29 April 2016

Five Years with the Cambridges

It is hard to believe that five years have already passed since the marriage of Prince William to his long-time live-in love Catherine (Kate) Middleton. It has been an eventful half decade for their family. Let's take a look back at the key moments:

1. April 29, 2011: A Bride and a Title
Not only did Prince William get a wife on this day, but he also gained a title. In previous generations, princes were granted their own territorial titles much early, but for the last several decades, they have been granted upon their marriages. There was much speculation about which title he would receive (see my post on the subject a year before the wedding). In the end, he was given a title with strong sentimental meaning for his grandmother, The Queen. Her beloved grandmother, Queen Mary, had descended from the last royal dukes of Cambridge. However, the fact that the former Miss Middleton is now styled as Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge led to some confusion about what her actual rank is. To clarify (again) as the wife of a British Prince, she holds the rank of Princess, even though she is called Duchess of Cambridge. It is not, however, ever appropriate to call her Princess Kate or, even worse, Duchess Kate, as she holds that rank by right of her husband. This would make her Princess William if they had no other titles to use, just like Princess Michael of Kent. The Palace did not help things when it announced that people could call her whatever they wanted to...

2. December 3, 2012: A Baby is on the Way
I was at a conference in Washington, D.C. when my Twitter feed and email box started blowing up with messages of congratulations. I had to step outside to investigate what was happening. As it turns out, I was not having a baby, but the Cambridges were! Unfortunately, the pregnancy was announced much earlier than usual because Kate was suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a serious and potentially dangerous form of morning sickness for which she had to be hospitalized. The early announcement led to an even more prolonged state of anticipation on the part of royal watchers everywhere. By the time, the big day finally arrived, royal baby mania was even greater than it had been for William's birth, and I think we were all completely exhausted.

3. July 22, 2013: It's a Boy!!
The arrival of a prince temporarily relieved anxieties over the fact that the British succession was still based on the outdated and sexist practice of male primogeniture, by which older daughters with younger brothers are displaced in the line of succession by their brothers and their brothers' descendants. (This is why Princess Anne The Princess Royal was second in line to the throne at the time of her mother's accession, but is now #12 after her brothers and their children and grandchildren.) Kate gave birth in the same hospital as Diana had and under the care of The Queen's own gynecologist. #Awkward  One day later, we got the first glimpse of the boy we would come to nickname "Cheeks" and the day after that we learned that his name would be George Alexander Louis. And, prince or not, there really is not a cuter kid on the planet. He just gets more and more impossibly cuter. The latest pics of him greeting President Obama in his pajamas and robe are almost cuter than I can tolerate!

4. May 2, 2015: (Finally) It's a Girl
At long last, the heir to Diana that the world had awaited was finally here. This is an incredible legacy for a little girl to carry, but her parents did not make it worse by naming her Princess Diana, although her late grandmother was remembered among her names: Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. (Interestingly or oddly, William's youngest first cousin is Lady Charlotte Diana Spencer.) While many believe the name Elizabeth is for The Queen (and it may be), I think it is important to remember that Elizabeth is also the middle name of both Kate and her mother Carole, as well as a fairly common name among her ancestors. Both Charlotte and Kate are unfairly compared to the late Princess of Wales, so I am thankful that so far, Charlotte is looking less and less like her much-mourned grandfather.

The Family Home
During their early marriage, William and Kate continued to reside in their pre-marital home on Anglesey to be near William's military posting at RAF Valley. Since leaving the military, the Cambridge family has at last settled into a country home, Anmer Hall, on The Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk (where Diana was born) and the apartment they renovated in Kensington Palace. They did not choose the apartment where William and his brother Harry lived with their mother. Instead, they selected the one that had belonged to The Queen's late sister, Princess Margaret.

Royal Duties
Some have whispered that the Cambridges have not taken on enough royal duties, but I think it is important that they are not the immediate heirs to the throne. Also, The Queen herself very much enjoyed a more private early marriage and likely approves of the way Kate is being eased into royal duties, especially in light of the disastrous royal introductions of The Princess of Wales and The Duchess of York in the 1980s. They have represented Her Majesty on several foreign tours including travels to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and, most recently, India and Bhutan, as well as paying visits to Continental Europe. On the home front, Kate has taken on several patronages, focusing on children, sport, the arts, and mental health advocacy. Meanwhile, William has continued his support of the armed forces, young people, and conservation. Together, with his brother, Prince Harry of Wales, the couple has a foundation that is dedicated to young people, sustainable development, and supporting the armed forces.

