The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor–the Truth and the Turmoil

By Tina Brown

In The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown, I felt like I was getting the straight scoop. Or at least as straight as is possible. In addition, it was entertaining, seemingly agenda-free, balanced, eye-opening, and juicy. Alas, it relentlessly barreled towards the tragedy of Diana’s death, which, to put it lightly, put a pall on my wholehearted enjoyment of reading the story. All of the above adjectives also apply to The Palace Papers which, in addition, is sometimes laugh-out-loud-funny. There is a neverending stream of revelations and “Who knew?” moments involving Camilla and her first husband, Thomas Markle, The Spencers, the Queen Mother, and too many more to mention. I approached this one with more enthusiasm because as I write this, the main characters’ story isn’t yet finished. There is hope that everything will turn out all right for this crazy family.

In Tina Brown’s wry and clear-eyed analysis of the royal family’s characters and actions, no one escapes unscathed. Of course, some are more scathed than others. There is entertainment to be found on almost every page. If you can’t stand Prince Andrew and who does, you will take great pleasure in TB’s recounting of his degrading fall from grace. He’s even worse than you think he is. If you love the Queen, you will be discomfited to learn of the many times her habit of “ostriching”, that is, stubbornly ignoring red flags in order to avoid confrontation, has caused embarrassment and disaster. If you like Kate you may be disappointed that, yes, it’s probably true that she schemed and planned to catch William before she even knew him. And to keep him. And thank God she did. Catherine and William both as a unit and individually come off the best. As does her family, especially her mother. Also, Camilla. A lot of time is spent on Camilla and she emerges as somewhat of a heroine. And one you’d most like to be your dinner partner. Charles though mostly living up to his reputation as an “eccentric drip too needy, too vulnerable, too emotional, too complicated,[and] too self-centered,” in the end comes off pretty well. Why isn’t “Charles more celebrated for his strenuous progressivism, and for his demonstrably humane labors? Ironically, he cared about many of the things the liberal bible The Guardian espoused, and to which the [royalist and conservative] Murdoch press was instinctively hostile.” Surprisingly, Harry’s 2 most famous ex-girlfriends, Chelsy Davy and Cressida “Cringe de-la Cringe” Bonas, both come across as great girls that Harry would have been lucky to land. The despicable acts of the British tabloids drove Chelsy away. With Cressida, it was both the tabloids and Harry’s inability to manage his hatred of them. It was she who got him into much-needed therapy. Who knew?

William and Harry can only be understood in the context of their mother, so there is a lot of still interesting analysis of Diana and rehashing of her adventures. Volatile Harry idolizes his mother. He has inherited a lot of her qualities, both good and bad. He is more Spencer than Windsor. But he doesn’t understand her as well as sensible William. He was sadly privy to more of her unfortunate behavior and he is more Windsor than Spencer.

And what of Meghan and Harry? Whoo Boy. It is complicated. A lot of time is spent recounting Meghan’s history and trying to understand and explain her. In many ways, it all comes down to her non-understanding of British and Royal ways.

Meghan’s curious failure to prepare for a vocation that was the royal equivalent of taking the veil was a surprise to many of her former colleagues… Meghan as an actress had always been known for “doing her homework,” exhaustively grilling anyone who could help her for “notes.”

And the converse is true. Shouldn’t the Royal household have made an effort to understand her and explain things to her? “She found it draining to traverse the chasms between her California effusiveness and British understatement. It was her earnestness versus their irony, her explicitness versus their words unsaid.” It was a clash of cultures rather than personalities. “The British work ethic is a frustration for any alpha American hell-bent on “hitting the ground running.” William advised Harry and Michelle Obama advised Meghan to “take time”. Harry, to marry Meghan, and Meghan to make positive change. Neither of them listened. Maybe they would have, but time is something that Harry, wanting a family, and 38-year-old Meghan did not have a lot of. It’s a darn shame. She started off so well.

As one former Palace adviser put it to [the author]: “Very impressive. Very strong, very motivated, brought up to think she can change the world. It’s a very American type; we don’t have them here.” And she could have been just what the doctor ordered for the royal family. Now her platform is gone.

Meghan comes across as self-important, but, until her star aligned with Harry’s, uncomfortably aware her that actual social and professional status (6th on the call sheet) was not keeping up with her (very) lofty ambitions. Harry and Meghan are both too much alike. They are both temperamental and combative. They fuel each other’s distrust of everybody else and revel in their “us against the world” mentality. He did not want her to conform. That would not have suited his purpose. The other royal couples are successful because they balance and steady each other, not egg each other on. “My strength and stay.”

perhaps the most powerful survival element of the monarchy has turned out to be marital love. Without the caring resolve of the Queen Mother, George VI would have been a stammering introvert who could never have led the country in its hour of need. Without Philip’s bracing loyalty, the Queen could have been a lonely conformist, run by her courtiers. Without finally being allowed to marry Camilla, Charles would have suffered a slow death of the soul instead of his late flowering into an unapologetically happy man. And without Kate’s serene empathy, William might have collapsed under the pain of his childhood and the weight of his future. Diana’s two boys have each found the sustaining love that eluded her, even though in Harry’s case he chose to leave rather than allow his wife to be crushed by the media and the Palace machine.”

Ever since Harry was forced out of his chosen military career, which suited him perfectly and would have been the making of him, he had been unmoored and desperately unhappy. His escape, thanks to Meghan, was probably for the best. But can he weather the challenges of his new life and the necessity of making his own way? Given his history? Can Meghan’s ego be satisfied with her diminishing influence? And what about the rest of the Windsors? Can their institution survive the death of the Queen? It’ll be interesting.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

June 12, 2022

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