The Regal String of Scandal
The British Crown is one of the oldest existing monarchies of the world. This institution traces its origin to Scottish and Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and Norman conquests, followed by large-scale consolidation of imperial power under the name of the British monarchy. The grandeur of the crown is marked by its magnificence, imperialism and mostly- drama.
To the British Crown, its Four Horsemen of Distress- diplomacy, politics, conquest and scandal, continue to convulse it on various fronts time and again. Over the years, the royal family has found itself surrounded by malicious gossip and rumour, supplemented by explosive interviews and occasional ‘spicy’ privacy invasions.
Every royal scandal has had its main characters. Here, we shall elucidate and analyse the consecutive series of instances when the British monarchy found itself struggling behind the stained glass of libel and slander from the 1930s; courtesy of its own dear ‘Highnesses’.
Abdication of the throne by Edward VIII
King Edward VIII, in full Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, the Duke of Windsor and the former Prince of Wales is known in history for being the first monarch to have resigned voluntarily. But why? One may ask. The answer lies in love. Love that was refused and denied respect. Love that was held on higher ground than being sovereign.
The King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the British dominions and Emperor of India from January 20 to December 10, 1936, King Edward abdicated, upon his marriage to Wallis Warfield Simpson. As it appears, the trend of love denied dignity began with him that continued for two generations after him. The British monarch as we know is also the head of the Church of England, which implies that he is the supreme divine emperor who is expected to be the most devout Christian walking along the lines of an ideal Christian married life. Wallis Simpson was an American socialite divorced from a Navy lieutenant.
While Edward VIII tried to gain the support of the family, the Church and the Parliament attempted to impress upon the King the peril to the ‘integrity’ of the monarchy implicated by an intimate private friendship with a divorcée. He argued the case for a morganatic marriage in which he could marry Wallis without her ever becoming Queen - was vetoed by the Cabinet. Marriage to Wallis Simpson and being Sovereign at the same time was deemed impracticable and intolerable.
The broad-minded king, with wit and the courage to challenge the stagnant and radical system, had to abdicate. Extremely popular among the public, he addressed them on the radio to make his voice heard, and sentiment felt in every home. As the crisis had developed considerably, he was keen to tell his side of the story to the country. On December 11, 1936, he spoke to a stunned nation and announced abdication in favour of his beloved brother, George VI to be free to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson. This historic broadcast and climax of Britain’s constitutional crisis was heard by the whole country.
When Edward VIII eventually broadcasted, George VI had acceded to him and was the new King, and Edward was preparing to go into exile. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were given their titles by King George VI but unlike her husband, Wallis was denied the title of ‘her royal highness’ which deeply upset the former king, causing even deeper cracks in his relationship with the rest of the royal family. The Duke and Duchess continued their lives in exile in France. After their deaths, they were buried alongside at Frogmore, within the grounds of Windsor Castle.
Also known as the Windsor files, the Marburg files are a series of confidential and unprincipled files found in German archives in the Marburg Castle. These papers of correspondence are alleged to have detailed a plot by the Nazis, called Operation Willi, orchestrated to persuade the Duke of Windsor i.e., former King Edward VIII to formally join sides with the Nazis and move to Germany in order to bring the UK to peace negotiations. The files are alleged to cunningly propose a plot to convince that his life was under threat, and that King George VI and Prime Minister Winston Churchill had mounted to get him assassinated upon his arrival in the Bahamas. Moreover, conspiring with him to stage a kidnapping in the hope of blackmailing the British crown and eventually compel the UK into surrender.
The papers also show the possibility of the Nazis' plan with an intention to reinstate the Duke of Windsor as King, whilst also officially recognising his wife, the Duchess, Mrs. Wallis Simpson as Queen alongside him, in exchange for Nazi forces being granted free movement all across Europe.
These immensely incriminating documents were among the Duke’s final communications with the Nazis before his departure to the Bahamas where he was governor during World War II. The documents further allege that the Duke negligently encouraged relentless bombing attacks on the United Kingdom in a bid to force the British government to begin peace negotiations, endangering millions of lives on his way to the crown.
Princess Margaret’s tragic love life
Another victim of the conservative norms of marriage in the royal family was Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister. Differently from her sister, Princess Margaret was the one known for her beauty, glamour, wit and great humanist qualities. Sharing a complicated yet close relationship with her sister, she had a troublesome life - caught in a clash of loyalty; forced to choose between her royal duties as Princess and love.
In her early twenties, Princess Margaret fell in love with Group Captain Peter Townsend, a divorced man who had worked as King George’s Equerry. While Group Captain was adored by the Queen and the royal family, his divorced status made him unfit for being the Princess’ husband. Time and again, Princess Margaret tried to clarify how Townsend was the ‘innocent’ party, but none of it was heard by the Church of England or the Parliament.
This royal romance sparked a battle between the people and the government, while the Queen was caught in between her own dilemma as the head of Church and a sister.
