30 January 2013

A Royal Double Standard

What’s good for one queen is not good for another. As soon as Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands announced that she will abdicate in favor of her son on April 30, 2013, people began speculating (again) about whether Queen Elizabeth II would ever “retire” in the same fashion. I’ve some well-informed discussions (like this one on Marilyn’s Royal Blog) on the topic, but the bottom line is that it simply will never happen in Elizabeth’s reign or in the reign of her son, Charles.

The Dutch Difference

The throne in The Netherlands has always had a much more democratic tradition. Until 200 years ago, there was no monarch; the Dutch nations were led by stadtholders, quasi-elected officials albeit usually selected from the same families through the generations. However, it was not at all unusual for the Low Countries to rebel against and replace their leaders if they were unhappy with them. (This tradition is undoubtedly one reason Dutch Prince William was just fine with a de jure takeover of the British throne from his father-in-law King James II in 1688.) In the 17th Century, one of these stadtholders, William of Orange, emerged as the most powerful and it was his line that eventually regained control after Napolean’s brother, his puppet King of Holland, was removed. Only then, in 1815, did a Prince of Orange proclaim himself King of the Netherlands. Even then, however, the kingdom was established as a constitutional monarchy.

Wilhelmina and Juliana
Within a few generations, the dynasty ran out of male heirs and his ten-year-old great-granddaughter Wilhelmina became the first Dutch queen. It was she who set the precedent for regal retirement when she stepped down after shepherding her people through two World Wars and nearly 58 years on the throne.  Her decision was based largely on the stress of ruling in exile during the second war and sharp decline in her health, which had led two brief regencies. Her only child, 39-year-old Juliana therefore became queen in 1948. Wilhelmina lived another 14 years.

Queen Juliana became the personification of the “bicycle monarchies” of Europe. She regularly appeared among the public dressed like an ordinary person, riding her bicycle and insisting on being addressed as “Mevrouw” (Dutch for “Mrs.”) rather than “Your Majesty.” It was not at all for the queen to just pop in without ringing first to schools and organizations around the country. After almost 32 years as queen, she stepped down on her 71st birthday, April 30, 1980. Over the next two decades, Juliana began to sink into dementia and ill health. She passed away in 2004 just before her 95th birthday.

The oldest of her four daughters became Queen Beatrix in 1980 at age 42. At 75, Beatrix has chosen to reign to a later age than her mother and grandmother. Based on their lives, she could easily live another 10 to 20 years. Unlike her grandmother, she had time to enjoy being a child, a wife, and a mother before becoming queen. By waiting until now, she has enabled her heir to see his three little girls at least reach school age. But, the decision also means that the new heir to the throne will be a 10-year-old girl, Princess Catharina Amalia—a parallel to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II who suddenly became the heir when she also was only 10, as pointed out in this post on Royal Musings.

In keeping with the more democratic style of the Dutch monarchy, they also do not crown their monarchs in an elaborate and deeply religious ceremony. In fact, they do not crown them at all—Dutch monarchs are inaugurated.

The British Tradition

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip
after her holy consecration
as Queen in 1953
The British monarchy is steeped in much more ancient and sacred traditions. Even if you reach back only 1,000 years to mark the “beginning” as the Norman Conquest, after which King William I was anointed with holy oil on Christmas Day in 1066, you have gone many times further back in history than the Dutch crown. Over the centuries, British monarchs in both England and Scotland and then the united Great Britain, have been selected by strict (although sometimes revised) dynastic rules or by military conquest, but only once by anything approaching popular decision (the aforementioned Glorious Revolution by William of Orange and his Stuart wife Mary in 1688)—and that led to another century of warfare between William and Mary’s Protestant successors and Catholic claimants to the throne. The turbulent late medieval and Renaissance crown was often characterized by competing dynastic claims and religious strife. The close identification between the person of the monarch and his/her role as head of the Church of England was firmly established nearly five centuries ago by Henry VIII. All monarchs since then, except Edward VIII, have not only been anointed in a holy right and taken kingly vows before God but has been the official supreme leader of the Anglican church.

