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Last week, Prince Charles walked past Vice President Mike Pence at an event in Jerusalem without shaking his hand and inadvertently sparked a ton of drama. I broke down this Royal Snub That Wasn’t in an earlier edition of this newsletter. Here it is, ICYMI.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that nothing shady happened, people seem to believe in this “snub” anyway. If you do a quick Google search for “Prince Charles” and “Mike Pence,” you’re going to see hundreds of stories about it.
Snubgate is the latest example of a pervasive narrative that has been playing out in the press, and especially on social media, over the past four years. The central claim is the royal family detests Donald Trump on both a personal and political level. Every interaction between Trump and the royals is analyzed by his detractors, who eagerly pounce on innocuous details as incontrovertible “proof.”
For example, a clip of Charles scratching his eye while greeting the Trumps at a NATO reception in December was slowed down so that it appeared he was flipping the president off.
I know. I know.
Another clip from the receiving line went even more viral. After the Queen ended her conversation with the Trumps, she motioned to Princess Anne who shrugged her shoulders in response. The interaction was interpreted on social media as the princess “snubbing” Trump.
But, according to a reporter in the room, it was a perfectly innocent exchange.
However, the biggest “proof” of subtle royal disfavor has been the supposed “signals” and “shade” that the Queen has telegraphed through her sartorial choices during her interactions with the Trumps. (I personally find these theories to be the most ludicrous of the “Queen hates Trump” rumors.) It all started with the brooches she wore during the president’s three-day visit to the UK in June 2018.
I’m not going to go into exhaustive detail here — I highly suggest you read this post from the Court Jeweller blog. The tl;dr is that the Queen wore a brooch that had been gifted to her by the Obamas on the first day, a brooch she inherited from her mother on the second day (the only day she and Trump hung out IRL), and a brooch from the governor general of Canada on the third day.
The Obama and Canada brooches supposedly sent a “message” to Trump about her preference for his predecessors and distaste for his anti-Canada rhetoric (although it is unclear how Trump was supposed to receive this message, since, again, she didn’t meet with him on these days). The brooch she wore when she actually met Trump? Well, because it was worn by the Queen Mother in the famous “three Queens in mourning” photo, it was clearly meant to symbolize that the Queen was grieving the pre-Trump America.
The Queen’s choice of jewels, this time a tiara, once again made headlines during Trump’s official state visit in 2019.
The Queen wore a piece known as the Burmese Ruby Tiara, which features rubies she received as a wedding gift from the people of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Per the jewelers, the number of rubies in the tiara is significant because “rubies in Burmese culture protect from illness and evil, in this case to protect the wearer from the 96 diseases that can afflict humans.”
I’m sure you can imagine what came next. Tons of headlines that the Queen was “shading” Trump by wearing a tiara to “protect her.”
Yeah, no. The royal blogs that monitor the Queen’s extensive jewelry collection keep track of what she wears to every single event. They show the Queen wears the same accessories for lots of different occasions. For example, look at this list of all of the occasions where the Queen has worn the brooch she wore with Trump.
This sort of context matters. If you’re going to read some kind of meaning into the Queen’s jewelry choices, you have to apply that same meaning unilaterally. When you do that, these theories all fall apart.
For even more on this, the Queen’s senior dresser, adviser, wardrobe curator, and in-house designer of 25 years recently wrote a book that goes into the sovereign’s sartorial choices. She makes it clear that the Burmese Ruby Tiara at the Trump state banquet wasn’t shade.
So, now that we’ve looked at all of the examples above, let’s address the reason at the core of why you’re not going to see a member of the monarchy “shading” political leaders, no matter how much you’d like them to. Being royal is a job that demands absolute political neutrality, and this neutral diplomacy is a valuable asset for UK politicians. Right now, at the dawn of Brexit, one of those key UK international interests is a strong US alliance — and trade deal. It’s really unlikely that the royals would make even the subtlest of anti-Trump gestures at this point in time.
So why do people keep saying there’s shade?
I think it has something to do with this: Trump’s haters say that he’s an embarrassment to the country, and his behavior is undignified and inappropriate for a world leader. There is no figure who embodies these intangible ideals of class, dignity, and power on the world stage more than the Queen.
So, to Trump’s detractors, if the royal family objects to Trump personally, that is indisputable proof that he is so horrible that he has shocked this ancient institution out of its neutrality.
Sorry, y’all, but that’s not going to happen.
To conclude this rather long discourse on royal shade, allow me to leave you with my very favorite royals GIF of all time, which shows a rare triple royal side-eye during an entirely nonpolitical event.
(I know this footage is from an official engagement at luxury London food store Fortnum & Mason on March 1, 2012, and I have spent the past 7 years and 10 months wondering what in the world they were looking at.)
Do you have any questions about the royal family that you’d like answered in a future newsletter? Might there be interest in a serving of The Royal Tea that’s just Q&A? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until the next tea time, I remain your faithful royal correspondent,