Jan 3, 2018

Game of Crowns by Christopher Andersen

It has only been the first few days of 2018, but I'm starting off the new year looking at some news that happened in 2017. In November 2017, Kensington Palace officially announced Prince Harry's engagement to American actress Meghan Markle. American audiences know Markle for her role in the TV show Suits. Their wedding is set for May 18, 2018 at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. After the wedding, the couple is expected to live in a cottage on the grounds of Kensington Palace.

Right now, Markle is currently living in London and has only made a couple of public appearances following the announcement. The most recent appearance was on Christmas Day where she joined the royal family as they walked to church. Kensington Palace hasn't shared too much information about Markle's plans as a member of the royal family. Right now reports describe Markle doing preliminary royal training and is working on becoming a British citizen. It is undecided right now if she will retain her American citizenship once she is officially a member of the royal family.

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The world might not know all the details, but the engagement announcement stirred up plenty of different reactions on social media. It has even drawn comparisons between Markle and Grace Kelly, another famous American actress who married into royalty. Markle's addition to the British royal family is starting a brand new chapter and dynamic in the Windsor family. Regardless of how you feel about the British royal family, you have to admit the women in the Windsor family are significant figures in the family.

Author Christopher Andersen explores this in his 2016 book Games of Crown. Games of Crown might sound like it is a spin off of the popular TV show Game of Thrones, but this book takes a deeper look at three of the most important women in the royal family. These women are Queen Elizabeth II, the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duchess of Cambridge.

Today's post isn't a normal book review often seen here on this blog. Game of Crowns isn't just telling the story of these three women. This book is meant to take a deeper look at each and show a side the public doesn't see. Andersen describes how these women are really like when they aren't in front of the cameras, how others perceive them, and what impact each has on the monarchy. In this post, I'm going to look at how Andersen depicts 4 key women in his book and share some important points Andersen makes in the book or has shared in interviews while the book was released.

Who is Christopher Andersen?

Andersen is an American journalist and best selling author who wrote Game of Crowns. Anderson has worked for Time Magazine. He has written for lots of other publications from The New York Times to Vanity Fair. Chances are you might have seen him on TV since he's been on several shows on different networks.

He has written lots of books, earning recognition for the "controversial biographies". Two of his most famous biographies include The Day Diana Died and The Day John Died. He's written about a variety of people from American presidents to members of the British royal family. He's even written other books that examine the relationships of some of the most recognizable couples in the world from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.

Where can you find Game of Crowns?

You can get this book at your local library or buy the book. This book should be available at your favorite book store or online. I got my copy at Books a Million last year. The book is available as an audio book. Check your favorite audio book provider from Audible to I-Tunes.

Andersen, Christopher. Game of Crowns. New York: Gallery Books, 2016.

Reflections on Game of Crowns

The summary of Game of Crowns looks only at the three significant members of the royal family. These women are Queen Elizabeth II, the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla), and the Duchess of Cambridge (Catherine). While the book does concentrate on these three women, I always felt Princess Diana is still a key player in the Game of Crowns even after her death in 1997.

Below I have compiled some of my favorite takeaways from the book. Each section has four points about each woman. These are things Andersen examines in the book, points that were highlights during Andersen's promotional tour for the book, or just different sides of a story the public might know.

Queen Elizabeth II

She is the queen, but Elizabeth is the head of the Windsor family. Andersen does a lot of balancing with his depiction of the queen in his book. He doesn't necessarily show her as good or bad. If anything, he creates a picture of a queen who is always putting the crown first and constantly thinking about what is best to the monarchy. Elizabeth isn't a fan of change, but she knows all too well that it takes only one thing to completely bring down the entire monarchy.

1. The ups and downs of Elizabeth's relationship with Prince Charles

A large portion of the book focuses on the queen's relationship with her son Prince Charles over the years. As she gets older, she is starting to give more responsibilities to Charles. On the surface, they might seem close. However things haven't been easy between Elizabeth and Charles. This can be things with Camilla or Charles leaking a story about his delight if Elizabeth died.

One of the most interesting points Andersen hints throughout this relationship is how Elizabeth might be responsible for why Charles became close with Camilla. Elizabeth became queen when Charles and his sister Princess Anne were just young children. As the new queen, she was very busy so she didn't see her children very much, leaving them in the care of nannies or governesses. Although she did make adjustments to make things easier for her kids, it still made things hard for her kids especially Charles.

Andersen talks about how Charles just wanted love and warmth from his own other. He particularly recalls the way the queen greeted Charles when she returned from a commonwealth tour. Her distance as a parent had Charles forming attachments with anyone who would give him the comfort he needed. This is why he became close to his governess Mabel Anderson, his great uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten, and eventually Camilla.

Now Charles has praised his mother on camera for her accomplishments as any son would. Yet behind the scenes, it seems as if Elizabeth and Charles just didn't understand each other. The queen herself didn't understand Charles's behavior most of the time. Conflicts between this mother and son would only continue as Charles got older with his marriage to Diana to his entire relationship with Camilla. As a matter of fact, Camilla is often the subject to issues between these two with Andersen pointing out several staged moments Elizabeth acknowledges Camilla.

2. Queen didn't always hate Diana.

It is easy for the public to think Elizabeth didn't like Diana. Movies like The Queen show some of the sentiments the queen and the rest of the royal family could have thought about the late princess. However Andersen shows that the queen did genuinely like Diana and didn't see her as a problem until much later. Elizabeth approved of Diana and was genuinely in awe of her for how she handled the press throughout Diana's marriage to Charles.

While Diana and Charles were still married, Elizabeth did what she thought was best trying to help Diana with Charles as well as prevent a constitutional crisis. Andersen recalls one meeting Diana had with Elizabeth over Charles and Camilla. When she asked the queen what to do, Elizabeth honestly told her she didn't know what to do. She only added that her son was "hopeless" as any consultation to Diana on her situation. She would later talk to butler Paul Burrell about Diana where he tried explaining to the queen they were communicating differently to each other.

Diana didn't really start to get on the queen's bad side until she began dating heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. Although she was divorced from Prince Charles and not considered a member of the royal family, the queen continued to keep tabs on the princess. When she learned Diana was considering marrying Khan, she consulted with her advisors where they told her the ramifications that would follow if Diana married Khan especially on Prince William. This immediately changes those feelings from sympathy to viewing Diana as someone who was trying to drag down the monarchy.

After that, Diana and Elizabeth were at odds with each other. The queen felt Diana was sharing too many of the royal family's secrets so she began to retaliate against her. One of these cases was at the Ascot where the queen included Andrew Parker Bowles and Camilla to join the royal family inside the royal enclosure. Their relationship never recovered after that and the remaining time of this fight continued until Diana's death with the queen constantly on alert for any "sneak attacks" Dian might have on the royal family.

3. The 5 Year Courtship Decree

Elizabeth famously made a speech in 1992 talking about how she wouldn't be looking back with any pleasure on this year. Windsor Castle caught on fire while three of her four children were getting divorces. These divorces weren't a good thing for the monarchy which was seen in the reaction people had about repairing Windsor Castle. Elizabeth didn't want to open the state rooms of Buckingham Palace, feeling it would takeaway "the mystery of the monarchy". However it was something she agreed to in order to pay for the repairs and please her critics.

Within the royal family, Elizabeth made her views about courtship clear to all members of the royal family. Following the scandals in 1992, she made an unofficial decree that all royal courtships will be longer with the couple dating at least five years. She felt five years was enough time for the couple to get to know each other and learn about each other. It also would be a way to prevent future scandals from happening and divorce. Basically it would prevent future Wallis Simpsons from happening.

Times are changing and divorce is seen differently in the family with two of her children remarried. Yet it seems royals might be taking the queen's decree to heart with Prince Edward began dating his now wife Sophie, the Countess of Wessex in 1994. They would announce their engagement in 1999. Prince William and his wife Catherine dated for 8-9 years until he proposed October 2010. He had made clear a few years earlier he wasn't in a rush to marry and wanted to be much older when he did.

The thing about rules when it comes to the royal family is that they change over time. Members of the royal family had specific standards to look for when it came to choosing a potential partner. However those standards have started to relax over the years seen particularly with Prince Charles's marriage to Camilla in 2005 to even now with Prince Harry's upcoming to Meghan Markle (the couple has been dating since 2016). Elizabeth has treated these relationships much differently from her response to her sister Princess Margaret and Captain Townsend's relationship. The queen might be wary of any change and is traditional, but she isn't afraid adapt the standards and rules over time.

Diana, Princess of Wales

Princess Diana may not be one of the main players in Game of Crowns, but Andersen depicts her as one of the best players in the game. The world may know her best for the shake ups she brought during her time as the Princess of Wales. The royals might have seen her as a threat to the monarchy, but they underestimated the influence she would bring. Andersen talks a great deal about Diana in his book so it made sense to include her in this post.

1. Diana admired Charles and Camilla's relationship.

The world knows Diana's story and the drama that came with her entire relationship with Prince Charles. Diana didn't like Camilla, but she understood the relationship between her ex-husband and her biggest rival. While her own relationships were a mess, she saw the many strengths of their relationship and seemingly accepted their bond. Andersen hints that their relationship might have served as a model to Diana on what she might look for in her own relationships.

