The Royals


By Kitty Kelley

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The #1 New York Times bestselling, controversial portrait of the British royal family — as told from behind the palace walls — for fans of Netflix’s The Crown and all royal watchers

They are the most chronicled family on the face of the globe. Their every move attracts headlines. Now Kitty Kelley has gone behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace to raise the curtain on the men and women who make up the British royal family. Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Princess Diana…here are the scandals of the last decades: the doomed marriages and the husbands, wives, lovers and children caught in their wake and damaged beyond repair. No one is spared.


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Princess Margaret strode out of the theater. She had barely managed to sit through the opening scenes of Schindler's List. She began squirming as soon as she saw the Jewish prayer candles burn down, leaving only wisps of smoke to evoke the ashes that would follow. She crinkled her nose at the sight of the captive Jewish jeweler being tossed a handful of human teeth to mine for fillings. As the nightmare unfolded, she stiffened in her seat.

On screen, the streets filled with screaming Jewish prisoners, brutal Nazi soldiers, and snarling police dogs quickly emptied, except for the scattered suitcases of those Jews who had just been hauled off to the death camps. At that point the Princess bolted out of her seat.

"I'm leaving," she said. "I refuse to sit here another minute."

Her friends were aghast but immediately deferred to her displeasure. They left their seats and accompanied Her Royal Highness back to her servants in Kensington Palace.

"I don't want to hear another word about Jews or the Holocaust," said the Queen's sister. "Not one more word. I heard enough during the war. I never want to hear about it again. Ever."

Margaret's friends later wondered why, feeling as she did, she had suggested going to the movie in the first place. She had to know that Schindler's List would depict the horrors of genocide. What they didn't understand was that the Princess had read reviews of the movie and been taken with the portrait of the good German, Oskar Schindler, who had come to reap the spoils of war and ended up as a selfless hero who saved countless lives. That was the story she wanted to see enacted on screen.

For more than sixty years Margaret Rose had been a princess of the royal House of Windsor, reared to renounce her German roots, to deny the mix of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha blood that coursed through her veins, to repudiate the lineage of Wurttemburgs mixed with Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburgs that haunted her ancestors.

She was not disturbed by searing childhood memories of Britain during the Blitz. When war broke out in 1939, she was nine years old. At sixty-four the Princess rarely reflected on the shattering bombs, the blackouts, or the deprivation that she felt she and her older sister, the Queen, endured to serve as public examples for others who were suffering much more. She no longer complained as much as she once did about being deprived of a normal childhood.

During those years, her royal image had inspired a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl in Amsterdam who was hiding from the Nazis. To remind herself of a better world, Anne Frank had pasted pictures of Princess Margaret Rose, and her sister, Princess Elizabeth, on the wall of the attic where she hid with her family for two years. But then the family was betrayed to the Gestapo and herded off in windowless boxcars on the train bound for the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Anne died there one month before Europe was liberated. When the Anne Frank House was opened to the public after the war, the pictures of Britain's little Princesses, yellowed with age, still smiled from the wall.

Princess Margaret was proud of her performance during the war and that of her earnest sister and her gallant parents, who had made sure that they presented the world with an image of royalty at its finest.

What Princess Margaret resented about Schindler's List and "those other tiresome movies about the Holocaust" was the lingering stench of Germany that continued to hang over her family. Their secrets of alcoholism, drug addiction, epilepsy, insanity, homosexuality, bisexuality, adultery, infidelity, and illegitimacy paled alongside their relationship with the Third Reich. Those secrets, documented by captured German war records and family diaries, letters, photographs, and memoranda, lay buried in the locked vaults of the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, safe from the prying eyes of scholars and historians. Few people remembered that Margaret's mother and father had been disinclined to oppose Hitler and preferred Chamberlain over Churchill as Prime Minister. Most people had forgotten that the Princess's favorite uncle had embraced Nazi Germany as Europe's savior and one of her German cousins had run a concentration camp, for which he later stood trial as a war criminal. Margaret Rose remembered but knew that these facts—some secret, some sinister—were best left buried.

