Royal Anxiety

Gabriele Annan

  • The Queen by Kenneth Harris
    Weidenfeld, 341 pp, £20.00, April 1994, ISBN 0 297 81211 4
  • Divine Right: The Inglorious Survival of British Royalty by Richard Tomlinson
    Little, Brown, 357 pp, £17.50, June 1994, ISBN 0 316 91119 4

My favourite recent book about the Queen is called The Queen’s Knickers by Nicholas Allan. It is a picture book for small children. The centre spread presents several rows of knickers for every royal occasion: Union Jack knickers for state visits, black knickers for state funerals, tartan for Balmoral, knickers printed all over with corgis for home, and appliquéd with real holly for Christmas, ‘which is why she keeps her Christmas message very short’. She gets into a terrible flap trying to decide which pair to wear for a visit to the child narrator’s school. The little girl ‘puts her at her ease’ by pointing out that it doesn’t matter because they won’t be seen anyway. After the visit the Queen sends her a bread-and-butter letter. It will actually have been written by a lady-in-waiting, though that is not explained in The Queen’s Knickers, which is a perfectly Queen-friendly book. It can be read as a variant on ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, except that it’s much less contemptuous: the attitude is indulgent, though, rather than awe-struck.

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