The Queen and her relationships with other royal women, from Diana to Kate and Meghan – Sky News
News reporter @megbaynes
Friday 9 September 2022 09:18, UK
Reigning for more than 70 years, living and working “in a man’s world”, the Queen was known for her strong relationships with other women in the Royal Family.
She knew only three female prime ministers and “everyone was a man, all the ministers, all the advisers, all her courtiers, everyone”.
“It was a very traditional, upper-class man’s world,” royal historian professor Kate Williams told Sky News.
“Many of them were very sexist towards her, many treated her like she was a child even though she was a married mother.
“I do think it is striking how many strong relationships the Queen had with women,” the royal historian added.
“The Queen did have a particular sympathy with women because she really did live in a complete man’s world. She didn’t have a single female colleague.”
Born at a time when only some women had the right to vote, she saw women’s rights change dramatically throughout her lifetime.
In 1955, her younger sister was not allowed to marry a divorced man, but 63 years later her grandchild, Prince Harry, married a divorcee in a grand celebration at Windsor Castle.
“She was someone who strongly believed in equal opportunity and that women should be able to do what men can do,” said Prof Williams.
These are the royal women who Her Majesty was influenced by and who she, in turn, championed.
Her grandmother is seen as one of the women who influenced Queen Elizabeth II the most.
In 1936 – nicknamed the Year of the Three Kings – Elizabeth was thrown into a completely different life, following the death of her grandfather, the abdication of her uncle and the subsequent crowning of her father, King George VI.
“Now she’s the future Queen, and Queen Mary, she’s always been fond of Elizabeth as a grandchild, but now she takes an interest in her as an heir,” said Prof Williams.
At her father’s coronation, Princess Elizabeth sat next to her grandmother: “That is not really protocol, but Queen Mary gives Elizabeth some direct guidance in the ceremony as well.”
It was Queen Mary who encouraged young Princess Elizabeth to pursue more education, feeling that girls, including the heir to the throne, weren’t taught enough.
“She felt she should take Elizabeth under her wing because her parents were busy being monarchs,” Prof Williams added.
“Elizabeth was already well behaved, very conscientious, very dutiful and not very externally emotional, but Queen Mary enhanced this with her advice and the Queen did listen very carefully.
“She died before Elizabeth’s coronation and I think that was sad for her because her grandma couldn’t go to her coronation as she expected her to.”
The Queen Mother
The Queen’s mother is described as having had a “very indulgent” relationship with her daughter, whom she “didn’t want to overburden with learning”.
Prof Williams said: “The Queen Mother said about her daughters that she just wished them to have happy memories and happy marriages.”
The pair were separated for much of Elizabeth’s formative years, with the princess at Windsor Castle, while her parents lived at Buckingham Palace.
But after the death of King George VI, that relationship became more strained, according to Prof Williams.
“The Queen Mother is a young woman, she’s only in her 50s, and she’s suddenly a dowager queen, having had this role of influence,” she said.
“All of a sudden, Elizabeth is Queen and she’s really pushed out of the picture.”
While Queen Elizabeth II was patient with her mother’s advice, this caused “some tension” in her marriage, as her husband Prince Philip also sought to be the monarch’s sole adviser and confidant.
However, the pair remained close until her mother’s death in 2002, aged 101.
Princess Margaret was just six years old when her uncle abdicated, changing the life of her family forever.
It is reported that when she heard about this, she turned to her older sister and said: “Does this mean you are going to be Queen now?”
When 10-year-old Elizabeth replied, “Well, I suppose so,” Margaret responded, “poor you”.
Margaret was very different to her sister, fun and naughty to her sibling’s dutiful conscientiousness.
When Princess Margaret fell in love with Peter Townsend, a man 15 years her senior and with two children from a previous marriage, her sister asked her to keep the relationship a secret until after her coronation.
When the press spotted her picking fluff from his coat during the ceremony, speculation of their relationship broke and a constitutional crisis began, with the Church of England refusing to countenance the remarriage of a divorced man.
