English novelist Dame Barbara Cartland was one of the most prolific and commercially successful writers of the twentieth century, publishing 723 novels before her death in May 2000. Known as the ‘Queen of Romance’, Ms Cartland had a little-known royal connection to Her Majesty the Queen – the author was step-grandmother to Diana, Princess of Wales.
Ms Cartland’s daughter, Raine, married the eighth Earl Spencer, Diana’s father, in 1976 after leaving her first husband, the Earl of Dartmouth. Raine told her mother at the time: “It is just like one of your books, Mummy. I am wildly in love and there is nothing anyone can do about it.”
Diana, Princess of Wales was already aware of her step-grandmother when she became a part of the Spencer family as Diana had read Ms Cartland’s novels from a very young age. It’s been suggested that it was within the pages of these books that Diana came to believe in the power of princes to take you away from real world upsets and that the stories could have possibly shaped her view of relationships and propelled her into marrying a man who was already in love with someone else. Ms Cartland herself was quoted as saying: “The only books Diana ever read were mine, and they weren’t terribly good for her.”
Ms Cartland’s books were known for their young heroines, older, distinguished heroes – often a duke or member of the aristocracy – and exotic settings where the two inevitably fell in love. The stories would always conclude with a wedding and there were no explicit romantic scenes. Ms Cartland claimed: “That’s true romance… the publishers said I should go modern and write about divorce and people getting into bed, but I said no. I know it happens, but it’s not romantic.”
When the then Lady Diana Spencer became engaged to Prince Charles in February 1981 the media hurried to get the noted romantic novelists’ view on proceedings but Ms Cartland resolved to say nothing about the royal engagement, claiming: “You see, my dear, they’ll all die of fury if I say anything about it…After all, I’m the only one who’s got anything to sell, and I don’t want people to say, ‘Look there, she’s just clinging to the royal bandwagon.’”
Ms Cartland did not attend the royal wedding in the end, though whether she was not invited or whether she declined her invitation because there was a plan in place to keep her hidden from view is not clear – it’s claimed that someone in the royal family considered her an embarrassment and did not want her there though it’s never been revealed who that person might have been. Known for her bouffant of blonde hair, her enthusiastic love of all things pink, her false eyelashes and her “limitless talent for self-promotion” the author was far from what was expected of an English Establishment grandmother and some whispered at the time that she could be considered a blight on her step-granddaughter’s record of perfection which may have also influenced the situation.
Whatever the reason for her missing the royal wedding, Ms Cartland was said to be humiliated not to have attended and the beach between the two women continued, with Ms Cartland being openly and publicly critical of her step-granddaughter when her divorce from Prince Charles was announced in 1996. The rift between them was believed to have been mended, however, shortly before the car crash in Paris which claimed Diana’s life in August 1997.