Queen Mother Knows Best

June 07, 1993|By Nigel Dempster and Peter Evans | Nigel Dempster and Peter Evans,Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

In Part Two of a five-part excerpt from "Behind Palace Doors: Marriage and Divorce in the House of Windsor" by Nigel Dempster and Peter Evans, Prince Charles' grandmother, the queen mother, maneuvers her grandson into marrying her protege, Lady Diana Spencer.

Sacrifice is the essence of commitment, Charles' beloved grandmother, Elizabeth, had told him, just as firmly as she had told his mother that her work was "the rent for the room you occupy on earth." They were more than tracts she expected to be honored, it was the faith she shed: It was the resin that held the royal family together.

And although she was now in her 77th year, the queen mother always had the time and patience to listen to his problems. She was never irritable with him, like his father; she was never remote and uncomfortably regal like his mother. Her governing emotion was love, not simply allegiance. She was full of shrewdness and understanding; she always knew what to do.

Or to put it another way: the queen motherwas smart, experienced and tough as nails. Her grandmotherly charm was a convenient mask. It concealed both her professional ruthlessness in matters concerning the royal family, and, although she would never betray the bond of trust between them, her determination to see that Charles married the woman of her choice, and not Uncle Dickie's, a man whose personal ambitions and influence over Charles she viewed with suspicion and occasional alarm. She knew all about his plans for arranging a marriage between Charles and his granddaughter, Amanda Knatchbull; and she disagreed vehemently, but she was sending the tough messages privately, not publicly.

Charles had always been her favorite grandchild, perhaps because she detected in the sensitive prince many of the traits that she remembered from her husband, George VI. Charles, like him, was nervous and rather shy, and as a boy had been tyrannized by Prince Philip, as poor George was tyrannized by George V. And as she had given her strength to George, so she would now give it to the grandson he had barely lived to see, yet in whom he lived on so wonderfully for her.

In November 1978, the queen mother made her first tentative move when she suggested to Charles that he invite Lady Diana, as well as her sisters, to his 30th birthday party to be held at Buckingham Palace that month. In order to explain her unusual interest in the matter, she had told the prince that it would so please Diana's grandmother, her dear friend Lady Fermoy, one of her Women of the Bedchamber.

Indeed, the more she thought about it, the more ideal Diana seemed to be. The dear child, after all, was "one of us," and not at all unlike what she herself had been when she married Bertie . . . pretty, virginal and the daughter of an earl. She was also maternal and apparently good with children. True, she seemed something of a goose, but geese can always be made into swans, and sometimes even into icons. No, pretty young Diana was suitable in every way. Indeed, just as Charles appeared the member of the family closest to departed Bertie, so it was not fanciful to see her friend Elizabeth Fermoy's granddaughter entering the family as her own ultimate replacement. With a little schooling and advice, which the royal dowager was all too ready to provide, Diana was her perfect successor.

But first there was the problem of Mountbatten and his protegee, Amanda. It would have been the culmination of a lifetime lived so tantalizingly close to the throne to end up knowing that his own descendant would one day reach that throne himself. The queen mother knew that the proposed trip to India with Amanda and the prince was to be the start of Uncle Dickie's grand design to bring them romantically together.

Plans were afoot for a visit to India the following year by the prince of Wales. And the queen mother had learned that Uncle Dickie was to accompany him -- with his granddaughter and protegee Amanda Knatchbull, who was now a ripe 21. She knew that Mountbatten had always insisted that Charles should not contemplate marriage until he was 30 years old -- and his timing, she acknowledged as one professional to another, was perfect.

Uncle Dickie in the way

The queen mother would not be outmaneuvered by Lord Louis; she would not be outsmarted by this man. She had never trusted him; she could never forget or forgive the fact that he had once been the closest friend of the duke of Windsor, with whom he had first visited India in 1922. "Next to American widows bearing gifts," one of her oldest friends once said, "she distrusts no one so much as Lord Louis baring his charm."

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