The Queen was also required to give consent for the marriage under the Royal Marriages Act, as well as seek the permission of parliament.
In the end, Margaret declined Townsend’s proposal, choosing not to give up her place in the line of succession, but this caused tension between the sisters.
“The relationship between the sisters becomes very impossible because Margaret wishes to speak to Elizabeth as a sister but now Elizabeth is speaking to her as a monarch, and for Elizabeth, the monarchy comes first,” said Prof Williams.
“I think Margaret understood that Elizabeth’s hand was forced and the government was making a lot of the decisions, but still she maybe hoped that Elizabeth would have done something different.”
However, the Queen remained “devoted” to her sister.
“The Queen felt that Margaret had never really been given a role, and she did try to give her a role in the royal firm,” Prof Williams added.
“Even though she and Margaret were incredibly different people, they were still very close and Margaret’s death was really devastating for her.”
Margaret died less than a month before the Queen Mother, in 2002.
Anne, the Princess Royal
The Queen’s second child and her only daughter, Anne was “someone the Queen could rely on to do royal duties”.
Anne was just three when her mother became monarch, and so the Queen was not around for much of her early years.
She was often dubbed the most hard-working member of the Royal Family, carrying out more public appearances than any other royal.
“Some royals don’t always take their charitable patronages seriously, but she does very much do that,” said Prof Williams.
“She loves to work, she loves to meet people, and she is like her mother was, with this incredible energy.
“There are many ways in which the Queen’s sons caused problems and embarrassed her and Anne, compared to the others, even her divorce was very low key.”
The Queen grew more dependent on Anne in her later years, and in 2013 the Queen oversaw a law change around the rules of succession, meaning Princess Anne was no longer displaced by her younger brothers.
Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana is the woman who arguably impacted the Queen’s reign the most, as her death in 1997 – and the Queen’s initial decision not to return to London amid an outpouring of public grief – caused a dip in the monarch’s popularity and a crisis for the Royal Family.
However, the Queen had approved of Diana’s marriage to her oldest son, Charles, in 1981, in what was dubbed at the time the “wedding of the century”, with an audience worldwide estimated in the hundreds of millions.
And Diana was trusted to represent the Royal Family from early on – such as at the funeral of Grace Kelly in Monaco in 1982.
The Queen was reportedly surprised by the Diana effect.
“She thought everyone would get excited about the wedding and then it would die down,” said Prof Williams.
The collapse of Diana’s marriage with Charles, with tales of alleged infidelity splashed across the tabloids’ front pages, was an embarrassment for the Royal Family.
The couple eventually separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996 – a year before Diana’s sudden death in a car crash in Paris.
The Queen eventually came back to London from Balmoral, where she had been looking after William and Harry, and paid tribute to Diana in a special address to the nation.
“She was an exceptional and gifted human being. In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness,” the Queen said of Diana.
“I admired and respected her – for her energy and commitment to others, and especially for her devotion to her two boys.”
Prof Williams described the relationship between the two women as good “but quite distant”, adding that the Queen respected Diana’s devotion to charity work.
“Diana really respected her, and it was really sad for her that when she was in the Royal Family she didn’t really have a relationship with the Queen anymore.”
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
The Queen had perhaps the most transformative relationship with Camilla.
In 2000 she reportedly refused to be introduced to her son’s former mistress.
But by 2022 she had given her the ultimate sign of approval – her consent for the duchess to be known as Queen Consort.
“Their relationship grew and completely changed,” said Prof Williams.
“The Queen really grew to respect Camilla’s work. She worked hard and stayed in the background, she’s done a lot for domestic violence and women’s crisis shelters.
“She also saw how Camilla was a support to Charles, jollying him along, supporting him and getting him out of his stubbornness when he becomes very introspective.”
Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge
The Queen has had a good relationship with Kate, her granddaughter-in-law, and sees her as “supporting William and getting on with her duties,” said Prof Williams.