This long-established religious aspect of the British crown is one of the strongest reasons the deeply faithful and observant Elizabeth would never willingly step down as monarch. She would see it as breaking a promise she made to God.

Elizabeth also would see it as breaking a promise she made to the people of the United Kingdom and its old Empire, a vow she made voluntarily on her 21st birthday when she announced that her “whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family.” The fact that it has been long, then, really has no bearing on her willingness to continue to fulfill her sacred trust. Based on her own mother’s life, she could live in relatively good health to be more than 100 years old. Even if she were develop serious illness, including dementia, it is unlikely that anyone would require her to abdicate. Britain already has the example of the relatively long regency of mad King George III’s son that could be employed if the Queen really could not continue her duties.

Elizabeth's parents
We also must remember that while the Queen has lived a relatively charmed life, it has been dotted with a few tragedies: the popular backlash against her in the wake of Diana’s death in 1997, the Windsor Castle fire of 1992, the early death of her father and her own accession at the tender age of 25 in 1952, and the transformation of her beloved Uncle David into the wayward Duke of Windsor. 

While the David’s brief reign as King Edward VIII in 1936 is merely a historical footnote to nearly everyone else on the planet it is an indelible scar on the heart of Elizabeth. His decision to pursue his personal desires over his royal duties caused his 10-year-old niece, who had so recently lost her beloved grandfather King George VI, to be torn from her cozy family home in a London townhouse to the drafty, discomfort of Buckingham Palace. It drastically reduced her time with her beloved and doting parents. And, perhaps most importantly, it created deep bitterness in her mother that was undoubtedly communicated to her Elizabeth. When the strain of being king, especially through World War II, seriously weakened the health of King George VI and contributed to his early death, Elizabeth’s mother was lost and angry for many, many years. All of this made a huge impression on Elizabeth: to not do one’s duty, in her mind, has serious and far-reaching consequences.

William and Kate
on their wedding day
Plus, arguments that Charles will be too old to be king likely make little sense to her. After all, her great-grandfather waited 60+ years to be king, too. And, as Edward VII, he was a much better king than he was a Prince of Wales. Plus, the longer she reigns, the longer her beloved, motherless grandson William can enjoy the less demanding status of second-in-line instead of heir. It was for William and Harry’s sake that she miscalculated the public’s anger against her in 1997. She thought to protect them in the obscurity of the Scottish royal estate instead of expose them to the paroxysms of grief that were choking London. If she thinks keeping William #2 will enable him to enjoy more time with Kate and their growing little family, that alone might be reason enough to stay on the throne until her very, last breath.

01 January 2013

13 Princesses to Watch in 2013

It looks like 2013 is going to be another great year for princesses. We have marquee birthdays and anniversaries, at least one royal baby and a royal wedding to look forward to this year. So, my princess fans, here is a list of the 13 princesses to keep an eye on this year. Some you know very well and others may be new to you, but they are all likely to have a lot for us to celebrate with them.

13. Princess Margriet of The Netherlands
Princess Margriet is celebrating her 70th birthday. She is one of the few princesses of the blood to be born in the New World: she was born in Ottawa, Canada, where her family had sought refuge after the Nazi invasion of their homeland. She is the third child of the late Queen Juliana, and the sister of the current Queen Beatrix. She is named for the flower that symbolized Dutch resistance, and she did not see her homeland until she was two years old. She and her husband, Prof. Pieter van Vollenhoven, met while studying at Leiden University. They will celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary on January 10, 2013. They have four sons and 10 grandchildren. They live in a house they built on the grounds of Het Loo Palace. Click for her official biography, which is in Dutch.

