The Daily Telegraph

Women are the monarchy’s quiet stars

- The House of Windsor owes a huge debt to the hard work of Camilla, Kate, Sophie and Anne

WA woman who takes the work seriously, but not herself, the Queen Consort’s good humour and sense of fun stands King Charles’s reign in good stead

hat would the Royal family do without the wives of Windsor? The monarchy may have lost its beloved matriarch, but what we have learnt this week is that it is more than ably supported by a formidable sisterhood that helps to keep this ancient institutio­n’s feet firmly on the ground.

From the Queen Consort soldiering on through visits to all four corners of the UK with a broken toe, to the Princess Royal’s extraordin­ary two-day journey from Scotland to London with her late mother’s coffin, to the Countess of Wessex’s heartwarmi­ng hug with a teenage wellwisher in Manchester on Thursday, these leading royal ladies could not have done a better job of honouring Queen Elizabeth II’S memory.

It was less than a decade ago that the novelist Hilary Mantel cruelly described the Princess of Wales, then the Duchess of Cambridge, as a personalit­y-free “shop window mannequin”; a “machine made” princess, who appeared to have been designed by committee. The attack by the Booker Prize-winning author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies came to symbolise the Left’s view of royal women as one-dimensiona­l breeding machines with “plastic smiles”.

But in reality, as the Princess of Wales has demonstrat­ed each and every time she has stepped up in support of Crown and country, if it weren’t for these dutiful duchesses, the Royal family might still be regarded as it was in Mantel’s Tudor times: out of touch, unfeeling and downright scheming.

While it is no secret that modernday royals still face their fair share of slippery situations – just look at the ongoing rift between the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Sussex – almost always it is the females in the family who have helped to smooth things over.

Twenty-five years ago, following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales – the ultimate soft powerhouse, it must be said – Camilla was one of the most vilified women in the country. Dubbed Public Enemy No 1, I remember from my days on the Sunday Express, a devotedly prodiana paper, the depth of the illfeeling towards her.

Yet can you even begin to imagine what the reign of King Charles III would have looked like without her by his side?

How might #pengate have worked out, without the practicall­y minded 75-year-old springing into action and saving him? In that one moment as the new monarch, 73, struggled to sign the visitors’ book at Hillsborou­gh Castle, complainin­g: “I can’t bear this bloody thing … every stinking time,” we came to realise the Queen Consort’s true worth. Put simply, she appears to make the King a better man.

No wonder the late Queen insisted that Camilla should herself become Queen – Queen Elizabeth knew better than anyone the invaluable nature of her daughter-in-law’s contributi­on as seemingly the only person on earth who fully understand­s Charles.

A woman who takes the work seriously – but not herself, the Queen Consort’s good humour and sense of fun (remember that crafty wink during President Trump’s visit in 2019?) stands King Charles’s reign in good stead.

It is certainly testament to the unfussy, unstuffy grandmothe­r of 10’s innate sense of magnanimit­y that, despite the vicious criticism she received from the press in the 1990s and early 2000s, she remains the friendlies­t of all the royals towards reporters and photograph­ers.

Would William be as popular as he has become without his wife’s firm hand on the domestic tiller? I appreciate that the public instantly warmed to Prince William as Diana’s lookalike eldest son but, before he met Kate, the “girl-next-door” from Bucklebury, the heir to the throne had a reputation in some quarters for a degree of hot temperedne­ss.

Yet marriage and fatherhood have mellowed him. Those who know the couple well speak of his imperturba­ble wife as someone with a Kipling-esque ability to keep her head when all around her are losing theirs.

She was trashed by her sister-in-law the Duchess of Sussex when the latter told Oprah Winfrey that it was Kate who made her cry during a bridesmaid’s dress fitting. (I wrote the original story suggesting it was the other way round; to quote the late Queen: “Recollecti­ons may vary.”)

But Kate still had the good grace to act as peacemaker between the estranged royal brothers at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, little over a month later. Would William and Harry even have spoken during those solemn commemorat­ions at Windsor Castle if it were not for Kate? I doubt it.

Similarly, in recent days we have witnessed the Countess of Wessex extend the hand of friendship to Meghan who, let’s face it, must be feeling a tad awkward even to be here. It was only last month that the former American actress was spilling every last available bean to The Cut magazine, boasting of how she has “never had to sign anything that restricts me from talking”.

As she added, somewhat menacingly: “I can talk about my whole experience and make a choice not to.”

Despite the implied threat, and Prince Harry’s memoirs hanging, like a sword of Damocles, over the Royal family, Sophie has still shown her support to the couple, mindful, no doubt, that that is what the late Queen would have wanted.

I interviewe­d the Countess and her husband Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, at their Bagshot Park home in June last year and I can tell you this unassuming pair of royal troopers do exactly what it says on the tin. There has been much talk of them “stepping up” in recent months – but this couple, whose children Lady Louise and James, Viscount Severn, were very close to their grandmothe­r, have been quietly plugging away at this, largely without fanfare, for more than 20 years.

These are people who, when they invited me into their sumptuous home, poured the tea themselves and gave me some very salient advice on box blight. It is hardly surprising that unshowy Sophie, whose grief has been etched across her face as she has embraced mourners on walkabouts, was the late Queen’s favourite daughter-in-law.

(Even Sarah, Duchess of York, remained in the late Queen’s affections years after her divorce from Prince Andrew, in admiration for the way she brought up Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, who by all accounts are lovely women despite the Yorks’ somewhat chequered history).

No appreciati­on of royal women would be complete without a word on that most stalwart of royal sisters, so identicall­y cut from Queen Elizabeth’s cloth: the Princess Royal.

As a sibling to the King, Anne, 72, could not have been more supportive – agreeing to accompany their late mother’s coffin all the way from Balmoral to London while he fulfilled his constituti­onal duties.

But she is also the best possible advert for an organisati­on whose survival depends on unwavering devotion to duty, and good old fashioned graft. In her moving tribute, Princess Anne spoke of how we “may have been reminded how much of her [mother’s] presence and contributi­on to our national identity we took for granted”.

Yet for years many have actually taken for granted the contributi­on she has made to public life – along with that of her fellow royal females.

In her 1966 Christmas broadcast, Queen Elizabeth said: “It has been women who have breathed gentleness and care into the harsh progress of mankind.”

In coping with the crises it has faced over the years, the House of Windsor owes a great debt to the determinat­ion and tenacity of its women.

 ?? ?? Dignity: the Princess Royal and the Queen Consort with King Charles III at the Palace of Westminste­r on Wednesday, where they paid their respects to the late Queen
Dignity: the Princess Royal and the Queen Consort with King Charles III at the Palace of Westminste­r on Wednesday, where they paid their respects to the late Queen
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