Kate's Royal Prison

Millions of young women may envy Kate Middleton’s engagement to Prince William, but Andrew Roberts says they should be relieved to miss out on the onerous, boring, and unending life of being a royal.

11.17.10 10:40 PM ET

Millions of young women may envy of Kate Middleton’s engagement to Prince William, but Andrew Roberts says they should be relieved to miss out on the onerous, boring, and unending life of being a royal.

Across the globe, socially ambitious young ladies are sighing over the fact that Prince William, the world’s most eligible bachelor, has finally gotten engaged. Their wild hopes that perhaps he might have repeated his April 2007 breakup, leaving Kate in the lurch once again, are now irrevocably dashed. As their gaze now swivels elsewhere—to pop stars, hedge-funders, social networking tycoons, even Prince Harry—they are awaking from the dream of marrying the tall, blond Adonically handsome cavalry officer prince at Westminster Abbey. Yet even as they cross off Prince William from their little black address books, they can console themselves with this thought: being a royal in the 21st century is appallingly hard work, where the disadvantages easily equal, and probably outweigh, the advantages.

Gallery: Prince William and Kate Middleton

In the calendar year 2009, Her Majesty the Queen undertook no fewer than 409 official engagements, i.e., more than one a day. She is 84 years old. Except for Christmas Day and Easter Day, she never has a day away from her government red boxes, which follow her everywhere. Although Kate will obviously not be head of state, it is an indication of how busy her husband will be, and she will be expected to be with him on all the most important engagements. Yet she will also be expected to undertake hundreds of engagements on her own as well, and will be minutely judged on each of them.   

She cannot say anything controversial, or indeed particularly interesting, for the rest of her life, otherwise she will be castigated in the press. She can never again express a political opinion of any kind whatsoever, because the most important constitutional duty of the royal family is to be above politics. Even if she winds up knowing much more about a subject than government ministers—as is often the case with the royal family regarding conservation, environmental, agricultural and heritage issues—she must keep resolutely silent about them in public. Even in private she must be highly circumspect, otherwise the politicians or civil servants will leak her letters, as has happened recently to Prince Charles.   

William & Kate: Photos, News, and MoreHer income will be publicly picked over to the last pound sterling in House of Commons committees, and she cannot spend lavishly even her own private money. Every item of expenditure at her wedding will be subjected to intense media scrutiny, especially at this time of austerity. Almost every holiday—and there are precious few—will be a “working” holiday of some kind where she will have to meet and greet local worthies. If she is ever once caught yawning during an interminable tribal dance in Papua New Guinea, the photo will haunt her for decades.   

Everything she wears every single day will be commented on and picked over and judged in the newspapers day in, day out. In this era of the telephoto lens, she can have no bad hair days for the rest of her life. The days of mildly malicious gossipy lunches with friends are over, as are nightclubbing, flirting, and drinking more than two glasses of wine, for fear of the paparazzi snapping a flushed face. Yet however glamorous she dresses and lovely she looks, it could be decades before she is allowed to emerge from the shadow of her iconic mother-in-law, as she will be reminded whenever she looks at her engagement ring.    

When she visits her in-laws in Scotland, she must pretend to enjoy being woken up at 6:15 every morning by bagpipers at Balmoral, and enjoy the cold and damp and Wellington boots of the House of Windsor’s hearty outdoors life. She must deal with the inanities, bitchiness, and pettiness of life at court, and she must also be a role model for millions of women, who will look up to her and expect her to say the right thing all the time. She must personify honor, duty, and diligence, otherwise she will be compared unfavorably to the present queen, who promised on her 21st birthday to dedicate her life to her people, and then spent the next 63 years doing exactly that.    

So Kate must open schools, hospitals, and community centers, whether she feels up to it or not, scores of times every year for the rest of her life, and be seen to enjoy it. She must be bland when she does so, but also compassionate, interested, and caring. She must shake hands with hundreds of thousands of complete strangers and show interest in their lives, even though she will never see them again.   

She must have at least two healthy photogenic offspring, preferably more, of whom at least one is expected to be male, whom she must try to bring up as normal children even though patently obviously they are not. She and her husband and children could well be the target of assassination attempts, and will certainly receive constant death threats. She will almost never be praised in public except by oleaginous flatterers desperate for social advantage. She will not genuinely know how she is doing in her new job; there are no objective career assessment programs for royals.    

When she visits her in-laws in Scotland, she must pretend to enjoy being woken up at 6:15 every morning by bagpipers at Balmoral.

When, after half a century of not putting a foot wrong in this most taxing of public roles, Queen Catherine of England becomes a national treasure—as I am certain she will—she will have more than deserved it. But in the meantime, all those young women around the world who were dreaming of becoming princesses should instead be thanking providence that Prince William chose someone else.

Historian Andrew Roberts' latest book, Masters and Commanders, was published in the UK in September. His previous books include Napoleon and Wellington, Hitler and Churchill, and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. Roberts is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts.