27 December 2009

The Youngest Princesses

My last post about contemporary royal romances made me start thinking about the beautiful new princesses that have resulted from these latest marriages. (Yes, the baby princes are cute too, but this is a blog about princesses. . .) I know many of my readers are not avid royal watchers, so I thought you might like to see pics of these little darlings. For those of you who are already familiar with them, you will probably enjoy seeing them again!

Spanish Royals Attend Easter Mass in Mallorca
It's hard to choose just one photo of Infanta Leonor of Spain. I think she is the most adorable child in the world since Shirley Temple retired her tap shoes! This one of her holding her little sister Infanta Sofia's hand--and wearing matching outfits as they often do--is one of my favorites. Leonor is the oldest daughter of the Felipe and Letizia, the Prince and Princess of the Asturias. She is second in line to the throne after her father. However, under current Spanish law, which uses male-preference primogeniture to determine succession, she would be superceded if her father has any legitimate sons. (This is the same type of succession used in England--if Queen Elizabeth II had had a brother, she wouldn't be queen today.) Changes in the law have been proposed in Spain, but have not yet been adopted.

Danish Royals Attend Sydney Photo Call
In Denmark, Princess Isabella is third in line to the throne following her father, Crown Prince Frederick and her older brother Prince Christian. Denmark, like all of the Scandinavian countries, has adopted gender-blind succession laws. Isabella's name was considered an unusual choice because it is not common in Denmark, but I think it is very lovely. (By the way, take a look at her shoes in this photo--either she was is extremely active or her mom is thrifty enough to use hand-me-downs.)

Norwegian Royal Family Celebrate Norway's National Day
Princess Ingrid Alexandra is second in line in Norway after her father, Crown Prince Haakon. As his oldest child, she takes precedence over her younger full brother, Prince Sverre Magnus, because Norway's succession goes by birth order. However, the law was only changed in 1990. Before that, Norway used Salic Law, which meant women could not accede to the throne at all. Therefore, Haakon's older sister, Princess Martha Louise, was excluded until the new law was passed. Under the new succession law, Haakon, as the second child, would have been demoted. So, Parliament decided that, while Martha Louise would be included in the line of succession, the new gender-blind rules would only apply to children born after 1990. This doesn't seem to bother Martha Louise who dropped her royal status (she's just Her Highness, not Her Royal Highness) when she married in 2002. She has numerous business ventures which would not have been possible if she were heir to the throne.

Belgian Royals Pose with the Christmas Tree
Belgium has a plethora of tiny princesses, but the future queen is Princess Elisabeth (she's on the left, with her cousins, Princess Letitia Marie and Princess Louise). King Albert II has six granddaughters and six grandsons. Elisabeth is the first of Crown Prince Philippe's children and is number two behind her dad in order of succession. She has two younger brothers, Gabriel and Emmanuel, and a younger sister, Eleonore.

Prince Willem-Alexander, Princess Maxima of Netherlands - Photocall

Dutch Royal Family Annual Winter Photocall
Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, like the Queen of England, also benefited from having no brothers. She succeeded her mother, Queen Juliana, who also had no brothers, and Queen Juliana succeeded her mother, Queen Wilhemina, whose brothers had died young. In fact, when the current Crown Prince Willem Alexander was born in 1967, he was the first Dutch prince to be born in more than 100 years. Although Beatrix broke the century-long tradition by having three sons and no daughters, she has made up for it in the next generation: seven of her eight grandchildren are girls. Only three of the girls are princesses, however, as it was decided in 2001 that only the children of the Crown Prince would have royal status; the other girls are countesses. The Crown Prince's three daughters are Princess Catharina-Amalia (called Amalia), Princess Alexia (named for her dad, who is called Alexander) and Princess Ariane, in that order. The top photo shows the three princesses from youngest to oldest. The bottom photo shows Queen Beatrix wrangling her six oldest grandchildren.

All of these little girls are still too young to realize the true impact of their positions. They probably think all children are incessantly followed by photographers! However, their parents have taken measures to raise them as normally as possible. Unlike many previous royals, they were born in hospitals and they attend regular kindergartens with ordinary children. They also appear to have very devoted parents who take them on regular outings to the seaside, theme parks, and other family-oriented spots. And, like most little girls, they seem to have their daddies wrapped around their fingers!

20 December 2009

How to Become a Princess

If you don’t have monarchs for parents, but you are thinking of choosing princesshood as your career path—today’s princesses have to work (and give up all privacy) for the privileges they receive—here are a few tips based on how some of this century’s royal ladies gained their tiaras. A generation ago, your family still had to live on top of a royal family for you to get inside (Fergie’s dad was a royal polo manager and Diana was literally born on a royal estate), but contemporary royal wannabes can be a little more proactive.

1. Go to high-profile international events


In 1999, Argentine-born New York investment banker Maxima Zorriegueta met the Crown Prince Willem Alexander of the Netherlands during the Seville Spring Fair in Spain. He introduced himself simply as “Alexander.” When he later told her he was a prince, she basically said, “Yeah, right.” The couple conducted a transatlantic affair while she kept her prince’s true identity secret from her folks. She did eventually tell them that the mysterious Alexander was a prince, but Maxima’s wedding was not a true fairytale: her father was encouraged not to attend because the Dutch Parliament questioned his possible ties to a former Argentine military dictator. Both of her parents stayed away from the wedding, but continued to be actively engaged in the lives of their daughter and her three blonde baby girls. Maxima and Alexander regularly make extended family visits to Argentina.

In 2000, Australian advertising agent Mary Donaldson made a fateful choice of night spot during the Sydney Olympics. When the Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark slipped in to the Slip Inn for a nip, lovely Mary slipped in to his life. (Please pardon the puns.) She and her friend reportedly were trying to determine whether the men hanging out in the bar had smooth or hairy chests when three young bucks—who just happened to be Frederick, his brother Prince Joachim and their cousin Prince Nikolaos of Greece—offered to let the ladies feel theirs. Although Frederick was smitten, Mary admits she didn’t fall instantly in love. A year later, she moved to Paris to be closer to him and a year after that to Denmark. And, one year after that, she finally walked down the aisle. (Her dad, a former math professor, moved to Denmark to be closer to his daughter. He helps look after Mary’s two little ones whenever he can.)

Incidentally, the current Queen of Sweden, German-born Silvia Sommerlath, met her prince while working as a translator during the 1972 Olympics in Munich. And, the current Queen of Spain, who was born a Greek princess, reportedly made her love connection with the future King during the 1960 Olympics in Rome (where she was on the Greek sailing team) even though they had met years previously. A warning to you cold-weather ladies: it seems to be the Summer Olympics that produce the most romantic results for young princes, although Prince Albert of Monaco was first seen publically with his current flame, Rhodesian-born swimmer Charlene Wittstock, during the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics, they had met when she competed at an international swimming event in Monaco.)

2. Have mutual friends

American Marie-Chantal Miller met Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece at a friend’s party in New Orleans in 1993. He grew up in exile, mostly in London, while she grew up all over the world—New York City, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Switzerland—thanks to her family’s wealth. In fact, some believe she brought more money into the marriage than he did. Married in 1995, the couple now has five children and Marie-Chantal has put her experience as a mother to good use: she has an exclusive line of children’s clothing, available online at http://www.mariechantal.com

In 2001, Spanish television journalist Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano met the future King of Spain, Felipe Prince of the Asturias, at a dinner party hosted by mutual friends. However, their romance didn’t actually start until they met again a year later when she was covering an oil spill in northern Spain and he came to region to commiserate with the people of the area. Letizia continued her high-powered career—having reported from the frontlines of the Iraq war and covered the Sept. 11 attacks—while the two engaged in an extremely secret courtship. Perhaps as a journalist herself, she knew how to avoid other journalists and their instrusive speculation. In fact, newspapers did not begin reporting on their relationship until just days before their engagement was announced in 2003. Coincidentally, Letizia was actually born in the Asturias region, so, in a way, she became Princess of her hometown. (If only there were a Prince of Lincoln City, I would have been set.)

Norwegian waitress Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby met the Crown Prince of her homeland through mutual friends at the Quart Festival, a rock festival in her hometown of Kristiansand, in 1996. (I guess I should have attended the festival when I was in Norway in ’92; I could have found him first!) They later shared a taxi and began falling in love. Like most Scandinavian couples, Mette-Marit and Crown Prince Haakon cohabitated before their marriage but eventually tied the knot in 2001.

