Advertisement

Royal family are ‘trapped’ in misery, says Mary Beard

Classicist and writer Mary Beard described herself as 'anti-monarchy'
Classicist and writer Mary Beard described herself as 'anti-monarchy' - BBC

The Royal family is trapped in misery, according to Prof Mary Beard, who likened their plight to that of Roman emperors.

The classicist and writer described herself as “anti-monarchy” but said she felt sympathy for rulers who live in a state of anxiety about their position, surrounded by backstabbers.

Her latest book, Emperor of Rome, chronicles the turbulent lives of Roman leaders.

“Take Domitian, who was emperor at the end of the first century AD. He has the walls of the corridors in his palace lined with reflective stone so he can see who’s coming up behind him.

“And most emperors were killed at home – it might be the personal trainer, the bodyguard, the poisoned mushrooms. The place where they should have felt most safe and content is actually where they felt most vulnerable,” Prof Beard told Radio Times.

Asked if there were contemporary parallels, she said: “I remember looking at Camilla when she was being crowned, and she was looking quite anxious. I thought: ‘Look, these people are trapped by this too.’

“Writing this book, I became even more anti-monarchy, but I also got a bit more sympathetic towards these poor old emperors.”

She explained: “Rome was a very cruel and bloodthirsty place. Having power meant that you could slash off the hands of a slave and tie them around his neck – but if you wanted to solve a problem, you couldn’t. Problems were ‘solved’ by violence and murder.

“We tend to think of the emperor as the lucky one who’s at the top of the food chain, but actually he’s trapped as well. He’s isolated, vulnerable. He’s a prisoner of it all, too.”

Prof Beard has previously likened the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to tragic heroes of Greek mythology – the public can watch them make mistakes and try to learn lessons from them.

She has also suggested that the Princess of Wales “has been constructed as this admirable, maternal, doll-like, precious vessel. Who has done it? In part, she has constructed herself. In part, she has taken on a job, which has its upsides and its downsides”.

A decade ago, Dame Hilary Mantel caused controversy when she gave a lecture describing the then Duchess of Cambridge as being trapped in the image of a perfect princess.

“She appears precision-made, machine-made,” Mantel said, likening her to a “jointed doll on which certain rags are hung”. The Duchess “appeared to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen, with a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished”.

Prof Beard, 68, retired last year from her position as Professor of Classics at Cambridge. Asked how she was enjoying retirement, she said: “I’m very lucky: I’m a ‘boomer’, and I’ve got a great pension.”