Joining the royal family involves more than marrying a prince. Kate Middleton has to figure out a complex web of relationships, including who’s in and who’s out (hint: Sarah Ferguson’s name is permanently on that list). While she’s comfortable with Prince William’s immediate family, the Waleses—she’s known them for years—she’s seen far less of the rest of William’s relations.
Luckily for Kate’s nerves, the Windsors aren’t into weekly Sunday dinners en famille. The reason is simple, author Penny Junor explains: “Each member of the royal family is a star in their own firmament and they have to be treated as such.” Like movies stars, Windsors and their egos don’t like being overshadowed—not even by other family members. “Everyone who works for the royal family is advised not to put them together,” says Junor. Still, there are enough Windsors to fill a very, very large table. In addition to the Queen’s immediate relations—husband, four kids and their three spouses, eight grandkids plus another spouse and a great-grandchild—there are another 40-odd Windsors who form the larger “descendants of George V” royal clan.
In many ways they are like any large family, complete with in-laws who barely tolerate each other, squabbling siblings and unexpectedly close friendships. Though “they are called the most dysfunctional family in the land, they do function quite well,” says royal expert Brian Hoey. Herewith, a primer:
ELIZABETH II AND CHARLES
Within a dynasty that traces its lineage back to Egbert of Wessex, the most important relationship that Kate will need to understand is that of the Queen and her eldest son Charles. Best described as a “working” alliance, it is also one of the most fraught. They’ve never been close. He was just four when she suddenly inherited the throne, and for her duty came before everything, including her relationship with her children.
Today, while the Queen scrupulously avoids anything remotely controversial or political, Charles dives in with abandon, writing letters to cabinet ministers. And, though he lives a ostentatiously luxurious life, he passionately expounds on the environment and youth unemployment.
Adding to the tension is his second marriage. The Queen, a devout Anglican, reluctantly gave permission for her son to marry his divorced mistress in 2005. She had little choice. “He said [Camilla’s] position was non-negotiable and I think the Queen has accepted that if she wants to keep Charles on side, which she does, she’s got to accept Camilla,” said Hoey. “And that’s what she’s done.”
Not helping matters is their different temperaments. The Queen is stoic and restrained; Charles is prone to the dark moods and outbursts that used to plague his stammering grandfather, George VI. It is his wife who helps him through them, says Junor, who knows Camilla. She’s “there to reassure him, to tell him that what he’s doing is great. Nobody else in that family ever tells anyone else how well they’re doing.”
ANNE AND CAMILLA
Noticeably distant to Camilla is her sister-in-law Anne, who has a froideur that turns confident professionals into quaking children when face to face with the princess royal. Each year the Queen’s only daughter goes to the Ascot races with an old friend (and ex-boyfriend)—her sister-in-law’s ex-husband, Andrew Parker Bowles.
ANNE AND CHARLES
Though they don’t seem to have a lot in common, they are close. One Christmas, Princess Anne gave her older brother a white leather toilet seat. “He’s so tickled pink with it,” Hoey recounts. And since it’s actually really comfortable, “it goes with him wherever he goes.”
EDWARD AND ANNE
Hard-working Anne gets along famously with her baby brother Edward, who has failed in several careers. Years ago, when he dropped out of a Royal Marine training course, it was his big sister who opened her home to him as a bolthole until he got on his feet again.
SOPHIE AND ELIZABETH II
Edward’s wife, Sophie, countess of Wessex, is close to her mother-in-law, the Queen. Since the Wessexes live close to Windsor Castle, Sophie is seen visiting the sovereign at her favourite residence, where they have tea together or ride in the Great Park. “You wouldn’t pick her out of a crowd,” the Queen once said of Sophie approvingly.
EDWARD AND ANDREW
Like all big clans, “there will always be certain tensions within the family,” says royal expert Hugo Vickers. Edward’s relationship with his brother Andrew is best described, according to Hoey, as “volatile,” and not eased by the full dose of the male Windsor temper and arrogance that they share.
ANDREW AND SARAH
Andrew, duke of York, is admired by his family for having fought in the Falklands War, but the former naval aviator is also criticized for being a headline magnet, whether it’s his controversial friendship with a convicted American pedophile or his boorish behaviour. And then there is the problem that can be summed up with one word: Fergie. His devotion to his ex-wife baffles his kin, especially since she never stops causing pain for the family. Though exiled from royal events, she still lives with Andrew. And her tendency to attract bad press, and wear inappropriate clothing, appears to have rubbed off on their two daughters. Though both Beatrice and Eugenie are in university, they party big—and take big criticism for it.
THE FOUR COUSINS
Anne’s children, Peter and Zara Phillips, are extremely close to their cousins William and Harry. After Diana died in 1997, it was their young cousins who comforted the princes in the sheltering confines of Balmoral. At most public royal gatherings, the cousins will cluster together, laughing and joking around. Like always, they’ll certainly be together for Christmas, when the Queen gathers her immediate family, as well as that of her late sister Princess Margaret, at Sandringham. And, since they are horsey—Zara is a former world champion three-day eventer—Anne’s children are also near and dear to the Queen’s heart.
THE EXTENDED CLAN
Aside from state visits by foreign heads of state (the Obamas arrive in May) when the Windsors dazzle in tiaras and tails, the relatives gather in large numbers just a few times a year—Christmas at Sandringham, Easter at Windsor, Ascot, Trooping the Colour and summer vacations at Balmoral.
And since not all members of the clan can fit into even the largest of royal residences, they get together every December for an annual pre-Christmas lunch in London. Last year was the first time Kate went. By all accounts, the gathering, which lasted 2½ hours, was a convivial introduction to royal life. When Harry, Kate and William left—all scrunched in the back of a royal car—they were grinning ear to ear.