What's Next
It's hard to say whether there will be more children in the future, but they will almost certainly begin to take on more and more public responsibilities, especially after the eventual succession of The Prince of Wales. The next big personal event in their lives is likely to be the marriage of Prince Harry, when the happy threesome will hopefully become an even happier quartet. But, when that will happen is anyone's guess!

24 April 2016

The American Queen Who Never Was

Today as we observe the 30th anniversary of the death of the woman who was born Bessie Wallis Warfield in Baltimore, Maryland, I am stunned to realize that I have never profiled her here on Princess Palace. Better known to history as Mrs. Simpson, she flew too close to the fire and earned a life of luxurious but perpetual exile.

When Wallis arrived in London with her second husband Ernest Simpson, she was socially ambitious but she would not have imagined how quickly she would rise to the very top of British society. At first, she managed to get into the circle of the King's youngest son, the dashing Duke of Kent. From there, it was not a far jump to begin mingling with the heir to the throne, the Prince of Wales, himself. David, as he was known to family and friends, had shown no interest in settling down with a suitable wife. Instead, he enjoyed a series of serious relationships with other men's wives. When his latest lady love American-born Thelma Lady Furness returned temporarily to the States, she made the questionable decision of asking her friend Wallis to look after the "little man." Wallis took the role literally and Thelma returned to find herself replaced.

Early on, the Royal Family and the Establishment were unconcerned: Wallis was just the next in a long line. But, as the King's health began to fail, he became increasingly concerned about David's unwillingness to shoulder his royal responsibilities. The King said that once he died, "the boy will ruin himself in a year." His words were prophetic.

David became King Edward VIII on his father's death in January 1936. He assumed the title and began planning his coronation, but he did not change his lifestyle. He neglected his state work, showed too much sympathy for Nazi Germany, and went on several holidays with Wallis always at his side. Once the obliging Ernest Simpson agreed to a divorce, it became clear that David had decided to marry Wallis and make Her his Queen. Her status as an American commoner with two living former husbands did not sit well with most of the establishment or the royal family. The British public, however, knew nothing about the romance because the press had kept it out of their papers. Imagine how stunned they were when abdication rumors began to circulate. By that time, Wallis has gone to France to wait for her latest divorce while David unsuccessfully argued his case. He would not get his way, so in December, he gave up the crown to his brother, who became King George VI.

By Vincenzo Laviosa 

via Wikimedia Commons
Once the divorce decree arrived, the couple were reunited and they married in June without any of his family present. I believe that Wallis never intended for things to go so far but once David had made up his mind, she was trapped. Their first act as a married couple was to visit Hitler, which was not well-received at home, and there is some indication that David, who had been granted the style and title HRH The Duke of Windsor, became involved in trying to broker peace with Germany during World War II. So his brother the king sent him to be the governor of the Bahamas, a backwater posting that both David and was presented. However that was not the most hurtful thing they received from the Royal Family. David never forgave his brother for refusing to give his wife the style of Royal Highness. He was also never allowed to return to Britain to live although apparently he thought that would eventually happen. The couple did visit on occasion, like for funeral of his mother Queen Mary.

Duke and Duchess of Windsor became highly sought-after party guests on both sides of the Atlantic. He also showered her with jewels comma most of which war auctions off after her death in 1986. He had died in 1972 and she spent her last 14 years alone and increasingly unaware of what was going on around her. In the show of kindness and perhaps mercy, Wallis had been welcomed more or less as a member of the family when she accompanied David's body to England for his burial. By that time his niece was Queen Elizabeth II and she wished not to further the antagonism between branches of the family.

Even today, The Duchess of Windsor remained a figure of controversy among people who follow Royal history. People honor and respect her and David for following their hearts and for the devotion they showed each other throughout their long lives. Others cannot forgive him for his selfish decision to renounce the throne or her for being the cause of that decision. I am usually on the side of those who think they should have chosen honor over personal inclination. However, the result has been the reigns of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II and I strongly believe the nation is better having had the two of them as monarch. When David's father said that his son would ruin himself in a year, he also hoped but nothing would come between the second son and his niece and the throne. His prediction therefore was not only prophetic but wise.