‘Plastic’ Kate is a ‘designed to breed’ automaton: Hilary Mantel

Booker-prize-winning author ignites fury with critique of royals


Britain's Kate, the duchess of Cambridge arrives at Hope House, in London, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

“Her eyes are dead.” “She appears precision-made, machine made.” “Designed to breed in some manners.” Those are a few of the harsh comments directed at Kate, duchess of Cambridge by Hilary Mantel, who’s won two Booker prizes for instalments of her popular Thomas Cromwell series. They come from a biting lecture,  “Royal Bodies,” delivered on Feb. 4 but just noticed by the press, at the British Museum for a London Review of Books series. While the lecture covers the baby-making qualities of everyone from Anne Boleyn to Marie Antoinette and Diana, princess of Wales, Mantel’s criticisms of Kate are its heart.

“Kate becoming a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung. In those days she was a shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore. These days she is a mother-to-be, and draped in another set of threadbare attributions…Kate seems to have been selected for her role of princess because she was irreproachable: as painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character. She appears precision-made, machine-made, so different from Diana whose human awkwardness and emotional incontinence showed in her every gesture. Diana was capable of transforming herself from galumphing schoolgirl to ice queen, from wraith to Amazon. Kate seems capable of going from perfect bride to perfect mother, with no messy deviation.”

Even Prime Minister David Cameron stepped into the controversy, calling Mantel’s comments “completely misguided and completely wrong.” The tabloids, needless to say, have gone ballistic. And, for them, the timing couldn’t be better, for they could juxtapose Mantel’s biting works with new pictures of Kate. Tuesday, she appeared at her first engagement in two months. Showing off her baby bump in a close-fitting wrap dress, she visited one of her charities, Hope House, an addiction recovery centre foe women in London.

Though seemingly harsh for the sake gaining attention when it comes to Kate, Mantel’s lecture is also a rollickingly good read, especially when she highlights the regal gilded cage–“everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage”— in which the Windsors live:

“I used to think that the interesting issue was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not? Our current royal family doesn’t have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage.”


‘Plastic’ Kate is a ‘designed to breed’ automaton: Hilary Mantel

  1. Shakespeare – two women placed together makes cold weather

    • Sexism….remarks by a man named Hester.

  2. I suppose the intent of the article is social criticism, or criticism of he monarchy in general? Hard to tell. As a public person, the Duchess is seen to be fair game for critique and speculation, but the author’s description of her is cruel and dehumanizing, and I don’t really see what purpose it serves, other than provoking outrage.

    • You should read the entire document; it is wonderful and she is not being cruel to the duchess at all. She’s scolding the media for dehumanizing royals.

    • The intent of the lecture was to criticize the way the press portrays women in the royal family. If you read the whole lecture, it is not hard to tell.

  3. It’s interesting that Mantel goes on to compare the Royals to pandas (or other exotic pets) and asks the question of whether or not we actually need pandas. I think she misses the point of caged animals, they make a handy target for cruelty without consequence. You can poke caged animals with a stick and never need to worry about the danger of provoking free animals.

  4. This comment was deleted.

      • Yes, you are right. I took the time to read the entire speech and it’s just a treat — she is not being cruel to Kate, and she is addressing (eloquently scolding) the press. She is a terrific writer, and I really enjoyed reading it — food for thought.

      • I would add that my comment regarding the author’s disability was in response to a negative comment (now deleted) about her appearance. Otherwise, I do not consider her appearance relevant to the discussion.

  5. I agree with the author.

  6. This is a crass and lazy distortion of Mantel’s remarks. She was clearly referring to the media’s treatment of Middleton, not to her own opinion of Middleton.

    Imagine for a moment that I had my own paper, took the comments that Mantel is supposed to have made and said that Maclean’s, or Maclean’s Patricia Treble said them. That would be about as accurate as this piece of garbage.