Meghan’s not the first American to fall foul of snobs
OF COURSE, having had such a wonderful debut in the Royal Family with a sun-drenched wedding and a triumphant royal tour to Australia, there was bound to be a backlash. But what is behind the drip-drip gossip against Meghan being “difficult”? Is it because there has always been a deep-set anti-Americanism in British high society, an aversion to a perceived brashness that doesn’t quite sit well with British reserve?
“What Meghan wants, Meghan gets,” is how Prince Harry allegedly summed it up. Her high energy might not be to everyone’s taste and ruffles a few feathers of those who expect a British royal consort to be more languid. As a Hollywood actress, is she hogging too much of the limelight?
American academic Dr Ted Malloch, now based in Britain and a specialist in leadership, is not surprised at a possible antipathy towards her among some Britons. “America is meritocratic,” says Malloch. “In Britain you find a class society ranked according to birth and education. As soon as you open your mouth you are pegged. It matters not what she does.” Plus, American directness can be misinterpreted, agrees Malloch, as being “forward, rude and aggressive”.
It is not the first time an American woman has caused a stir by marrying into the upper echelons of British aristocracy.
When Lord Randolph Churchill married Jennie Jerome, his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, did not turn up at the wedding because they considered her New York financier father a “vulgar kind of man” from the “class of speculators”. She nevertheless made waves by being a bold and adventurous woman, keen to push the political careers of her husband and then her son, Winston.
It was even rumoured that this thoroughly modern woman got a tattoo of a serpent on her arm after visiting India.
But Andrew Roberts, author of the new biography Churchill: Walking With Destiny, denies any overt prejudice against her among the British upper classes. “Interestingly, Jennie Churchill suffered very little anti-Americanism,” he says, “whereas being half-American was constantly used against Winston Churchill by his political foes.”
The 27th Earl of Crawford and 10th Earl of Balcarres snobbishly put Churchill’s supposed lack of political judgment down to “the Indo-Mexican strains in Churchill’s blood which explains the unaccountable fits of madness”. “The Jeromes were reputed to have had Native American blood,” says historian Roberts. “Where the Mexican blood was supposed to have come from is anyone’s guess.”
If it’s Meghan’s feisty behaviour that is an issue then she is in good company as another American woman made a splash among the British upper classes only to end up as an MP in our parliament.
Nancy Astor was 26 when she came to England with her second husband, Waldorf Astor. He was American-born but his father had moved to England and his wedding gift to them was the palatial estate of Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. That, plus a grand house in St James’s Square in London (now home to my club, the Naval & Military), put them at the centre of high society, meeting the most influential people of their day.
The beautiful Nancy caused a stir by being witty and racy in her conversation with men, although she always knew where to draw the line. When her husband took up his peerage in the House of Lords, she entered politics and won a constituency in Plymouth, becoming the first woman MP to take a seat in the House of Commons. There’s no reason why the confident and intelligent Meghan shouldn’t also seek a prominent platform in public life.
The election of President Donald Trump has undoubtedly polarised even further views of America in Britain. Interestingly, Meghan’s father raged against him but Prince Harry was reported to have said “give Trump a chance” to meet the demands of his voters. A wise comment.
American art historian Dr Richard Wendorf has become a naturalised British citizen and sees no reason why his compatriots can’t fit in. “I think that if we’re reasonably civilised, Americans are given a ‘pass’ in this country,” he says. “When I do hear an insensitive or rude remark about something or someone American, I blame the person rather than the British generally. This is a much more cosmopolitan society than when I was a student at Oxford several decades ago.”
His latest book Growing Up Bookish is subtitled An Anglo-American Memoir, revealing his deep affection for his new home.
THE MONEY brought by “dollar princesses” who married impecunious British aristocrats a century ago might well have provoked jealousy but it was the fun-loving, twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson who caused most consternation when Edward, Duke of Windsor, fell in love with her. The fallout from this affair provoked a constitutional crisis. Edward insisted on marrying her and gave up his throne to do so.
Churchill was very sympathetic towards the lovestruck couple, only to be rebuked by a colleague saying “I have sometimes wondered whether it was his half-American background that made him so insensitive to what the British really felt in their bones about such matters.”
It didn’t stop Sir Winston later being lauded as our greatest Briton.
Still, if Edward hadn’t abdicated to marry an American then his brother wouldn’t have become King George VI and his eldest daughter wouldn’t be our present Queen, meaning Meghan’s Harry wouldn’t be a prince at all.
‘It was fun-loving socialite Wallis Simpson who caused most consternation’