Yet the Princess was not averse to expressing her opinions, which sounded astoundingly ignorant coming from a woman who professed to read as much as she did. Despite her public participation in the arts and her devotion to ballet and theater, Margaret Rose remained closed-minded to the world beyond her privileged view. She made no apologies for her prejudices. In a discussion of India, she said she hated "those little brown people." Shortly after the IRA assassination of her cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten, she denounced the Irish. "They're pigs—all pigs," she told the Irish American mayor of Chicago while visiting the city. When the Princess was introduced to the respected columnist Ann Landers, Margaret looked at her closely. "Are you a Jew?" she asked. "Are you a Jew?" The columnist said she was, and the Princess, no longer interested, moved on. She dismissed Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the President of Guyana, as loathsome. "He's everything I despise," she said. "He's black; he's married to a Jew; and furthermore, she's American."

After walking out of Schindler's List, which she described as "a tedious film about Jews," she advised her butler not to waste his money on the Academy Award– winning film.

"A movie like Schindler's List just incites morbid curiosity," the Princess said when her butler served her breakfast the next morning. "I couldn't stand it. It was so thoroughly unpleasant and disgusting that I had to get up and leave."

The butler listened patiently, as always. Then he bowed his head and returned to the pantry. Later he repeated the conversation to an American, who asked if he were not offended by Princess Margaret's remarks. He seemed puzzled by the American's question.

"Oh my, no. You don't understand. The Princess is royalty. Royalty," he said, pronouncing the word with reverence. "The Princess belongs to the House of Windsor—the most important royal house in the world. She's the daughter of a king and the sister of a queen. That's as exalted as you can possibly be on this earth."

"Do you mean to suggest that royalty, especially British royalty, can do no wrong? That just because she's a princess, she's immune to criticism?"

"She is royalty," repeated the butler.

"And therefore above reproach?"

"Royalty is royalty," he said. "Never to be questioned."


Once upon a time… the House of Windsor was a fantasy. The figment of a courtier's imagination. The dynasty was created in 1917 to conceal the German roots of the King and Queen, and the deception enabled the monarchy to be perceived as British by subjects who despised Germany.

Until then, many English kings never spoke the King's English. They spoke only German because for almost two hundred years, from 1714 until this century, a long line of Germans ruled the British empire. By 1915 England finally had a king, George V*, who could speak English without a German accent. Although he was a German from the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha line that had ruled England for eighty years, he considered himself to be indisputably British. His subjects, who hated Germany, Germans, and all things Germanic, were not convinced.

For years, especially in the early 1900s, the English had become increasingly afraid of Prussian militarism. They felt threatened by the Kaiser's oppression. And they were "sore-headed and fed up," as George Bernard Shaw wrote, with Germany's rattling sabers. They viewed World War I as a war against Germany.

Newspapers carried eyewitness accounts of revolting cruelty by the Germans, who bombed undefended towns and killed civilians. Those actions shocked the world in 1915. In England, editorials denounced "The March of the Hun" and "Treason to Civilization" as German U-boats sank British ships. The mounting death tolls on French battlefields caused hardships in England, which exacerbated Britain's hatred of foreigners.

King George V was disturbed as he watched his subjects stone butchers with German names and burn the homes of people who owned dachshunds. Pretzels were banned and symphony conductors shunned Mozart and Beethoven.

This antipathy was not unique to Great Britain. Blood hatred of everything German had infected all of Europe and spread to America, where Hollywood produced a string of hate films such as To Hell with the Kaiser, Wolves of Kultur, and The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin.

The King of England deplored the "hysterical clamor," calling it "petty and undignified," but few listened. The image of the hideous Hun as a fiendish torturer who raped, pillaged, and murdered innocents had gripped the public imagination.

The King became so concerned about the reaction of his volatile subjects that he was afraid to protect his relatives of German descent. Instead he stood by silently as his beloved cousin Prince Louis of Battenberg was vilified simply because of his German name. When war had threatened, Battenberg as the First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy mobilized the Admiralty with speed and efficiency, so that when war broke out, England was ready. But Battenberg, a naturalized British subject, became a target for abuse: his name was German, he was born in Germany, he spoke with a German accent, he employed German servants, and he owned property in Germany.

Despite his total loyalty to the Crown, he was forced to resign his naval position and relinquish his princely title. The final humiliation occurred when the King told him to change his name. Shattered, Prince Louis dutifully anglicized Battenberg (berg is "mountain" in German) to Mountbatten to make it acceptable to the English.

