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The New Royals
Queen Elizabeth's Legacy and the Future of the Crown
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For seventy years, Queen Elizabeth ruled over an institution and a family. During her lifetime she was constant in her desire to provide a steady presence and to be a trustworthy steward of the British people and the Commonwealth. In the face of her uncle’s abdication, in the uncertainty of the Blitz, and in the tentative exposure of her family and private life to the public via the press, Elizabeth became synonymous with the crown.
But times change. Recent years have brought grief and turmoil to the House of Windsor, and even as England celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, there were calls for a changing of the guard.
In The New Royals, journalist Katie Nicholl provides a nuanced look at Elizabeth’s remarkable and unrivalled reign, with new stories from Palace courtiers and aides, documentarians, and family members. She examines King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla’s decades in waiting and beyond—where “The Firm” is headed as William and Kate present the modern faces of an ancient institution. In the wake of Harry and Meghan leaving the Royal Family and Prince Andrew’s spectacular fall from grace, the royal family must reckon with its history, the light and the dark, in order to chart a course for Britain beyond its Queen and to show that it is an institution capable of leadership in an ever-changing modern world.
All of us who will inherit the legacy of my grandmother’s reign and generation need to do all we can to celebrate and learn from her story.
—HRH THE DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE
Queen Elizabeth is the royal family’s most enduring icon. As she enters her eighth decade on the throne, Elizabeth II has celebrated a lifetime of milestones, surpassing her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria as the United Kingdom’s longest-reigning monarch, and becoming the only British sovereign to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee. She is now the third-longest reigning monarch in world history.
Now, as we reflect on a magnificent reign, we look toward the dawn of another. The royal family is at a crucial point as it prepares for a transition. While the Queen used the seventieth anniversary of her accession to renew her pledge to serve the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth for the rest of her life, a handover of power is taking place in real time as Charles, the longest-serving Prince of Wales in history, prepares to succeed the throne.
The United Kingdom has not had a king and queen since 1952, and the landscape of the monarchy will undergo a seismic change under King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla. Prince Charles, now in his seventies, will be a transitional king, but his experience and continued passion for the environment and supporting young people around the world suggest he has the makings of a great monarch too.
Queen Elizabeth II’s success and popularity is rooted in her ability to adapt and evolve in the modern world. This has not always been straightforward or easy. Circumstances, family tragedies, and scandals—such as the death of the Princess of Wales, the departure of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex from Britain, and the downfall of her son Prince Andrew—have forced her to reinvent the institution of monarchy in order to secure its future. And yet despite its metamorphosis, the Queen has managed to preserve the historic traditions and customs that make the British monarchy so unique.
Charles, with Queen Consort Camilla by his side, will face his own challenges. He cannot expect the same reverence his mother has earned after more than seventy years on the throne, and he will reign during very different times and in a society that increasingly questions why the United Kingdom is still beholden to a hereditary monarchy. While Charles will be the next head of the Commonwealth, there is uncertainty over what this family of nations will look like in the future.
Charles is determined the monarchy will not die out with him and, fortunately, there is the promise of the popular and youthful Cambridges to continue the House of Windsor’s survival. William, Duke of Cambridge, knows the future of the monarchy rests on his shoulders. Having learned the lessons of kingship from his grandmother, he is proving to be a modern statesman with his father’s campaigning spirit and his late mother’s empathy. With Kate the Duchess of Cambridge by his side, and their son Prince George, who is already being schooled in succession, there is every chance Britain will have a beloved monarchy for decades to come.
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee marks a triumph for Her Majesty and for the modern British monarchy she has built. We have watched with awe and affection as she has continued her life of service to the Crown into the furthest reaches of her old age, ever more beloved. The Queen once said: “I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings.”
That Elizabeth II has given of her best is indisputable. Now she leaves her country with the best of her: a son, grandson, and great-grandson in whom her legacy will live on.
I have to be seen to be believed.
—HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN
It was a truly British summer’s day, unseasonably wet and chilly with a stiff breeze snapping at Union flags beneath pewter skies. The morning of June 7, 1977, did not augur well for what was supposed to be a day of celebration for the Silver Jubilee of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. And yet by the time Britain’s great national party came to a close that night, it was already being considered a landmark event in the country’s history. In every community, it seemed, there had been a coming together for village fêtes and street parties, cucumber sandwiches and coronation chicken, pots of tea and bottles of champagne. The toast raised, be it in a china mug or a crystal glass, was unanimous: “Our Queen!”
Britain was not an especially happy nation at that time, its political life damaged by an energy crisis, a financial crash, and militant trade union clashes. At first, Silver Jubilee plans were almost timidly laid, as if for a party no one might want to attend.
June 6 changed all that. Out of the darkness the Queen appeared in Windsor Great Park to set alight a huge beacon, the signal for others on hilltops across the country to be ignited. Within minutes there was a chain of fire telegraphing love, respect, and congratulations from the four corners of Great Britain back to Her Majesty.
The next day there was a service of thanksgiving in St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Queen processed through London in the great gold state coach that had carried her to her coronation twenty-five years earlier. That day there were an estimated one million people on the streets, with half a billion more watching on televisions around the Commonwealth. So in the end it was the party to which everyone received a ticket, an event which renewed the relationship between the monarch and her people and paved the way, with optimism and patriotism, for the next twenty-five years.
Given the tumult of those next decades, it was just as well.
In 1977 there wasn’t a whiff of the scandals to come. Lady Diana Spencer was still a schoolgirl, Sarah Ferguson at secretarial college. Arguments over royal finances were not yet raging; society was more deferential. The Queen’s Golden Jubilee twenty-five years later would be a more somber affair, coming in 2002 and reflecting a time of great turbulence. The national mood would be more questioning, the country less sure of its feelings toward the royal family. It would take another decade of reinvention by Her Majesty, and the extraordinary uplift of the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, for her to re-earn the popularity once hers by dint of youth, beauty, and majesty. By then longevity and steadfastness would be what counted.
Now Elizabeth II is the Platinum Queen, her reign spanning a history-making seventy years and embodying all the resilience and allure of the precious metal after which it is named. No monarch has done what she has. The question is, what next for the monument to royalty she has built? What next for the dynasty she has founded? If hers has been the second Elizabethan age, then who will define the years which follow?
PRINCESS ELIZABETH ALEXANDRA MARY was born at 2:40 A.M. on April 21, 1926, at 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair, in the West London home of her maternal grandparents.
“You don’t know what a tremendous joy it is… to have our little girl,” her father Albert, the Duke of York (known to his family as “Bertie”), wrote to his mother, Queen Mary. “We have always wanted a child to make our happiness complete and now that it has happened at last, it seems so wonderful and strange.”
The duke was the second son of King George V and Queen Mary. He had fallen in love with the aristocratic Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, a strong, shrewd, and sociable young woman with a natural charm that in widowhood would see her become Britain’s beloved Queen Mother. The duke, shyer, more diffident, and with an anxious stammer, was uncharacteristically bold in his single-minded pursuit of her. Believed to have met as children, she caught his eye at a society dance in 1920 and their eventual match, never intended to be that of a king and queen, was to be the making of the modern monarchy.
The arrival of Princess Margaret in August 1930 completed the family, creating the tight unit the duke would nickname “We Four.” He chose to replicate his wife’s childhood, which had been filled, in her own words, with “fun, kindness, and a marvelous sense of security.” His own, at the hands of governesses and tutors behind palace walls, had been melancholic in comparison. He wanted the warm and loving Bowes Lyon model for his own family. When Albert was forced onto the throne just six years after Margaret’s birth, he would find both strength and solace in their family structure.
Black and white portraits show then princess Elizabeth’s childhood as one of sweet privilege. It can be encapsulated in images of her playing in Y Bwthyn Bach, a thatched cottage in the gardens of Windsor’s Royal Lodge, which had been given to the young princess by the people of Wales for her sixth birthday. Home and hearth, nature, horses (her first was a Shetland pony called Peggy, a fourth-birthday present), and dogs (Dookie, her first corgi, arrived in 1933) defined a life still some years distant from the Crown. They would have been the blueprint for the rest of it, if not for the looming abdication crisis.