It is uncertain if Diana was trying to find a relationship just like Charles and Camilla's, but she used them as example to give wisdom to her son Prince William. When he was fifteen, Diana gave him some advice on what he should look for in a potential partner. Charles and Camilla were the perfect example on what William needed to look for and how precious it is. This lesson was most likely very meaningful for him since this was most likely the last advice Diana gave him before he died. Diana was an important influence on his life so it might have played a part in all his relationships with women especially with his wife Catherine.

2. Diana's crushes on celebrities and famous figures.

When Andersen promoted the book, one of the highlights was on all the women Charles had romantic relationships with and his crush on Barbra Streisand. However some of the most interesting crushes come from Diana. At specific parts of the book, he talks about some of the people Diana liked during her lifetime. Unlike Prince Charles's crushes, he actually uses quotes from conversations Diana had with two of her hair dressers Natalie Symonds and Tess Rock which share her thoughts about these men as well as the women in their lives.

One of Diana's biggest childhood crushes that carried over to adulthood was Tom Cruise. Cruise would later invite Diana to bring William to Pinewood Studios to watch him film Mission Impossible. Diana told Symonds and Rock about her crush, but Andersen shares her thoughts about Cruise's wife at the time Nicole Kidman. She told them that she wouldn't mind if Kidman was "out of the way" since she could feel Kidman's eyes on her every time she was around Cruise.

Cruise wasn't the only crush Diana had. Prince Pavlos was another big crush. When he married his wife Marie-Chantal Miller, Symonds recalls Diana's devastation of the news. Another big crush Diana had was on then President Bill Clinton. Diana thought he was "incredibly sexy". However she observed his behavior around his wife Hillary Clinton. She would later tell Symonds and Rock how clear it was who "wears the pants in that family".

3. Attempt to erase Diana from royal history

There are plenty of controversial claims made in this book, but the one that really surprised me was when Andersen described how the royal family was doing their best to erase Diana's influence over her sons William and Harry. Following Diana's death, the royal family started to "windsorize" the two princes. This meant barring people who the princes had known all their lives from seeing them. These people ranged from close friends to family. When people tried contacting William and Harry, they were given the same excuse of the princes being "unavailable".

Andersen hints the sudden rush to erase Diana from history comes her funeral where her brother famously made his eulogy criticizing the royal family. During this speech, he vowed that the princes' "blood family" would guide them just as much as Diana had. This comment raised the alarm for members of the royal family since following the funeral calls were vetted by the palace to the princes and the princes were spending more time doing things the upper classes did in comparison to the experiences Diana tried to give the boys when she was alive.

Over the years, the attempts to erase Diana's memory continue with Andersen saying the royal family purposely avoid mentioning her. There has been criticism towards the royal family over this and Andersen says her actions seem to support the negative reactions towards the queen. Her decisions to reject Diana tributes only have given more evidence to her critics.

He hints that this could be due to Charles and Camilla. There have been plenty more ways the royal family tries to erase Diana from history, but Andersen says it can't be completely done since Diana's death almost brought down the entire monarchy. The queen still remembers what happened in 1997 and is absolutely 100% careful to never say anything wrong about Diana to the public as well as around William and Harry.

Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall

Andersen dedicates quite a lot of the book to Camilla and her impact on the monarchy. The picture he paints is very negative which shows a manipulative woman who is good a playing to the camera and exerting her influence over Prince Charles. Yet no matter how much she climbs, she often is reminded where she really ranks in the family and how Elizabeth truly perceives her.

1. Camilla's role in William and Kate's 2007 break up

This claim may not seem too surprising since the tabloids and press often talk about Camilla's jealousy towards Kate. This point is one Andersen often talks about when he was promoting Game of Crowns. Andersen does mention that Camilla liked Kate and even admired her. However he quickly points out that Camilla can be quite a snob.

While she was nice to Kate, she felt she was good enough for Prince William particularly due to her family's working class history. Camilla felt William could do better than Kate and marry someone from an aristocratic family or rather someone from the aristocratic friends Camilla and Charles have. This is something she had been campaigning for years and felt it was her duty to William.

Although Camilla might have admired Kate, Andersen says Camilla often felt threatened by Kate and was jealous of her. He particularly cites this in occasions where Kate wasn't invited. One was Camilla's 2005 wedding to Prince Charles where Andersen quotes a long time friend's answer to why Kate wasn't invited to the wedding. By 2007, William wasn't sure what to do about his relationship with Kate so he naturally went to his father for advice. Prince Charles advised him to break off the relationship now rather than keep Kate waiting around for him to be ready.