The King tried to mollify his cousin by making him a British noble. Louis accepted the title of Marquess of Milford Haven because he wanted his children to be noblemen, but he never recovered from the shame of renouncing his ancestry. Somehow, though, he kept his sense of humor. He wrote in his son's guest book: "June 9th arrived Prince Hyde; June 19th departed Lord Jekyll."

His younger son and namesake, Louis, was shocked by the news of his father's resignation. "It was all so stupid," he recalled years later. "My father had been in the Royal Navy for forty-six years. He was completely identified with England, and we always regarded ourselves as an English family. Of course, we were well aware of our German connections; how could we not be? It certainly never occurred to any of us to be ashamed of them—rather the contrary. We are a very old family, and proud of it…. My father had worked his way to the top of the Royal Navy by sheer ability and industry. And now his career was finished—all because of the ridiculous suspicion that he might be in secret sympathy with the very people he had come to England to avoid!"

Next, the King moved to cleanse the rest of his German family. Like the monarchs of mythology who bring magic clouds with them wherever they go, King George V waved his royal wand. Overnight, one brother-in-law—the Duke of Teck—became the Marquess of Cambridge, and the other—Prince Alexander of Teck—became the Earl of Athlone. One stroke of the royal quill eradicated all traces of Mecklenberg-Strelitz, Hesse, and Wettins from the King's lineage: the ugly German ducklings were transformed into beautiful British swans. The royal family's Teutonic dukes, archdukes, and princelings instantly became English marquises.

But the King felt he still needed to make the monarchy appear less imperial to survive. He decreed that members of the royal family could marry into the nobility. This paved the way for his second son, Albert, known to the family as "Bertie," to propose to a sweet-faced Scottish girl, reared as an Earl's daughter, although her mother has been rumored to have been one of the Earl's Welsh servant girls (these rumors, never officially acknowledged, have yet to be borne out by any evidence). Ironically, Bertie's marriage in 1923 to the commoner, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, brought stability to the British throne and propped up the dynasty for several generations.

During the First World War, concern was voiced over the bloody role of the King's German cousin Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein, who was in charge of British prisoners of war in a camp outside Berlin.

"He's not really fighting on the side of the Germans," said the King defensively. "He was only put in charge of a camp of English prisoners."

"A nice distinction," Prime Minister Asquith later observed to a friend. His successor, Lloyd George, was even more blunt. When he received a royal summons to the Palace, he turned to his secretary and said: "I wonder what my little German friend has got to say to me." The Prime Minister's antipathy spread to his staff, who kept the King's private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, waiting on a wooden chair in the hall and refused to rise when he entered their office. The private secretary ignored the discourtesy. "We are all servants," he told shocked courtiers, "although some are more important than others."

As the devoted secretary to Queen Victoria, Lord Stamfordham was by far the most important of the King's men. He had served Victoria's heir, King Edward VII, who had put him in charge of his own son, George, at an early age. "He taught me how to be a king," said the master of his servant.

It was Lord Stamfordham who received the unenviable job of telling King George V about D. H. Lawrence, who had been hounded into hiding because he married a German woman. The once revered writer had married the sister of German military aviator Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the legendary Red Baron, credited with shooting down eighty Allied planes during World War I. After their wedding, Lawrence and his bride, Frieda, were forced by public hostility to seek refuge in the English countryside, where they hid in barns like animals.

This news was unsettling to the King, who also had a German wife. But the clever Queen—Mary of Teck—speaking English with a slight guttural accent, began referring to herself as "English from top to toe." The King immediately stopped addressing Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, the commander of the German forces sweeping across Europe, as "sweet cousin Willy." His German-hating subjects, who avoided references to sex, began referring to the male sexual organ as a "Willy."

Still, the hatred of Germans became so intense in England that the King's mother begged him to remove the Kaiser's honorary flags from the chapel. "Although as a rule I never interfere, I think the time has come when I must speak out," wrote Queen Alexandra. "It is but right and proper for you to have down those hateful German banners in our sacred Church, St. George's, at Windsor."

She sent her letter to "my darling little Georgie" after the Daily Mail had excoriated him for allowing the eight flags of "enemy Emperors, Kings and Princes" a place of honor at Windsor. "As long as the offending banners remain, their owners will be prayed for," thundered the newspaper. "What are the King's advisors doing?"

