The year in royals: The Windsors outdid themselves in 2022

Looking back at a cataclysmic year in the British monarchy, from queens and kings to one "spare"

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published December 24, 2022 11:00AM (EST)

Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

No one would suggest that people who live in palaces, have their faces on currency, or get encouraging texts from Beyoncé are just like you and me. But the British royal family is nevertheless the world's biggest, strangest mirror, always reflecting back something in ourselves when we can't seem to stop looking at them. They are our most prominent embodiment of sibling rivalry, of disgraced uncles, of emotionally distant parents, of grief, of racism, of colonialism, of class, of upholding the family business and of striking out on your own.

Theirs was the family drama to put "Succession" to shame.

And for a clan that is never far from the public imagination, the Windsors really outdid themselves in 2022, captivating attention and polarizing opinions in ways celebratory, solemn and self-indulgent. Whether they were taking tea with a bear or decamping to Tyler Perry's house, theirs was the family drama to put "Succession" to shame. Here were some of the biggest moments.

The Queen

The second longest reigning monarch in history (France's Louis XIV remains undefeated) had already put in an extraordinarily full year before her death in September at the age of 96. In February, Elizabeth kicked off her Platinum Jubilee with a promise "to continuing to serve you with all my heart," followed swiftly by a bout of COVID. "This horrible pandemic," she said at the time. "It's not a nice result."

Soon, however, the queen had recovered and went on to deliver one of the best comic performances of the year alongside Paddington Bear, and even managed to squeak in a meeting with short shelf life Prime Minister Liz Truss. As royal biographer Andrew Morton told Salon recently, "The twilight of her reign was, I would say, probably her best years." 

In life, Elizabeth simply was the monarchy, the only queen of England to exist within the memory of most people currently alive on this planet. Her place in the world was so durable as to seem immovable. In death, she opened up the conversation about the lasting stains of colonialism, the autonomy of the Commonwealth, and the future of the crown itself. (She even reignited the debate over whether it's OK to smash your cousin.)

The King

Wand of Office; Committal Service for Queen Elizabeth II King Charles III watches as the Lord Chamberlain breaks his Wand of Office at the Committal Service for Queen Elizabeth II on September 19, 2022 in Windsor, England. (Ben Birchall - WPA Pool/Getty Images))

The Charles of 2022 might best be remembered as the cranky senior citizen petulantly muttering "I hate this" as he struggles with a tricky pen on tiny desk. 

Unlike his mother, his late ex-wife Diana or either of his mediagenic sons, Charles is a notoriously awkward public figure. It was perhaps a sign of things to come when he stepped in for his mother to open Parliament in May, and among the most commented-on aspects of the event were his swollen "sausage fingers."

Even when portrayed more sympathetically by the charismatic Dominic West, he still emerged as the least likable character on the new season of "The Crown." He fared even worse on "Harry & Meghan," with Harry depicting him as an unsupportive family figure, repeating things that "just simply weren't true."

When he assumed the throne this past fall, the then 73-year-old King Charles became the oldest person in British history to be crowned. Even if he keeps in line with the family history of longevity, his reign will be decades shorter, and likely far less impactful, than his predecessor's. And while he may in time ease into a more relaxed figurehead, the Charles of 2022 might best be remembered as the cranky senior citizen petulantly muttering "I hate this" as he struggles with a tricky pen on tiny desk. 

Harry & Meghan and "Harry & Meghan"

Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex.Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. (Courtesy of Prince Harry and Meghan/Netflix)In their efforts to take some measure of control of their narrative, an English army veteran and retired Californian actress somehow assured that opinions about them would only become more divisive, and the vitriol against them even stronger

The hounding that Meghan and Harry experience is real, as is the spectacular degree of racism and misogyny Meghan has endured.

In August, Meghan looked every inch the cool Montecito mom on the cover of The Cut. Her "Archetypes" podcast won a People's Choice award and simultaneously underperformed in the charts. In October, Penguin Random House announced the 2023 release of a new memoir by Prince Harry, bearing the burn-it-all-down title "Spare." And then in December, Netflix unleashed the six-part Sussex-approved docuseries "Harry & Meghan." The show took hits from the critics for its juxtaposition of the couple's sun-dappled love story with their all-out fury at the British press and the royal family. The Guardian's critic declared it "so sickening I almost brought up my breakfast." 

Yet the hounding that Meghan and Harry — a man whose mother died while being chased by paparazzi — experience is real, as is the spectacular degree of racism and misogyny Meghan has endured. In a December column for The Sun, broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson felt totally comfortable declaring his hatred for her "on a cellular level," writing that "At night, I'm unable to sleep as I lie there, grinding my teeth and dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant 'Shame!' and throw lumps of excrement at her." (After a deluge of complaints Clarkson later apologized, stating Britishly, "I've rather put my foot in it.") 

The godmother 

In December, Lady Susan Hussey, a royal lady-in-waiting (and yes, that is still a real job) and godmother to Prince William, resigned as an honorary member of the royal household after reports that she had asked charity executive and advocate Ngozi Fulani where she was "really" from at a reception. Hussey later apologized and met with Fulani at the palace, and a spokesperson for Prince William said that "Racism has no place in our society. The comments were unacceptable, and it is right that the individual has stepped aside with immediate effect."

The uncle

Prince AndrewPrince Andrew (Steve Parsons - WPA Pool/Getty Images)"Andrew hasn't got the memo that he's canceled," author Tina Brown told Salon back in June. "He is canceled, big time."

After flaming out in a flurry of Jeffrey Epstein-linked sexual abuse allegations and a self-damning  2019 BBC interview, Prince Andrew maintained a relatively low profile this year. In January, the royal family officially confirmed he'd been stripped of his royal patronages, military titles and use of the "HRH" title, with his mother's full "approval and agreement." In February, he reached a financial settlement with his accuser Virginia Giuffre, one her attorney later confirmed had been paid. His fall from grace was later chronicled on the Peacock network documentary "Banished."

While the unemployed 62-year-old is now living in relative exile, he still has the power to incite strong reactions. "Andrew," a heckler shouted as he walked behind the queen's coffin in a procession in Edinburgh in September, "you're a sick old man." 


By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Best Of 2022 Commentary Harry & Meghan King Charles Meghan Markle Prince Harry Queen Elizabeth The Crown