Cover image for Diana, Princess of Wales : how sexual politics shook the monarchy
Diana, Princess of Wales : how sexual politics shook the monarchy
Campbell, Beatrix.
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Publication Information:
London : Women's Press, 1988 [that is, 1998]
Physical Description:
259 pages ; 20 cm
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Central Library DA591.A45 D5275 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Beatrix Campbell argues that Diana was hounded by a press that regarded her as an easy target. Her exposure of the coldness of the royal family was part of her espousal of a number of radical causes that she supported during her latter years.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

At the time of her death in a fatal car crash in 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, was ushered into secular sainthood by millions of people who saw her as the victim not simply of an unfortunate accident but also of a cold and uncaring British royal family whose members demanded strict adherence to repressive traditions of public behavior and marriage. When Diana broke from these conventions during her life, she became a populist rebel and heroine. Looking at Diana's life through a feminist lens, Campbell, a British journalist and academic, has composed a political hagiography that elevates Diana to the position of feminist role model and martyr. Although she draws on familiar news accounts and popular biographies about Diana's life and relationships, Campbell's reinterpretation of the facts is refreshing and persuasive. Claiming that the "patriarchal foundations of the monarchy have lost their legitimacy," Campbell sees Diana as a modern, independent woman who did not stand a chance against an institution that valued her only for her virginity, ability to have children and presumed complacency. She contends that Diana's depressions, eating disorders and suicidal impulses were personal if self-destructive revolts against her stifling existence as a "royal," and that they occurred within a broader, historical framework of cultural misogyny. While Campbell recognizes that both women and men are hurt by this system, she does not stint on blunt criticism. For instance, she claims that Prince Charles "used his children as an alibi in the face of public criticism," and that Diana died "because a posse of men [the paparazzi] would not take no for an answer." While Campbell's tone is forthright, sarcastic and even overtly angry, her arguments are provocative. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Pointless Princes The present Prince of Wales is the latest in a long and dishonourable tradition of ageing sons who were provided for, their futures prescribed, while they loitered on the threshold of power, waiting, waiting for their parents to die. They have always presented the palace with a problem -- themselves. Kings and queens prayed that they would be spared their sons' ruinous reputations. These princes were given their first experience of sovereignty: they were given Wales, England's first colony. The first sons of English monarchs were apprenticed to their royal craft by their appointment to England's most successfully conquered country, after centuries of raids, insurrections, race wars, civil wars and colonial wars.     Edward I of England had first declared his own infant son Prince of Wales at Caernarvon Castle in 1301. Edward had already commissioned an inquiry into Welsh law, which uncovered a `people's law' in which rights were rooted in kindred and community. Although, like the rest of Europe, Wales was dominated by male interests, the English system of primogeniture was regarded by the Welsh as `alien'. (Williams, 1985, p74) England's conquest was the beginning of the end of a social system in which women's position was, at least, ambiguous. They were deemed inferior, they didn't wage war and they had a price on their virginity. Yet there was no concept of bastardy, and the preoccupation with descent was qualified by civilised embrace of `the children of the brake and brush'. Welsh women were freer than their European sisters, they had access to land, and widows were respected and seem to have `acted as remembrancers to their community which so badly needed a collective memory'. (Williams, 1985 p52)     Wales had already been occupied by England when its own great national prince, Owain Glyn Dwr, led its last, long rebellion in 1400. Amazingly, there was still resistance in a landscape garrisoned by a trail of castles, where the English patrolled communities who had become foreigners in their own territory, and peopled little towns `by an organised transplantation of English endowed with a sense of racial superiority'. (Williams, 1985, p89) During Glyn Dwr's rebellion England's `ferociously racist' penal laws turned the people into unpersons. Eventually old Owain Glyn Dwr vanished. He didn't die. Wales didn't die. Around its edges and up its hills Welsh people went on speaking Welsh, despite a terrifying purge of their language and their law. Wales was, for sure, not England, but after Glyn Dwr, it developed a schizoid sense of self that was muted by dignified, literate but injured accommodation to the omnipotent English. Wales was more successfully subdued than any other nation in these islands.     