Making the Monarchy Into a Real Housewives Franchise

In Depth
Making the Monarchy Into a Real Housewives Franchise

It’s fairly common to compare the Windsors to a soap opera or a reality show, a way of playing up their problems and rhetorically dragging them down a few notches. But the flip side is true: Ultimately, any good Real Housewives franchise is compelling in all the same ways as a really juicy palace history. Both are dominated by larger-than-life personalities acting outrageously and scheming relentlessly—for commercial success, for greater fame, for the advancement of their own narrative, for revenge against their wrongdoers and enemies.

Real Housewives are frequently preoccupied by concerns of dynasty—proper familial behavior by their own relatives and those of their fellow cast members—and whether their friends are appropriately upholding mutual ties of alliance. Betrayal is a matter of utmost concern. The “housewives” are obsessed with property, with appropriate levels of respect due themselves. All very familiar to the women who have been associated with the English crown in one way or another, whether as queens or supporting players! And of course the franchise is strongly tied to place, with a pecking order. (RHOBH is the highest-ranking, obviously; remember Real Housewives of the Potomac? Might as well be one of those third-tier European principalities.)

All of this prompts the question: Who should we cast for The Real Housewives of Windsor?

I consulted with my colleague, Real Housewives expert Joan Summers, regarding the ideal cast breakdown. She recommended the following assortment of types for a truly successful season: “Big bad, big bad henchwoman, audience stand-in, audience stand-in henchwoman/delusional ingenue, Greek chorus, unwitting betrayer of either the head villain or audience stand-in.” Of course, there’s no way of knowing in advance just how events will unfold, and you want the drama to feel organic, so I didn’t attempt to fill slots, just to keep those needs in mind. I also didn’t limit myself to the Windsors, but extended my reach all the way back to the Norman Conquest of 1066, encompassing all dynasties.

One big challenge with casting the ultimate royal supergroup from the thousand-year history of the British crown is that most of these people wouldn’t know each other personally, and a long history tends to foster the sort of feud that propels a really great Real Housewives season. As Andy Cohen himself explained the mistake when they put Joyce and Carlton on RHOBH: “the problem was there was not a rooting interest of, ‘You offended me by doing this or that,’ because they had just met,” he said. “But when you come in and get into a thing with Lisa Vanderpump there’s a 10-year, [20-year] friendship at stake, which makes it more interesting to watch.” However, these women all have something very important in common, which is a relationship to the throne of Great Britain. And so I’m pretty sure that if we put them all in a room, they’d start jockeying for position pretty quickly.

And so I submit to you my suggestions for Real Housewives of Windsor.

Princess Margaret: Princess Diana would be the obvious choice from the modern royal line-up, but ultimately, she was too subtle for this franchise. Princess Margaret, on the other hand, didn’t have a subtle bone in her body, god rest her soul. She basically spent her whole life chain-smoking and making well-timed bitchy remarks. I think she has real potential as a meaner Sonja Morgan. And I think we can all agree that Antony Armstrong-Jones absolutely has what it takes to be a Real Housewives husband, the sort of man who can really ratchet up the drama by some well-timed shit-stirring.

Empress Matilda: Matilda was the granddaughter of William the Conquerer and fought a 20-year civil war known as “the Anarchy” in an attempt to take over when her father died, and she is absolutely Real Housewives material. First, there’s the fact that, as a child, she was married off to the future Holy Roman Emperor Henry V and spent several years as his trusted empress, including ruling a chunk of Italy in his stead. Matilda, therefore, comes right out of the gate with a real claim to demand, “Do you know who I am?” She’s got an illustrious record to which she can refer in fights in order to lord it over the others, who will all be very annoyed that this bitch is, once again, bringing up Europe, inspiring dozens of annoyed POV interviews and—I personally believe—potentially three to four really high-quality reaction GIFs. This is, as we know, an important barometer of a season’s cultural impact.

Also, she fought a very long war for the crown, which is some real “Melissa Gorga staying mad about the store-bought cookies” energy. But she wasn’t just being petty—she was the heir! This specific combination of characteristics makes Matilda a particularly valuable Real Housewives cast member, because she’s the type of person who can gradually morph from role to role over the course of several seasons. At one point she’s the stubborn, determined, relatable businesswoman who just wants what’s fair; a few years pass and she’s morphed into the wicked witch who cannot let an argument go.

Caroline of Brunswick: It’s hard to pick a single Hanover for this list, because the whole dynasty was a parade of wrecks. But I believe Caroline really has what it takes to shine on Real Housewives. She was married to the man who’d become George IV, the Prince Regent of “Regency” fame, but the marriage basically never took and they separated very, very early on. History has judged her harshly, recording her as a big scandalous “nympho” with hygiene problems, but that really isn’t fair—her husband was a notorious asshole and made zero effort. They separated early on and she split for the Continent. But when he was coronated, he attempted to bar her from the ceremony—and she not only came to London, determined to assert her position as queen consort, she came to Westminster Abbey and attempted to push her way in. That’s exactly what a good reunion episode needs.

What, like I’m gonna relate to Princess Margaret?

Anne Boleyn: Anne is one of the most famous figures in the history of the crown, and preexisting stardom is a mark in favor of a potential housewife. She’s beautiful and glamorous and alluring and would wear an absolutely incredible series of French hoods to the reunion episodes. Maybe she launches a line of high-fashion French hoods for modern women, taking advantage of her reanimation to make a little money? And, obviously, somebody who managed to get a king who’d been married for 20 years to dump with the Holy Roman Emperor’s aunt and break with the Roman Catholic Church has the ambition to be an absolute powerhouse on Real Housewives. That’s the kind of chaotic energy that spawns multiple storylines, and she’s the type of figure who inspires debate about whether she was a femme fatale or more sinned against than sinning, the sort of argument that plays well on the show. Clinching it: The potential for the the bitchily delivered reminder that “her grandfather was a hatter,” which will appear in multiple interviews and in fact make Boleyn a potential audience stand-in because, after all, she’s the farthest thing from a born royal in the cast. What, like I’m gonna relate to Princess Margaret?

Lady Jane Grey: I’m so sorry to Lady Jane Grey, but it’s hard to imagine a better qualification for the position of “delusional ingenue” than having been queen for nine days before losing your head. She will last for one season before being replaced with somebody who more readily and effectively stirs the shit.

Margaret Beaufort: I’m very heavy on the Tudors, but there’s no way I can leave out Henry VIII’s grandmother, the woman who helped maneuver her descendants onto the throne despite the Tudors being, quite frankly, a bunch of randos as far as claims to the throne go. Also, she has the reputation of having been very religious, which gives me real Orange County “Swarovski-studded Bible” vibes.

Queen Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen truly has what it takes to be a Big Bad: charismatic but absolutely ruthless and really, really into wigs. You think a woman managed to rule England in an era of religious unrest and global conflict without cracking a few necks? Absolutely not.

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