As those of you who have read the bio on my website know, I first became fascinated with Great Britain and its monarchy when Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne in 1952. I was then at a very impressionable age—nine when she ascended and eleven when the coronation took place in June, 1953. I filled several scrapbooks with stories and photographs of the new queen and the royal family and hung on every word that was published about her. I watched the grainy, black-and-white images of her coronation on our new television and was enthralled.
When she passed away on September 8, 2022, I found myself grieving as though I had lost someone close to me. Yes, she was certainly ripe in years, and her death was not completely unexpected, but I had mentally placed her in the ranks of the immortals, as if she would live forever. Of course, no one does that, not even queens. I marveled at how well and how diligently she had lived her life despite the numerous burdens laid on her. Despite the scandals that swirled around various members of her family, she had remained for the most part above the fray and above reproach. She was as distant as the evening star, but somehow relatable. Her role as a constitutional monarch meant she was essentially powerless in matters of state, and yet she still wielded great influence across the world. This past July, on a trip to Scotland, I toured her Edinburgh palace of Holyrood and viewed some of her outfits on display there, dresses she had worn quite recently at her Platinum Jubilee the month before. I was astounded by how small a person she was in real life, even as her mystique seemed enormous.
Now her son and heir, the longest-serving Prince of Wales, is King Charles III. It is a role he has been preparing for all his life, and I hope the public will give him a chance. He is now 73 years old and has already lived a long life. We know more of his personal opinions and have seen more of his personal struggles than we ever knew of his mother’s. He has suffered setbacks in the media and in life, most notably the ones surrounding his first marriage to Lady Diana Spencer. I have some sympathy with him here. As a Prince of Wales getting on in life (he was then in his early 30s), his main obligation was to marry and beget heirs to the throne, but his choice of a bride was then strictly limited. She had to be a virgin of unblemished reputation. No divorcees need apply. Diana, a young girl barely out of her teens at the time of the wedding, seemed to check off all of the boxes and was beautiful besides. What could possibly go wrong?
As it turned out much could go wrong, and much did. We all cheered as they quickly produced two sons, then watched in dismay as their marriage collapsed in a very public and even humiliating way. Charles usually gets the blame for the way things unfolded, and he was certainly not blameless, but I think he was in an impossible situation. The necessity for an heir to the throne to marry and produce more heirs, whatever his personal feelings on the matter, is a plot device I have used for another Prince of Wales more than 500 years before in my newest novel The Neville Inheritance. I will admit that this fictional situation was inspired in part by the marriage of Charles and Diana.
Over the years, Charles has managed to rehabilitate his reputation, at least partially, as well as that of the “other woman” in the story, who now stands by his side as Queen Camilla. My hope is that both of them will be able to fulfill their royal roles with as much support as possible from their subjects at home and abroad, including those of us who fought a war 250 years ago to break with Britain. The story continues, but in the meantime “God save the king!”