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Whither the Dignity of Today's Royalty? : Books: British scholar Rosalind Miles cringes at the public whining of Charles and Diana. Both, she says, would have been better off following Elizabeth I's dignified example.

November 02, 1994|LESLIE KNOWLTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEW YORK — If Elizabeth I had been faced with the likes of the wayward Princess Diana, she'd have thrown the witless woman into the Tower of London and launched a smear campaign.

So asserts British literary scholar Rosalind Miles, Oxford-educated author of 15 nonfiction and fiction works--including two bestsellers in England.

But it's not Diana's alleged adultery that would have irked the so-called Virgin Queen.

It's that Diana broke the aristocracy's centuries-old code of honor by leaving her husband and publicly whining--moves to rock the royal barge that she learned from her mother.

"She's bleated, whined and leaked like a sieve," says Miles, relaxing with coffee in her Times Square hotel room at the end of a three-week U.S. book tour, soon to return to her 16th-Century farmhouse in Warwickshire. "In Elizabeth's day, she would've been silenced and saved from these embarrassing affairs . . . with chinless wonders."

Miles, 43, is accustomed to speaking for the 16th-Century monarch. Her latest tome--a 595-page novel called "I, Elizabeth" (Doubleday, 1994)--is written entirely in the first person and took five years to write.

"Elizabeth I's own voice was so distinctive, in the end I could almost hear her talking to me," Miles says.

She says she wrote the book because she respects the woman who juggled a problem-plagued childhood, religious tempests, breathless bedchamber secrets, the Spanish Armada and her nemesis Mary, Queen of Scots, all without losing her royal image.

"What an amazing woman," Miles says.

She can't say the same for Diana, whom she calls "unbelievably narcissistically involved."

And she's not too keen on Prince Charles, either, for having followed Diana's example of "girlie blabbering."

Again she harks to the glory days of Elizabeth I.

"She would've sent Charles off to conquer new worlds--heroic action is always good. Give him a whiff of grapeshot and he would've had plenty to do. Today, he's just a man without a function."

So what's a modern-day Royal Mom to do?

"The Queen couldn't have done anything more," Miles says. "She has put up and shut up all her life. She's staggered by this betrayal of privacy."

Adds Miles: "I follow this with great concern. It's not a soap opera, it's a Greek tragedy."

*

As Miles details in her book, randy royalty is nothing new. In fact, she says, Elizabeth I was a sexy and passionate woman who likely had several romantic liaisons with members of her court, remaining single only to retain independence and power.

"People were not faithful in the Old World. . . . It was a virile, full-blooded age," she says, adding that there is still today much more random and adulterous sex in England than ever in America.

But the difference between then and now and here and there is the way infidelities are handled by spouses.

Explains Miles of those centuries-old English ways: "Edwardian girls were brought up to believe lovers were flowers and husbands trees. Divorce was not acceptable."

Likewise, for men, "There's a solidly established tradition of having a wife and mistress. You treat your wife decently, don't bring your mistress to the dinner table and turn a blind eye to your wife's boyfriends."

Adds Miles: "It's a stark code but it's clear. You live by it and die by it."

So what went wrong with Charles and Di? The answer is simple, says Miles: Their calculated merger was a royal matchmaking mistake right from the start.

"The (royal family) wanted a wife for Charles who was blue-blooded, a virgin, and she had to be tall," Miles says. "The physical pedigree dominated their minds."

But had they taken Diana's "psychological pedigree" into account, the royals would have thought twice, she says.

"This was the child of the worst divorce that's rocked British aristocracy since the 18th Century," Miles says, detailing the history of Diana's mother, who left her husband for her lover. "Her mother broke the code of carrying on the affair and remaining in the marriage. She ran away with the bloke."

As a result, Diana grew up with a series of "horrible nannies" and a "hysterical obsession to build a family life--to make things right this time," Miles says. That's why she wouldn't "put up and shut up" about Charles' infidelity.

Says Miles, who calls herself a feminist: "Charles was brought up by the code and taught that adultery is OK. But Diana wasn't, so she blew (the code) out of the water. She's a selfish and hysterical mother who puts her own unhappiness above her children. If she loved her children, she would've stayed with their father."

But doesn't she sympathize with Diana's plight?

"Well, she was used, but she's deeply ignorant," Miles says. "The cruel truth is she was redundant the minute she produced the heir and the spare."

She sniffs.

"Damaged people are damaging," she says. "She's dragged British aristocracy into the era of tabloid confessionals, which are low class. That's why people there hate her to death."

Still, when pressed, she does express a bit of hedged pity for the princess.

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