Finding Freedom’ suggests the Sussexes have not yet burned their bridges
New book has no Diana ‘reveal’ moment and suggests the Queen is still one of the most important women in Harry’s life
‘Finding Freedom’ hasn’t delivered any bombshell revelations so far but is still, surely, an unabashed attempt to settle scores CREDIT: Dominic Lipinski/PA
The publication of”Finding Freedom”, which promises to reveal “what really happened” during the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s whirlwind royal life, followed by”Megxit” to a self-imposed exile in America, isunnerving for the House of Windsor.
As our stalwart Queenheads for Balmoral, let’s hope she is able to enjoy a respite from barrage of headlines this year that continue to buffer her impeccable reign.For while “Finding Freedom” hasn’t delivered any bombshell revelations so far, it is still, surely, an unabashed attempt to settle scores.
Harry and Meghan have distanced themselves from the content, saying they “haven’t helped with the book”, but for a couple who (the blurb reassures us) are “determined to create a new path away from the spotlight”, the peaceful and private new life they apparently desire so deeply continues to elude them.
Although “Finding Freedom” makes the claim that the Sussexes are “unafraid to break with tradition”, there is solid form in the varying form of royal biographies.
Meghan and Harry, pictured in London in January CREDIT: Getty Images Contributor
Although an authorised biography is a distinguished way to record a royal’s unique life of service – James Pope Hennessy’s 1959 biography of Queen Mary remains riveting to this day – anything that stems from an injured perspective tends to never end well.
Andrew Morton’s “Diana – Her True Story”, in which Princess Diana detailed her extreme unhappiness in 1992, threatened to destabilise the monarchy, so shocking were its revelations.
Prior to the Sussexes rattling around in their Los Angeles mansion, adrift from the royal family, it was the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who paved the way in writing about their experiences in exile.
After his abdication in 1936, banished from Britain, Edward VIII never recovered from the shock that neither he nor his wife would be welcome to live here again. When, by 1951, it became clear that royal familial relations were not going to soften, he decided to write his own memoir after writing a series of articles for American Life magazine.
Edward VIII wrote a series of articles for American Life magazine
Although his articles in Life, serialised in the Sunday Express in Britain in 1947, were a jaunty, innocuous and even favourable account of the royal family and its daily life, to Queen Mary they were deplorable.
“I was surprised you thought it a pity I wrote so many private facts,” the Duke replied to one of her steely missives.
“I would submit that the personal memoir of Papa undertaken by John Gore at your and Bertie’s request… contains far more intimate extracts from Papa’s diaries and glimpses into his character and habits that I would have dared to use.”
This seems a fair point.
Fuelled by a gnawing sense of injustice that he was refused the role of a roving ambassador to the US by his brother, Bertie, Edward wrote his version of the abdication. “A King’s Story: The Memoirs of The Duke of Windsor” was published in 1951. It’s eminently readable, with some priceless lines. “Christmas at Sandringham was Dickens in a Cartier setting,” he wrote.
He described being dispatched, in tears, to the Royal Naval College in the Isle of Wight in 1907 the bizarre assurance from his father that “I am your best friend.”
Although he was desperately hurt by his family’s refusal to accept Wallis Simpson, he still tempered his account. The book was a commercial success, selling 80,000 copies in the UK in the first month. But the royal court, and courtiers, were aghast.
“All of them express disgust at a former King of England selling for money his recollections of his family life, in a form that is indecent and for a motive that it squalid,” thundered his former equerry, Alan “Tommy” Lascelles.
What upset Lascelles the most were the passages detailing the Duke’s love for Wallis Simpson – the omission of which would have been glaring, considering that the King had abdicated for her. “It is obscene to write gainfully about one’s own love affairs,” the equerry fumed.
That is exactly what the Duchess of Windsor did in her autobiography, “The Heart Has Its Reasons”, which she published in 1969, long after any form of reconciliation with her in-laws was likely.
For a woman who was reviled and rebuked by the royal family, Wallis Simpson was almost unbearably generous towards them CREDIT: Hulton Archive
For a woman who was reviled and rebuked by the royal family, Wallis was almost unbearably generous towards them, writing repeatedly how it saddened her that her husband was estranged from his mother, Queen Mary, and blaming herself.
In the chapter entitled “The War Within A War”, describing how the couple were summoned fleetingly back to Britain during 1939, Wallis wrote of the discomfiture of being scrutinised. “It was I, rather than the former King, who was the object of their covert curiosity,” she wrote.
“When I was chatting with one, I could feel the sidelong glance of the other, charged with speculation, roving searchingly over me. Can this really be the Mrs Simpson who caused it all? Can this be the woman who took us from our King?”
Yet, a few lines later, she lamented of her husband: “If only the rift between him and his family could be healed!”
Edward ended his book poignantly, looking back on England on December 12 1936 as the aptly named naval destroyer, HMS Fury swept him away. He concluded: “Though it was my fate to sacrifice my cherished British heritage, along with all the years in its service, I today draw comfort from the knowledge that time has long since sanctified a true and faithful union.”
Wallis, too, ensured that their tragic sacrifice was rendered worthwhile. “All I can say is that, everything taken together, I have finally found a great measure of contentment and happiness.”
At first glance, with no Diana “reveal” moment, the publication of “Finding Freedom” suggests the Sussexes have, as yet, not irrevocably burned bridges. The book suggests the Queen is still one of the most important women in Harry’s life and that she had indicated there would always be a way back for him if that is what he wanted.
But it would be wise for them to steer clear of the biography genre from here.
- The American Duchess, by Anna Pasternak, is published by William Collins £9.99