For decades the one name that has been at the very top of royal guest lists has remained the same – Mountbatten.
Weddings, christenings, funerals and, yes, coronations would simply not be the same without the presence of the family whose stately Hampshire home Broadlands was where both the King – with Princess Diana – and his parents began their honeymoons.
Indeed no household has been more entwined in the modern history of the Royal Family than the Mountbattens, bound together by blood and kinship for more than a century and sharing moments of both happiness and shattering loss.
So the absence of the revered Lady Pamela Hicks from Westminster Abbey when King Charles is crowned next month is certainly surprising.
Queen Elizabeth looks down her godchild, Edwina, in the arms of her mother, Lady Pamela Hicks. April 16, 1962
Lady Pamela Mountbatten, right, lady-in-waiting, adjusts Queen Elizabeth’s stole at the Royal Ball in Melbourne, March 1954
Lady Pamela, whose father Earl Mountbatten of Burma was Prince Philip’s uncle, attended the Queen’s funeral last September in a wheelchair. And afterwards her daughter India Hicks divulged that her mother hoped to be one of the very few people to have attended three coronations – King George VI’s in 1937 when she was a girl of eight, the Queen’s in 1953, and Charles’s.
Instead yesterday – her 94th birthday – Lady Pamela, widow of the interior designer David Hicks, learned that she had not been invited to the King’s Coronation. ‘My mother was not offended at all,’ Ms Hicks admirably offered.
All the same, the failure to include such a highly respected figure, who was a bridesmaid at the Queen’s 1947 wedding to Prince Philip and whose late sister Patricia was Charles’s godmother, among the 2,000 people invited to the ceremony was in danger of being seen as a snub.
It has also raised some troubling questions about what sort of spectacle the King and Buckingham Palace are planning for May 6. There have already been grumbles about the diminished size of the event compared with the scale of Queen Elizabeth’s awe-inspiring enthronement.
Then last week there were more mutters over the King’s apparent desire to make the Coronation ‘meritocratic not aristocratic’ with his decision to exclude many of Britain’s dukes and their robes and coronets, instantly denying one of the more colourful and moving aspects of previous coronations.
It prompted the financier Ben Goldsmith, whose grandfather the Marquess of Londonderry was a senior member of the aristocracy, to warn that Charles was at risk of giving in to ‘dullards and drips’ by ‘watering down’ his Coronation.
‘Britain,’ he observed, ‘does these kinds of celebrations so well, and they matter to a huge number of people, not just here but around the world.’
The Duke of Rutland told the Mail he did not understand the absence of an invitation, adding: ‘It has been families like mine that have supported the Royal Family over 1,000 years or thereabouts.’
Then Prince Charles with Lady Pamela Hicks at Anjelica Hicks’ Christening in December 1992
Jemima Jones and Ben Goldsmith attend the wedding of Lady Gabriella Windsor and Thomas Kingston at St George’s Chapel on May 18, 2019 in Windsor, England
Rupert North wears the coronation cloak, designed by award-winning florist Helen James, during a photo call on staging day of the Spring Flower Show on April 19
Much of the traditional pomp and pageantry will still be in place, but there will be striking differences from the ceremony of 70 years ago. And the biggest change will be in the make-up of the guest list.
According to courtiers, the King wants it to have a modern, inclusive and diverse feel to reflect the country at large.
And while some may not mourn the omission of many of Britain’s 24 non-royal dukes, it is harder to reconcile the absence of such a significant figure as Lady Pamela.
Yesterday her daughter, who is herself a goddaughter of the King and was a bridesmaid at his wedding to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, did her best to put a brave face on the news.
Writing on Instagram, she explained that because her mother was hard of hearing, ‘important’ messages are conveyed through her. ‘One of the King’s personal secretaries was passing on a message from the King,’ she wrote. ‘They explained that this Coronation was to be very different from the Queen’s.
‘Eight thousand guests would be whittled down to 1,000 (sic), alleviating the burden on the state. The King was sending his great love and apologies, he was offending many families and friends with the reduced list. My mother was not offended at all.’
She quoted Lady Pamela saying: ‘How very, very sensible. I am going to follow with great interest the events of this new reign.’
It was, of course, an elegant response from someone who has long been at the heart of royal life.
And while the Mountbatten name is bound to be represented – it is thought the current Countess Mountbatten, who is married to Lady Pamela’s nephew Norton, will be a guest – the fact that the matriarch of the family will not be there is raising eyebrows.
‘If there’s no room for Lady Pamela, who else will be missing?’ says one of the King’s circle. ‘I’m sure it’s not a snub but it does look a gaffe.’
Lady Pamela Hicks (left) shows the bridesmaid dress she wore at Queen Elizabeth’s wedding
At the 1953 Coronation, Edwina in her large art deco tiara, with her daughters, Lady Pamela Hicks, and Lady Patricia, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma & 7th Baroness Brabourne
As a young man, Prince Charles frequently sought the advice of Lord Mountbatten, last Viceroy of India.
Indeed in the 1970s Mountbatten entertained hopes that the prince might choose his own granddaughter Amanda Knatchbull – Lady Pamela’s niece – as his bride.
When Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA in 1979, the Queen and all senior members of the Royal Family, including Prince Charles, attended the funeral. Seven years ago Charles stood in for his old Gordonstoun schoolmate Norton, who was unwell, to give away Mountbatten’s great-granddaughter Alexandra on her wedding day.
Were she to be disappointed by this turn of events, Lady Pamela would never say.
Loyalty to the Royal Family is a maxim which she and all her family have long observed. Many will wonder, though, whether her absence means that same loyalty is not always returned.