Job For Life
It’s Still a Royal Man’s World—So What’s a ‘Spare’ Princess to Do?
Besides the besotted cooing, Princess Charlotte is—more practically—the ‘spare to the heir,’ Prince George. Will she find a life of purpose?
We may know her name. What we don’t know is what Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge, William and Kate’s second child, will actually do.
At the birth of Prince George, of course, there was no such ambiguity. Prince George, it was quite clearly understood, will go to Eton, join the army and then become King.
How’s that for a life plan?
There has been much talk in recent days about how the birth of Princess Charlotte of Cambridge is a symbolically important moment for equal gender rights in the UK.
Due to a change in the law—pushed through at the insistence of William and Kate before their first child was born—the new Princess has exactly the same claim to the throne as a boy born in her place would have.
To go inside this game of Windsor baseball for a moment, the British Royal family previously operated a system of male-preference primogeniture, meaning a woman—like Elizabeth or Victoria—could only ascend the throne if she had no brothers.
Under the old system, a third Cambridge child, if it were a boy, would have leapfrogged Charlotte in the order of precedence.
But no more. Following the Succession to the Crown Act, passed in 2013, male heirs no longer precede their elder sisters in the line of succession.
Now, Royal primogeniture is genderblind.
And although the legislation admittedly affects a very, very small number of people with, one might venture, quite specific concerns, this is an important symbolic statement of the principle of equality, is it not?
Up to a point.
The reality is that the change in the law legislating for equal rights for Princes and Princesses is light years ahead of any equivalent change manifesting itself in the cultural landscape.
This was demonstrated quite clearly by the color in which iconic locations around London were lit up to celebrate the birth of the child.
They were, without exception, illuminated in pink. Tower Bridge, the London Eye, the BT Tower—they all blushed bubblegum at the birth of a daughter.
You don’t have to be a paid-up member of the pressure group Pink Stinks to find that rather nauseous.
As Sophia Money-Coutts, Features Editor at British society magazine Tatler says: “Of course the hope is that we will treat her equally, but already I have about five hundred press releases about pink dolls, pink prams, pink baby shoes. There is an expectation that she will be obsessed with dresses, shoes and hair—and that we will be agog about what she is wearing. But Kate and William are modern and forward-thinking parents, I have no doubt they will treat both their children the same.”
Being a spare heir is tough enough. Being a female spare heir is double trouble—just look at the anguished existence of Princess Margaret (or, alternatively, Princess Eleanor in E!’s The Royals).
As the Daily Mail royal and society writer Catherine Ostler says, “Being a Royal spare, male or female, can be a nebulous and potentially humiliating role. Margaret, Andrew (who of course was the spare rather than Anne even though he was younger) and Harry have all had an air of frustration or confusion around them sometimes. There is not much in the role, unless in extremis.”
Victoria Arbiter royal expert and daughter of former Royal spokesman Dickie Arbiter, who grew up in Kensington Palace in the Diana era, points out that Charlotte is likely to face an uphill battle if she seeks to define herself outside the narrow boundaries of Princess-dom.
However, the public—long moved on from its unalloyed love of Royals, and belief they can live a life of far-removed luxury—will also expect her to either work or find an active role in public life.
“Diana tried unsuccessfully to shake her image as a clothes horse,” Arbiter says. However, Diana did find a public purpose as a high-profile face of understanding and compassion around HIV and AIDS (long before it had become a fashionable charitable cause), and later as a campaigner around landmines.
“Kate has been keen to avoid the (clothes-horse) label,” says Arbiter, “by recycling her clothes, often sticking to the same nude court shoes and playing it safe when it comes to her fashion choices. But her hair, make-up and sartorial choices continue to dominate headlines.”
Arbiter points out that despite a running tally of 34 Kings and 6 Queens, which suggests the monarchy really is a man’s world, it is the women, notably the Elizabeths and Victoria—who have performed best and left the most lasting impact.
She is hopeful that Kate’s personality and grit is making the role of females in the monarchy about more than selling “bee venom face masks” (as Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Charles’ wife, was said to use).
“Kate is the most senior female royal to hold a university degree and she has a steeliness necessary to survive life within the monarchy,” she says.
“The Queen has established a deep held respect for women within the institution, so as long as William and Kate continue to follow her example there’s no reason why Princess Charlotte of Cambridge should not be able to stand as a strong, independent, fully-equal spare to the heir now and in the years ahead.”