How Would Churchill React to Wedding of Prince Harry?
- By ANDREW ROBERTS
- | May 24, 2018
- Category: Explore
Featured Image: Royal Wedding official photo.
Our title is in the form of a question, since no one can know what Churchill would say. Would he feel some vindication that an American divorcee had finally married into the Royal Family, an issue on which he later admitted he was wrong (but not for that reason)? Would he smile at memories of his old antagonist, Nancy Astor, whose bedroom served Meghan Markle on the night before? Would he cast into his History of the English-Speaking Peoples to invoke the names of The Conqueror, of Henry V, of the unfortunate Duke of Clarence, of Cromwell and the kings surrounding him? Would he be pleased that the “special relationship” he strove to nurture has now become a Royal one? Perhaps—perhaps not!
One feels certain however, that compared to frivolous press commentary, Churchill would prefer this account, redolent of the long tide of British history. It reminds us of the “long island story” he deemed so important. Andrew Roberts blows through media chit-chat and celebrity gossip. He dwells on more permanent things, most lasting ideals, the Crown and Parliament Churchill revered, and any freedom-loving person respects. It is reasonable to believe that Sir Winston’s thoughts on this occasion would move along parallel lines. —Richard M. Langworth
“Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!”
All the elements of Shakespeare’s great battle cry from his play Henry V were in evidence at Windsor Castle on 19 May when The Queen’s grandson, Prince Harry of Wales, married the beautiful American actress, Meghan Markle. Harry was there, of course, as presumably was God in St. George’s Chapel, in one of the finest small towns of England, and there was a good deal of crying too.
I was lucky enough to be commentating for the American TV network NBC, perched in a studio built high above the roof of the Macdonald Hotel in the High Street. Walking around the town for three days, and having spoken to many people involved in the preparations, I was then able to discuss the wedding in front of twenty-five million American viewers with the two incredibly professional NBC presenters, Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie, throughout the entire six and one-half hours of the broadcast.
I will discuss some of the lesser-known aspects of the wedding that were not much covered by the TV or newspapers, but which form an interesting backdrop to the ceremony. If all you were interested in was Meghan’s dress and what the celebrity guests were wearing, this is the time to stop reading!
The place where Meghan and her mother Doria Ragland stayed the night before the wedding, the Cliveden House Hotel, has one of the most extraordinary histories of any hotel in Britain, with sex scandals, royalty, high politics, and aristocratic gossip attached to it for over 350 years. One of the most luxurious hotels in the world, it was a private house from the 1660s until the 1990s, where very many of Britain’s most famous writers, statesmen and aristocrats came to stay as guests. In late September it also hosts a superb Literary Festival, and if you are visiting Britain then you should come to it.
The room Meghan slept in at Cliveden was the Lady Astor Suite, named after a former owner of the house, Nancy Astor, who was Britain’s first sitting female MP. She chose it as her bedroom because it is the biggest, lightest room in the house. She and her husband Waldorf slept in separate bedrooms throughout their marriage, and Nancy was vocal about her distaste for sex. (She used to bite into an apple to distract her every time she engaged in it.) She said her children were “conceived without pleasure.”
Windsor is the world’s largest and longest-inhabited castle. It was built by King William I (“The Conqueror”) between 1070 and 1086, on the site of a Saxon hunting lodge in what was then forest. Strategically, it commanded the western approaches to London, and also the River Thames, at a time when much of the city’s commerce went by river. Today, Windsor Great Park covers 5700 acres and its Park Ranger is HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh who has introduced 600 deer into the park.
No fewer than thirty-nine British monarchs have lived at the Castle, including many of the greatest (and most notorious). King Henry I held court there in 1100. In 1216 it survived a three month siege which badly damaged some of its walls, and in 1348 England’s highest order of chivalry, the Order of the Garter, was founded there by King Edward III. In 1475 King Edward IV began building the Order’s own church, St. George’s Chapel, within the grounds. (The star Prince William wore on the left breast of is uniform was the Order of the Garter, as he is its one-thousandth knight.)
