Kate Middleton and the history of royal secrecy in health

Kate Middleton and the history of royal secrecy in health
Kate Middleton and the history of royal secrecy in health

WHill Kate Middleton has been absent from royal duties for two months due to «planned abdominal surgery», leaving the British public full of speculation about what is going on with their future queen consort. but The royal family has always walked a fine line between balancing private health matters with the public disclosures they serve.

«You could argue that details about a head of state are in the public interest,» says Richard Fitzwilliams, an expert on the royal family. «But on the other hand, to what extent is a public figure entitled to privacy?»

Kate’s absence fits into a long and evolving history of how royal families have chosen to handle health issues. Past generations often shrouded them in secrecy. Perhaps most famously, the British public was not told when King George VI had lung cancer in the 1950s. In 1951, his left lung was removed because of what were vaguely described as «structural abnormalities» and cancer was not mentioned in his obituary.

Sometimes, past generations will be more open about less important issues. Once in 1982, when Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, had to go to the hospital after choking to death on a fish bone, she issued a statement to the press, joking, «It was just the salmon getting its own back.»

Kate Middleton and the history of royal secrecy in health
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth sit in their box with Princess Margaret Rose and Elizabeth at the Palladium Theater in London on November 13, 1950.Ap

«Fish bones are very exposed because they become more exposed in smaller instances,» says. Gareth Russell, a historian and author who focuses on the British Royal Family. «Britain was a very reserved society in the 20th century, and in families across the land and social spectrum, cancer or terminal illnesses were not often discussed.»

Kate and William’s approach has proven to be quite different, as they have dealt with private matters with great clarity. «Kate and William are members of a different generation, so they feel no shame in being open about the challenges,» says Claire McHugh, a royal historian and author.

Neither Kate nor William have avoided in the past From talking about health matters. Prince William has spoken extensively about the importance of mental health, and Kate spoke about the difficult morning sickness she faced during her pregnancy. She also revealed her postpartum baby bump in a photo just hours after giving birth to son Prince George.

In part, this is a necessary strategy for the Internet age, in which keeping secrets is very difficult. «I think they understand that in order to survive and thrive in the modern age, they need to be honest about what’s going on with them,» says McHugh. «It’s better for them to go ahead clearly than to let internet rumors fly.»

The fact that they were previously somewhat transparent makes their current silence stand out, experts say. «So William and Kate’s reticence about what’s going on with them is strange,» says McHugh.

Kate Middleton, Prince Charles, and King Charles III during the presentation of honors to Scotland
From left, Britain’s Kate, Princess of Wales, Prince William and King Charles III and King Charles III and Queen Camilla during the National Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication, and Presentation of Scotland’s Honours, at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, on July 5, 2023.Andrew Milligan – Poole/AP

Catherine Lamontagne, a lecturer in social sciences at Boston University, says sometimes a problem doesn’t create more of a stir than addressing it, a lesson the royal family learned when Queen Elizabeth II missed parts of major events in her earlier months. death «For royal followers, her absence from the platinum jubilee celebrations in 2022 was a clear indicator of how unwell she was and of a serious issue on the horizon,» Lamontagne said in an email.

Still, despite her outspokenness in the past, in many ways the Duchess of Cambridge is following tradition of silence. «This dance between private and public information pushes the line of medical privacy and public clearing for details, but it still follows a pattern of making very few medical details of certain types public,» says Lamontagne. «Never complain, never explain,» in the words of the late Queen.

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