Why Princess Anne is the ultimate royal
- Credit: Getty Images
BONNIE GREER says Princess Anne epitomises a very British balancing act.
One of the more interesting developments during my lockdown and Covid-caution has been that I have been asked to do several documentaries on the Royal Family.
On the surface this may seem odd.
After all, there are no royals from my birthplace, the Southside of Chicago. Nor do royals appear on television regularly; run bars and pubs in my hometown; nor are they ostentatiously political.
Yet, most Americans are fascinated by them. Why?
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After all, the United States is a republic ('if you can keep it', one of the Founding Fathers is alleged to have said.) And while that matter of 'keeping it' is at the heart of an existential, real crisis in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave right now, I bet that most Americans can name one member of the British Royal Family.
It's kind of an escape. On the surface America and royalty do not go together. But dig deeper.
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My late mother, Nashville, Tennessee-born, was a royalist. She named me, her first child and first daughter, Bonnie because, I suppose, that was the prefix to the name of the little Prince Charles – born two days before me, and so was all over the place.
She also insisted that I celebrate his birthday for years – to remind me that I can be late for things.
My birth, 48 hours after the prince's, caused Mamma to miss the free nappies and other gifts the hospital was handing out to the lucky mothers who gave birth on his day of arrival.
My younger sister is named Regina because she arrived in the Coronation year. She had a baby crown.
I told my royal story to the Prince of Wales once, and the Duchess of Cornwall laughed so uproariously that I thought that she would choke on her glass of bubbly. Charles just looked astounded. But he should not have been.
He must know about a religious sect dedicated to his own father, the Prince Philip Movement. This is followed by the Kastom, an indigenous people of the Republic of Vanuatu, an archipelago north of Australia, who consider the Duke of Edinburgh a divine being.
For those inclined to laugh, let me say that they should be considered no more unserious than the woman who looked me in the eye when I was covering the wedding of William and Kate.
I stepped into her eyeline as the couple made their way back to Clarence House in one of Charles' vintage 'James Bond' cars from the 1960s.
As they did so, the woman behind me whispered into my ear that she had been occupying the spot that I had slid into all day. All of the day. I totally heard her and moved quickly away.
So, for me, being American-born, and having come into the world in such an auspicious time for British royalty, this family is a kind of hobby. Not because of themselves, but because of this United Kingdom.
The Royals and the People are an astonishing balancing act, maybe the most successful thing ever done in these islands.
Think about it: a king has his head cut off in the public street in full view after a trial by his subjects who technically had no jurisdiction over him because being the king he was the law.
Then his son is welcomed back from exile almost as if nothing had ever happened. He dies, his younger brother ascends, the people don't want him, so a foreign king is invited to invade the country.
In the fullness of time, a prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire, born Georg Ludwig, and raised in northern Germany is invited to take over.
Queen Victoria is born into the House of Brunswick-Lüneburg, minor German royalty, which segues into the House of Saxe-Coburg in honour of husband and first cousin, Prince Albert. That name ceases when, on July 17, 1917, her grandson, George V declares: 'We, out of Our Royal Will and Authority…..do hereby declare and announce that….the male line of Our said Grandmother Queen Victoria who are subjects of these Realms, other than female descendants who may marry or may have married, shall bear the said Name of Windsor….'
Then a few decades later Mountbatten-Windsor becomes the personal surname used by some of the male-line descendants of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Under a declaration made in Privy Council in 1960, the name Mountbatten-Windsor applies to male-line descendants of the Queen who have no royal styles and titles.
Therefore, Archie, the great-grandson of the monarch and born to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, has the last name of Mountbatten-Windsor.
Descended from Alfred the Great on his father's side and on his mother's an unnamed enslaved person stolen from Africa, he is de facto, the most potentially interesting person born to the Royal Family. And will change it once again.
All of this fascinates me, because to an outsider, the set of laws and statutes known as the 'British Constitution' exist alongside an hereditary head of state.
This is an astonishing balancing act – this family from which, effectively the president of the UK emerges by fact of birth, alongside an elected parliament that can end the royal House.
The ability to exist like this peacefully and to make it look like some kind of natural order of things is epitomised by Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise, the only daughter of the monarch.
She is styled Princess Royal, a title bestowed on her by her mother which distinguishes her from Princess William (Katherine) and Princess Henry (Meghan).
Born on August 15, 1950, Anne came into the world in the era of the housewife. But never seemed to give off the air of wanting to be one.
Americans, for example, had no time for her when she arrived there in the 1970s. Maybe this country doesn't, either. She is not a 'fairy-tale thing'; she is not dainty; she did not and does not appear to be nice for the sake of it.
Considered brusque and sometimes downright rude like her dad, she has been called 'the son that Philip wished he had'. She is said to carry out a royal engagement almost every day, is hard-working and keeps her head down. Her kids were given no royal titles at their birth, and they have pretty much lived as they have pleased.
Aging as she chooses to do it, she looks like what most folks may think a 70-year-old looks like, and so what? She'll probably be out there working on her big day, later this month, too.
The thing that this observant foreigner can see is that this family is a kind of mirror. And also, that the Royal Family is an aspect of many facets of the British character, plus a safe outlet for that character.
So maybe Anne represents the no-nonsense, get-on-with-it character of the British woman, who is not here to be anybody's dream girl.
This is what she kind of gives off anyway and in this, makes the British woman a bit unique. Like we say in the States, she makes British women 'real'.
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