12. Grand Duchess Maria of Russia
2013 marks the 400th anniversary of the first Romanov's reign in Russia. As the self-proclaimed heiress of the tsars, Grand Duchess Maria will certainly receive some attention this year. Since the abdication and execution of Tsar Nicholas II nearly a century ago, the Romanovs have been divided about who the rightful heir to the throne is. Maria stakes her claim based on that of her grandfather, Grand Duke Kyril Vladimirovich, who proclaimed himself emperor in 1924. Despite the fact that Russia is no longer a monarchy and that a variety of dynastic rules makes the succession unclear, Maria has spent the last 20 years insisting that she is the true claimant. Her 31-year-old son, George Mikhailovich, is her heir. He remains single, so if you would like to follow in the footsteps of Empress Alexandra, the position may be available.

11. Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway
The future Norwegian queen celebrates her 40th birthday this year. She has come a long way from the days of being an unwed mother. Having produced an heir, Princess Ingrid Alexandra, and a spare, Prince Sverre Magnus, Mette-Marit has officially done her duty for Norway. Along the way, she also has won over the critics who felt she was an unsuitable royal bride and she serves as a lovely and popular ambassador for her country. She is also well-known internationally for her work with young people and with AIDS awareness. She is the only Crown Princess to attend university after her royal marriage; her prince even moved with her to England so that she could study at the University of London.

10. Lady Louise Windsor
As a male-line grandchild of Queen Elizabeth II, Lady Louise is technically a princess. In 2013, she will reach the grand age of 10 and will continue to make more public appearances as her parents have become less protective. Since making her debut as a bridesmaid at THE royal wedding in 2011, Louise has been out and about more often. She is now seen regularly at official occasions like Trooping the Color and at informal royal events like Christmas service at Sandringham. One of my favorite portraits of The Queen shows her with Louise and her little brother, James Viscount Severn, on their ponies. (See it here.)

9. Queen Anne of Romania
The wife of the former boy King Michael of Romania turns 90 this year. Born Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma, she grew up in exile in France, Spain, Portugal and the United States, where she studied at Parsons School of Design. She met her future husband at a family wedding, that of the future Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, in London in 1947. Michael was forced out of Romania by the Communists later that same year. They married in 1948, and therefore will celebrate their 65th anniversary this year. They have five daughters. They have lived in Italy, England and Switzerland, but were eventually allowed to visit Romania in 1992 and have returned several times since, including in 2008 for the celebration of their diamond wedding anniversary.

8. Princess Beatrice of York
Beatrice will turn 25 this year but that's not the reason I put her on the list. I have her on engagement watch. She has been seeing businessman Dave Clark for more than six years now, so I am pegging her as the next Windsor down the aisle. Born in America, Dave was among Prince William's circle of friends from their college days in Scotland: Dave attended Edinburgh while William and Kate were at St. Andrews. Since meeting at a birthday party in the summer of 2006, Beatrice and Dave have been constant companions. He is often seen on holiday with her and with her family. He has even accompanied her on less formal (unofficial) royal family occasions. Dave works for Virgin Galactic, the space tourism branch of Sir Richard Branson's corporate empire. He has lived in London since the age of five.

7. Hereditary Grand Duchess Stephanie
The newlywed Belgian aristocrat may surprise us with an early pregnancy. I hate bump-watching, so don't do that to her, but be prepared to rejoice if an announcement does come. She and her longtime beau, Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume of Luxembourg were married in October 2012, and since she is not yet 30, they still have plenty of time to start a family. Even if they don't have children, though, there are already potential heirs in the next generation since Guillaume's little brother, Prince Louis has two sons by his wife, Princess Tessy. Incidentally, as a Belgian countess, Stephanie is one of the highest born spouses of a European royal heir: Princess Mathilde of Belgium was born a "jonkvrouw" or lady. Meanwhile, the heirs of the two princely houses married royal highnesses: Princess Caroline of Monaco is married to Prince Ernst August of Hanover and Hereditary Prince Alois of Liechtenstein is married to Duchess Sophie of Bavaria.

