Thu. Jul 29th, 2021

For some jobs at Buckingham Palace, the royal family has advertised openly in newspapers—it’s even possible to apply online to become, say, a communications officer or housekeeping assistant. But for the jobs closest to Queen Elizabeth and her family, the hiring seems to be done internally—and, until recent decades, little attention has been paid toward creating a diverse workplace.

In the 1980s, journalists and commentators noted that the palace rarely hired people of color; even in 2000, nearly all senior staffers were white. But details had been difficult to come by until last week, when The Guardian uncovered documents revealing the palace’s discriminatory hiring practices in the 1960s. The newspaper discovered a summary of a February 1968 meeting between palace courtiers and government officials about securing an exemption from a proposed anti-discrimination law. According to the government’s minutes, Charles Tryon, 2nd Baron Tryon, who was responsible for managing the queen’s finances, explained that it was not the palace’s practice to hire “coloured immigrants or foreigners” for office and clerical jobs, but only as domestic servants.

It’s not necessarily a surprise that the palace was not a meritocratic, multicultural workplace in the late 1960s, the years when consciousness about racism and discrimination changed in both the U.K. and the U.S. But thanks to the controversy around Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s royal exit—and their allegations of racism within the family in a March interview with Oprah Winfrey—the revelation about the palace’s clearly racist practice is enough to make anyone wonder how much has really changed. Even if Prince William was correct in saying that the royals are “very much not a racist family,” Meghan and Harry have both been careful to say that their biggest complaints have to do with the institution that surrounds them.

According to the palace, things are different now. “Claims based on a second-hand account of conversations from over 50 years ago should not be used to draw or infer conclusions about modern day events or operations,” a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said in a statement to E! News last week. “The Royal Household and the Sovereign comply with the provisions of the Equality Act, in principle and in practise. This is reflected in the diversity, inclusion and dignity at work policies, procedures and practises within the Royal Household. Any complaints that might be raised under the Act follow a formal process that provides a means of hearing and remedying any complaint.”

Still, the image of the queen’s representatives negotiating the palace out of an anti-discrimination law is symbolically powerful. The Guardian found the documents in the National Archives, and they provide new insight into Tryon, a longtime aide of the queen who hasn’t made a huge impact in the history books. The son of a prominent Conservative Party politician, Tryon served as the keeper of the privy purse from 1952 until 1971. Though his title might sound a bit informal, the role is more like the Firm’s chief financial officer, and its occupant is usually one of the most powerful people in the palace.

In addition to monitoring accounts, the keeper meets with the queen regularly to discuss the family’s financial dealings. In 2003, The Telegraph reported that Tryon once advised the queen and Princess Margaret that spending too much money on Kensington Palace renovations was unwise. The keeper of the privy purse also seems to have served as an intermediary between the queen and the government on financial and staffing matters. In 1969, The Observer reported that “when times are hard, he discreetly presses for a little bit of butter for the royal slice of bread.”

In this capacity, Tryon, his deputy, and their legal adviser took the 1968 meeting with T.G. Weiler, a civil servant in the Home Office. According to the documents uncovered by The Guardian, the subject of the meeting was to discuss the queen’s interests when it came to proposed ammendments to the country’s anti-discrimination law, the Race Relations Act. Under the proposed ammendments, employees would be able to file racial discrimination claims against their employers to the Race Relations Board.

According to Weiler, Tryon and his colleagues claimed that the palace wanted to follow the “general principle” of the law, but they were concerned about subjecting the queen to its legal mechanism. Applying the proposed legislation to the palace, they said, “would, for the first time, make it legal to criticize the Household.” The palace wanted an exemption along the lines of what the diplomatic offices had already secured, as permission to continue their current practice of not considering foreigners for those clerical jobs. (It’s not hard to imagine that a Black or Asian senior staffer might have then seemed utterly impossible to Tryon.) In his notes from the meeting, Weiler suggests drafting the law so that “persons in the public service of the Crown” were included, thus subtly leaving out the royal household. “There would still, however, be a risk that the position of the Household might be raised in the press or in the course of the debates,” he cautioned.