A version of this story appeared in the December 30 edition of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly dispatch bringing you the inside track on Britain’s royal family. Sign up here.
The writing was on the wall. Family reunions, legal troubles, fractured relationships and exiled royals – it was always going to be a tough 12 months for the House of Windsor. But nothing could have prepared Britain’s royal family for the realities of the past year and the seismic shifts it has endured.
2022 should have been a year of celebration, an opportunity to recognize the entry of Queen Elizabeth II into an exclusive club of world leaders who reached the historic milestone of 70 years of service.
For many Brits, the Queen was the only monarch they’d ever known but instead the summer’s Platinum Jubilee became a swansong that united thousands in London to celebrate her reign one last time.
Exuberant partygoers draped in Union Jack flags flocked to the British capital for the long weekend. As expected, the four days of pomp and pageantry were an eclectic and, at times, eccentric British spectacle. But concern for the Queen’s health cast a shadow over the occasion – a stark reminder that her presence was not everlasting.
With her ongoing health and mobility issues, she only appeared twice: once as events kicked off with the Trooping the Color military parade and at the pageant finale when she took to Buckingham Palace balcony for what would become the final time.
Just three months later, in September, crowds returned to the famous royal residence as the Queen once more united the nation – this time in grief at her passing.
With the end of the second Elizabethan Age came a long goodbye. Ten days of mourning and commemoration during which 250,000 people flocked to the Palace of Westminster to pay their respects as the late monarch’s coffin lay in state.
Among the mourners, presidents, prime ministers and dignitaries from around the world – 2,000 in all – came together for the Queen’s funeral. The mourning period saw a new King grieve publicly as individual family members paid tribute to the late monarch’s lifelong dedication and legacy.
The funeral arrangements, which had been the subject of much speculation for years, followed centuries of tradition, and allowed many both at home and across the Commonwealth and world to mourn the Queen’s death. Thanks to decades of meticulous planning, the dawn of the new Carolean reign saw Charles III quickly proclaimed before he embarked on a whistlestop tour of each of the UK’s nations.
Previously unresolved issues such as what kind of role his wife Camilla would have in the future monarchy had been settled by the Queen in the months before her death. One example was her wish for her daughter-in-law to be known as Queen Consort “when the time comes” in a statement issued in February, on the anniversary of her father’s death.
Elizabeth II had made several decisions in the twilight of her reign to try and ensure the transition of power to her son was as seamless as possible. Another was to draw a line under the scandals surrounding Prince Andrew – who at the beginning of the year was still facing a protracted court battle in the United States over historical sexual abuse allegations – by stripping him of his cherished titles and duties.
The Queen understood the monarchy was being tainted by Andrew’s legal woes and removing him from any possibility of a future role in civic life likely helped quell further criticism. Andrew later settled out of court for an undisclosed figure without admitting any wrongdoing and the case was dismissed. But, apparently understanding that the damage to her son’s reputation was irreparable, the Queen had again shown that her institutional duties to the country came first.
With Charles III now on the throne, it is unlikely we’ll see a reversal of that position. Andrew is still a member of the family and as such was present at Sandringham over the holidays, but the new King is not going to sign off on any kind of return to the royal fold for Andrew. He signaled as much by recently passing on Andrew’s former military titles to other members of the clan. Additionally, the family’s advisers have, in recent years, been promoting a slimmed-down monarchy and the King will want to maintain that in these austere times.
One issue the Queen wasn’t able to resolve was the growing animosity between Prince Harry and Meghan and other members of the family. The Queen had vaguely pushed back against claims in their Oprah interview by saying “recollections may vary” but that they were still “much loved family members.” However, the bad blood between the Sussexes and other royals remained until her death. And yes, we saw them reunite briefly with the new Prince and Princess of Wales in Windsor to greet mourners. But it’s unlikely that things have improved since the couple’s Netflix documentary came out earlier this month.
The six-hour series was an unfiltered telling of the family separation from the Sussex perspective. And while most of the talking points covered old ground, the claims of institutional gaslighting, bullying behavior and alleged planting of stories in the British press against the couple will not be a moment of the year the family will look back on fondly.
The response from the palace followed a tried-and-true method: silence. Hours after the final part of the series was released, the Windsors put on a unified front at the Princess of Wales’s Christmas concert in London. While there was likely unhappiness behind palace walls over the barrage of negative headlines, the family opted against any kind of retaliation and instead laid on a stoic showing. The clear message: Keep calm and carry on. The Windsors’ lack of response to the series also signaled that they did not view it as damaging to the institution.
