If you follow Royals gossip then the past few weeks have been a veritable goldmine of posh sleaze for you. Right now, the British Royal Family (the Royals who gobble up most of the world’s attention, sorry Denmark) are in a curious place where they have seemingly never been more popular. Or, at least, they have never been more visible. The younger generation, headlined by the Cambridge and Sussex duos, have been heralded as the new era of royalty, the modern millennials who are Just Like Us. The two beloved princes, the sons of Diana, have grown up and married beautiful women who they seem enamoured with. Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, two very different people who both entered the most heralded of institutions through marriage, have been subjected to the most lavish fairy-tale narratives and the most unnecessarily cruel scrutiny. But let’s be honest, right now, one woman is getting far more flack than the other.
We’ve written a lot about the racist, sexist, and xenophobic harassment Meghan Markle has been subjected to since she was first revealed to be Prince Harry’s girlfriend. It hasn’t stopped, even as she’s entered the final stage of her pregnancy. The press has blasted her for everything from wearing dark nail polish to wanting to choose her own doctors for her impending childbirth to, shock of all shocks, closing her own car door and holding her own baby bump. It’s tough to avoid the virulent tone of much of this, from both the British press and social media, especially as harmful conspiracies about supposed fake pregnancies and Medea style entrapment on Meghan’s part become all the more hostile. We live in conspiratorial times driven by hatred and bigotry and the treatment Meghan has received for simply living her life has often felt like the exemplification of that. So it’s no wonder that one especially juicy piece of Royal rumour has caught fire over the past couple of weeks. It’s nice to take a break from seeing Meghan be crushed, if nothing else.
For those of you who have been voluntarily excluding yourselves from this narrative, here is a quick summary of why everyone thinks Prince William is cheating on Kate Middleton: William, Kate and their very cute children currently live in Norfolk, where they are part of a tight-knit upper-class social circle nicknamed the Turnip Toffs. Two of their best friends in this circle are David Cholmondeley, the former Earl of Rocksavage, and his wife Rose Hanbury. By the way, it’s pronounced ‘Chumley’. Sorry, I don’t know why either. David currently holds a very prestigious title in the Queen’s court, while Rose, a former model who is 23 years his junior, is seen as the queen of the Turnip Toffs. They’re mega-rich, super well-connected, and ever so upper class.
So, last month, the Sun, one of the major British tabloids, ran a weird piece that alleged Kate and William had split from the Cholmondeleys and Kate was working on excluding her from their social circle altogether. The phrase ‘rural rival’ was used. It wasn’t an especially juicy story on its surface, but the Cambridge reaction to it was. Suddenly headlines started swirling that they planned to sue The Sun for this flagrant lie and that they would shut down anyone else who perpetuated it. Two days after that headline, Daily Mail royal reporter (and strong Windsor ally) Richard Kay further refuted the Sun story and said William and Kate would consider legal action over it.
This was a weird flex for a lot of people. The Royals, but especially Queen Elizabeth, operate a savvy PR game where they only step in when it’s absolutely necessary. You can’t slap down every nonsense story lest you start to look guilty. So why go after this nothing little story about feuding friends? What else is going on? This is where things got interesting. Nicole Cliffe’s epic Twitter thread offered some theories, but she was also echoing something that had been around the blogosphere and Royal gossip circles for a while: That Prince William was allegedly caught cheating on Kate with Rose Chumley. Yikes. The audacity to cheat on your spouse with their best friend, especially after your mother was famously put through the wringer by your dad’s infidelity… Suffice to say, people were not happy about this, but they certainly latched onto the story, and things were only made all the more dramatic when food critic, TV presenter and all-round ars*hole Giles Coren tweeted (then deleted) that the affair was public news for his circle. The source for the story was said to be Rose herself, who allegedly couldn’t keep her mouth shut and was indignant at middle-class Kate trying to force her out of her rightful place in the Turnip Toffs.
Would it be helpful for me to explain the current Royal scandal w a great deal of personal editorializing?— Nicole Cliffe (@Nicole_Cliffe) March 30, 2019
The cheating stuff isn’t the only part of the story that proved alluring. Cliffe’s editorializing on the story explored the possibility that maybe this was the inciting incident that led to the oft-discussed rift between Harry and William. There have been plenty of stories spinning the idea that Meghan and Kate are involved in an almighty catfight that has torn the beloved brothers apart. It’s one of many angles to ‘diva Meghan’ gossip that’s permeated the British press. The other possibility to this gossip angle is that the anti-Meghan stories are coming directly from the House of Cambridge as a way to keep the focus off the cheating. The British press are pretty kind to the Royals for the most part. Their relationship has gotten sturdier under Charles’s era because he’s grown to be a PR master who knows how to play the game. Even though William abhors the press and blames them for his mother’s death, he knows how to give them what they want from time to time. It’s kind of the only thing the monarchy need to do in order to stay relevant. So, the idea that there is a mutually beneficial relationship between William and the press to keep his dirt out of the headlines in favour of an easier target has proven highly believable to many.
