Imaginations seem to run wild whenever the Trumps and the House of Windsor—that is, the British royal family—hang out. The latest example came on Tuesday night, in a video of Princess Anne shrugging at her mother, Queen Elizabeth II, as the monarch greeted President Trump and first lady Melania Trump during a NATO reception at Buckingham Palace.
Thanks to season three of The Crown, the world is finally waking up to the highly underrated Princess Royal, who is portrayed by Netflix as sassing her powerful parents and secretly shagging Andrew Parker Bowles. Perhaps with that character in mind, the internet leaped to a conclusion: The queen was scolding Princess Anne for not meeting the Trumps, and she responded by literally shrugging her mother off, effectively snubbing the Americans.
Wishful thinking abounded. As one Guardian writer tweeted, “The queen chastising Princess Anne for not greeting Trump and Anne not giving a single shit is the mood we all need to take into today.” Others pointed to Anne’s presence in a gossipy gaggle of world leaders, including Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and French president Emmanuel Macron, as more proof of her stealth, or not-so-stealth, protest: “Princess Anne giving zero f*cks is kinda amazing to see,” another journalist tweeted.
But, alas, the myth of royal resistance was once again shattered. In fact, explained an eyewitness, The Times of London reporter Valentine Low, Queen Elizabeth hadn’t been scolding Princess Anne (who was not in the official greeting party anyway) but rather seeing who was next in line for the Trumps to meet, to which Anne “raised her hands in the air, laughed and said: ‘It’s just me.’”
No, Princess Anne did not have a pussy hat in her purse. And, no, she was not defying her mother in the glare of the international press, even if she is quietly and cuttingly awesome. And yet some people—many people?—defaulted to that fantasy.
It was hardly the first royal-presidential crossover episode to spark speculation. Talk of the royals somehow sending coded messages of their discontent dates back at least a year, when Queen Elizabeth wore a brooch given to her by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to receive Trump. During June’s state visit, some wished to believe that Queen Elizabeth was trolling him via her tiara rubies (which the Burmese people believe guard the wearer against evil). A royal gift of The Second World War, Winston Churchill’s Nobel Prize–winning book, was interpreted as more queenly shade, for its emphasis on anti-fascism (never mind that it had also been the 75th anniversary of D-Day). Amid reports that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, then on maternity leave, would not attend any Trump state visit events, some noted that Prince Harry kept an awkward distance from the president during a palace tour.
The impulse to cast the royals as high-level resisters is understandable: They are often seen and seldom heard. Their fusty public appearances leave an enormous amount to the imagination, inviting each of us to fill in the blanks and imagine what they’re really thinking and feeling behind closed doors—who loves and who hates each other, who gets drunk on nips of sherry and skinny-dips in the palace pool. (Incidentally, royal fan fiction is one of my personal favorite pastimes.) This impulse is compounded by the current fraught political moment, by a president who tramples on civil rights and separates children from their families. It’s tempting to believe he isn’t being received with open arms on the world stage and by the British royals we revere almost as our own, no less. Far be it from anyone to grasp for confirmation that none of this is normal or okay.
But as far as the news goes, characterizing the royals as being subtly rude to the Trumps fundamentally misunderstands who they are as a family and as an institution. These are people who live and die by decorum! They are ranked by succession to the throne and assigned to sit accordingly at official functions! And, above all, they are forbidden from making political statements of any kind. As Myka Meier, founder of Beaumont Etiquette and the creator of the famed Duchess Effect course on royal graces, told Vogue amid the talk of state-visit shade in June: “As the head of state, Queen Elizabeth would have only been showing respect through her actions, gifts, and speech.... [She] is known to be the greatest and most experienced diplomat in the world, and it is my belief that she never would have done anything to hinder her relationship with the president, no matter who it is, of the United States."
In other words, the British royal family is far too proper to air their beef in high public fashion. Whether they secretly look down their noses at the Trumps, whether the queen’s corgis growled at his heels or Princess Anne felt compelled to blast David Bowie and take a cleansing drive through the countryside to recover from Tuesday night’s festivities...well, we can dream.
Originally Appeared on Vogue