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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 December 2004, 11:56 GMT
HRH Princess Michael of Kent
On Sunday, 19 December, 2004, Sir David Frost interviewed HRH Princess Michael of Kent

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

HRH Princess Michael of Kent
HRH Princess Michael of Kent

DAVID FROST: Since marrying into the royal family in 1978, Princess Michael of Kent has proved to be one of its most colourful members.

In recent years she has carved out a career as a historical writer and lecturer with her own unique perspective on European monarchy, Prince Michael joins me now. Marie-Christine welcome.

PRINCESS MICHAEL: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: And here's the books, The Serpent and the Moon, which is one of the great love stories of all time, but both the two key players, both the two women were distantly related to you in fact.

PRINCESS MICHAEL: Well I'm in fact a direct descendent of them both but that had nothing to do with the choice of the topic.

DAVID FROST: Why did you choose this topic?

PRINCESS MICHAEL: Well I wrote a little bit about the heroine, Diane de Poitiers, the beautiful lady on the cover, in my last book, and the reaction was so positive and why don't we know more about her and why is there nothing written about her in English, that she became the natural choice for a biography. She was a very fascinating women.

DAVID FROST: Yes, it's important to say ... is a biography because I counted, what a lot of research you did on this book, there are 2000 books quoted as bibliography at the end.

PRINCESS MICHAEL: That's right.

DAVID FROST: That's why it took five years -

PRINCESS MICHAEL: It doesn't mean I read them all - it doesn't mean I read them all, it means I find little bits in them.

DAVID FROST: Yes, but what did you want to tell her story particularly? I mean it's obvious of the two characters, the two women characters, you prefer her, you're warmer towards her.

PRINCESS MICHAEL: I am. I would have liked here. I wouldn't have liked Catherine - just to fill in a little bit for your viewers, this is the French renaissance, the first half of the 16th century, Diane is born in 1500, she marries at 15 a man of 56 who is a hunchback, that's considered perfectly normal, great marriage.

At 18, she is the lady-in-waiting to the queen, the queen gives birth to her second son, it's Diane who places that baby in his mother's arms.

That baby will become the love of her life. A very strange story. She's 18 years older, and when she's a widow and he is 18, she's a widow of 36, still remarkably beautiful, they begin the greatest love affair. He has worshipped her since the age of six, she was his idol.

And remember that in the 16th century we still have a hangover of the age of chivalry and there was something called love from afar, amour de loin, young people they would worship from afar - not like today - but, but so he worshipped her from afar all that time and he was married at 14, to 14 year old Catherine de Medici.

And, you know, they met on the day of the marriage, this was a business deal, no love in marriage arrangements then, and they had to consummate that marriage in the presence of 20 of the court, including the king, because it was a business deal and the deal had to be done.

DAVID FROST: They had to actually consummate it?

PRINCESS MICHAEL: That's right.

DAVID FROST: With 20 spectators.

PRINCESS MICHAEL: From the court.

DAVID FROST: From the court.

PRINCESS MICHAEL: Not from the streets.

DAVID FROST: Not from the streets but it's still pretty, pretty worrying -

PRINCESS MICHAEL: Yes, I mean that's tough - it's tough for us from, from ...

DAVID FROST: Yes, you talk very persuasively about the French court and so on, as you look at it now with the history and this bit, would you say, would you rather have been a royal in France at the time of this book, or in England today.

PRINCESS MICHAEL: Certainly not then David, think of the bathroom facilities! I mean non-existent! No, why I mean it wasn't very comfortable then - remember women had absolutely no say in their lives.

It doesn't matter whose child you were, how rich your parents were, you had to marry who you were told to marry, because it was a business thing.

You see it was for the aggrandisement of your house. It didn't matter who you were, you just had to do that. Henry VIII sent over his 18 year old sister to marry the 60 year old King of France.

