All those royal divorces may be old news, but the impact they made on Queen Elizabeth was kept pretty quiet.
The longest-reigning British monarch has always been a “Keep Calm and Carry On” kinda gal. Over 70 years of queendom, there have been a lot of scandals (see: The Crown), but she tended to meet them with cool stoicism. In public, at least.
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A new biography, Queen of Our Times: The Life of Queen Elizabeth II by Robert Hardman, reveals Elizabeth’s private pain during 1992, aka her “annus horribilis.” That year featured the dissolution of three of her children’s marriages: Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, and most famously of course, Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
In an excerpt obtained by People, Hardman wrote:
“Outwardly stoical, as ever, the Queen was finding the divorce talks deeply upsetting. Another former member of the Household recalls that, every now and then, there would be a glimpse of her despair.”
A former staffer dished to the author:
“It distressed her much more than she let on. I said, ‘Ma’am, it seems to be happening everywhere. This is almost common practice.’ But she just said, ‘Three out of four!’ in sheer sadness and exasperation. One shouldn’t underestimate the pain she’s been through.”
TBH, while divorce is obviously pretty common among the commoners, we have to agree the Royal Family’s situation was a statistical anomaly. Three out of four kids divorced, AND in the same year? We don’t blame the royal momma for being upset!
Even so, those interviewed for the biography emphasized that Liz was as poised as ever amidst the drama. Her former press secretary Charles Anson recalled that she was “never short; never irritable; completely steady.” He said:
“I don’t remember a single occasion when I went to see her and she exclaimed, ‘No! What next?’ The issue was sometimes embarrassing, but she got on with it. It is immensely reassuring in those situations to work for someone who isn’t knocked back.”
The Prime Minister at the time, Sir John Major, reflected:
“Storms will come and go, some worse than others. But she will always put her head down and plough through them. The Queen has always lived by the doctrine, ‘This too shall pass.’”
As for where she inherited her cool, calm, and collected demeanor, Hardman shared:
“Her mother’s strategy in these situations— to carry on as if they were not happening—had earned her the nickname ‘imperial ostrich’ among royal staff. The Queen’s response, as ever, was to follow the example of her father [King George VI], absorbed from his days at sea, and to treat adversity like the ocean.”
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“While the Queen has sometimes been accused of being slow to act, there has never been a charge of panic. Her default mode in the face of a crisis is stillness.”
That’s a pretty good quality in a leader, though we can’t imagine what it’s like to be a ruler and a mother — not when the crisis is your kids. (Or actually we don’t have to imagine it, because again, we can watch The Crown.) Considering she’s given her blessing to make Camilla Parker-Bowles the Queen Consort when Charles becomes King, it seems like a lot of the wounds from that time have healed. We totally get why she called it her “annus horribilis” though!
[Image via WENN/Avalon/Instar]