However, she was reportedly concerned in the early days that Kate didn’t have an identity of her own before marrying into the Royal Family.
“She went out of her way in the early days to try and be friendly with the Middletons because I think she was trying to protect them against all the things said about them, whether it was inside the household or in the media,” she added.
The Middletons endured snide remarks about their background and allegations of using their royal connections to climb the social ladder.
Kate’s mother, Carole, comes from a working-class background of Durham miners and builders, and often received criticism with mocking captions on photographs of her chewing gum and critiques of the family’s use of language and etiquette.
But the Queen’s affection for Kate was evident when she gave her the Royal Family Order and the Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.
The Royal Family Order is given by the head of state, at their own discretion, to women in the family as a reward for their service, and it can be worn during official state occasions.
Being made a Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order is the highest order the Queen could bestow.
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex
Prince Harry and the Queen had a very close bond, and so the monarch was “delighted” when he found a wife in Meghan and started a family.
“The wedding was obviously a wonderful moment,” said Prof Williams.
“I think it’s important for the Queen that Harry and Meghan who wanted the church service, who wanted the royal wedding on this great magical scale, that they could have it, because, in the end, she was the one who made that decision.”
But the delight around the couple soon soured, with the Sussexes quitting as senior royals in January 2020, citing the pressures of royal life and media attacks on Meghan.
After moving to North America, relationships between the couple and the Royal Family grew even more strained after they were interviewed by Oprah in 2021.
During the broadcast, Meghan accused an unnamed member of the family of raising “concerns” about what her son’s skin colour would be before he was born, and said she had suicidal thoughts during her time as a senior member of the Royal Family.
But Meghan also told Oprah: “The Queen has always been wonderful to me. I’ve loved being in her company.”
She said the Queen reminded her of her own grandmother, adding: “She’s always been warm, welcoming, and inviting.”
Amid the controversies swirling around the Sussexes in response to the interview, the Queen released a statement describing the couple as “much-loved members of the family”.
Meghan and Harry have always maintained that any of the allegations made in the interview, including that of racism by an unnamed family member, had nothing to do with the Queen or the Duke of Edinburgh.
“I think the Queen and Meghan had a good relationship,” said Prof Williams. “She had empathy for Meghan.”
The Sussexes’ decision to name their daughter Lilibet, in “tribute” to the Queen’s childhood nickname, was also evidence of their close bond, said Prof Williams.
Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie
As the fifth and sixth grandchildren of the Queen, it was easier for Beatrice and Eugenie to have a good relationship with their “granny”, because “they are miles away from the throne”, said Prof Williams.
“With a father as catastrophic as Andrew… he was always away and doing goodness knows what and the Queen was there for them as a sort of constant.”
“The Queen had a particular fondness for her granddaughters,” said Prof Williams.
“She felt it was possible to enjoy her grandchildren in a way she hadn’t been able to do with her own children.”
“She really was very devoted to them, Beatrice, in particular.”
This was seen when Her Majesty loaned the Queen Mary Diamond Fringe tiara to Beatrice for her 2020 wedding – the very same one that she wore for her own wedding day to Prince Philip.
The princess also wore a vintage Norman Hartnell gown that belonged to her grandmother.
Sophie, the Countess of Wessex
Sophie was welcomed into the Royal Family after her 1999 marriage to the Queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward. The pair formed a very close relationship, with Sophie reportedly referring to her mother-in-law as “mama”.
“The Queen found Sophie a very calm and reliable presence,” said Prof Williams.
“She really relied on her a lot after the Duke [of Edinburgh] died.”
Sophie, who previously worked in PR, closed her business interests and began working as a full-time royal in 2002 and as a result, “the Queen had a real respect for Sophie”.
“What the Queen really valued is the fact that even though she was exposed and her job taken from her, she doesn’t feel self-pity about it, she just gets on with it,” Prof Williams added.