England gave the defeated people a prince who was as English as he was pointless. Princes of Wales became renowned as being rich, reluctant, indulged, capricious and petulant. Walter Bagehot, in his 1867 rumination The English Constitution , warned that `all the world and all the glory of it, whatever is most attractive, whatever is most seductive, has always been offered to the Prince of Wales'. It would be unreasonable, he concluded, `to expect the best virtue'.     Bagehot's law can be discerned through the behaviour of a long line of princes-in-waiting. Before Charles, the role had been defined by some memorable princes of Wales: the Duke of Windsor, lover and Nazi sympathiser; Bertie, later Edward VII, lover and shooter; and George IV, bigamist and big spender.     The principality over which they exercised strange, ceremonial, distant dominion had little or no administrative autonomy, and thus didn't really exist, except in its diasporic travels and in its thoughts. The subjects were usually polite but sceptical spectators at investitures that were made up as the monarchy went along, their country an empty proscenium in which the monarchy practised the art of `inventing tradition' -- improvising rituals which, by repetition, implied inevitability. (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983, p1)     The domination of Wales also echoed through the princes' relationships to their wives, who were expected to be similarly sentimentalised, duped and subdued. Bigamist and Big Spender Perhaps because the British monarchy has enjoyed an easy life for most of the twentieth century, with remarkably few republican flutters, monarchists inside and outside the royal family have forgotten that it was often the shameless, unacceptable face of patriarchy that produced the royal family's troubles. Charles' great-uncle Louis Mountbatten warned him that he was acquiring a reputation as a playboy prince, that he was following the bad example of his Uncle David, whose abdication for love caused the only significant royal crisis in the twentieth century. (Dimbleby, 1994, p316) But the great-uncle was being selective in his evocation of historical precedent -- he ignored the strategic and stabilising impact of George III's domestic regime during an era ravaged by revolutionary rupture, and also ignored the reversals caused by the amazing sexual scandals that defined George IV's interregnum as Prince of Wales and his subsequent tenure of the throne. George was broke. Marriage was his only route to money and, ultimately, secure kingship. In his early twenties he regularly fell into debt, into drink, and in and out of love. His great love, however, was the widowed Catholic Maria Fitzherbert, a star in the Prince's Whig firmament and a reassuringly rich woman. After mounting a formidable campaign against her respectable defences, he wooed and won her. In a secret ceremony they were wed in 1775.     According to her church there had been a marriage. According to his there was no marriage. The Act of Settlement in 1701 stated that the heir to the throne could neither be a Catholic nor marry one. The 1772 Royal Marriages Act required his father's or Parliament's consent to any marriage. On all counts George was either perpetrating a grave deception -- not least upon Mrs Fitzherbert -- or disinheriting himself.     Since he had not secured his father's permission, the Prince, as the king's son, was not properly married but the Prince, as a man, could have his way and have it paid for by the duped Mrs Fitzherbert. He was never to be seen in society without her until Frances, Lady Jersey, appeared and made it her mission to win him. Maria Fitzherbert was, for the time being, ousted. Lady Jersey triumphed. The daughter of a bishop, she was mature, married, a mother and grandmother. She was also clever, fascinating, without scruples but with great schemes; she was, it was said, an utter `bitch'. (Fraser, 1997, p41) And she had an obliging husband: Lord Jersey was rewarded, and controlled, by his appointment as Master of the Horse. She was, therefore, the perfect mistress.     Despite his illicit marriage and his access to Mrs Fitzherbert's plentiful means, the Prince of Wales was still broke. Lady Jersey encouraged him to make up his mind to marry a `suitable' girl, a device by which he could reap the rise in his income from the Civil List due to a married man and invoke Parliament's promise to pay his debts.     Princess Caroline of Brunswick was to be his sacrificial lamb. Letters and cameos were exchanged. But he didn't know her, and when he met her, he didn't like her. She, naturally, was a virgin. She had been sequestered in Brunswick by her parents who regarded her boisterous behaviour as a sign of rebelliousness and a tendency to passion. Their response was to treat her as a prisoner: she was not allowed to dine or keep company at court. Her friends were her servants. She was, however, educated, erudite and a great enthusiast for life. She had been kept `tidy' for a longed-for marriage to a needy prince, and she and her parents welcomed the proposal from the Prince of Wales, which promised a beneficial alliance between their two families. She was described by her British chaperones as good-looking but slightly smelly -- Brunswickians didn't go in for personal hygiene at that time. Lord Malmesbury commented that she had many strong qualities and although her education was of the `nonsensical' type that combined `privation, injunction and menace', she was bright and brave.     