Princesses may be confused by poolside cuddles: When parents split up and form new relationships, children are often bewildered. The Duchess of York's daughters are probably no exception

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The poolside caresses exchanged by the Duchess of York and John Bryan probably left the little princesses, Eugenie, two, and Beatrice, four, feeling confused, even though the kisses may have appeared to be no more than innocent fun. For children of that age everything depends on what they are told by their father, mother and others and whether they see themselves as involved in a conflicting situation.

Dr Peter Stratton, director of the Family Therapy and Research Centre, Leeds, said: 'It is worse for children if they are forced to take sides and recruited into secrets.'

Until pictures were published of Mr Bryan and the Duchess cavorting together in the garden of their French villa the closeness of their relationship was a secret known only to a very small circle. In public, Mr Bryan posed as financial adviser to the Duke and Duchess and said that there was every chance of a reconciliation between the Royal couple. But the children evidently knew of Mr Bryan's relationship with their mother even if they did not fully comprehend it. Inevitably it must have placed a burden on them. Despite their young age the children have their own small circle of friends among whom they had to maintain their mother's secret.

'The secret is a burden on the child because it has an implication - possibly that daddy is unreasonable and will not understand, or that mother is feeling guilty and wants to hide it,' Dr Stratton said.

The caresses exchanged by the Duchess and Mr Bryan - kisses on the Duchess's feet, stroking of the face, and the application of suncream to Mr Bryan's bald pate - will in themselves seem perfectly natural to the children, unless anyone in the royal party is seen by the children to be disapproving.

The greatest blow for the children in recent weeks is probably the loss of their nanny, Alison Wardley, 24, who has been with the Duchess for four years since Princess Beatrice was born. The burden of having to explain to the children what was happening in confusing circumstances may have proved to be more than she could bear. If this is the case then the children themselves are likely to be even more confused.

Grandparents are also a great source of stability for children when families split up. But if they get pulled into taking sides they may add to or emphasise the strains upon the children. The Queen, as a natural matriarch, will be a great ally for Eugenie and Beatrice, but even so it will be difficult for the Queen to avoid being drawn into the controversy that is likely to surround an official separation or divorce.

The Duchess of York is certain to want to have custody of the children and may well be able to mount a good case on the grounds that they have not seen a great deal of their father, who has frequently been absent in the course of his naval duties.

At the same time the Queen, backed by their father's interest, is likely to want custody of the children to remain in the House of Windsor because they are fifth and sixth in line of succession to the throne.

'The difficult thing is for a grandparent to give consistent support to the children in being loyal to both parents,' Dr Stratton said.

The marital difficulties which have struck the current generation of royals raises the question of whether the dynasty can continue unsullied and remain able to perform the role expected of it.

'We have been very interested by the finding that there are almost no family businesses in Britain which have succeeded for more than four generations,' Dr Stratton said. 'Business relationships and objectives may clash with family relationships and weaken a dynasty. Until now the Royal Family has survived over the generations by recruiting from its own ranks.

'New people bring in fresh blood and the possibility of change but they may also de- stabilise existing relationships.'

If other couples are anything to go by it is still possible that the royal pair will be reconciled, despite the hurt that comes from betrayal and the embarrassment of having to face family and friends. Each has so much to offer the other in terms of position and easy access to the children.

'Sometimes a couple has to separate completely before they can get back together again. They may need to see that freedom is possible and that they have a choice,' Dr Stratton said.

(Photograph omitted)