What ‘Lady in Waiting’ taught me about British aristocracy

It’s easy to be cynical about people born in palaces, but had it been you, would you give it up because it’s unfair?


Ever since I can remember, anything to do with royals has intrigued me. From their looks to their history, from their work to their manners, I am fascinated and nosy about royal families across the world.

I know I’m not alone in this. In fact, last year, Lady Glenconner’s memoir “Lady in Waiting: My extraordinary life in the shadow of the Crown” (2019, Hodder & Stoughton) has sold over 170, 000 copies. The book has gained a fresh wave of popularity this year after it was announced that Anne Glenconner’s writing would not stop there.

Princess Margaret’s friend and lady-in-waiting of over three decades got a two-book deal in March. Her latest one, a crime novel titled, “Murder on Mustique” was released in early November.

(Please note that links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you are a UK or US resident, I will receive a small commission if you buy books via these links. Bookshop.org is a website that supports independent bookshops.)


Screenshot provided by the Author

I finished “Lady in Waiting” a few days ago and loved every minute of it. This was surprising since memoirs are not something I normally enjoy, but the outlandish story of all these families at the top of the British social hierarchy made it a lot easier to digest than your average memoir. This is likely the case because their stories do not seem real. The book has and has not changed the way I see aristocracy, because some aspects took me aback, while others were almost eye-roll-worthy.

Anne Glenconner’s writing is one of the best things about it. There is a diplomacy, as honest and blunt as it is delicate, that softened my harsh opinion on these highly privileged people — if only just a little. As curious as I am about the Royal Family, my general point of view is that, in a country where people can be left without any means of income, where homelessness is such a heart-breaking issue and children in poverty are denied free school meals, being born in a palace, so far away from these harsh realities, is unfair.

And it is true that many aspects Lady Glenconner wrote about with ease were, at times, infuriating. The stories of her husband, Colin, buying house after house in prestigious London neighbourhoods, just because he was “eccentric”, or offering Princess Margaret “a piece of land” on a tropical island as a wedding gift, fall into this category.

But one can’t deny the humanity Lady Glenconner sheds light on, in the aristocrats and royals she wrote about. As otherworldly as her life and the lives of everyone in the memoir undeniably are, you cannot help but sympathise with all of them at different stages of the book.

I sighed in support of the Queen on her Coronation Day, as her husband was making a scene, according to Anne Glenconner, when the official photographs were taken. I was angry for the writer, when reading about her horrific honeymoon and her abusive new husband, and was shaken to find out they stayed married for over five decades. My heart broke when Lady Glenconner lost her two eldest sons and fought so bravely to awake her third son from a coma.

As for Princess Margaret, her story is perhaps the most moving of them all. Not in the sense that she had an entirely sad or pitiable life, as a lot of people portray it from afar still. Princess Margaret, as described by her friend, was a charming, relatable and fun woman, with a lot of empathy and tolerance.

I felt for her as her marriage was falling apart and admired her strength to escape on the Glenconners’ island, Mustique, and still make the most of her life. Although this does trigger the immediate thought that many women in unhappy marriages cannot run away to their private beach and picture-perfect house on an island.

It is easy to judge and point when reading about people with such lives, but most of us fail to put ourselves in their shoes, and in turn, jump into full cynicism. So I paused and thought about it for some time.

These people’s lives, although carefree and privileged in many ways, were not without tragedy. Indeed, in some situations, the tragedies were caused by the very circumstances of their wealth. So I asked myself: had I been born a princess and offered land and a house to get away from my husband, would I really have said no?


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Please note, this was initially published on December 19, 2020 at Medium.com

Published by Eliza Lita

Founder and editor-in-chief: Coffee Time Reviews. Freelance journalist covering breaking news, business, politics, books, and fitness.

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