So how does Camilla fit into this break up? Well Prince Charles didn't know what to say to William. Before he gave his opinion, he asked Camilla for advice. This is something he often does throughout the course of their relationship on everything.

By this time, Camilla was disgusted with how much attention William and Kate's relationship was getting and immediately jumped on the opportunity to break them up. She just told Charles that this was the smartest choice to make. Charles was reluctant about telling William to break up with Kate. He did like Kate and was often her biggest supporter in the royal family. However he succumbed to Camilla's influence and told William his opinion which lead to the couple breaking up for a short time.

2. Camilla chose Diana for Charles.

Camilla didn't just give Charles opinion on important matters. Andersen says she actually recommended her archrival Diana to Charles as a wife. When it came time for Charles to think about settling down, he asked Camilla and his other mistress Lady Dale Tryon or "Kanga" for help finding a proper wife for the future king.

The two women met up at Bolehyde Manor and began brainstorming a list of suitable choices for Prince Charles. They each came up with three names and Diana's name was the only one that they were both able to agree on. Tryon recalled the conversation, saying that Camilla told her she thought Diana looked frightened, but she didn't look like she would create any trouble.

Andersen goes over some of the qualifications Camilla, Lady Dale Tyron used to help figure out who was best for the job as well as how Diana fit those qualifications. Once a decision was made, they gave their choice to Prince Charles. Soon after that Diana began appearing on the royal calendar with the first royal date soon after the list.

Yet Charles was still hesitant about Diana. It would ultimately take the extra encouragement of the queen's private secretary at the time Robert Fellowes and the Queen Mother to help the prince see Diana was the best candidate for the role. Even with the extra encouragement, Charles still wasn't uncertain about marrying Diana and still wanted to marry Camilla. Yet his parents especially Prince Philip were putting pressure on him to marry and start producing heirs.

Charles consulted with Camilla often after these exchanges and tried getting her to leave her husband despite them knowing it wouldn't have been possible. She instead reminded Charles that Diana was young and wouldn't suspect anything from happening. If she did find out, Camilla was confident she'd accept it as a part of royal life. This seemed like the final bit of encouragement Charles needed to hear since shortly after that he asked the queen for her approval and proposed to Diana.

3. Camilla's car crash

Andersen often talks about how manipulative Camilla can be so he doesn't paint a positive picture of her. The book has plenty of events and situations which peel off the layers of Camilla's carefully crafted image. One of the incidents Andersen talks about in the book is a car crash that got Camilla in the newspapers which depicted her as the heroine saving the driver. This happened a couple months before Diana's death and after critical meetings with the team who would make over Camilla.

It turns out there was a different side to this story that was never told and that comes from the driver of the other car Carolyn Melville-Smith. When Melville-Smith did learn who the driver was and saw the story in the headlines, she immediately set the record straight. In Melville-Smith's account, Camilla was speeding towards Prince Charles's Highgrove estate where she plowed into Melville-Smith's car, forcing the car down a ditch.

Melville-Smith called for help, but no one helped her. Although Camilla did look at her car, she instead ran away where she was found later by the Royal Protection Officers sitting by her car smoking a cigarette and crying. It would take other motorists to help Melville-Smith and call for help. Following a breathalyzer test, Camilla continued to Highgrove while no one told Melville-Smith who was the driver that hit her car.

The authorities were looking into charging Camilla for reckless, but they never happened. At the time they were investigating the crash, Diana died in a car crash in Paris. Andersen says this is due to Diana's death, but hints it was mostly due to Camilla's connection to Prince Charles. He even hints that at the time of this car crash, Camilla was already working on her own plan to marrying Charles and becoming a member of the royal family. The car crash incident was just one ways Charles was trying to manipulate the public's perception of Camilla.


Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge

When it comes to discussing the Duchess of Cambridge, it seems like Andersen had a hard time finding things wrong with her. She may not get as much attention as the other women in the book, but Andersen regards her as the breath of fresh air the monarchy desperately needed following the scandals the royal family had been dealing with. Most of Andersen's criticisms are towards the duchess's mother Carole Middleton who influenced her daughter throughout her relationship with Prince William.

1. Catherine didn't want to go to St. Andrews.

One of the rumors about Catherine is her decision to go to school based on William's announcement to attend St. Andrews. Andersen hints this is most likely the case thanks to Carole Middleton. Carole wanted her children to attend the right universities since it would get them to meet people with the right connections.

