Even if Lady Glenconner has shown the occasional rebellious streak, she remains largely a defender of the social hierarchy in which she is enmeshed. “The aristocracy are founded on people that have done something,” Glenconner told me at Holkham Hall, citing the achievements of her Coke ancestors in law and in agriculture. “They created something—the estate, which is there, which is passed on. Some of the aristocracy fade—nothing happens, they can’t think of anything, they spend, and their houses go, and that’s it. But certain families, like this one, are able to keep on going, to keep on inventing, to keep on thinking of different things.
Among Glenconner’s cohort, the responsibility of a wife was to take care of her husband before her children. “Children had their routine and adults had theirs,” she writes. “Being a wife seemed more urgent than being a mother.”
The role of a lady-in-waiting, as detailed in Glenconner’s first book, lies somewhere between that of a friend or a confidante and that of a personal assistant—identifying the location of the bathroom on a royal visit, or insuring that a royal visitor is served the right thing to drink. (In Princess Margaret’s case, a gin-and-tonic at lunch and whiskey with water in the evening.)
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