Poppycock: House of Windsor claims to date back over a thousand years

Monarchy and mystery

Omid Scobie’s book suggests that the king may be a racist. Why wouldn’t he be? asks Paul Demarty

For the British royal family, 2023 has turned out to be a year bookended by - appropriately - two books, and even more uncannily, by the apparently botched release of those two books.

The screw-up seems to have been quite genuine in the case of Spare, Harry Windsor’s tell-all - or at least tell-much - memoir. The Spanish book trade was unusually keen to get the thing out of doors, which led to a scramble among tabloid newspapers to find competent translators to get the money-shots ready for the morning proofs. There was not much more time to wait for the English publication, and so we got the whole shaggy-dog story, with its dead Afghans, frozen todgers (and still more frozen filial relationships), broken dog-bowls, and mystical communions with dead mothers in due course. We thereby got a picture of the overall state of the royal cult, and its by now utter hatred of the wayward duke of Sussex and his American wife.

One event not mentioned in Spare was the “concern”, as the Sussexes put it in an earlier interview with Oprah Winfrey, with the skin colour of the scion then soon to be born of Meghan Markle - who is, of course, herself mixed-race. They then refused to name the individual, and have always since maintained a dignified silence on the question. The palace issued an equally “concerned” press release, saying it would be dealt with privately, which we can assume it indeed was.

This strained moment was brought back to the surface by the release of Omid Scobie’s Endgame, which - in the course of its general argument that the monarchy is potentially facing crisis - does mention the event. (From the commentaries available in the press, it is clear that Scobie is on Team Sussex - perhaps unsurprisingly, since he came to the royal beat initially via celebrity tattle for US outlets.) The original English text does not mention the name of the alleged palace racist, or racists as it turns out. However, some bright spark noticed that Dutch readers saw something different: Charles himself apparently expressed such “concerns”, and so did the Princess of Wales, whom we now discover is to be referred to as ‘Catherine’, and never again by the dowdy, common ‘Kate’.

Exactly how this error came to be made is an enticing mystery - as cosy as a Balmoral sitting room. Scobie vaguely referred to the possibility of errors in translation, swearing blind that in no version of his own text were these people mentioned explicitly (the Dutch had the titles rather than the names, but - since there can literally be only one king and one princess of Wales - it was hardly much of a shield). The problem with this account is obvious: which English words and phrases exist that may be erroneously translated as ‘king’, or ‘princess of Wales’? The one translator tracked down by our doughty yellow press professed her innocence.

Having denied all knowledge, Scobie went on to note that the identities of these individuals was a common trade secret among the palace Kremlinologists of Fleet Street. This is not exactly a confirmation - circumspection is prudent, given the likely legal proceedings. In any case, the original allegation is essentially impossible to corroborate, since Charles and Kate - sorry, Catherine - are unlikely to bawl out a confession like some cancelled influencer and promise to ‘do better’. Much has been made of Scobie’s previous indiscretions - in particular an incident in which he baldly lied about his age. Yet, once the identities are purged, he was merely repeating public allegations already made.

Dutch version

We may assume that he did in fact specify the persons involved in a fairly late draft of the book, and these were purged from most versions by wise legal minds, but inadvertently left in the Dutch version. Some have raised the delicious theory that this was all done on purpose by the publishers, but HarperCollins is a tediously conservative outfit in its operations; this is not like the rabble-rousing Tory vanity press, Biteback, promoting Michael Ashcroft’s book on David Cameron and the story of the newly-made baron’s sexual congress with a dead pig. We are happy to call it a screw-up, though it has at least a chance to be a very profitable one.

The question arises, inevitably, regarding the plausibility of the idea that some royal - indeed, the family’s very capo di tutti capi - might have been so “concerned” by the outward ethnic appearance of the future prince Archie. (An even commoner name than Kate - a real ‘John Lewis nightmare’, as Carrie Symonds might put it.) There is a rightwing version of this: the media and many other professional spheres are dominated by ‘woke ideologues’ who have been brainwashed by gender-studies academics to hate Britain and believe it to be an irremediably racist, heterosexist (etc) society. Thus they will latch onto any old innuendo and run with it, meaning the royals are the victims of cancel culture. (Having made their point, these blowhards will return to their other hobby of demanding the suppression of the pro-Palestinian movement, which is not cancel culture, but good old British ‘common sense’.)

The trouble with this version is that one does not have to be a ‘woke ideologue’ to see the royal family as a racist institution. Charles was raised, so far as men of that class bother themselves with such work, by a father whose utterly overt racism was treated as a kind of whimsical character quirk by the press. His mother cheerfully joined in her uncle’s Hitler salutes.

