11 March 2012

Book Review: Princess Diana, The Day She Didn't Die



When I first heard about this book by Heath Samples, I thought, "Oh no, not another Diana survival fantasy." As my readers know, I am not of the opinion that Diana was a saint--I was in no mood for any kind of book that might portray her that way. I was pleasantly surprised to find a very human Diana at the center of Samples' book. This Diana is still struggling to find normalcy in her unique world. She is searching for who she is, what she wants and what she believes. Is this the real Diana? Who knows? Could Diana have followed this path? Perhaps.

The book opens in the middle of the action on that final night in Paris. The narrative here is intentionally fragmented, in much the way that Diana might have perceived the events around her. After her survival, the novel splits into two separate narratives: Diana's own story and the story of Ella, a university student and Diana admirer whose personal story begins to mirror Diana's. In many ways, I enjoyed Ella's story more than Diana's, perhaps because I didn't have to suspend my belief in her case.

For me, "Princess Diana, The Day She Didn't Die" is a compelling story, with an inviting narrative structure. However, there were two things that bothered me. First, a key motivation for Diana's behavior simply vanishes without explanation halfway into the book. Second, the characters of Prince William and Prince Harry always seemed younger than the real princes would have been.

Overall, I think the book is a good read. It offers compelling storytelling, examines the inner workings of two confused women looking for their places in the world, and, frankly, I couldn't put it down.

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04 March 2012

Queen Estelle? Really?

Foto: Kungahuset.se
Often, when a royal baby is born, great care is given to its name--or names actually since there is usually a long string of names. While some names are chosen due to the personal taste of the parents, there is more than a nod given to honoring the history of the royal house and the members of the family. If that baby is expected to one day become the monarch, even greater care is given to ensure that the name can carry the burden of the crown.

This naming tradition seems to have hit a snag when it comes to the new daughter of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel of Sweden. No royalwatcher anywhere won any money when it was announced that the baby would be called Princess Estelle. "Reminds me of George Costanza's mother from Seinfeld," tweeted one. What about The Golden Girls' Estelle Getty, thought I. Never in the history of royalty has there been a Princess Estelle, much less a Queen Estelle. However, the name may have derived from a source in the Swedish royal family, where the King's cousin (and godfather), Count Folke Bernadotte married an American named, Estelle Manville. Count Folke is considered a hero among the Nordic royal families. During World War II, he played a pivotal role in the White Bus mission which rescued more than 30,000 people from Nazi Germany, a third of whom were Jewish. After the war, he was United Nations mediator working to establish statehood for Palestine and Israel. He was assassinated in 1948 by a Zionist group because of his political positions regarding Palestine.

The Swedish royal family, and Crown Princess Victoria in particular, have sought to restore Folke Bernadotte's heroic standing. So, many have theorized that Victoria named her daughter for his wife out of respect for his memory. Officially, she says she thought the name was beautiful. Still, it seems an odd choice for a future queen.

However, in Sweden, where there have only been three reigning queens, the selection of names with queenly history is narrow: Margrethe, Christina and Ulrika Eleonore. With Victoria's own future ascension, you can add Victoria to the list. Although Victoria has very regal associations thanks to the original Queen Victoria of England and her myriad descendants who took her name into other countries, it did not start out with royal associations at all. When Queen Victoria was born, she was named Alexandrina after the victorious Russian czar, who had helped Britain defeat Napoleon. Her uncle, The Prince Regent (later Kinge George IV) would not let her have a more traditionally royal name like Mary or Elizabeth nor would he let her be named Georgiana for himself (because he didn't want his name to come after the czar's). When forced to choose a second name for her at the christening, he petulantly said she could be named for her mother, a minor German princess. Uncle George never expected her to ascend the throne because other cousins were being born ahead of her in the line of succession and she could be superceded by the birth of a younger brother. After her cousins died as infants and her father died before begetting more heirs, young "Drina" dropped her first name and, at age 18, became Queen Victoria. There had been no Queen Victoria anywhere in the world before that.

In celebration of Princess Estelle's name, let's take a look at the other monikers of current monarchs-in-waiting.