St. George’s Chapel took over half a century to build, and was not finished until 1528, in the reign of King Henry VIII, who is buried in a vault underneath the quire. The beautifully carved and ornate choir stalls date from 1478-85, and the magnificent stained glass West Window was mainly created in 1503-09. In the bottom right hand corner, it is possible to see pictures in glass of the architect and the senior stonemason. The Chapel is one of the finest examples of Gothic Perpendicular architecture in the world.
King Charles I was imprisoned in the castle over Christmas 1648, just prior to being beheaded in London in January 1649, after which he was buried in St. George’s Chapel. His son, Charles II, radically redecorated the interiors of the castle in the baroque style. It stayed like that for 150 years until King George VI, perhaps the most artistically-minded British monarch, made extensive renovations and gave it the look it has today with its Gothic crenellations. He also built an extra storey onto the Round Tower (where I have worked on and off for over thirty years, as it contains the Royal Archives.)
On the night of 20 November 1992, on the Queen’s 45th wedding anniversary, much of the Castle was badly damaged in a terrible fire, caused by a curtain igniting when a spotlight was pressed up against it. The charred remains of the artifacts were kept in 7000 dustbin bags in order to help the 4000 workmen and renovators rebuild it, over five years. The Queen was devastated by the destruction of her beloved home, where she had spent much of the Second World War, and where her parents, sister and grandparents are buried (and where Prince Philip and she herself will ultimately be laid to rest). On 20 November 1997, exactly five years later, the Castle was reopened, returned to its original beauty and splendour, ahead of schedule and under budget.
The veil that Megan wore represented the flora of each of the fifty-three countries in the British Commonwealth. Her bouquet included forget-me-nots, Harry’s mother Princess Diana’s favourite flower, and also a sprig of myrtle, from stems planted by Queen Victoria at Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight in 1845, which is another royal tradition. After the wedding, she laid her bouquet upon the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey, a tradition that royal brides have adhered to since the Queen Mother laid hers there after her wedding to the Duke of York—later King George VI—in 1923. It was her tribute to her elder brother Fergus, who was killed fighting in the Irish Guards in 1915.
The car that Meghan was driven to the wedding in was a vintage Rolls-Royce Phantom IV, the first of its kind made, (chassis 4AF2, coachwork by H. J. Mulliner). Commissioned in 1948, it delivered to the then-Princess Elizabeth in 1950 . Like all Royal cars it bears no number plates, since it belongs to the nation. At the Royal stables it is known as “Number Five.”
The champagne that was served at the reception after the wedding was Pol Roger, thought by many to be the most delicious of all the wines produced in the Champagne region of France. It was the favourite drink of Sir Winston Churchill, and several of its vintages over the years have been named after him. He was a great friend over many years with the owner of the label, the famous Odette Pol Roger.
One of the kings buried close to the altar where Meghan Markle, an American, was married was King George III, the monarch who lost Britain’s American colonies in the American War of Independence of 1776-83. The last King of America was therefore only paces away from where, two and one-half centuries later, for the first time an American joined his family and became a Royal Highness. (Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, did marry the ex-King Edward VIII of England in 1937, but unlike Meghan she never became a Royal Highness.)
The beautiful tiara that Meghan wore was Queen Mary’s Diamond Bandeau Tiara, which The Queen lent to the bride. Made in 1932, it incorporates a detachable brooch, which was given to Mary as a wedding present by the County of Lincoln in 1893. According to the history of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, written by the distinguished Royal historian Hugo Vickers, when Queen Mary’s husband King George V died in 1936, she had herself sculpted at the same time as he was, so that when she eventually joined him in his grave—which was not to happen until 1953—she still looked like his wife, rather than his mother.
There were several extinct Dukedoms that The Queen could have chosen to give Harry and Meghan on their marriage but each had some negative connotation or another. The Dukedom of Clarence was reportedly considered, although in Shakespeare’s play Richard III the First Duke of Clarence was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine in 1478 on the orders of the king. Another Duke of Clarence was popularly reputed—though without any evidence whatever—to be the Victorian serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Similarly, death stalks the title of the Dukedom of Cumberland, because it was held by the youngest son of King George II, who massacred Scottish rebels after the Jacobite Uprising, and especially after he won the Battle of Culloden in 1746, when his troops acted with such ruthlessness that he acquired the nickname of “Butcher” Cumberland.