Upon the death of George V in January 1936, his eldest son, David, became king, reigning as Edward VIII. But he would abdicate after just eleven months, having been told his role forbade him from marrying twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson. It was the gravest constitutional crisis of the modern monarchy. The king’s abdication speech, his abandonment of his birthright, his duty, and his country broke the royal family’s compact with its people.
Bertie’s life changed in a heartbeat. His identity as the Duke of York was stripped from him and he became King George VI, a regnant name chosen to suggest continuity with his father, King George V, whom Elizabeth had called “Grandpa England.”
It was a royal footman who broke the news to the little princesses. “Does that mean you will be queen, Lilibet?” asked Margaret, then six, of her ten-year-old sister. “I suppose so,” said the princess, her life unimaginably altered by the coronation of her father on May 12, 1937—Britain’s third monarch in a year. According to Gyles Brandreth, the friend and biographer of Elizabeth’s future husband, Prince Philip: “Least said, soonest mended” was the unstated national policy, as the machinery of monarchy gave the new king’s reign a momentum all of its own.
In an early nod to the wily PR arts, which see carefully curated images of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis dominating headlines today, the new king and queen didn’t hesitate to use their daughters to promote the idea of a happy family in the palace. Cecil Beaton’s dreamy photographs from the era consciously re-create the idealized royal family depicted in artist Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s romantic portraits of Queen Victoria, whose extraordinary sixty-three-and-a-half-year reign Elizabeth would eventually eclipse.
In truth, their installment came not a moment too soon, for Britain, rocked by the abdication, was heading to war. Hitler had become chancellor of Germany in 1933 and would invade Poland in 1939. There was financial distress too. The 1929 Wall Street crash gave rise to a global depression, keenly felt in the United Kingdom where Victorian heavy industry—mining, shipbuilding, iron and steel, and textiles—was in decline. In 1936 poverty and hardship were so intense that a crusade of men marched from the north of England to London begging for work, ultimately laying the foundations of the postwar welfare state. All this meant that at the time of George VI’s coronation, Britain had never needed the leadership of a good monarch more.
War came on September 3, 1939. Europe was overrun by Hitler’s forces. Britain stood alone with George VI and Prime Minister Winston Churchill at its helm. The royals could have taken refuge elsewhere, but the king wouldn’t budge. “The children will not leave unless I do. I shall not leave unless their father does, and the king will not leave the country in any circumstances whatever,” said his wife, Queen Elizabeth, in a statement to the country after a German bomb hit Buckingham Palace in September 1940.
A month later his daughter Elizabeth made a genuine and heartfelt speech to the children of the Commonwealth in her first public address. “We know,” she told them in a radio broadcast, “every one of us, that in the end all will be well… And when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place.”
On her sixteenth birthday in 1942 she received her first military appointment as Colonel of the Regiment of the Grenadier Guards, and attended her first official public engagement to inspect them. Soon she would be signing up herself, joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) as Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor, and learning how to drive and maintain military vehicles. She knew her way around a Land Rover and until recently regularly drove herself around her estates at Sandringham and Balmoral. When at war’s end on VE Day, May 8, 1945, the king and queen appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with Churchill, the princess wore the rough khaki ATS uniform she’d earned.
Elizabeth was already a public figure, but her private life held a closely guarded secret: she was in love. The princess fell in love with Prince Philip of Greece in July 1939, while visiting the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. She was just thirteen and he was eighteen and, like her, a direct descendent of Queen Victoria. He was as handsome as a Greek god, had excelled at college, graduating as the top cadet of his year, and, recalled the princess’s governess Marion Crawford, “showed off a great deal.” It was a heady combination: shared roots, military dash, self-confidence, and good looks.
Within a few short years he would be not just Elizabeth’s husband but her subject too, kissing his wife at her coronation in Westminster Abbey and pledging “to become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth I will bear unto you, to live and die, against all manner of folks.”