United Kingdom
The name Charles was rather surprising when the future Queen Elizabeth II gave it to her little boy in 1948. She is said to have personally liked the name, but it had not been used in the British royal family for centuries, possibly because of its Stuart/Catholic/Scottish connections. Plus, the two previous kings named Charles did not exactly give it a sterling reputation. Charles I lost his crown and his head to the Roundheads in the Civil War and while his son of the same name restored the monarchy, he also lived a very fast life, fathering numerous bastards who became the ancestors of most of the British aristocracy today, including the Spencers. The choice of William for Charles and Diana's firstborn reflects much deeper royal history, as it originated in England with the Norman Conquest by William I in 1066. Since then, three more kings bore the name, which means today's Duke of Cambridge should become King William V. Given the longevity of his family, he may be reigning in 2066 when Britain celebrates 1,000 years since the first King William. Now, that will be a jubilee. I will be 95 myself then, but I promise to tweet it up.

Spain
In Spain, the choice of Felipe for the heir once again harkened back to deeper royal history. Juan Carlos and Sofia could have named their son Alfonso or Ferdinand after the most recent kings, but since it was an Alfonso who lost the crown and the last Ferdinand is also known as "the felon king," they perhaps wished to remind their countrymen of the time when Spain was ruled by men named Philip and their dominion encircled the globe. At the time of Felipe's birth, Spain had no king and it was under the dictatorship of General Franco, so little Felipe's birth offered a ray of hope. After the restoration of the monarchy and democracy by King Juan Carlos, the birth of a daughter to Prince Felipe offered a new challenge to the royal family. Spain still allows brothers to succeed over their sisters, so the new infanta might never be queen. Nevertheless, they sought a suitably regal name for her, again digging way back in history. Isabella, as the name of Spain's most prominent queen, might have seemed a natural fit, but perhaps they took into account that the second Queen Isabella's reign led to a succession dispute and that she herself was unpopular and was eventually forced to abdicate. The choice of Leonor connects the little infanta with the medieval history of the Iberian peninsula where many Leonors were consorts of the various Spanish and Portugese thrones.

The Netherlands
After a century of nothing but princesses, the future Queen Beatrix gave birth to the first male heir in 1967. Like all Dutch kings and reigning princes before him, he was named Willem, but with Alexander as a more personal name. Although officially Prince Willem-Alexander, he introduced himself to his future wife as "Alex." When he later told her that he was a prince, she didn't believe him. With the birth of their three daughters, they once again restored the accidental tradition of female heirs in The Netherlands, which made the choice of names less clear. A boy would undoubtedly have been named Willem-Something, but there is no tradition of naming queens for queens in this country. Every Dutch queen (Wilhelmina, Juliana and Beatrix) has been singular, so the field was wide open. Nevertheless, the name chosen, Cathrina-Amalia, has numerous royal predecessors in many, many countries.

Norway
The history of the modern Norwegian crown is barely a 100 years old. For centuries, the Norwegian crown was merged with Denmark and then with Sweden. After Norway regained independence, it selected Danish Prince Carl and his English wife Maud as its new monarch. Reconnecting with Viking history, Carl changed his name to Haakon and renamed his only son Olav. Olav in turn gave his son, the current king, the royally Norwegian name Harald. When Harald's heir was born, he reinforced the Viking ties and underscored the strength of the young dynasty by naming him Prince Haakon for the first modern king. When Haakon's firstborn was a girl, as elsewhere, the choice of names from previous reigning queens was very limited. It consisted of Margaret. That's it. Instead, the Crown Princely couple selected another clearly Norwegian name with Viking connections: Ingrid.

Belgium
Belgium is another very young monarchy, having been created in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. There have been three King Leopolds, two Alberts and a Baldwin. In its brief history, the line of succession has twice jumped branches in the family tree because the senior line became extinct. The first time this happened, the throne passed to the heirs of a younger brother named Philippe. It is for this man that the current heir, his great-great grandson is named. However, when he was born, it was not expected that Crown Prince Philippe would become the heir either. His uncle, King Baudoin was fully expected to have children of his own. When this did not happen, the throne passed down the tree for the second time to Baudoin's younger brother, making Philippe the new heir by the time his own first child was born. Since she was a girl and there have been no reigning queens in Belgian history, the name choice was wide open. Instead, they selected Elisabeth after one of the Belgian consorts, her great-grandmother Elisabeth of Bavaria.

Denmark
In Denmark the naming of heirs has followed a very clear tradition for generation after generation. There, King Frederik names his son Christian, who names his son Frederik who names his son Christian and so on. The tradition was broken when King Frederik IX had only daughters, naming the eldest Margrethe, in good Scandinavian tradition. But, Margrethe reignited the tradition by naming her heir Frederik after her father. Then, Crown Prince Frederik carried forward the tradition by naming his firstborn Prince Christian. However, he did choose less traditional names for his other children: Isabella, Josephine and Vincent, none of which are even particularly Danish. (And, I still haven't recovered from Prince Vince.)