OK, let’s get this out of the way: None of us have any proof that William is or has ever cheated on Kate. We probably never will unless Kate decides to release her own Lemonade or decides to actually divorce him and do as Diana did. This is pure speculation and editorializing. The British press has not written about this in any way but plenty of American publications have (possibly because they don’t have a professional relationship with The Firm to risk). Even if all of this is true, the chances are we’ll never find out about the extent of it unless one of the people involved talks, and these people do not talk for just anyone. Eventually, this will blow over, or at least that’s the hope. We’ll get more pictures of their cute kids, more joint public appearances where they look happy together, more ‘all is well’ narratives talking about their super-normal life in the countryside with fellow millionaires.
So, why has this story caught fire in a way plenty of other royal rumours haven’t? What is it about this tale that has enraptured and enraged so many? I have a few theories.
First of all, it’s tough to avoid the optics of how this story, unfounded or otherwise, has picked up no steam in the British press while every move Meghan makes is under the microscope. Surely if she was rumoured to be cheating on Harry with some piece of posh totty, we’d never hear the end of it. The British press love this sort of gossip and yet we see no headlines? Not even a whisper? It looks weird at best, especially given how much the Americans have jumped onto this.
It’s also an issue of optics: Prince William was his mother’s confidante while she was dealing with the Camilla situation. This has been talked about frequently. Surely you would be the first person to understand the pain of infidelity on a family, especially if you’re second in line to the throne and all eyes are on you? But for anyone with a smidgen of knowledge about the British Royals, cheating kings and heirs is as much a part of their history as moth-eaten cloaks and casual racism. They’re expected to have a mistress. It’s their Kingly duty! For all the talk of modern monarchy (which was always retrograde bullsh*t, for the record), it would be foolish to continue to perpetuate the falsehood that the Royals are Just Like Us.
This story has also brought up a lot of people’s feelings about Kate as well as her own narrative from commoner to Royal. She may be middle class but she is still the daughter of millionaires who went to an exclusive private school and associated almost exclusively with the upper echelons of British society. She was the original fairy-tale princess before Meghan for our generation, the prince’s university sweetheart who waited a whole decade before getting that massive ring on her finger. She never put a foot wrong during that period, and she’s been a perfectly cromulent consort to the future King, always appropriately dressed with flowing chestnut hair and mostly silent to the world. For better or worse, Kate exposes the harsh truths of Royal life for the women who marry into it, play the game flawlessly, and are still ultimately diminished as a result. Indeed, being diminished seems to be the endgame for such women. So, imagine going through all that, including a solid decade of watching your boyfriend f*ck about in public while you get slated as Waity Katie, then finally settling down for the long haul and he has the AUDACITY to shag one of your pals?! What Meghan has been put through by the British press is abhorrent, but Kate is also stuck playing an unwinnable game that exposes the misogyny of this life more than the press would care to admit. They don’t want her or Meghan to be more than the ball-jointed dolls and clothes horses Hilary Mantel described her as.
Once again, this is all pure speculation and reporting on rumours. The point of this was to try and understand just what it is about this particular bite of gossip that has proven too irresistible for not only Royal watchers but the non-British press. If any of this has actually happened then we’re probably not going to see confirmation of that unless Kate files for divorce, Rose offers an exclusive to the press, or the tabloids decide they don’t ever need another Windsor exclusive in their lifetime. The Royals, of course, are there to be watched. We Brits pay taxes to fund them and the very least we can get out of this undemocratic charade is a bit of chatter now and then. How true is this story, or how good are the odds that it’s true? That’s a tough thing to judge, and I hesitate to play armchair psychologist or psychic over this. As a Brit who’s often been posh adjacent and knows a few people in those circles, gossip of William being, at the very least, a haughty pr*ck are commonplace, but one should always hesitate to put too much belief in gossip. But the fact that we’re talking about it in the first place feels representative of a lot of our concerns, anxieties, and investment in people like this and the narratives spun that keep them in power. At the very least, it’s nice to see the heat off Meghan for a while.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.