3. Select your college carefully

Not surprisingly, university applications usually spike whenever a prince announces where he will be studying. This was certainly the case when Prince William of Wales decided to attend the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. As a fellow art history student, Catherine (Kate) Middleton soon became one of the prince’s inner circle. In their second year at St. Andrews, they and some other friends moved in to a cottage together. Speculation about their relationship grew when he was photographed watching her model a scanty outfit in a university fashion show. In the last nine years, their romance has made quite a lot of money for the tabloids. The constant pressure from the media has often strained the relationship. William and Kate split in 2007 but have since reunited and rumors are running rampant that an engagement will be announced in 2010. (Update the couple married in April 2011.)

Incidentally, when one of my friends enrolled in graduate school at Georgetown University in the early ‘90s, I tried to get her to introduce me to the two princes who were studying there at the time, Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece and/or his cousin Felipe Prince of the Asturias, but she never bothered to meet them. I guess I should have gone there myself!

4. Enlist in military service

Tessy Antony met the younger son of her country’s Grand Duke, while serving on a NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo in 2004, where she worked as a driver. This apparently helped her meet 18-year-old Prince Louis of Luxembourg when he came to visit the troops. Two years later, their first child was born and, six months after that, the couple was married. To marry his love, Louis gave up succession rights for him and his children. Also, Tessy was denied the rank of princess. Earlier this year, however, Tessy and her two little boys were finally granted royal rank. She is now officially a Princess of Luxembourg and her sons are Princes of Nassau.

5. Don’t worry if you have a past. . .

Although Charles Prince of Wales was under extraordinary pressure to find a “pure” bride—quite a task in post-Sexual Revolution Britain—when he became engaged to the teenaged Lady Diana Spencer, today’s princes are far less particular. Mette-Marit had been linked to drug users and already had a son from another relationship when she married the Crown Prince of Norway. Mette-Marit's son, the adorable Marius, is so accepted by the royal family that he is listed as a member of the royal family on its official website alongside his royal half-siblings. Meanwhile, Letizia had already been married and divorced, when she met the Prince of the Asturias.

6. Don’t worry if you’re of non-European descent. . .

Hong Kong-born British citizen Alexandra Manley met Prince Joachim of Denmark when he worked for a Danish shipping company in Hong Kong. With both European and Chinese grandparents, she became the first mixed-race European princess when they married a year later in 1995. Together, they had two sons before they divorced in 2005. Alexandra had become extremely popular in Denmark thanks to her lovely personality and expansive charitable works, so her former mother-in-law, Queen Margrethe II, gave Alexandra her own title, Her Highness The Countess of Frederiksborg. Since this is a personal title, Alexandra was able to keep it when she married Martin Jørgensen in 2007, although she was downgraded from “highness” to “excellency.” (Lady Diana Spencer lost “Her Royal Highness” upon her divorce although she was allowed the style “Princess of Wales,” as if the title were her last name. Had she remarried, she likely would have forfeited that style to take on her new husband’s name. At some future date, possibly when her son became king, she might have been given a title of her own, but this is purely speculation on my part.)

More racial diversity entered the European houses when Prince Maximilian of Liechtenstein, son of the reigning Prince Hans Adam II, married Angela Brown. Born in Panama of African descent, Angela grew up in New York where she later studied at Parsons School of Design (hello, Tim Gunn!) and became an award-winning fashion designer. The couple met when he was in New York working for Chase Capital Partners in 1997. They married in 2000; she, of course, wore a dress she designed herself.

FYI My sister was also born in Panama and raised in the U.S., so if there are any princes hanging around Atlanta these days, send me a message; I’ll be glad to make the introduction! I may have missed my opportunities to marry a royal prince (instead of the prince of my heart—everyone say “aaah.”) but I’ll be delighted to help a sister out.

15 December 2009

An Affair to Remember: Princess Margaret, Part 2 of 2

[Read Part I] It is hard to imagine today that the cause for alarm was that Townsend was divorced, but at that time, there had not been a divorce in the English royal family in more than 400 years and the Church of England, of which the queen was the supreme leader, did not condone divorce. Divorced people were not accepted at court. Even more disturbingly for the Queen Mother, for Queen Elizabeth II, for senior courtiers and for the government, the issue of divorce had been at the center of the abdication crisis less than 20 years earlier. One of the key reasons Edward VIII had abdicated was because he wished to marry a woman who had been twice divorced. His position as head of the Church of England and as the moral symbol of the British Empire was untenable. Since he had never particularly wanted to be king, he chose the woman over the crown. His decision was irresponsible in the eyes of the royal family, thrusting his less confident brother, George VI, onto the throne and forcing his young nieces into a permanent spotlight. The Queen Mother, particularly despised him, believing that the stress of kingship (rather than heavy smoking and a lifetime of poor health) had led to her husband’s early death.