Their relationship began with wartime letters and the impecunious prince—he was without a country or a fortune—calling on Buckingham Palace when his military service permitted. It flourished in the summer of 1946, when they privately agreed their future was together. Their engagement was announced in July 1947, the princess having turned twenty-one in April of that year, and they married on November 20.
In ration book Britain, still grayed by the austerity of the postwar years, a royal wedding, especially that of the lovely young heir to the throne and a decorated war hero, had romance and potency all of its own. A congregation of two thousand squeezed into Westminster Abbey and two million more tuned in to the BBC’s radio broadcast.
Philip was the real deal—he had seen action in the Mediterranean and the Far East; been mentioned in dispatches for bravery and excellent service; and at the close of the Second World War was in Tokyo Bay for the official signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender in September 1945. As for the princess Elizabeth, her ATS service and her family’s refusal to leave London even after an air raid on the palace saw her held in the highest esteem, in contrast to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, whose Nazi sympathies had become apparent when they’d visited Hitler’s Germany in 1937.
Most significant of all perhaps, with the toxic legacy of the affair between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson still very recent in British minds, was that Elizabeth and Philip’s was a royal marriage that promised, like all the best fairy tales, to end happily ever after.
The bride’s dress, the material bought with ration coupons, was by master couturier Norman Hartnell. The gown of ivory duchesse satin was stitched in silver and scattered with crystals and ten thousand seed pearls. Elizabeth chose a design inspired by Botticelli’s Primavera, symbolizing growth and rebirth following the war. It was an exercise of her soft power, a determination to embody the needs of her nation. Apart from which she looked, according to her bridesmaid, Lady Pamela Hicks, absolutely “knockout.”
Philip thought so too, and delighted in his new wife. “Cherish Lilibet? I wonder if that word is enough to express what is in me,” he wrote the Queen Mother just after their wedding, fondly using his wife’s childhood nickname, now of course the given name of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s daughter. “Lilibet,” he went on, “is the only thing in this world which is absolutely real to me and my ambition is to weld the two of us into a new combined existence.”
This they did in the heat and peace of Malta, shielded from public view by fig and olive groves and stubby Aleppo pines. Between 1949 and 1951, Philip was stationed there on naval duty and his wife joined him for extended periods, living the life—almost—of an ordinary military wife. Pictures from the time show her laughing and carefree, dancing at a naval ball. “Magical,” confirms Lady Pamela, who went on to become the Queen’s lady-in-waiting. “Endless picnics, sunbathing, and waterskiing. It was wonderful for her. The only place that she was able to live the life of a naval officer’s wife.” Those Maltese days were, Elizabeth would later reveal, among the happiest of her life, even though she had to divide her time between Malta and England, where a young Charles was being cared for by his grandparents and his nanny. It was telling that in 2007, celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary, the Queen and Prince Philip returned to the island where they had been so happy as newlyweds.
Charles Philip Arthur George, their first child and heir to the throne his mother was yet to inherit, was born in Buckingham Palace on November 14, 1948, near enough a honeymoon baby. He would be followed on August 15, 1950, by a sister, Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise, born in Clarence House where the growing family was making its home.
Unusually it would be another decade before the couple completed their quartet of children with Andrew Albert Christian Edward born February 19, 1960, and Edward Antony Richard Louis born March 10, 1964. According to the royal historian Robert Lacey, with whom I spoke, the Queen and Prince Philip’s decision to have two more children later in their marriage reflected the Queen’s wish to be a more hands-on mother.
“The Queen clearly wanted to be a mother. We know that from the fact that she voluntarily elected to have a second family. I think there’s a suggestion she felt—perhaps—she hadn’t been there enough the first time ’round. She had Charles and Anne early on in what she thought would be a relatively private and not-too-busy life while her father lived out his full span as king. Then early and unexpectedly, she became Queen, her ultimate calling in life and her divine duty. This was also a woman who had worn a uniform in the Second World War and for whom duty mattered all the more. So family proliferation ended for her in 1952, for the time being.
