By Judy Carmack Bross
“Don’t expect tiaras.”
The bestselling author and on-air correspondent leaves tomorrow for London to cover the Coronation of King Charles III for CNN, but while stopping in Chicago this week to highlight her just published George VI and Elizabeth: The Marriage That Saved the Monarchy she made a few predictions for guests who packed perhaps our city’s most impressive ballroom.
“For George VI’s coronation on May 12, 1937, one side of the aisle was ermine and coronets, the other ermine and so many diamonds,” she said. “Camilla’s crown will be the 1911 Queen Mary crown: a nod to sustainability and recycling. I will be surprised to see even one tiara in the crowd.”
When asked about Prince Harry’s presence at the Coronation she made the following comparison:
“Harry’s book has so many wounding things in it about his father, the Queen, Kate and William: it really shows a bitter man. In her memoir Patty Davis was very tough on her parents, Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Later she wrote in a New York Times op-ed that she lived to regret it. She wondered if Harry might feel the same way because he too said very hurtful things. I do not think he will be booed by the crowds when he arrives, but Meghan might be if she were there.”
Smith’s credentials had just arrived and soon she will be sitting with key anchor Anderson Coopers across from Westminster Abbey as she has done for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, Harry and Meghan’s wedding and other royal pageantry. Her Royals Extra, a new Substack newsletter available via email by subscription, gives readers a frequent glimpse inside the royal family, and will be sure to include Coronation behind-the-scenes details.
She shared more about the occasion and the headgear.
“There has been much talk about Camilla becoming the Queen Consort, but that title is automatic for the wife of the King. She will enter first, bare headed, flanked by two bishops, then Charles, like his grandfather, wearing the red velvet Cap of Maintenance, also accompanied by two bishops. He will sign an oath, receive holy oil and then be crowned with the five-pound King Edward crown and dressed in 35 pounds of garments. Camilla is crowded next and anointed with just a bit of holy oil. Expect the congregation to be very multicultural, with only a few members of the House of Lords. Many different faiths will be represented. The whole Coronation will last only an hour.”
In her deeply researched and revealing new book, Smith makes extensive usage to the letters, diaries and papers of Queen Elizabeth II’s parents, close friends and family. The Queen herself granted special access to archives which reveal the love story of Prince Albert, the Duke of York, whom everyone called Bertie, and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, their heroism during World War II, and how they solidified faith in the monarchy. The biography also details the very close relationship Queen Elizabeth II had with her parents. Smith’s book is filled with never-before-seen photographs found in scrapbooks and other family possessions. She noted that Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon often tried mirror writing to disguise her diary entries.
“The archives were high in a round tower at Windsor Castle, I spent three months, six hours a day there, climbing 100 medieval stone steps, topped by another 21 narrow ones to the top,” she said. “Then more archives at Strathmore Castle in Scotland, again more than 100 steps straight up. Needless to say, I took my lunch along.”
“Known forever as the ‘Queen Mum’ Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was a pretty, outgoing and jolly person. Raised by a sadistic nanny and with a brother who was adored by all, Bertie had the stuttering problems which were accurately detailed in the movie The King’s Speech,’ she said. “They married at Westminster Abbey 100 years ago this week. He proposed to her three times before she said yes. I believe it was hard for her to give up the loving family life she experienced. Her optimism and her steadfastness were central to his great success after the 1936 abdication of his brother Edward VIII who became the Duke of Windsor,” Smith said. “She led him to the Australian speech therapist who changed his life, read his speeches before he gave them, and often joined him in his weekly meetings with Winston Churchill. In her diaries the Queen Mother wrote: ‘he told me everything.’”
Smith details the wartime bravery of the royal family and also the games of charades and sardines they played, the plays they acted out in Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, and movies like Gone With the Wind and Casablanca they loved, to ease the unending stress of war around them. “Her father was really Queen Elizabeth’s role model in his humility and courage. She traveled with them all over England to console bombing victims. He was known as the ‘industrial prince’ and he travelled to mines and many other places to demonstrate his interest. On weekends during the war he went down to the basement at Buckingham Palace to join staff members who were making precision parts to be used in warfare. He said he just wanted to do his part.”
What does Smith most anticipate about the Coronation?
“There are so many deep traditions woven into British history, the pageantry the uniting of church and state. It is wonderful to learn of these in a very visual way,” she said. “It is also a very new day for the royals. It will be in many cases very different than his grandfather’s Coronation in 1937, not just in the absence of tiaras.”
Keep up with Sally Bedell Smith with her weekly Royals Extra. When you subscribe, issues come directly to your email. Recent articles in these archives include the 100th anniversary on April 26, 1923 of the marriage of Bertie to Lady Elizabeth at which almost 2000 guests were in attendance. She details some of the wedding gifts they received from other royals, including incredible jewelry. She explores the connection between King Charles III and a “namesake” city, Charleston, South Carolina. One person who met him during his visit there once said: “he liked our city’s very human scale and of course its name.” Read Royals Extra for Smith’s Coronation commentary.