Under the Royal Marriages Act 1772, the Queen was to consent to the Princess' marriage to Peter Townsend upon the age of 25. For the time, Townsend was sent away to work as an air attaché for the British Embassy in Brussels in humiliating conditions one may say.
The couple were reunited in 1955. Although Margaret had turned 25, they were still denied the right to marry. The government led by Prime Minister Anthony Eden, decided that if the Princess insisted on marrying Townsend, she would be stripped of all her royal privileges and income. This left her in an impossible position.
Finally, the Princess made her decision clear saying:
“Mindful of the Church's teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have decided to put these considerations before any others.”
Three years later, Princess Margaret married Anthony Armstrong, a photographer in the first royal wedding which was televised. A happy marriage, what it seemed at first was unfortunately followed by infidelity and trauma leading to divorce in 1978, the first divorce in the British royal family in 400 years.
The Crowded Marriage
A fairy tale, it was not.
Prince of Wales, Charles, the son of Her Majesty the Queen, the heir to the throne had similarly difficult luck in marriage and love as his ancestors. An impressionable young mind, encouraged by his uncle, Lord Mountbatten to “discover manhood” fell in love with Camilla Shand.
Camilla Shand, whose family had weak aristocratic links, was considered an unfit match for the heir to the British throne- Prince Charles. First met at a Polo match, Charles and Camilla were greatly infatuated with each other. As the rendezvous among the two began to pace up, Prince Charles was sent to serve in the royal navy for eight months, during which Camilla was married to Andrew Parker Bowles, a military officer. (It is often suggested that this marriage was orchestrated by Queen Mother and Lord Mountbatten themselves to ‘remove Camilla from the way of royalty’)
In the 1980s, the Prince began courting and later married the 20-year-old, Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1982 in a televised ceremony. Loved by the royal family and the public alike, Diana made front pages of newspapers and magazine covers. The royal couple has two sons- William and Harry.
But soon after, the relationship became rocky and toxic, ultimately descending into divorce. Even during the course of their marriage, Prince Charles had an affair with Mrs. Camilla Parker Bowles of which Princess Diana was aware; and came to public knowledge when a phone conversation between Charles and Camilla got printed in German and Australian tabloids. Meanwhile, Princess Diana too admitted her relationship with her riding instructor. The couple separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996.
In an interview with BBC journalist Martin Bashir, Princess Diana was asked if she believed that Camilla contributed to the breakdown of her marriage to which she famously replied-
“Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
Princess Diana whose life could fairly be synonymic as one of dualism, where her public and private life was very different. A fairy tale which seemed to have begun with a blond delicate princess, walking down the aisle in a 25-foot-long trail to a life of mental and emotional anguish met with an accident in Paris. After which, in 2005, Prince of Wales, Charles married Camilla (Camilla and Parker Bowles divorced in the year 1995).
Camilla was given the title of Her Royal Highness Duchess of Cornwall. With this, for the very first time, a future king married a divorced woman. Moreover, never before has a woman married a Prince of Wales and taken a lesser title than Princess.
Well, in conclusion, this tale did end up having one happy ending, while one of the players of this crowded marriage found peace in an inanimate life.
Prince Harry, like the other members of the family had a typically unconventional marriage alliance too. Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex married American actress Meghan Markle on 19th May, 2018. The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle is a woman of color, making her the first non-white member of the royal family.
Megxit is a portmanteau of Meghan’s exit from the family which refers to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s step down as frontline members of the royal family. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the couple clarified how it was the hypocrisy of the people within the Monarchy’s institution along with the racist blatant media that paved the way to ‘the megxit’. The couple successfully attempted to become financially independent, repaying their royal debts, like the £2.4million renovations at Frogmore Cottage paid for by the public.
Withdrawing from the most powerful family in the world because of feeling trapped in a racist institution shocked the world. The royal couple were victims to racist comments. They were poked time and again about how dark the skin color of their son would be, and how he won’t be given a title or security because of his mixed race.
Meghan’s amalgamation with the family received a lot of media attention from which she was promised to be ‘protected’ but the constant jeering at her troubled the couple’s mental health to a great extent, after which they decided to move to Canada, a commonwealth nation.
While individuality as an ideal is discouraged, the British Crown has seen itself struggling when it comes to recognising and accepting love, and one’s individual needs as a human. Be it former King Edward VIII, Princess Margaret, Prince Charles, Princess Diana and now Prince Harry and Meghan, everyone’s struggled with the institution’s radicalism. Upon reflection one realises how the fate of all these characters are interrelated.
Ever since the Oprah Winfrey interview, people have started seeing similarities between Meghan’s and Diana’s condition with much more clarity. It has become much more evident how mental health remains like a third-world country in the imperial house of Buckingham Palace.
And probably, due to this lack of support and help in an “it is what it is” environment, scandal runs along the lines of kinship in the Royal household.