Princess Anne’s Head Injury Only Deepens the Rolling Royal Crisis

Hannah McKay/Reuters
Hannah McKay/Reuters

That Princess Anne was injured, apparently by being kicked or butted in the head by a horse at her home, Gatcombe Park in the Cotswolds, would be deeply concerning for the royal family even in normal times.

But these are not normal times. King Charles III has cancer and has reportedly been forced to cancel a tour of New Zealand, and his daughter-in-law, the Princess of Wales, is fighting the disease too. She has almost entirely withdrawn from public life since the beginning of the year—except for a centerpiece appearance at Trooping the Colour, alongside her family, just over two weeks ago.

Princess Anne Hospitalized for Head Injury: Horses Suspected

Prince William has also significantly scaled back his public role to support his wife and family. Anne’s absence means that just three individuals remain as full-time working royals unaffected by illness: Queen Camilla (who has stepped nobly up to the plate to support her husband but never wanted to be queen and does not particularly enjoy the public appearance side of things), and Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh.

Anne, already famed for a prodigious work ethic which usually sees her carry out about 500 public engagements a year, has been shouldering a huge amount of the extra load.

In this context, her removal from active service—she has already withdrawn from a trip to Canada and a state visit by the Japanese emperor to London this week—is the last thing the royal family needs.

Some insiders believe that King Charles has only himself to blame for the latest staffing crisis.

Prince Andrew, Duke of York attends the Royal Family's Christmas Day service at St. Mary Magdalene's church, as the Royals take residence at the Sandringham estate in eastern England, Britain December 25, 2022.

Prince Andrew, Duke of York attends the Royal Family's Christmas Day service at St. Mary Magdalene's church, as the Royals take residence at the Sandringham estate in eastern England, Britain December 25, 2022.

Toby Melville/Reuters

“Plenty of people, including Anne, have been saying the royals have been spread too thinly,” said one royal insider, “This is not a new thing. Prince Andrew did his Newsnight interview [about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, that led to his exit from royal duties] in 2019. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle left their senior royal duties in 2020.

“Of course no one could have expected Kate to get so sick, but you hardly had to be a fortune teller back then to see that Charles, Camilla and Anne [Charles is 75, Camilla is 76 and Anne is 73] were all getting older and therefore going to have to do less. Charles should have brought Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie [Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s daughters] back. They have both made it very clear they would be willing to help, but he doesn’t like admitting mistakes.”

A friend of Charles’ however said that characterization was unfair. “Charles decided to reduce the number of working royals because he could see that the days of having dozens of minor relatives living off the family are over. No European royal family is expanding their numbers. Anne’s hospitalization has got absolutely nothing to do with it. The palace have said it is a minor thing and I am sure she will be back very soon.”

However, the royal writer and youtuber Lady Colin Campbell, a friend of Princess Diana who wrote a bestselling biography of her, told The Daily Beast: “I have been saying for the last 30 years, ever since Charles came up with the notion of treating Britain as if it’s Denmark, that it was a cray idea. And now we have three royals out of action—and Anne is the busiest of them all.

“Of course, an accident like this is unforeseeable but hopefully it will make Charles realize they really need to rope in Beatrice and Eugenie, and get Edward and Sophie’s children, Louise and James, to come forward.

“Unfortunately, William seems to be taking the same view as Charles, that they should keep the numbers of working royals small.”

Princess Anne at Ascot, June 20, 2024.

Princess Anne at Ascot, June 20, 2024.

Samir Hussein/WireImage

The bestselling royal biographer of the king, Christopher Andersen, told The Daily Beast: “The Princess Royal is 73, and, like her brother Charles obviously more vulnerable physically. Still, what is being described as a mild concussion is nothing new for Anne, or for Charles, for that matter. They have both been riding since early childhood and sustained all sorts of injuries in the process.

“Charles was ferociously competitive on the polo field, and Anne competed in equestrian events in the 1976 Olympics. Before foxhunting was banned in 2004, Charles and Anne both loved to ride to the hounds. All manner of bruises, fractures, sprains, dislocations, and concussions go with territory.”

What makes this different, Andersen said, was that Charles could scarcely afford to lose even one working member of the royal family—when he and Kate are battling cancer, and Harry and Andrew are out of the picture.

“As the senior royals get older, there will inevitably be more health challenges,” Andersen said. “But it does seem odd that we’re witnessing one medical problem after another being heaped on the new sovereign in rapid succession. One gets the sense that the royal family is on the ropes. I think we were all spoiled somewhat by the late Queen Mother, by Queen Elizabeth II, and by Prince Philip, all three of whom avoided serious illness well into their nineties.”

Looking to the future, Andersen noted William’s plans to further scale down the British monarchy, which could lead Charles to worry that, “once he is no longer in the picture, a King William V will take his plans for modernization several steps too far.”

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