The Royals

Duchess Kate comments by 'Wolf Hall' novelist stir furor

Feb. 19, 2013 at 11:17 AM ET

One of Britain's most celebrated authors has made controversial remarks about Britain's Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, saying that she has been presented to the public as a "shop-window mannequin" with a plastic smile whose only role in life is to breed.

In unusual comments about a British royal, Hilary Mantel said the Duchess appears to have been designed by a committee, with a "perfect plastic smile" and no personality.

The writer's comments about the pregnant 31-year-old wife of second-in-line to the British throne Prince William sharply divided public opinion. Newspapers condemned Mantel's words as "venomous," "cruel" and "staggeringly rude," while supporters said it was a thoughtful analysis of the role of royal women over the centuries.

"I saw Kate becoming a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung," Mantel said in a lecture at the British Museum in London earlier this month in which she spoke about her changing views about the princess.

"She was a shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore. These days she is a mother-to-be, and draped in another set of threadbare attributions."

Mantel, who last year became the first Briton to twice win the coveted Man Booker prize for fiction, added:

In the Feb. 4 lecture organized by the London Review of Books, Mantel also said: "Once she gets over being sick, the press will find that she is radiant. They will find that this young woman's life until now was nothing, her only point and purpose being to give birth." The literary magazine reprinted the lecture on its website this week.


Mantel, 60, is best known for her historical novel "Wolf Hall," about the rise of blacksmith's son Thomas Cromwell to the pinnacle of power in King Henry VIII's court. Her follow-up "Bring Up the Bodies" recounted Anne Boleyn's fall from grace.

In her lecture, Mantel said the Duchess of Cambridge was "selected for her role ... because she was irreproachable," contrasting her with the "emotional incontinence" of William's late mother, Princess Diana.

"As painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character. She appears precision-made, machine-made, so different from Diana," Mantel said.

The author's agent was not immediately available for comment. A St James's Palace spokeswoman had no comment.

Reaction on Twitter suggested Mantel had split public opinion. Royal commentator Robert Jobson said the "venomous attack" was "unfair and publicity-seeking." Others agreed with Mantel, saying she had elegantly articulated what many people had long thought about the royals.

The lecture looked at the "fascination with royalty" and the "regal body," examining the lives of royal women and the importance of providing an heir. Mantel compared that to the fuss made about pandas mating in captivity.

"Our current royal family doesn't have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment," Mantel said. "But aren't they interesting? Aren't they nice to look at?"

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