Of all the royal engagements a person could be invited to, a christening must be by far the dullest. There seems to be a lot of very cordial standing around with a certain forced solemnity and the possibility of getting a glass of champagne at the end of it all seems minimal. (Perhaps things might have been different if Princess Margaret was still alive ... )
Still, royal christenings are by and large deeply symbolic affairs which see the Lily Font and the replica Honiton christening gown hauled out of the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace attic for a tradition-laden outing.
The most recent tiny wee Windsor to undergo this treatment was Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor and Monday marked the first anniversary of his font dunking.
However, unlike other royal christenings, little Archie's was a source of some controversy and debate. For one thing, the small handful of carefully selected press who are usually present for the family walking to and from the service were barred.
And for another, the Queen was not present.
View this post on Instagram
This morning, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor was christened in the Private Chapel at Windsor Castle at an intimate service officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are so happy to share the joy of this day with members of the public who have been incredibly supportive since the birth of their son. They thank you for your kindness in welcoming their first born and celebrating this special moment. Their Royal Highnesses feel fortunate to have enjoyed this day with family and the godparents of Archie. Their son, Archie, was baptised wearing the handmade replica of the royal christening gown which has been worn by royal infants for the last 11 years. The original Royal Christening Robe, made of fine Honiton lace lined with white satin, was commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1841 and first worn by her eldest daughter. It was subsequently worn for generations of Royal christenings, including The Queen, her children and her grandchildren until 2004, when The Queen commissioned this handmade replica, in order for the fragile historic outfit to be preserved, and for the tradition to continue. Photo credit: Chris Allerton ©️SussexRoyal
A post shared by The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (@sussexroyal) on
The official reason was that Her Majesty had a prior commitment and after more than seven decades in the top job, her steadfast dedication to duty is clearly not flagging. Yet, despite the explanation, there is still something a little peculiar about this turn of events. Surely if any member of the royal family is planning a significant event, they would check Gan-Gan's diary (as the Cambridge tots refer to their great-grandmother) first. (Although it's worth noting the Queen did not attend Prince Louis' 2018 christening to conserve energy ahead of a busy week.)
A recent book, Royals At War casts the situation in a different light. Journalists Dylan Howard and Andy Tillett write: "Pointedly, the Queen and Prince Philip stayed away. They had been generous and understanding at their best. But they simply now felt publicly embarrassed by Meghan's controlling behaviour, said a well-placed Palace insider."
One year on from Archie's christening, relations between Harry and Meghan and the Queen remain a hotly debated topic. Last week, in court documents filed as part of Meghan's privacy lawsuit against the Daily Mail's parent company, she claimed she was left "undefended by the institution" while pregnant and that she had been "prohibited from defending herself" against negative false press coverage.
Hot on the heels of that particular bombshell came news from the US that Ghislaine Maxwell had been arrested and charged with six federal crimes, including alleged enticement of minors, sex trafficking, and perjury, plunging the embattled Prince Andrew and his mortifying friendship with a convicted sex offender back into the headlines.
Why Prince Harry is finding it hard to show 'resilience'
Harry and Meghan trademark charity Archewell for TV and films
Then on Saturday, the public in the UK woke to a truly alarming image, namely a photo taken in 2002 showing a giddy-looking Ghislaine Maxwell and disgraced actor Kevin Spacey lounging on the Queen and Prince Philip's thrones, a shot taken during a Buckingham Palace tour organised by Andrew.
And now we have had another significant if starkly different anniversary: The arrest of Jeffrey Epstein. On July 7 last year the already-convicted sex offender was arrested at a New Jersey airport after landing in his private jet from Paris and charged with new sex-trafficking offences. One month later on August 10, his body was found in his New York jail cell and his death was ruled as a suicide.
In the 12 months since then, the palace has proven themselves to be spectacularly incapable of managing both this ignominious and disturbing situation and the tumult of Harry and Meghan's slightly histrionic exit from official royal life.
