The longest-reigning monarch in British history, Queen Elizabeth II has worn the crown for 67 years.
In that time, she gave birth to four children: Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward — all of whom, like their parents, are notoriously private people.
That’s why the public is so fascinated with what goes on behind closed doors, says royal historian Carolyn Harris.
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“There’s always a lot of interest … when we see members of the Royal Family just speaking to one another in an ordinary way without it being an official speech,” Harris said.
Harris, author of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting, regularly receives questions about the Queen’s children and their relationships with their mother.
She says growing up with Queen Elizabeth II as your mom would’ve been considered “normal” for the four kids, and former hand to the Queen, Dickie Arbiter, agrees.
“They went to school like other people go to school, they went to work like other people did,” he said.
“They had their friends, they had parties, they have their parents and grandparents.”
Arbiter says this feeling of normalcy would’ve extended to the children’s relationships with their mother. However, there were some inevitable differences between their upbringing and other non-royal families, simply due to the Queen’s obligations as Head of State.
“Unfortunately, does interfere sometimes,” he said. “But at the end of the day, they come together.”
Similarities and differences
The Queen assumed the throne when she was just 25 years old, as a wife and mother to two young children — Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
She was thrust into the limelight and had a very busy schedule, says Harris, and her duties as Queen often prevented her from spending time with them.
“She spent time in the early years of her reign on extended Commonwealth tours during the 1950s,” she said. “At the time, it was thought to be disruptive to children to take them along on these long sea voyages.”
As a result, Prince Charles spent a lot of time with “nannies and governesses,” as well as members of the extended royal family. In fact, the Queen “depended on the nannies to supervise the daily lives,” writes Sally Bedell Smith in her book Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life.
During this time, Prince Charles also grew quite close to his great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, and his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen mother.
“ used to visit him when he was at boarding school in Scotland, and he credits with his interest in the arts,” Harris said. “With the Queen having so many responsibilities, there was a greater role for the extended family and for the wider royal household in the upbringing of the royal children.”
Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, who were born a decade after their older siblings, would’ve had a vastly different experience with their mother as Queen.
Arbiter — who calls Prince Andrew and Prince Edward the Queen’s “second family” — says there was a “slightly different upbringing between the first family and the second family.”
“Not to say she didn’t have a good relationship with whenever she had time with them. She played with them in exactly the same way as any mother would play with children. She read stories,” he said.
“She had the opportunity of being a real hands-on mother … when Andrew and Edward were born in 1960 and 1964, respectively.”
Harris says this shift was, in part, due to the fact that the Queen had “settled into her reign to a larger degree” when Andrew and Edward were born.
“She seems to have had more contact with them when they were young children,” she said.
However, for all the royal children, the same is true: the family’s busy schedules and public engagements required of the Royal Family made “spontaneous family time” difficult.
“There was more time for spontaneous time together when away from London, at Balmoral Castle (the family’s Scottish holiday home) for several days or at Sandringham for Christmas,” she said. “But when at Buckingham Palace or Windsor, the extended royal duties often had an effect on family time.”
When the royal family travels, there’s sometimes a sense of them being more relaxed outside the United Kingdom.
For this reason, experts speculate that there are some royal traditions the Queen’s children dislike.
One noteworthy example of these duties is boarding school, which Prince Charles particularly despised. He attended Cheam School when he was eight years old, and later, he went to Gordonstoun in northeastern Scotland. Both were also attended by his father, Prince Philip.
“There’s correspondence that indicates that, for instance, when his brothers were born, he hoped there’d be an opportunity for him to come home for a visit,” said Harris.
“He was always looking for opportunities to be able to get away from boarding school.”
Prince Charles’ experience has contributed to a slight shift in royal tradition. He and the late Princess Diana decided to send their children, Prince William and Prince Harry, to Eton College — located “right near Windsor Castle,” said Harris.
This allowed the boys to “see their family more regularly.”
The relationships now
“The Queen clearly likes to have her family around her,” Harris says — especially for special occasions. “When the Queen is at Balmoral, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren come to visit her there.”
Princess Anne has commented that “they all get along well and enjoy each other’s company,” Harris said of the family.
However, she wonders if the recent news about Prince Andrew will make this Christmas different from the rest. The Queen’s third child confirmed last week that he will be “stepping down” from public royal duties due to his ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
These developments have caused “a great deal of tension,” said Harris. “There’s been a lot of speculation that Prince Charles has been influential to the decision for Prince Andrew to step back from royal duties.”
“It can only be speculated what impact this is having on personal relations between members of the Royal Family.”
Harris says this is just one example of when the family has had to prioritize the crown over their own desires. “The crown is a political institution and the future of the crown must be considered at all times,” she said.
However, the Queen and Prince Andrew were seen out riding horses just two days after the announcement, which suggests to Harris that “the personal relationship between mother and son is continuing to some extent, even as Prince Andrew is stepping back from his royal duties.”
“There’s always a complex interplay between the personal and the political.”
As the children get older, their relationships continually change and evolve — but they’re still very close, said Arbiter.
“It’s as normal as it could be, given the circumstances under which they live,” he said.
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