The Firm will come under the microscope again when Harry’s memoir releases in January and presumably they’ll choose to handle that second Sussex salvo in the same way. Maintaining a dignified silence in the face of potentially detrimental claims is by no means the easy option but the King will not want to get bogged down in family disagreements as his reign begins. Instead, he’ll want to redirect the public’s attention to the power of the monarchy as the family readjusts.
To say 2022 has changed the royal family would be a monumental understatement. Few could have predicted just how much change the year would bring. But 2023 isn’t going to be much quieter. The royal diary over the next 12 months is already stacking up and the redrawn family will be hoping it brings some much-needed stability.
With Charles on the throne, the new family dynamics face fresh scrutiny. Questions remain over whether the new King can bridge the divide that has cleaved his children. But Windsor turmoil aside, the business of the monarchy will continue.
Among other things next year will also bring the King’s first overseas tour – the first by a British sovereign since 2015. And then of course we have the coronation – royal events don’t get much bigger than this and the King will want to use it to cement his standing and that of the remaining working royals. Charles has signaled a desire to represent all races and religions, and to protect Britain’s diversity – the invited congregation will reflect that. In doing so, he’ll also be hoping to channel his mother’s flair for unity and bring the country and Commonwealth together as his reign gets underway.
A MODERN MONARCHY: WHO’S WHO IN THE HOUSE OF WINDSOR?
From CNN’s Ellie Stubbs, Rachel Jung and Sarah-Grace Mankarious
The last 12 months have seen significant changes throughout the British royal family.
As members of the Windsor Clan have stepped away from public duties, others have stepped up and roles have shifted. To make sure you’re up to speed with the latest movements and title changes, CNN has pulled together a new interactive family tree.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
The royal family resumed its tradition of gathering at St Mary Magdalene Church on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk on Christmas Day. It was the first time the family had done so since the pandemic as the late Queen spent her last two Christmases at Windsor. As is often the case, royal watchers turned out in droves to glimpse royals – with the King leading his family on foot to the church.
WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING?
The first banknotes featuring the King are coming.
It’s something a few folks have been wondering – what would banknotes look like with a new portrait of the King replacing the likeness of his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II? Well, last week the Bank of England unveiled the designs of the new £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes. Most of the design will remain unchanged and new notes are only being printed “to replace worn banknotes and to meet any overall increase in demand,” the Bank of England said. Find out when it will go into circulation and more here.
UK lawmakers call on Sun newspaper to sanction Jeremy Clarkson over Meghan column.
A group of British lawmakers have called for action against columnist Jeremy Clarkson after he wrote a controversial opinion piece about Meghan, Duchess of Sussex in The Sun newspaper, which was subsequently withdrawn. “We welcome The Sun’s retraction of the article, we now demand action is taken against Mr Clarkson and an unreserved apology is issued to Ms Markle immediately,” the letter reads, which was led by Caroline Nokes, a Member of Parliament from the ruling Conservative party, and chair of Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee. Thousands of people have complained to the UK’s press watchdog about the column. Read more on this story here.
CRAIG DAVID SPILLS ON PERFORMING AT THE QUEEN’S JUBILEE.
When you think back on this year and some of the royal moments, one of the big ones was the nationwide celebration for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee back in June. Helping the monarch to mark an unprecedented 70 years on the throne, British singer-songwriter Craig David joined a stellar line up of global stars for a night of entertainment in front of Buckingham Palace.
The 41-year-old artist - dressed in a bright blue sequin ensemble that one little royal in particular went “crazy” for – got the crowds jumping with a medley of his biggest hits including “Ain’t Giving up,” “Re-Rewind” and “Fill Me In.” Reflecting on the moment, David recently told CNN it was incredible to be on stage at the iconic location.
“It was such a special moment for the country,” David explained. “I think everyone was looking for something at the end of a pandemic that hit so many people and so many people had lost family members. There was this moment of celebration for the first time in the whole country.
“It was incredible to be standing outside Buckingham Palace and to look down The Mall and see that many people enjoying this performance that went on,” he said.
David revealed that after his performance, he was “lucky” enough to be invited into the royal residence, bringing his mom along for the special visit. Inside, he met Prince William and his wife, Catherine, who revealed that Prince George had gone “crazy” over the sequin outfit. David also shared that he told the royal couple he’d look into getting George his own smaller version made up.
Mark it in your calendars! You can catch a special performance from Craig David as part of CNN’s “New Year’s Eve Live,” recorded at Twickenham Film Studios. Tune in on December 31 to watch coverage on CNN.
(CNN’s James Frater contributed to this section.)
The new monarch paid tribute to his late mother from a poignant location in his first Christmas broadcast. Read more.