Both the Andrew and Sussex situations have regularly shaken the royal family courtesy of tabloid revelations and TV interviews, providing a steady drumbeat of damaging publicity for the palace. And in both instances, the royal response has been chaotic and reactionary, creating the impression of an outwitted palace permanently on the back foot.
(To be clear, the Andrew issue and the Sussexes' controversial departure are vastly different situations, the gravity of which cannot be compared. The Duke of York saw fit to spend five nights in the New York home of a man who was by then a convicted sex offender and who later did a 50-minute TV interview about Epstein without once expressing sympathy for the disgraced financier's victims. The Sussexes simply want to be able to live in Los Angeles and make TV shows with Oprah.)
In August 2019, barely two days after Epstein's body was found in his New York jail cell, the Queen made the grievous mistake of taking her son to church with her in Scotland in a poorly considered attempt to throw her regal weight behind him in the most public fashion possible.
It was an epic miscalculation. Rather than the might of the crown shielding Andrew and serving to tamp down the brouhaha over the Prince's friendship with Epstein, it instead inflamed public opinion and made Her Majesty look like she was putting maternal affection before the good of the monarchy.
What is interesting is that while the Queen has clearly made significant PR mistakes before, she has generally been quick to respond and change course. Consider the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. When news broke, she was at Balmoral. Rather than return to London and comfort the grieving nation she steadfastly stayed at her Scottish estate. (She also refused to fly the flag at half mast at Buckingham Palace because, as per tradition, it only flies when the Queen is in residence.) Facing a vast upswell of anger and a vituperative press, the Queen soon returned to the capital, lowered the flag and gave only the second TV address of her reign.
However, her handling of the Andrew imbroglio could not be further from this. Despite acting decisively, reportedly working in concert with Prince Charles and Prince William to see the Prince step down from official royal duties in the wake of his humiliating BBC interview, since then there has been what looks externally like a spectacular failure of leadership.
With each new revelation, claim and counterclaim (such as the sparring between Andrew's legal team and prosecutors in the US over his willingness to be interviewed) the palace's stance has essentially been to say, it's nothing to do with us.
While technically that may be true, what the Queen and her cadre of palace mandarins seem to have failed to grasp (or act on) is the fact that bureaucratic delineation doesn't matter a jot. What matters is showing leadership and taking some, (or indeed any) steps to acknowledge the public anger and disquiet over the handling of this mucky saga.
Likewise, the palace's handling of the malcontent Sussexes and their departure from royal life has been far from plain sailing. For months prior to the couple's quitting, and in the months since then, the palace has been buffeted by various Sussex-related press incidents such as their October TV interview and more recently, the brickbats lobbed at the palace machine as part of the Duchess's privacy lawsuit.
As with Andrew, after a family confab, the decision was made in January this year that Harry and Meghan would officially exit as working members of the royal family. A firm line was drawn under events ... only for this particular soap opera to continue to dominate the press with the palace seemingly befuddled as to how to try to get a handle on the situation.
Via statements on their website and a speech Harry gave at a charity dinner in January, the couple have expressed their resentment at their treatment and the terms of their royal 'divorce'.
Similarly, referencing Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie in terms of their having paying jobs seems unnecessarily pointed and arguing that the Queen or the Cabinet office does not have "jurisdiction ... over the use of the word 'royal' overseas" just seemed plain petulant.
There is another PR squall likely to hit the Firm soon too. Next month, the much-hyped biography of Harry and Meghan, Finding Freedom, is set to be released, in which it is widely believed that the authors, Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, will set out a far more sympathetic telling of the couple's experiences and decision to quit.
The events of the last year have created the impression not just of an inept, outwitted palace – the royal brand now a bit more battered and dinged – but that there is no one really in charge. After 12 months of careening from PR disaster to disaster, the palace looks like it is flailing in the face of these complex situations.
The Queen is officially the commander of the armed services in the UK. While she won't be called into battle in any foreign land as her forebears were, she does have quite the battle on the home front. Time to saddle up Ma'am.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years' experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.