Margaret’s desire to marry Townsend reawakened all of those ill feelings. The royal household managed to keep the romance quiet for a bit. There were rumors but the press did not break the story until the princess behaved indiscreetly while awaiting her carriage following the queen’s coronation—she was seen brushing fluff off Townsend’s uniform and a media firestorm ensued. The Royal Air Force sent Townsend out of the country to a two-year posting in Belgium. On the advice of the government, Margaret and Townsend were asked not to see each other for at least one year and to wait another year after that before deciding to marry.

As a princess, Margaret was subject to the Royal Marriages Act which requires royals under the age of 25 to receive the monarch’s permission to marry. After that, they need only Parliament’s approval. By the end of the two-year waiting period, Margaret would have reached 25 and Elizabeth would no longer be in the awkward position of denying permission, which she surely would have done despite her love for her sister. All of the royal family was sincerely religious and the queen was—and is—a stickler for duty. As head of the church, she would not have ignored the church’s tenets about divorce. Nevertheless, everyone seemed to believe that Margaret would be able to marry Townsend if she just waited.

But many church leaders, government leaders and senior courtiers were working against the couple. As the crisis grew, the Queen Mother apparently withdrew more and more from her daughter and Queen Elizabeth seemed to be “ostriching”, as one biographer put it, burying her head and hoping things would end well.

Margaret and Townsend wrote a steady stream of love letters and spoke frequently on the phone, each believing they would be married once she was 25. As the date approached, Prime Minister Anthony Eden (himself divorced and remarried) threatened that the proposed marriage would require Margaret to surrender her right to the throne (she was number three at the time), forfeit her income from the Civil List, give up her title and royal status, marry outside of the church and live abroad for several years at least. Most, if not all of this, was untrue. Nothing in British law would require her to forfeit her income, status or right of succession. However, she could not have married in the Church of England and they probably would have been asked to live abroad until things were calmer. Neither Margaret nor Townsend seems to have been aware of their true legal status. For her part at least, Margaret was in constant communication with church leaders, corresponding and meeting with bishops as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury on the matter.

Public opinion was divided with many taking the side of “true love” and others supporting Margaret’s duty to uphold certain values. As her birthday approached, things reached a boiling point. Unwilling to deliver the coup de grace, the queen avoided Margaret as much as possible but allowed her to meet Townsend at the homes of friends and relatives as long as they were not photographed together. For three heady weeks in October 1955, they dined and talked amidst growing pressure. The press hounded them, hiring helicopters to fly over the houses where they were staying.

Then, quite suddenly, the crisis was over. Both had reached a breaking point: Margaret and Townsend called it off. It is difficult to know whether the extreme emotional distress, the princess's potential loss of royal status and income, or their strong Anglican faith was the determining factor. Very recent evidence has even suggested that Margaret had been falling out of love by the end--in his memoirs, Townsend said their love had been as strong as ever. Together, they drafted a statement explaining that “mindful of the Church’s teachings” she had decided not to marry Townsend. They saw each other a few more times, reportedly parting in tears, during the next few years until Townsend married someone else in 1959.

The crisis may have been over, but the story of their love haunted Margaret’s public image all of her life and was one of the top items in her obituaries when she died in 2002. The greatest irony was that, in 1978, Princess Margaret became the first royal highness to divorce, setting a precedent for three of the queen’s four children. Two of them have even remarried—Prince Charles to a divorced woman and Princess Anne to a former equerry.