It was thought Scots would not appreciate the resuscitation of the Cumberland title, any more that the Irish would appreciate the title of Connaught, a place in Southern Ireland, being used by the British monarchy. Albemarle and Hereford were also thought to have been considered, but in the end the Queen decided to resuscitate the Dukedom of Sussex, which had lain dormant since 1843. The couple also received a Scottish title—the Earldom of Dumbarton—that was even less recent, and had been extinct since 1749. The Northern Irish one—the barony of Kilkeel—was a new invention. The Queen had also invented the Earldom of Wessex for her youngest son, Prince Edward, on his wedding day in 1999, even though Wessex had not been a territorial title since Saxon times, a thousand years ago.
The last Duke of Sussex was King George II’s ninth child and sixth son, and had a scandalous reputation. He married twice illegally without his father’s permission, so both marriages were annulled, making his children illegitimate. (He also had several mistresses.) Yet he was, unusually for the Hanoverian dynasty, something of an intellectual who was fascinated by science and—also unusually for the British aristocracy of the day—a friend to the Jews. He learned Hebrew, befriended Jewish thinkers and scientists such as William Herschel, collected 50,000 books on Jewish matters, and saved his country money by asking not to be given a state funeral but instead was interred amongst commoners at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. (Another Churchill connection: Marigold, Winston and Clementine’s daughter, who died at 2 1/2, is also buried at Kensal Green.)
The Monarchy endures
Partly because of the popularity of Harry and Meghan, but also because the events surrounding the divorce and death of Princess Diana are now over three decades old, the monarchy is extremely popular in Britain today. Only 9% of Britons identify themselves as republicans, and the Queen, who is 92, is more popular than ever before. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are popular too, which means that with Prince William and his son Prince George in line for the throne, the House of Windsor looks set fair to reign throughout the rest of the 21st century. The popularity of the monarchy was emphasized by the veteran Royal biographer Robert Hardman who, while commentating for the BBC, pointed out how all the way that down the 2.4 mile Long Walk to the castle, many tens of thousands of ordinary Britons, standing thirty deep, cheered the Royal couple as they drove past in their open carriage.
Sometimes, republicans complain about the cost of the Royal Family. For example they have criticized the Royal Wedding for costing around $4 million for extra security around Windsor. Yet the latest estimates suggest it has brought in more than $1.3 billion for the British economy in tourism, totally dwarfing the amount complained about.
The leading British think tank Policy Exchange have released a poll that shows how a clear majority of people in all parts of the United Kingdom think that the monarchy unifies the country following the Brexit referendum to leave the European Union. Even in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which voted to remain in the European Union, more than double think the monarchy brings the country together than the reverse. The Royal historian William Shawcross, a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, said: “As we rejoice at a young couple’s union, we are right to reflect on our own union of nations. The wisdom of four peoples, rejuvenated with youthful, optimistic vigour, reflects the modern United Kingdom.”
Dean Godson, the Director of Policy Exchange, agrees with Shawcross, telling The Sunday Times: “The monarchy is seen by a large majority as a unifying force in our country. This non-political institution allows us to come together—a reminder that there is more that unites us than divides us post-Brexit.”
Moreover, having an American in the Royal Family is also very good news for Britain’s Special Relationship with the United States, which seemed to be going through a bad patch as President Macron of France makes overtures to the Trump Administration. The United States occasionally looks to other allies than Britain, but it has yet to find a stauncher ally in a major crisis.
Beauty, in the person of Meghan, now HRH The Duchess of Sussex, and splendour, in the many trumpet fanfares and the military units marching the procession through cheering crowds in Windsor, were much in evidence during the Royal Wedding on Saturday 19 May 2018. It was a great honour to have been part of the team of historians and commentators who interpreted its many secrets and traditions.
Andrew Roberts is the author of Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West and Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. His next work, Walking with Destiny, a new biography of Sir Winston Churchill, may be ordered now for delivery in November. This article was originally written for Daija and a vast Chinese audience. It is reprinted by kind permission of the author.