Christmases and sang of the dreams he had as a child. In the cynical 1970s in the post-Vietnam War era in the me-decade, people became disenfranchised, disillusioned, and cynical with their lives and their world. They stopped believing in fairytales because, as Greg Lake sang,
And I believed in Father Christmas
I looked to the skies
Then I woke with a yawn in the first crack of dawn
And I saw him and saw through his disguise
There was real anger in his voice as he sang
They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
They sold me a fairy story
Till I believed in the Israelite
They said there'd be snow on Christmas
They said there'd be peace on Earth
The anger against the Establishment that gave him the fairytale to believe in lingered long after his eyes were opened. Yet in the music in the background, you can hear a children's choir and a guitar softly strumming just as we imagined the church it sounded the first time the hymn Silent Night was played in a church with a broken organ. We got a feeling that despite his anger, what Greg Lake wanted most of all was to believe in Father Christmas again or to just believe in some magic again. It was as if he were singing, "Give me something to believe in." I believe that's where the people were when Diana came on the scene: the royal family no longer seemed to inspire or to offer a dream to believe in. People were dissatisfied with their jobs, their partners, their families, their lives. Divorces were happening at a higher rate, and, to quote Shakespeare, how weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seemed to us all the uses of this world!. Diana came along with a freshness and a delight and interest in all around her. She seemed to adore her new husband, delight in the public's acclaim, be devoted to her own family, and greet each new day and each person with the delight of a child opening a new present on Christmas Day. She seemed to find a joy in everything and everyone around her, and that joy was infectious.
We now know that this simple joy and delight was an illusion. Diana, even at the young age of 19, was desperately unhappy, angry with her family for her traumatic childhood, angry with the Establishment that allowed her family to mistreat her, insanely jealous of anyone who was more loved than she was, and vengeful against those she felt she'd done wrong. But we didn't know that at the time. All we saw was the delight of a young girl for whom the world seemed her oyster with lots of glittering pearls to be had. That's what the British people want now - they want something or someone to believe in - and that person can be you, Charles.
Don't worry about people not forgiving you about Diana; if anything, that history has shown is that the people have an amazing capacity to forgive. Don't worry that you do not have youth on your side any more. When your parents married, the majority of the population was under 40 and people didn't live much past the age that your grandfather died at 56. Right now, advertisers who are most in tune with the emotions of the times are saying that 60 is the new 40, so you've got a lot of contemporaries who have been on this planet for over 50 years and expect to be around a lot longer. The baby boomers are still the largest population segment in the world, and what excites someone at 20 is not necessarily the same thing that catches the dreams of someone at 60. What they share, though, is the capacity and need to dream. But right now, people are growing cynical again. They're finding fault with their politicians, their governments, their lives, much in the same way they fell disillusioned in the 1970s. And now you are at a point where you still have a lot of time to connect with the people. Let them connect with you. I know you are used to people deferring to you, but you don't need to be right all the time and you don't need to appear that you know all the answers. You also don't have to give your most mentally challenged subjects the impression that you are exercising extreme patience by suffering their company. You can let the people teach you a thing or two and use your position not to highlight yourself but to highlight the great things about the British nation. You can show a boy's delight in the people, places, and things you come across meet as you go about your travels, and you can seek to share meaningful experiences with your subjects. It's great that you're happy with Camilla by your side, but try to be happy with just yourself no matter where you are and who you are with, and let that show.
While no one would ever want to go through the hell that you went through with Diana, take this opportunity to separate yourself from the flesh-and-blood woman that Diana was, who doubtless drove you to madness at times with her own particular brand of madness, jealousy, hurt, and vengefulness, and try to connect to the person not as she was but as the person that she wanted to become. She wanted to care about people, to love them, to delight in them - she wanted a fairytale to believe in. Find that joy, that desire to be better than yourself, dare to dream, and in doing so you will find your own fairytale to believe in.
The last time the people were looking for a fairytale, you tried to give people a virgin bride. We know how that ended - not too well. Now is your opportunity again to get people excited about following you.
Page 1: Photo of newspaper headline of The Glums (Charles and Diana in South Korea in November 1992) taken by Flickr member Mig_R and used with permission.
Page 1: "Sorrow for an angel" (photo of floral tributes to Diana on the 10th anniversary of her death) taken by DeviantArt member alireza1 and used with permission.
Page 2: Photo of Diana surrounded by an admiring crowd at Canterbury 1995 taken by Flickr member Nostalgic T+ Allan and used with permission.
Page 2: Photo of Diana standing apart from the royal family on the Queen Mother's birthday in 1987 taken by Flickr member WhiteGoldWielder and used with permission.
Page 2: Photo of Charles greeting the public at Glamorgan in 2007 taken by Flickr member Federhirn and used with permission.