Until the late 1960s, the palace operated an explicit colour bar for employees - hardly atypical for the time, but the times were, let’s be honest, quite racist. Today’s royals inherit a set of attitudes shaped by Britain’s former imperial greatness: Elizabeth’s reign covered most of the decolonisation, but she seems to have regretted it and remained very attached to the Commonwealth, whereby she could play-act as the Empress of India.

We should not ask the question, ‘Is the royal family racist?’ It would be quite astonishing on the whole if it was not. It has always embodied a certain very exclusive vision of fitness for the throne - after all, it is still technically illegal for the king to be a Catholic. Its rules of primogeniture ensure inheritance by some member of a very small number of northern European families. It preserves a particular model of natural hierarchy that, given the admixture of colonial empire, could not but be racist. What is remarkable - especially given his military service delivering remote-controlled bombs to ‘Terry Taliban’ - is that Harry should have wound up a run-of-the-mill American liberal. Much as we are irritated by such people, given the starting point, it is a quite remarkable improvement.

The controversy thus needs to be placed in the context of the role the monarchy plays in British society. It represents the sublime continuity of our society over thousands of years - a myth, that takes us from Alfred the Great and the various noble souls enumerated in Bede’s Ecclesiastical history, via a few regrettable moments of turbulence, in 1066, 1649 and 1688, to name only the most obvious examples, to our present uncertain condition. In order to do that work, the counterexamples - the transformations of our society - need to be frosted over.


That accusations of racism should be so traumatic has to do with very recent history, from the 1960s (and especially the 1980s) to the present, in which substantial immigrant populations from the former colonies had to be integrated under the uneasy rubric of multiculturalism. The tentative and tactical character of this approach tended to bury antagonisms, rather than truly resolving them; which in turn demanded political regulation of the responses. Anti-racism thereby had to be incorporated into the national tradition, as part of an ancient Anglo-Saxon commitment to liberty, fairness and respect.

Yet we had the same royals at the end of this process as the beginning; the same products of a Potemkin village version of reality, where Britain mattered as much as it had when Victoria was crowned Empress of India for real. The socialisation process of these poor souls is rather as if they were living in a version of the film Goodbye Lenin, when a young East German attempts to keep the Democratic Republic going just a little longer, to save his incorrigibly Stalinist mother’s ailing heart. Charles’s outlook, to be sure, is an odd Tolkienesque variant of it - his country is a huge Shire, ever at risk of the scourings of modernity. His racism is perhaps romantic-Orientalist rather than malicious. Yet it is not unprecedented in the British imperial canon - one need only think of TE Lawrence, or Lord Frederic Leighton, whose Kensington house was partly decorated like a Levantine palace.

Thus they remain prone to occasional embarrassments - we could mention, along with ‘black-baby-gate’ and Philip’s embarrassing uncle outbursts, the Lady Susan Hussey debacle (“No - where are you really from?”) and many other incidents. What is notable now is how much defence the royals get. It is as if the wider forces of Toryism - always a creed based on intolerance and the brutalisation of out-groups, from religious minorities in the 17th century to ethnic minorities today - sense an opportunity. It may seem odd to say, with Labour’s poll lead looking unassailable, but Sir Keir Starmer will jettison any commitments he thinks awkward, and the best bet the Tories have is bludgeoning him with culture-war hysteria.

Rival blocs

Moreover, these dynamics are not strictly national. We have never had, as we supposed, an island story and least of all now, as a pliant appendage of the United States in global politics and a tenuous position as an international money laundry to set as collateral against our obligations. Today the drift is away from the cosmopolitan utopianism of post-cold war liberal globalisation, towards protectionism, and the division of the world once again into rival blocs. A more astringent national chauvinism is a better fit for the age than the pieties of liberal anti-racists. One of the many grim features of the present onslaught on Gaza is how it inspires people; Hindutva zealots in India admire Israel because they see its actions as the right way to deal with their own Muslim ‘problem’ - and so it is for a certain kind of culture-warrior creep on our and many other shores today.

The monarchy’s role in all this is primarily institutional - it offers constitutional mechanisms for political leaders to rule like the kings and queens of old. Yet it is also ideological. Truly dangerous reaction in this country was never, as frequently suggested by panicked anti-fascist activists, going to be carried out by small neo-Nazi sects. It will instead be the work of respectable ladies and gentlemen, in the name of king, country, Anglo-Saxon liberty and good old British common sense.