Friday, 1 June 2018

Guest Review: The Duchess by Penny Junor

The Duchess by Penny Junor
First published in the UK by William Collins in June 2017.

Guest Review by Michelle Short:
I'm delighted to introduce and host a review by my Goodreads friend Michelle Short today. Michelle is a prolific American indie book reviewer of Biography/Memoir (2012-). I love that she has been a fan of Literary Flits for its 2 years' existence so it seemed highly appropriate to start off this third year of with one of Michelle's reviews!

Michelle's rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £4.39 (PB)
Wordery : from £8.15 (PB)
Waterstones : from £9.99 (PB)
Amazon : from $9.05 / £2.66 (used PB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

The relationship between Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is one of the most remarkable love stories of the age. It has endured against all the odds, and in the process nearly destroyed the British monarchy. It is a rich and remarkable story that has never been properly told – indeed, it is one of the most extraordinary, star-crossed love stories of the past fifty years.

Michelle says: The notable British author and journalist Penny Junor has written extensively about the Royal family in several bestselling biographies. “The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles and the Love Affair that Rocked the Crown” is an intriguing biography that explores one of the most compelling and controversial figures in British royalty. This is a thoughtfully written and fair portrayal of Camilla, and seems to be an authorized version of her life story; far removed from the sensational tsunami of media coverage that blasted her story from the British tabloids, greatly influencing public opinion and the unseen forces that shaped her life.

Camilla Strand (1947-) was the oldest daughter born and raised in a wealthy privileged aristocratic estate in East Sussex. Her parents, Bruce and Rosalind Strand provided their three children a loving happy upbringing. The couple generously opened their home “The Laines” and welcomed people from all walks of life for parties and charitable events. Rosalind despised the class definitions that separated people, and didn’t have a sense of entitlement or snobbishness, she set a remarkable example that has positively influenced Camilla’s social and cultural attitudes. The Strands were a close loving family. Camilla’s closest friend and confidant is her sister Annabel, they speak on the phone several times a week.

It must be remembered that from her introduction to Charles the Prince of Wales (1971), he was never Camilla’s first choice in men. There is no evidence of a romance between them during that time. Camilla married the distinguished British Army officer Andrew Parker Bowles in a spectacular military wedding ceremony (1973-1995). Camilla adored her virile alpha male husband, confident, with a great deal of worldly experience, sophistication and charm. However, Camilla wouldn’t find the fulfillment that a happy marriage could bring. Bowles was a serial philanderer, and some of his lovers had been Camilla’s friends. Camilla would find maternal satisfaction in her family life, her children, homemaking and gardening. Camilla wanted her children to experience the happiness and stability she had known in childhood, the Catholic faith strongly disapproved of divorce, and Camilla was determined to make the best of her marriage—despite the sting of her husband’s infidelities.

The role of Prince Charles in Camilla’s life during her marriage was likely based in their solid friendship. According to Junor, Charles and Camilla became lovers in 1978-79, though there wasn’t a confirmation listed of a physical affair. Prince Charles and Camilla did have a strong enduring relationship that developed over time. As the royal marriage of Charles and Diana broke down, Prince Charles in his despair, turned to Camilla for the unconditional love, faith and belief she had always had in him. It is clear that their relationship was based on a deep understanding, trust, loyalty and support either Prince Charles or Camilla had been able to cultivate with their spouses.

To understand the complexities of the marriage of Charles and Diana, and Camilla’s alleged involvement it is necessary to examine the facts. There were obvious problems before and after the marriage of Charles and Diana, which understandably caused Diana enough grief, stress and turmoil to be labeled and viewed as mentally unstable. A 30 something groom who takes his books and watercolors on a honeymoon with his adoring 19 year old bride is enough for concern and speculation. Diana was perplexed and bewildered by her husband’s cold indifference towards her—Diana was innocent, and this is exactly what made her a suitable favorable bride for Prince Charles. This innocence did not serve her well. Historians have noted that at the time Charles and Diana married, they barely knew each other. Diana never seemed to be in a position to fully grasp, understand or accept the unknown/undisclosed factors that would inevitably shape her extraordinary and tragic young life.

When Sir Michael Peat was appointed as Prince Charles private secretary (2002) he received a directive from the Queen that Charles relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles needed to end. Peat, realized that Charles would never end his relationship with Camilla, and boldly insisted marriage was the only way to continue under such public scrutiny. Bruce Strand gave his full support and blessing—allowing Prince Charles to move ahead with a confident resolve he had never experienced. The church of England frowned on second marriages if a former spouse was still living, a civil wedding ceremony took place on April 8th 2005. Camilla would be known as H.R.H. the Duchess of Cornwall.

No matter how compatible and genuinely happy and well matched Prince Charles and the Duchess appear to be, to live in the aftermath of scandal, will always be a challenge. Today, Prince Charles publically calls Camilla “my darling wife.” Prince Charles is getting the recognition he should have gotten long ago for his work in philanthropy, public planning projects, charitable works etc. Camilla work’s tirelessly in the support rape, domestic abuse and violence prevention against women and has reached out abroad to victims impacted by war and genocide. The book includes lengthy chapters on Camilla’s charitable works, these chapters initially seemed like filler material, but it was necessary to acknowledge how hard Camilla works for the common good. Junor was introduced to Camilla in 1995, has followed her on public engagements, listened to her speak and interact with the public, though hasn’t ever formally interviewed her. The material for the book was compiled through public records and interviews with family, friends and staff of the royal couple. Pages of excellent photos were included. **With thanks to the Seattle Public Library, the audiobook version is highly recommended.

Thank you Michelle!

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  1. I've got this book but haven't had a chance to read it yet.

    1. I'll be interested to learn what you think when you get to it

  2. Awesome Guest Post, this sounds like a really interesting story!
    Tori @ In Tori Lex

    1. I hardly know anything about Camilla other than the media furore years ago. I think this book tells her story in a predominantly positive light!

  3. This seems like a very interesting book - the media and therefore the public often seem to judge women rather harshly, so it would be great to read about her from a different point of view.

    1. And Camilla was never going to have an easy time in following Diana

  4. Stephanie Jane, Thank you so much for featuring my review of this fascinating book on your website, also to your followers for your kind comments. Camilla Parker Bowles has been harshly judged by the media and public, Penny Junor's book highlights her many positive qualities for fair and balanced portrayal.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your review :-)