DAVID FROST: Well you, I mean you married for love and because you were a Catholic, Prince Michael had to give up his right to the succession and so on -

PRINCESS MICHAEL: Well he didn't give it up. You know, it was automatic.

DAVID FROST: Automatic.

PRINCESS MICHAEL: An automatic consequence of the law.

DAVID FROST: But would that still be true today? I mean if you were, if the two of you were getting married today

PRINCESS MICHAEL: Oh yes.

DAVID FROST: - or if Prince William -

PRINCESS MICHAEL: The law is there David, the law is there.

DAVID FROST: Yes, but if Prince William wanted to marry a Catholic, they'd change the law ...

PRINCESS MICHAEL: The law has to be change - would you think? I think they would not.

DAVID FROST: No.

PRINCESS MICHAEL: I don't know. I mean, you know, I don't know anything about, about how laws change, but I, I doubt that he would be, that the law would be changed. I doubt it. I think it's high time, perhaps, that people looked at this question - because you're married to a Catholic -

DAVID FROST: Yes.

PRINCESS MICHAEL: - so you know all about that. It does seem strange that there is, it's only against the law for a member of the royal family to marry a Catholic but at the time of making the law other religions weren't being considered.

DAVID FROST: I see, because it does seem odd that Catholics get clobbered -

PRINCESS MICHAEL: It's a very old law.

DAVID FROST: - but that Muslims are okay and so on.

PRINCESS MICHAEL: But at the time there was no question -

DAVID FROST: Because when the law was made -

PRINCESS MICHAEL: - yes, there was no question. And at the time the whole business of English history was the issue of the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church - which is very much the issue in this book, not so much the Anglican Church but Protestantism because this is the renaissance, glorious art, but at the same time its persecution, great brutality of what were to become the Protestants - they were called heretics at this time and they were burnt at the stake regularly. So, so this is a very old issue, the issue of religion in history and we have it today.

DAVID FROST: Do you think - in fact it's very difficult for a royal family to say - but do you think over the years, like on the Catholic issue or maybe on other things, that the royal family, in order to remain in its unique position, has to keep changing, do you think? Or does it have to stay exactly as it is because that's what people like?

PRINCESS MICHAEL: Well I think life is changing, isn't it? I mean I was, I was asked the other day how did I feel the royal family would be written about in 50 or a hundred years' time - I'm very curious if we'll have a world in a hundred years' time, you know? I mean we can't, times are moving so quickly, aren't they?

Everything is moving so fast now that at the time of our grandparents they could, more or less, say my children will live this kind of life. But today we have no idea what life our children, your children or my children, will lead. Time - everything is moving so fast. So I, I have absolutely no idea. Speaking as a historian, I, I simply could not have any idea how history will look back in 50 years' time or in a hundred years' time on today.

DAVID FROST: Yes, I think they'll say that Prince William's had a good year, for instance, won't they? He's, he's facing up to his future responsibilities rather well, do you think?

PRINCESS MICHAEL: (LAUGHS) David, I don't comment on members of the family - you are bad and wicked.

DAVID FROST: Oh no that was - I was just asking you to pay a compliment. The thing I wanted to just go on to was, looking at the royal family, today, and looking at your life, we were comparing the two lives today and the period of the French in the 16th century, today, what would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of being royal - you said somewhere Wimbledon was an advantage -

PRINCESS MICHAEL: (LAUGHS) That was a joke. Well I think it's very, it's wonderful that people can marry for love today. It's no longer a prescribed pattern that you have to marry the daughter of this foreign monarch because then territory will come along with the marriage or money, as in the case of Catherine de Medici, the third person in this triangle, great territory, great money - the king needed money, therefore the deal is done - by adults, these were children who married, and today you've got adults making up their own minds, which is enormous advantage on the one hand. On the other hand, arranged marriages did rather well, didn't they?

DAVID FROST: Well they seemed to be doing pretty well in various parts of the world but I'm sure we're both glad we didn't have arranged marriages. Thank you very much for being with us.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.


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