The King ignored the criticism until it came from his "darling Mother dear." Then he yielded and had the banners removed. "Otherwise," he told a friend, "the people would have stormed the chapel."

The King then threw himself and his family into the war effort. He dispatched his sons to the western front, sending the Prince of Wales (Edward, but known to the family as David) to France, while Prince Albert (Bertie) served on the battleship HMS Collingwood. The King banned alcohol and began strict rationing at the Palace to set a national example.

In March 1917 his cousin the Emperor Nicholas II of Russia ("dear Nicky") was forced to abdicate, in part because he, too, had a German wife whom the King blamed "for the present state of chaos that exists in Russia."

The King's equerry was more brutal on the subject: "The Empress is not only a Boche by birth, but in sentiment. She did all she could to bring about an understanding with Germany. She is regarded as a criminal or a criminal lunatic and the ex-Emperor as a criminal for his weakness and submission to her promptings."

That was all the King needed to hear. Concerned about the survival of his throne, he withdrew the warm friendship he had once extended to his "beloved cousin." When the Czar appealed for asylum for himself and his family, the King refused, prohibiting them entry into England. The King felt he needed to separate himself from Russian imperialism, especially when wrapped with a German ribbon. So he wrote his cousin that he did not think it "advisable that the Imperial Family should take up their residence in this country." He suggested instead Spain or the South of France. At that point the revolutionaries in Russia realized that the King would not use military force to save his relatives. Thus abandoned, the Czar and his family were seized and sent to Siberia.

The King was more determined than ever to hang on to his threatened throne. He resented references to his German ancestry and raged over the caricatures of Max Beerbohm, who drew him as a comical and lugubrious figure. He lost his temper when a Labor Member of Parliament called him "a German pork butcher," and he erupted again when H. G. Wells branded him a foreigner. In a letter to the Times, the British journalist and novelist called for an end to "the ancient trappings of the throne and sceptre." He damned the royal house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha by calling it "an alien and uninspiring Court."

"I may be uninspiring," boomed the King, "but I'll be damned if I'm an alien."

He resolved then and there to rid himself and his royal house of what he saw as its dreadful German taint. With the greatest sleight of hand since the sorcery of Prospero, he asserted his divine right and rechristened himself with the most euphonious, melodious British name conceivable. His courtiers had spent weeks searching for just such a name that would reestablish the monarchy as thoroughly English.

Finally, Lord Stamfordham found it and secured his place in history by proposing the name of Windsor. That one word summoned up what the King was looking for—a glorious image that resonated with history, stretching back to William the Conqueror. For Windsor Castle, the most thoroughly British symbol extant, had been the site of English monarchs for eight hundred years. Although few kings had ever lived there, several had died in Windsor Castle, and nine were buried in its royal crypt. The name was enough to redeem a tarnished crown.

The proclamation of the House of Windsor was announced on July 17, 1917, and appeared the next day on the front pages of England's newspapers. The British press dutifully reported that the King had renounced his German name and all German titles for himself and all other descendants of Queen Victoria and that henceforth he and his issue were to be referred to as the House of Windsor.

In the United States, news of the British royal family's reinvention was reported on page nine of The New York Times. In an editorial, the Times noted "the unnaming and renaming" was approved in a meeting of the largest Privy Council ever assembled and suggested that the name of Windsor, an Anglo-Saxon fortress where the legendary King Arthur sat among the Knights of the Table Round, might have been selected for its "sense of continuity, of ancientness." America's newspaper of record praised England's King for choosing "a venerable name for his house."

In Germany, the news was reported with less reverence. The Kaiser laughed at his quixotic cousin and said that he was looking forward to attending a performance of that well-known play The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. But the Kaiser appreciated the political necessity of accommodation. As he pointed out, "Monarchy is like virginity—once lost, you can't get it back."

Still, he exacted revenge nineteen years later when the King died by sending the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to his cousin's funeral in Windsor Castle. The Duke wore his Nazi uniform.

George V never expressed any qualms about his actions. He pragmatically buried his German roots to save his throne and then systematically ostracized his foreign relatives. He did this without compunction, even after receiving news from Russia that the Czar and Czarina and their four daughters and young son, who were moved from Siberia to Ekaterinburg, had been massacred by the Bolsheviks.

"It was a foul murder," he wrote piously in the diary he kept for posterity. "I was devoted to Nicky, who was the kindest of men and a thorough gentleman."

