It's not often that the creme de la creme of the literary world intersect with all things royal; after all, the house of Windsor is a famously and proudly anti-intellectual bunch.
This is not a group of people reading Goethe in the original high German or who have thoughts on Keynesian economic theory. (Prince Charles was the first senior member of the royal family to ever go to university and he somehow managed to get into ultra-prestigious Cambridge University despite only having gotten a B in History and a C in French in his final exams.)
But in 2013, Booker Prize-winning novelist Dame Hilary Mantel made global headlines after deciding to share her caustic take on Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge during a lecture at the British Museum. Her assessment? A searing excoriation of the women who would be Queen, calling her a "plastic princess" who was "a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung", and that "Kate seems to have been selected for her role of princess because she was irreproachable: as painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character."
This week, Mantel was back on the royal commenting wagon during an interview with the Times. (She does have some skin in the crown game with her most famous series of novels centred on Thomas Cromwell, the man behind the throne of King Henry VIII.) Asked about the future of the monarchy, the 69-year-old pulled no punches, offering a "back of the envelope" calculation about how long it might survive. Her assessment? The royal family had two more generations in it, that is, Charles and William would make it to the throne before the gilded edifice collapsed.
"I think it's a fair prediction, but let's say I wouldn't put money on it. It's very hard to understand the thinking behind the monarchy in the modern world when people are just seen as celebrities," Mantel said.
It would be easy to discount the award-winning author here given she has a habit of taking aim at all things British and is currently planning a move to Ireland. (She recently said that England "runs on the memory of power, but this resource is becoming exhausted".) Given this, a spot of royal-baiting falls neatly in line with her contrarian, prickly persona.
But, like it or not, (the clucking of the commemorative tea towel brigade notwithstanding) Mantel's prediction is worth some serious consideration given recent events.
Today, the monarchy is taking on water, fast, and on multiple fronts.
For the Queen, the person charged with ensuring the survival of the crown, there is no respite from this current dismal state of affairs in sight.
At fault: Three princes whose behaviour and choices have set off a series of crises the likes of which the royal family has never seen before.
Monday saw the first pre-trial hearing in the civil sexual assault case against Prince Andrew. When news of the lawsuit, filed by Virginia Giuffre (formerly Roberts) broke in August, it was the first time in history a member of the royal house had stood publicly accused of such a reprehensible act. (She alleges she was forced to have sex with the Duke on three occasions when she was 17-years-old. The Duke of York has repeatedly and strenuously denied Giuffre's claims and has said he has "no recollection" of having ever met her.)
Andrew now faces potentially years of legal manoeuvring in a US court (not to mention mounting legal bills on both sides of the Pond) with the possibility that Giuffre's legal team could subpoena calendars, diaries and logbooks and that witness depositions, including Andrew's would be taken under oath, the Telegraph has reported.
It seems eminently likely things are only going to get muckier on this front as we move forward.
The next prince currently waist deep in a sleazy scandal involves future king Prince Charles. The Times this month raised allegations of a cash for access scandal, alleging that fixers in the royal's inner circle traded access to him in exchange for six and seven-figure charity donations.
Since then, Charles' long time aide Michael Fawcett has stepped down from his position as chief executive of his foundation and the chairman of the Prince's Foundation resigned. Both Charles and Fawcett have been reported to the police over the allegations, with authorities currently assessing the complaints.
This "rent-a-royal" scandal has not generated anywhere near the level of public anger it should. That the next Defender of the Faith was running an outfit so possibly slimy should be cause for more than a spot of royal soul searching, however, instead Clarence House put out a statement which was drier than a desiccated Sao, denying that the Prince had any "knowledge" of what had allegedly been going on.
Last but not least, we get to the third prince whose antics have caused no end of palace grief this year. Enter stage left the carping Prince Harry and his laundry list of gripes which he and wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex have been fronting the press with. While we might be in the midst of a blessed lull in their campaign, don't be fooled into thinking that they are waving any sort of white flag and moving on to a new life of self-actualising their authentic selves and courting Netlfix bigwigs.
At some stage next year, Harry's autobiography will hit shelves making him the first senior member of the royal house to pen a tell-all since Sarah, the Duchess of York published the imaginatively named My Story in 1997. (Surely any time a person finds themselves following in the gaffe-prone, payday-chasing former HRH's footsteps, it should give them pause for some introspection...)
It has been rumoured he picked up a $27 million advance for the title (of which he has said $2 million will go to his charity Sentebale) suggesting that the sixth in line to the throne has promised publisher Penguin Random House he is willing to dish on more than just whether the Queen is jam-or-cream-first-on-her-scone kinda gal.
What unites the Andrew, Charles and Harry imbroglios if that have, and will continue to, erode the trust in, and respect for, the monarchy.
The crown is meant to stand for something proud and dignified. Sure the toe-sucking, tampon-fancying shenanigans of the '80s and '90s were embarrassing but this current crop of crises are in another stratosphere entirely.
The situation the palace now finds itself in is incomparable to those years. We are now talking about allegations of sexual assault, institutional racism, and dirty money.
The moral character of some central characters in the royal drama has been called in the most painfully public way into question. At this stage in the game it seems like the unknown quantity is not will they be found wanting but how badly?
The issue with these various crises is that the more the royal family is in the headlines for the wrong reasons, the more it forces the great unwashed to think about the very fact they are still ruled over by an unelected head of state, and that is a precarious place to be.
According to a YouGov survey from April this year, only 63 per cent of Brits think the UK should continue to have a monarchy, hardly a proud and ringing endorsement, while that figure drops to a palorous 34 per cent when you look at the 18-24-year-old demographic. (Seems the divine right of kings doesn't really hold water in the TikTok age.)
So what sort of monarchy could George inherit in 50-odd years? An institution tattered and beleaguered after having barely scraped through generations of scandal and crisis?
A public whose benign acquiescence to the notion of a monarchy has worn painfully thin?
And a clutch of Windsors with little desire to sacrifice their lives for the good of a throne no one particularly wants?
The picture is not pretty.
Still, the British crown can be traced back more than 1200 years so it might be a bit too soon to put your royal wedding teaspoon set on eBay and be done with the lot of 'em. They are survivors through and through and possess some sort of canny instinct in their DNA that has seen them hang on to power. After all, this is far from the first time the palace has faced doomsaying predictions of their future demise.
But how many times can they pull off that particular rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick? How many times will the British public and the Commonwealth forgive the Windsors' sins and continue to endorse, even in the most apathetic way, an institution which has no real bearing on our lives or political fates?
Unquestionably, a lot is going to change in the coming years as the Queen's reign ends and that of Charles begins. When that mournful day comes, we might not be only saying goodbye to a truly iconic figure but farewelling the last and final Queen of the United Kingdom. It will be up to her son, grandson and great-grandson what comes next; they will be fighting for nothing short of survival.
- Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.