Princess Diana was there, the sob sisters and brothers of the media said, as they gently dabbed at eyes with hankies. The ring. The abbey in which her funeral had been held. A hymn or two. Bah. Humbug. I’ll tell you how Princess Diana was there. She was there by the fact of Camilla sitting front and center as Duchess of Cornwall. If Princess Diana hadn’t put up the fuss she had, Camilla would be somewhere discreetly in the crowd, and a married Diana and Charles would be grimly watching their eldest son carry on. If Diana hadn’t put up the fuss she did,
her son wouldn’t be marrying an commoner, a real first and almost a Cinderella story, but rather an aristocrat, as Diana herself was, Diana, the sacrificial lamb to the mores of time and centuries of tradition, but a lamb who grew claws.
Before Diana, a married princess bore her lot. Until the 20th century, she married because of political alliance (in Diana’s case, purity was the thing), she had to be virgin, her role was brood mare bearing sons, never mind that the sex gene came from the father because for hundreds of years no one knew that, and she mostly endured a life that might have privileges but very little joy.
There are all these fairy tales about princesses, but the lot of a princess was seldom a pretty one. Most often her husband didn’t love her. Quite often, he didn’t respect her. Whether he did love her or not, women were throwing lures all the time, and most husbands eventually succumbed. The princess had kissed the prince, but too often he really was a frog.
Princess Diana (and no one young can realize her impact; she was movie star gorgeous with real charisma, and she attracted attention and fame) should have quietly allowed Charles his affair with Camilla. That’s what every princess and/or queen before her had done. (And I’m not even going to go into poor Charles, having to marry a virginal aristocrat when his heart was taken. Someone else play that violin.) She kicked. She screamed. She had affairs of her own (risky conduct until 20th century; George IV wouldn’t crown his wife queen because of her scandals–not that his own was any better, but he was male, after all). Diana got a divorce. Jesus God!!! Those young can’t imagine how radical that was.
Because of that divorce, Camilla could sit respectably by Charles as his wife. Because of that divorce and all its fallout, Charles could marry the woman he loved and some day be king. His great uncle, King Edward, gave up the throne for the woman he loved. (Wallis Simpson, who needs a better PR agent).
Three cheers for Diana, gorgeous, bulimic, neurotic, stubborn and media savvy. She cleared a path through centuries of royal male privilege as wide as the tornados that just struck the south. And frankly, it was the awful shock of her dying that did the most wind damage to traditions that put royal women in an unbearable box.
Are we out of the box? Yes and no. Maureen Dowd has insightful comments in the Sunday NY Times about modern Cinderella stories, and Lara Logan, a media princess, was on this week’s 60 Minutes speaking of her horrendous sexual assault and near death.
Too often, there are shards in the glass slipper. And Camilla, well, she wore a very big hat………………..