27 October 2012

Another American Royal

Chris O'Neill and Princess Madeleine of Sweden
Photo by Ewa-Marie Rundquist/Kungahuset.se

Last week brought the happy news that Princess Madeleine of Sweden is engaged to marry her English-American boyfriend, Chris O’Neill, after about two years together. The wedding will make Chris the first American man to join a royal family, but he is hardly the first American to marry regally. 

Ever since their ancestors first made their way to the New World, Americans have slowly been making their way back across the pond and into Europe’s noble and royal houses. The pace really picked up after the Industrial Revolution created a bevy of rich American industrialists with young daughters to offer to the Old World blue bloods.  That’s how Sir Winston Churchill came to have an American mother.

In the last 100 years, of the Americans who married into royal houses, none is more famous and glamorous than Grace Kelly and none more ridiculed than Wallis Simpson. A beautiful Oscar-winning actress of Irish Catholic extraction, Grace surrendered her Hollywood career to marry the ruling prince of the tiny nation of Monaco, nestled on the Mediterranean coast between France and Italy. Already well-known among the wealthy elite, the holiday haven became world-renowned due to Grace, who also turned the country into a center for arts and culture through her advocacy for ballet, music, film and more. Even after her tragically young death in 1982, her glamour and legacy lived on in her three children and is now being assumed by her only daughter-in-law, South African-born Princess Charlene.

A generation before Grace, another less glamorous and less beautiful American captured the heart of an even higher royal: the King of England himself. But, very few others found Baltimore-born Wallis Simpson endearing. Twice divorced and somewhat déclassé, Wallis was not considered a suitable bride for the King, who chose to abdicate the throne in order to marry the woman he loved.

Since Wallis and Grace paved the way into royal houses, several more Americans have found regal mates. Among the first is mixed-race Panamanian-born Angela Browne, who married Prince Maximilian, second son of the ruling Prince of Liechtenstein, in 2000. The couple now lives in London with their son, and Princess Angela works in fashion.

Also making her way in fashion is the former Marie-Chantal Miller. Daughter of wealthy New York aristocrats, Marie-Chantal is married to the Crown Prince of Greece and is the mother of his five children. In recent years, she has launched a chain of exclusive children’s boutiques with shops in London and Hawaii. It is unusual for a Crown Princess to have a career outside of princessing and charitable causes, but Marie-Chantal has a bit more freedom because she married into an exiled house—she will likely never sit by her husband on a throne because the Greek royals were ousted from their country in the 1960s and only recently have they even been allowed back into the country for brief visits.

One Western Hemisphere lass who likely will be a Queen one day is Argentine-born Maxima Zorreguieta who is married to the heir to the Dutch throne. When the well-educated banker met her future husband at a dinner party, he introduced himself just as “Alex” and had to do some convincing later to get her to believe he actually is a prince. The couple now has three blonde daughters, but their fairytale had at least one bump in the road: Maxima’s father was not invited to their royal wedding because of his former service in the controversial military regime of Jorge Rafael Videla, who has been held responsible for the thousands of desaparecidos, people who disappeared by force during his tenure.

The most recent lady from the American continents to marry into royal Europe is Canadian Autumn Kelly. Like Maxima, she had no idea who her Prince Charming was, particularly since he has no title. Nevertheless, Peter Phillips is still the oldest grandchild of Queen Elizabeth II and Autumn is now the mother of the Queen’s only great-grandchildren so far. Although her mother-in-law has the lofty and well-earned title Princess Royal, Peter and Autumn have no royal roles and are able to live their lives on the fringes of the public’s notice, only plagued by photographers when they show up at royal events and sporting events to support their more prominent relatives.

The royal role for Chris O’Neill has not yet been revealed. Since he and his Princess have been living in New York, it is possible that they will continue to spend most of their time on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean. It remains to be revealed whether he will be created a royal prince as Daniel Westling was when he married Madeleine’s older sister Crown Princess Victoria in 2010. Since Madeleine is only fourth in line to the throne, the family may decide that her husband does not need a title, as was the case with all of her royal aunts who married non-royals.