But when the Prince of Wales laid eyes upon her, he called for a glass of brandy, and fled. He walked up the aisle desperate and drunk, and had to be supported on either side by equally drunk dukes. The Archbishop of Canterbury `looked earnestly at the king, as well as the bridegroom' when he asked if there was any lawful impediment to lawful matrimony, `giving unequivocal proof of his apprehension that some previous marriage had taken place'. (Fraser, 1997, p61) Caroline was sacrificed to a conspiracy of silence: everyone knew. Their first night together was disastrous `even by the traditionally low standards of such occasions' and although she soon became pregnant, the pair were no longer living as man and wife within a few short weeks of the wedding.     The Prince of Wales pestered Parliament for money and publicly humiliated the brave, bewildered princess with his contempt and his flagrant liaisons. When Caroline dared to complain, he adopted the position of the injured, persecuted party; the perpetrator presenting himself as the victim. The Prince of Wales was provoked by Caroline's very stamina and social self-sufficiency. Marooned outside his court, she created her own parallel, progressive universe. He forced the House of Lords Commissioners to conduct a `delicate investigation' into her alleged affairs, engineered her exile, and upon his father's death determined to divorce her. His impending coronation galvanised him: if he was king, then Caroline would be his queen. `The horror of having the Queen made an object of the prayers of his people haunted his imagination,' wrote Lord Castlereagh. (p347) A Bill of Pains and Penalties, an ancient device regularly invoked by monarchs to discipline their challengers, was introduced in the House of Lords to deprive Caroline of her royal titles and bannish her from England. The device evoked the tumbrils -- the mere mention of this Parliamentary manoeuvre sent a chili through a society that remembered how it had been used against Jacobites after the 1745 rebellion. Lady Cowper thought its use against the wronged queen sounded `to the ignorant as as if she was going to be fried or tortured'. (p399)     But his action harvested a counter-action: Caroline was at the centre of a resistance movement welding disparate interests, from Whigs to Radicals and dispossessed plebeians, the `constituency of the rejected', all of them activated by his bad behaviour as a man , whose tyrannies were both kingly and manly. The Carolinian resistance movement created a new kind of politics in the public realm: sexual politics .     The Lords' inquisition into Caroline's robust survival strategies as a wronged but indefatigably independent woman inaugurated a great public debate about royal oppression which connected sexual politics with a discourse of rights. George had invited a critique of his tyranny as a man and thus opened a political space in which radical republicanism was compelled to engage with sex and gender.     This was a watershed in republican and popular politics, a moment that transformed the movement for constitutional reform. According to the feminist historian Anna Clark, radical republicanism in Britain `learned to draw upon the vitality of plebeian popular literature to create a new political language that could speak both of high royal politics and of family crises in the same breath. Instead of trivialising radical politics, the transformation of popular literature into overt political language made mass mobilisation possible.' (1995, p165) Radicals were chastened and changed by the plebeian fascination with Caroline and by the vast popular literature caricaturing and critiquing a dissolute and disrespectful aristocracy -- a repertoire found in shop windows and popular melodrama that was legible to the semi-literate. This transformed what could be voiced in public. It also shook up the radicals themselves, `pushing them out into the community and forcing a responsiveness to women's concerns'. Women's experience became the measure by which to judge kingly oppression. Power and corruption, the use and abuse of Parliament, and the infringement of subjects' liberties, all became `central constitutional issues'. (p165)     George's campaign against Caroline took place in riotous times. Britain was a society of mass movements, insurgent street protests, petitions, mass meetings, colonial rebellion, mutiny and, of course, massacre. The King's pursuit of Caroline was shadowed by the Peterloo massacre only the year before, in which women as well as men had been martyred. Now a heterogeneous span of masculinities, from artisans, mechanics and labourers to middle-class respectable men, began to connect their own concerns with women. All were able to address her as a subject; like them, as a victim: `the same power which scourged us is now oppressing you.' (p165) The Caroline case took radical republicanism's priorities and practices beyond `abstract constitutional issues' composed in smoke-filled rooms and coffee shops. Sexuality and gender politics were introduced -- on the side of women. Having endorsed the experience of women, radical republicanism created a new social base. A concept of the people emerged, comprising all classes, the rough, the raunchy, the respectable -- and inclusive of both genders. Lover and Shooter In 1842 Queen Victoria bestowed the title Prince of Wales upon her unloved son Edward when he was one year old. He finally became king in 1901 after enduring the longest internship in the history of the Princes of Wales. Unlike his prolific father, the German Prince Albert, the interested and interesting consort whose enterprise transformed the landscape of Victorian Britain, the boy known as Bertie unsettled his disappointed parents with his passions: dressing up, gambling, eating, socialising, shooting and sex.     