The crisis was more than a romantic tragedy; it was a foreshadowing of things to come. The royal family’s tendency to avoid difficult topics and to misinterpret public feeling would negatively impact them again and again, from the marital foibles of Charles and Diana to the scandalous shenanigans of Sarah Duchess of York to, most seriously, the family’s response to Diana’s death, which has been captured so well in the Oscar-winning film, “The Queen.” After 50 years of ignoring problems or trying to sweep them under the carpet, the royal family was deeply shaken by the public’s reaction to their reaction to Diana’s death. As with the Margaret-Townsend affair, they saw it as a private matter. Today, at last, they’ve come to realize that, for them, private matters are public matters. Partially in response to this, they are making the royal family smaller by giving fewer people titles, official duties and income from public sources. And, they have actual public relations professionals working for them, instead of relying on crusty old courtiers to advise them in these matters.

Inevitably, another royal scandal will one day present itself. We shall see if the lesson of Margaret and Townsend has indeed been learned.

07 December 2009

An Affair to Remember: Princess Margaret, Part 1 of 2

When the beautiful, young princess fell in love with her father’s servant, her lover was banished from the kingdom. “If you marry him, you will be disinherited, disowned and dishonored!”

The age-old fairy tale was an all-too-true reality in 1950s England. The tragic heroine was the lovely Princess Margaret and the inadvertent villain was her sister, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II. Locked in a struggle between love, the traditions of their family and class, and the role of the royal family, the relationship between these sisters was nearly destroyed as one was forced to deny the other’s happiness.

Princess Margaret was 13 when she first met Royal Air Force Group Captain Peter Townsend in 1944. A decorated war pilot, Townsend had been sent on a six-month assignment as equerry to the King George VI, Margaret’s father. Margaret and her 17-year-old sister, Elizabeth, were both entranced by his good looks and heroic past. “Too bad, he’s married,” Elizabeth said of the 29-year-old.

Townsend quickly became a favorite of the entire royal family. The king truly admired him: “I wish I had had a boy like him.” His temporary appointment was made permanent and he was on call 24 hours a day as the king’s personal assistant, wherever the king happened to be. This put quite a strain on Townsend’s already troubled marriage.

Separated most of the time from his wife and children, Townsend was indispensable to the royal family, playing cards with the queen, riding bicycles with the princesses and stalking with the king. He accompanied the king and family on official duties.

The young princesses had lived a fairly secluded childhood, especially during World War II. They were devoted to each other and their parents adored them. “We four,” the king called his family. Elizabeth was reserved and somewhat serious, but Margaret was gregarious and charming. The king said, “Elizabeth is my pride and Margaret is my joy.” Both girls were aware of their status as princesses, but Margaret was the one who was more likely to bristle if proper protocols weren’t followed. When someone asked her how her father was, she replied, “Do you mean His Majesty the King?”

Margaret grew into a lively beauty with a talent both for music and mimicry. Many proclaimed that if she had not been a princess that she might have been a highly successful actress. I believe she could have given her contemporaries Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly stiff competition for the best parts and for space in the movie magazines. Indeed, although she hated the press, as she grew up, the press became obsessed with her. They reported on her every move, every party, every outfit, every person she was seen with. There was constant speculation about whom she would marry.

Little did anyone know that Margaret already had someone in mind.

Soon after the war, the cozy family life of “We four” began to change. First, Elizabeth married and moved into her own household leaving 17-year-old Margaret without her constant companionship. Then, the king’s health began a rapid decline. Margaret turned more and more to her father’s charming equerry for company. Without a doubt, the star-struck youngster had a crush on Townsend from the moment they met. Over the years of her adolescence, she grew increasingly enamored. Trapped in a miserable marriage with an unfaithful wife, Townsend was delighted by the special attention he received from the princess. He began confiding in her, forgetting their age difference and the difference in their stations. At some point, the teenage princess and this man twice her age declared their love to each other.

As the king developed lung cancer and arteriosclerosis, Townsend became even more important to the family and the family became less and less aware of the growing relationship between him and the princess. Distracted by the king’s death and her own sudden ascension to the throne, the new queen was completely surprised when her sister revealed her feelings and requested permission to marry the recently divorced Townsend. Elizabeth was initially supportive and even invited the couple to dine with her and her husband that evening, but she knew it would not be easy. To avoid scandal, she had Townsend transferred to her staff instead of heading her mother’s household (where he had intimate daily access to the princess).

Their mother, now Queen Mother, was less surprised by the news—she had been warned of the situation by another courtier but had refused to believe it. Now, she chose to ignore it. The family asked Margaret to wait awhile before making any decisions, perhaps hoping that the romance would run its course. . . [Read Part II]