“I think the decision to have two more children in the 1960s when she had more spare time for being a mother was her acknowledgement of how duty had prevented her being a parent to the full extent she would have liked with Charles and Anne. And it also revealed how the Queen enjoyed parenting more than people have realized. She chose to have four children when her own parents, her sister, and many of her mid-twentieth-century contemporaries just had two.”
The Queen had done her best to juggle royal duties with being a mother and moved her weekly late-afternoon meeting with Winston Churchill to early evening so she could be with the children for their bath and bedtime routine.
BY THE BEGINNING of the 1950s Britain seemed to be emerging from the social and economic shock of the Second World War. Rationing was starting to ease and the 1951 Festival of Britain was intended to invigorate arts, design, and sport for a generation. But behind this declaration of all that was bright and new, the health of the king was failing. He opened the festival in May of that year, but by September he was having surgery for lung cancer.
On January 31, 1952, King George VI waved Elizabeth and Philip off from London Airport. They were taking his place on a tour to Australia and New Zealand, stopping in Kenya for a romantic break first. It was there at the fabled Treetops Hotel that Philip broke the news to his wife that her father had died in his sleep at Sandringham, aged just fifty-six. On February 6, 1952, Elizabeth returned to Britain as queen. As well as a daughter in mourning, she was now her nation’s head of state.
The second Elizabethan age began officially on June 2, 1953—Coronation Day. The rain was torrential, more like January than June, but the route of the procession was crammed with subjects eager to catch a glimpse of their new queen in her gold state coach. Her youth and beauty stood in stark contrast to the ancient ceremony and the archaic language of her vows. The monarch, said Churchill, was “the heir to all our traditions and glories,” assuming her position “at a time when tormented mankind stands uncertainly poised between world catastrophe and a golden age.” Yet she was so slight, the imperial state crown had to be resized.
At the entrance to Westminster Abbey she turned to the maids of honor carrying her eighteen-foot-long train and asked, “Ready, girls?” She certainly was. “Vivat Regina Elizabetha” (“Long Live Queen Elizabeth”), sang the choir as she met her destiny in a gown that incorporated an emblem for every country of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth—from the Tudor Rose of England to wheat, cotton, and jute for Pakistan.
It was Philip who had urged the palace and the government to televise his wife’s coronation, an occasion once considered so sacred it could not be shared beyond the abbey. More than half the population of Britain, 27 million, tuned in, many having bought black and white TV sets for the event. Most appeared to agree with Churchill—Elizabeth was indeed the embodiment of British hopes of a second golden age.
After the majesty and history of the coronation, it was back to the business of royalty for the Queen. In an age when being royal was different from being simply famous, she was stellar. It is hard to imagine today that the venerable figure of Queen Elizabeth II was once a youthful beauty famed for her dainty waist and luminous complexion, both enhanced by the finest couture and gems.
She was a global icon, in the words of contemporary British historian Sir Charles Petrie, “the subject of adulation unparalleled since the days of Louis XIV.” Her face was on Britain’s stamps and its money and, since the technological advance that had seen the televising of her coronation continued apace, Elizabeth was queen of the airwaves too. She connected with subjects in the farthest corners of her Commonwealth through radio and TV, and she also made a point of going to see them in person. The royal visit became her leitmotif. “I have to be seen to be believed,” she once said, and made sure she was both.
A post-coronation tour with Prince Philip (Charles and Anne were left at home under the care of the royal nanny) included visits to Australia and New Zealand, Bermuda and Jamaica, Fiji, Tonga, and the Cocos Islands, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), Aden (in Yemen), Uganda, Malta, and Gibraltar. It spanned 174 days between 1953 and 1954 and made history with the Queen’s first Christmas broadcast from a foreign country. She recorded her festive good wishes in a strapless evening dress and diamonds at Government House in Auckland, New Zealand.