When Catherine was deciding where to attend school, she wanted to attend University of Edinburgh due to their arts curriculum. Catherine and Carole visited the school and agreed it was a good choice. Catherine liked it because of the art history program while Carole liked it because of the rumors Prince William would be attending after his gap year.

When Carole learned that Prince William was attending St. Andrews and one of Catherine's classmates from Marlborough was attending, she encouraged her daughter to attend St. Andrews.
Catherine wasn't convinced. It took Carole visiting her daughter during her gap year in Florence that St. Andrews was the right choice since included an opportunity to be near the future king.

The rest is history. Catherine decided to attend St. Andrews and soon met Prince William. They soon became good friends.

Well there were many things that helped them become friends, Andersen hints that one of the reasons why Catherine and William got very close was due to their mutual feelings about St. Andrews. Both were planning on telling their families during Christmas break they weren't happy and wanted to transfer to University of Edinburgh. The idea of Prince William leaving St. Andrews after one semester would be a disaster for the royal family and reputation. The royal family struck a deal with St. Andrews to keep Prince William happy (along with a brand new hunting rifle from Prince Charles). Meanwhile Carole told Catherine the prince's departure would damage his reputation and said all William needed was his friends at this time.

In the end, Catherine still was a big influence in William staying at St. Andrews. It just wasn't quite the way the story we have been told. Andersen says Catherine would later tell William that he should try making the best of St. Andrews. If he still wasn't happy in the end, he could leave and she would follow. Andersen says that she even told him that University of Edinburgh was her first choice all along.

2. The Middletons are Team Diana.

Although Catherine never met her late mother in law, Andersen says Catherine and her family have always been supporters of the late Princess. Andersen says the family wasn't a fan of the idea Prince Charles marrying Camilla. Andersen describes a conversation Catherine's grandmother had with a neighbor which spelled out the family's sentiments about the royal family. While at school at Marlborough, Catherine talked with her classmates about the royal family's heartlessness towards the late princess and of course sympathy for William and Harry.

Catherine's adoration of the late princess still continues to this day. Remember Catherine's comments about Diana from her engagement interview? Andersen seems to believe Catherine meant those comments she made and they show in the actions she's taken since that interview.

Catherine made sure Princess Diana's presence was felt at her wedding with Diana's favorite flower lily of valley used in bouquets and planters along the nave of Westminster Abbey. When pressure was starting to be put on Catherine to support her own charities following her wedding, she once again turned to Diana for inspiration. Just look at some of the charities Catherine supports. Some are charities that even Diana supported when she was a member of the royal family.

Diana continues to be a role model for Catherine and we've seen this in how she raises her children to how she acts when she makes public appearances. Andersen notes that Catherine easily connects with everyone she meets just like her late mother in law was able to do. This time the queen saw the value in it and embraced it to keep the monarchy alive.

3. From anti-hunting to a hunting enthusiast

In order to fit into the royal family, Catherine had to make some adjustments in order to fit in and most importantly show she could fit in with their world. This is due to her mother's influence but mostly the lessons she learned from being around the royal family for the first time. Andersen uses the first shooting party Catherine attended as a example.

The Middletons didn't do any of the hobbies the royal family enjoy especially hunting. Catherine shared Diana's views on the sport. When she was invited to Sandringham in 2002, William offered to give her some tips. Catherine hesitated, but agreed.

This is mostly due to Carole who reminded her daughter before she gave her answer how rude it would be to refuse his offer and how important shooting was to the royal family. It is uncertain if Catherine had extra lessons before she went to Sandringham, but Andersen seems to imply she might have some training since the comments others made about her were lots of praise. This praise was an indicator of things to come with Catherine being invited later to Balmoral.

By the time she got to Balmoral, Catherine had learned her lesson from her experiences at the shooting party and the powerful the outdoor hobbies were to the Windsors as well as royal life. I think she also took a lesson from her role model Princess Diana and the consequences that come from rejecting those hobbies. At this time, she let William teach and guide her in other outdoor activities. This helped her not just improve her relationship with him but impressed members of the royal family.

Conclusion

Games of Crowns shows that there is tons of drama happening behind the scenes of the royal family with secrets one of the most photographed families in the world doesn't want the public to know. The key players Queen Elizabeth II, the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duchess of Cambridge show they are powerful influences on the family. Once Meghan Markle officially joins the family in May, this means more drama among the women in the Windsor family.

If you are interested in the royal family or love non fiction, you should read this book. This book will definitely open your eyes to what the royal family is really like. Andersen's book might not be completely true based on the claims he made despite his sources and chapter notes. But it is clear his book is a reminder to all that being a member of any royal family isn't easy.

What did you think of Game of Crowns? Share your thoughts about the book in the comments.

Notes

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