Friday, July 8, 2011

Princess X

The English monarchy, which is about 1,500 years old, has weathered tough times in the past. The Vikings, the Normans, the War of the Roses, Oliver Cromwell, Edward VIII, Princess Margaret, Fergie. The names in the line of succession have had to be changed several times, but a willing king or queen has always been available and "Long live the queen/king" is as safe and as comforting a phrase to Britons as "God's on His throne, all's right with the world".

Then came Diana Spencer. Newsweek's recent "imagining" of her at 50, with Kate Middleton walking beside her, has stirred the ashes enough to make many people reconsider her life and death, whom millions of people turned into a secular saint and victim of fame, like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson.* (Nobody has bothered to imagine what Marilyn would look like at 85, or Elvis at 76, which is illuminating in itself.)

I think that, for Diana, being a mere princess wasn't enough. She had little feeling for Charles or for his family, and she wanted to overcome her title and impose herself, her own personality, in its place. When she discovered that she couldn't do it, that the institution of which she was only a small part wouldn't allow it, she announced that she wanted out.

Her struggle to break free of her title absorbed the last four years of her life. It was ironic that she was allowed to keep the title "Princess of Wales" (since she clearly didn't want it), along with her jewelry and £17 million. But upon the finalization of her divorce from Charles, on August 28, 1996, she was no longer addressed as "royal highness". She was killed in a car crash almost exactly one year later, on August 31, 1997.

Diana precipitated the worst crisis the English monarchy had faced since 1649, because she wanted to eclipse its fame with her own. She very nearly accomplished in death what she couldn't do in life, when the Queen refused to mourn her death publicly and in the obscene terms that Diana's fans demanded. Diana didn't want to be adored and idolized for what she represented. She didn't want to be famous for being merely the Princess of Wales. She wanted to be famous for being Diana.

Evidently, even royalty can presume above their station. Diana's sons, by virtue of being the sons of Charles, remain heirs to the throne. Because of the media circus that surrounded his association with Diana, Charles, now 62 and the longest-serving heir apparent in English history, is so unpopular among his subjects that a recent poll suggested that William, his eldest son, should be king, when and if the Queen should ever die.

By the time he is finally King Charles III, Camilla, his hated wife, will have to endure more public disapproval upon becoming the "Queen Consort". And all this is the result of a peevish princess who forgot her place.

*Tina Brown's Newsweek article on Diana was not even interesting as fantasy. Diana was actually lucky to die at the age of 36. Living to 50 and beyond would be exactly what she deserved.

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