Her style was copied worldwide. While Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, is now the most emulated royal style influencer, in those heady days the Queen was compared to Grace Kelly; she favored elegant designs by Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell, who had created her wedding and coronation gowns. She gravitated toward bright block colors and patterns, which meant she could be seen in a crowd, and hats that framed but never covered her face. At night her passion for elaborate embroidery, lace, and fur was given free rein. The Queen was one of the world’s sharpest power dressers, her outfits designed to pay homage to another nation by employing a national color or an appropriate motif.
These early years of her reign, the 1950s and 1960s, were a triumph for the new queen, a brilliant ambassador for her country, convenor of the Commonwealth, wife and mother. She took to the role with confidence and professionalism because her father had taught her well and instilled in her the disciplines required for a monarch. She is a woman of great faith, and as head of the Church of England her belief and trust in God would be a source of comfort throughout her long reign. As head of state she is required to undertake constitutional and representational duties but also has a less formal role as “head of nation,” acting as a focus for national identity, unity, and pride; giving a sense of stability and continuity; officially recognizing success and excellence; and supporting the ideal of voluntary service.
“These are the functions of monarchy, but above all the dignity and care in which it is carried out is a matter of tone and pitch as much as it is procedures, and more so most of the time,” notes historian and constitutional expert Lord Peter Hennessy. “The formal role of the monarchy is to give royal assent to bills, and that’s about it. The rest of it is helping set the tone for the nation, being above politics and being head of the Crown services. The commander in chief of the armed forces is the Queen, not the prime minister.”
- "A thoughtful and penetrating look at Queen Elizabeth II and the monarchy going forward by one of the best-connected royal commentators. Katie Nicholl shines an incisive light on the difficulties and opportunities facing the present and future generation of the royal family."—Andrew Morton
- "A unique look back and ahead for the Royal Family....In the book, [Katie Nicholl] paint this very vivid life and legacy of Queen Elizabeth."—Al Roker, The TODAY Show
- “A cracking book! The New Royals is an essential look at what’s next for the crown.”—Piers Morgan
- “Katie Nicholl does tremendous work as Vanity Fair's royals correspondent, whether it's a groundbreaking exclusive or a delicious morsel of palace intel. The New Royals is more of Katie at her best, gathering string on one of the dynamic family sagas of our time.”—Claire Howorth, executive editor, Vanity Fair
- “The New Royals is a fascinating look at how the Royal House of Windsor is preparing for the next 100 years of the dynasty. As ever, Katie Nicholl takes viewers on a journey to the very heart of ‘The Firm’ through meticulous research and compelling interviews with real insiders. It is a must-read for every royal fan.”—Nick Bullen, Editor in Chief, True Royalty TV
- Praise for Katie Nicholl:
"An entertaining, richly-photographed book... Nicholl retraces the well-known story of the boys' triumphs and travails... Chattily and fondly, Nicholl chronicles the boys' lives, and gives Kate ample and generous treatment."
—The New York Times
- "Through interviews with friends, acquaintances, and confidants, best-selling author and Vanity Fair royals correspondent Katie Nicholl delivers a deep dive into the life of Kensington's most improved prince."—Vanity Fair
"Katie Nicholl has defined herself as an authority on the young royals.... The book turns to numerous inside sources for swoon-worthy accounts of their love, while also offering an in-depth look at Harry's life overall."
- "Romance lovers will be happy."—USA Today
- "Nicholl's Harry: Life, Loss, and Love reveals... intimate glimpses into the already highly scrutinized lives of Meghan and Harry."—Slate
"The new Prince Harry book is hot...a must-read material for royal fans.
—The Globe and Mail
- "Katie has become the go-to source on all things royal."—KTLA.com
- "It's guaranteed that this tome will be . . . [eye-opening,] as Nicholl is deeply embedded in the royal scene."—The New York Observer
- "Perfect for those who are fans of the royal family.... A Hollywood biography of a young leading man... for whom something momentous is happening."—San Francisco Book Review
"[A] crown jewel of a book."
"Using her unrivalled sources [Katie Nicholl] has written the most revealing book ever about Princes William and Harry... the most vivid and engaging study yet of our future King."
—Mail on Sunday
- On Sale
- Oct 4, 2022
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Hachette Books