He did find time to lend himself to a royal commission on the conditions of the aged poor, which pioneered state provision of old-age pensions, and he supported the reform of the royal requirement to repudiate Roman Catholicism, but otherwise he famously committed his life to pleasure and promiscuity while loitering in the wings of history, waiting for his unyielding mother to die. Despite his father's best efforts, he proved remarkable in his resistance to education, expeditions and intellectual improvement. He regarded history and ancient monuments as the `mouldering stones' of `the temple of something', and preferred the ruder entertainments of `society'.     He made his mark on the map not in Wales but in Norfolk. In 1864 his parents bought him his own estate, Sandringham, in the hope that he might do something useful. It became his winter retreat before he threw himself back into the city for the London `season'. After a modest beginning, Bertie made Sandringham into something special; its grounds were planted to produce the greatest possible pleasure for hunters and shooters -- an ersatz landscape designed to maximise the production of game and the provision of cover across its mellow killing fields. The Prince of Wales was a committed and congenial socialite and shooter, and Sandringham was the perfect project for a man with time on his hands. Although it did not rival other aristocratic estates for the sport or the volume of corpses, `a day's shooting there was unrivalled for the sheer scale and pageantry'. (Plumtre, 1995, p95) It gave Bertie much to do -- fashion a landscape, arrange uniforms, menus, guests, sanitation, plates, orchestrate spectacular house parties, entertain prime ministers ...     Ambassadors and sport-mad dukes, `big-shots' such as Lord Walsingham, a champion among obsessive shooters, were enthusiastic guests. Disraeli, however, was less impressed by `the strong brigade of the darker sex', the toadies, `buffoons and butts' and `Polish Counts picked up at the Roulette Baths'. Sandringham became a station in the royal season, an episode in the creation of a `tradition'. The sporting estate institutionalised tweeds, horses, guns, stag and game as part of `the public perception of a royal life, as it has remained ever since'. (Plumtre, 1995, p90)     When hunting declined as an `upper class obsession', shooting, transformed by new ordnance technology and the mass production of tame birds, took its place. The shooting party, when `smart' society evacuated the city for the countryside, became an institutionalised aristocratic pastime. The Prince of Wales took to this `with alacrity'. (Cannadine, 1990, p364)     By the end of the century English aristocrats were moving `out of land and into business' (p443) and the Prince of Wales exemplified this dramatic realignment between land and capitalism. His wealth was protected and expanded not by landed enterprise but by investment in the financial markets -- brilliantly organised on his behalf by the financier Sir Ernest Cassell. The countryside was therefore being reinvented as a place for the super-rich to go out and play, `a place of rest and repose, where money was spent not made and they were fully contented with the amenities of rural living -- riding, hunting, shooting and entertaining'. (p359) Sandringham, then, was the epitome of the metamorphosis of the countryside in the aristocratic imagination.     During the six months of his betrothal to Princess Alexandra, Bertie's mother contrived to keep them separate for all but three days. They began their married life together as amiable strangers. She lent poise and beauty to the family firm. However, the writer Rebecca West described her wasting away in an exhausting `torrent of royal fertility' producing an army of children, while her husband sought other great beauties among the flock of bright and bold women in `society'. (West, 1996, p54)     One of Bertie's achievements, then, was to animate aristocratic society with his increasingly portly presence amidst the `Marlborough House set' during the dreary decades of Queen Victoria's mourning. Despite her reign's reputation for sexual repression, he entertained his milieu -- and its audience -- with the frisson of impropriety: famous affairs that were sanctioned and settled into the routines of his private and public life. Bertie's liaisons were not only not secret, nor repressed, they were a feature of the `society' created by Princes of Wales, in which the circulation of romance, and the distribution of the royal person among favoured women, was constitutive of their alternative courts.     Unlike those of Bertie's predecessor George, his sexual scandals did not particularly pitch him against his parliamentary paymasters. So they were not `political' in that sense -- although he lacked political acuity. Still, his public presentation as a pleasure-seeker functioned as an irrepressible challenge to the respectable middle class and to his mother. His affairs and loutish company attracted attention, the intensity of which was to prefigure the crises of publicity that vexed royals and their acolytes a century later. Scrutiny of royal standards is not a new sport, nor is it a function of modern technology and its techniques of surveillance. It is incited by the way they live, and the mirage of national identity narrated through royal rhetoric. (Continues...) Copyright © 1998 Beatrix Campbell. All rights reserved.

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