6. Princess Charlene of Monaco
Charlene married her prince just two months after the Cambridge wedding and her prince desperately needs an heir, so the couple is undoubtedly trying for an infant. It may only be a matter of weeks before they have happy news to share. If they do not have a child, the world will undoubtedly "blame" Charlene since her husband has already fathered two illegitimate children. However, fertility is a tricky thing and just because you have children doesn't mean you can have more, especially as you age. Prince Albert is now 54 and Charlene is 20 years younger. The long wait to marry may mean that the Monagesque throne passes to Albert's older sister, Princess Caroline and then to her eldest son, Andrea Casiraghi, who will marry his pregnant fiancee Tatiana Santo Domingo in 2013. That means Tatiana might eventually become a princess, but this year, she will just be Mrs. Casiraghi.

5. Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands
The Dutch queen will be 75 this year, and some anticipate that she may follow in her mother's and grandmother's footsteps by retiring and handing the crown over to her heir. If that happens, her daughter-in-law, Princess Maxima will be added to the 2013 watch list as Europe's newest queen. Speculation about the queen's eventual retirement has been bandied about for years now, but I think she has not wanted to step down for a couple of personal reasons. First, since she is widowed, she may not be looking forward to being "alone" in her later years. Second, her heirs children are still very young (all under the age of 10), so she may be trying to let them have as normal a family life as possible before taking on the full responsibilities of the crown. However, last year, was a difficult one for Beatrix--her middle son was nearly killed in an avalanche and remains comatose--so she may be exploring her options.

4. Queen Elizabeth II
After last year's Diamond Jubilee celebrating her accession, you might have thought Elizabeth would step back a bit from the limelight, but she still has another anniversary to celebrate. June will mark 60 years since her coronation ceremony, so get ready for re-airings and documentaries about that with lots of speculation about what her son's and grandson's coronations will be like. Hers was the very first British coronation to be televised, but the traditions and ceremonies involve stretch back more than a millennium. Her father's coronation in 1937 was the first to be broadcast on the radio. Her son's will likely be the first to be streamed live on the internet, and who knows, Prince William's might be beamed directly into our brains. Incidentally, as King William, he may be on the throne for the millennial anniversary celebrations of England's first King William in 2066. He would be 84, and I hope I will be around for they party.

3. Princess Madeleine of Sweden
So far, we only know of one royal wedding in 2013. In June, the youngest daughter of the Swedish king will marry her British-American boyfriend, Christopher O'Neill. The couple lives in New York, but they will wed in Sweden in the church of her ancestors. She will also likely wear the cameo tiara which her sister, mother and royal aunts wore at their weddings. Otherwise, it is hard to know whether she will continue royal duties after her marriage or whether her husband will be given a royal title. I would not be surprised if they opted for a low-key life without additional titles or duties. After all, despite her new Facebook page, Madeleine has tried to stay out of the spotlight since her first engagement ended almost three years ago and her older sister's marriage expanded the royal family to include Prince Daniel and their year-old daughter, Princess Estelle. With more royal nieces and nephews likely to follow, Madeleine and Christopher are not necessarily "needed" for royal supporting roles.

2. The Duchess of Cambridge
Of course, Kate will continue to be the most watched princess in the world. With a child on the way some time this summer, her every moment outside of her house will be documented and commented upon ad nauseum--seriously, with a difficult pregnancy already acknowledged, I hope Kate is able to find some peace amid the world's royal baby frenzy. Judging by her disappointment at having her private Christmas with her own family intruded upon by the world's photographers, I suspect that she will be heartily sick of all of the attention by the time the baby arrives.

1. Baby Cambridge
Speaking of royal baby frenzy... I am officially submitting my request for a princess because this is after all a blog about princesses and it is always nice to have another one. If Baby Cambridge is a girl, as the world's majority seems to desire, she will be the most famous woman in the world for her entire life. She would be the heiress of Diana and Kate, not to mention the embodiment of the great tradition of British queens from Boudicea to Victoria to the two Elizabeths. Not much pressure for a tiny girl, is there?