The Sun’s publication of images showing our future Queen making Nazi-style salutes in a 1933 home movie has caused something of a furore. This despite the fact that the newspaper itself was careful to emphasise that the pictures of the then 7- or 8-year-old Princess Elizabeth can hardly be taken as indicative of any early political stirrings in a young girl who, at that stage, was seemingly not destined for the throne.
It is possible to argue that a family’s private home video ought to remain just that: private – even when that family happens to be the Royal one. Yet any possible intrusion is vastly reduced by the passage of over eight decades. Moreover, privacy regulations generally rest on the notion of respect, so by setting the footage in its proper context any disregard for the Queen’s family life is further mitigated.
But in any event, it is surely beyond doubt that there is genuine historical interest in the video, bearing in mind the sympathies to Nazism later displayed by the future Edward VIII, who features prominently in the film. Even though Hitler had only recently come to power at the time the movie was shot – and who knows really what the then Prince of Wales thought of him in 1933 – it is fascinating in light of later developments that the rise of the Nazis was, at the very least, a matter of family fun for Uncle Edward and the clan.
Buckingham Palace has expressed its disappointment at the Sun’s decision to splash the story on its front page on Saturday. Yet the Royals are keenly aware of the public’s interest in the history of the monarchy, and especially the Windsors, who have, one way or another, had their fair share of familial controversies.
Indeed, the wealth of home video at the disposal of the Royal Family has been used in the official telling of their story. Last summer, an exhibition inside Buckingham Palace, entitled "Royal Childhood", featured material shot by family members themselves, including footage of the Queen as a small child, as well as videos of her with her own children. There was dancing and pillow-fighting – but not a Sieg Heil in sight. And all on display to visitors happy to pay the entry fee.
The purpose of the exhibition was to show the normality of Royal life, to emphasise the fact that Buckingham Palace is also a family home and that the Queen was, as the exhibition’s curator put it, “a child like all of us”.
Ultimately, this sense of the Royals as normal beings is only emphasised further by publication of the recent images. Don’t we all have pictures we like proudly to display on the mantelpiece; and don’t we all have the bits of our family history we like to keep in the shadows? The difficulty for the Royal Family is that, unlike the rest of us, their history is inextricably entwined with the history of Britain. Up to a point, therefore, our interest in it is quite legitimate.Reuse content