By keeping his distance, the King of England had held his crown in place. He then proceeded to rule the House of Windsor for the next two decades with probity. There was no scandal attached to his reign, and like his grandmother Queen Victoria, he excelled at the virtues the English prize most: duty and punctuality. His subjects saw him as a simple, decent man whose plain tastes reflected their own.

The King had started his adult life as the Duke of York and spent seventeen years shooting grouse on the moors. He became the heir apparent when his older brother, the Duke of Clarence, died. Even as King, he kept the clocks set forward an hour to provide more time for shooting. A proper country squire, he enjoyed tramping across his twenty-thousand-acre estate in Norfolk. He adored his wife, indulged his daughter, and terrorized his five sons. "I was frightened of my father, and I am damn well going to see to it that my children are frightened of me," he said.

Poorly educated, he rarely read, shunned the theater, and did not listen to classical music. He ignored the arts, letters, and sciences. For recreation he licked postage stamps and placed them with childlike precision in blue leather stamp books. By the end of his life he had compiled an enormous collection of stamps from places he never wanted to visit. Known as "the Sailor King," he did not travel for education or pleasure. "Abroad is awful," he said. "I know because I've been there." Except for touring military installations, he took few trips. He made an exception in 1911 to go to India for his coronation and in 1913 to visit relatives in Germany.

"My father, George V, took quiet pride in never having set foot in the United States," said his eldest son.

"Too far to go," said the King.

What he was, his children would become. In later years his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, who became the Duke of Windsor, was so humiliated by his father's ignorance that he reneged on an agreement to write a book of royal family reminiscences. He confided the reason to his publisher: "I'd hate for the world to know how illiterate we all were." The Prince of Wales had once embarrassed himself at a dinner party by not knowing the name of the Brontë sisters, who in their short lifetimes wrote Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, both considered classics of the English novel. The Prince of Wales, who rarely read, did not know who they were or how to pronounce their name. "Who are the Bronts?" he asked.

Unenlightened about mental illness, the Prince of Wales considered the condition of his youngest brother, Prince John, a source of shame. The last of the monarch's six children, John was mentally retarded and an epileptic. He was secretly removed from the family at an early age and lived on a farm on the Sandringham estate, where he died in 1919 at the age of thirteen.

As uneducated as the King was, George V won wide respect from his subjects for his conscientious performance of royal duties and for his numerous military uniforms and the obvious pleasure he took in wearing them in royal parades. His subjects looked up to him as the father of their country and the personification of their values. England had gained enough land by conquest to give her dominion over a quarter of the globe and a fourth of the world's inhabitants, thus making George V the last great Emperor King. During his reign, the sun truly never set on the British empire.

By the time King George V died in 1936, his beleaguered country was on the brink of another world war with Germany, which would end Britain's imperial power. And the House of Windsor, which he had built on the quicksand of illusion, started sinking under the weight of scandal.


  • "Pages that genuinely illuminate the careers of the flawed humans who have occupied and circled the throne this century. Never before have all the stories about all the bit players, from Prince Philip to Princess Margaret, from the Queen Mother to the grimly devoted old courtiers, been collected in a single, useful place."-Washington Post Book World
  • "Salacious...irreverent...juicy details...the product of four years' research...Regarded as the most sensational of her scandal-packed oeuvre...Gripping." - Chicago Sun Times
  • "Miss Kelley is a fine writer and indefatigable researcher...She has lost none of her edge here in The Royals...A delightful read...As early as the second page, Miss Kelley is referring to the royal family's 'secrets of alcoholism, drug addiction, insanity, homosexuality, bisexuality, adultery, infidelity and illegitimacy' in this century. None of this is exaggerated, none of it is false." - Washington Times
  • "Kelley's pen is mightier than the sword." - Houston Voice
  • "The larger, hotter rumors are as interesting for the way they are presented and justified as for what they contain." - The New Yorker

On Sale
Oct 29, 2010
Page Count
608 pages

Kitty Kelley

About the Author

Kitty Kelley is an internationally acclaimed writer whose last book OPRAH: A Biography was a major bestseller. Before that her books about Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra set publishing records. Jackie Oh! and Elizabeth Taylor: the Last Star were also international bestsellers. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband.

Learn more about this author