13 April 2014

Five Reasons Kate is NOT Pregnant

An off-hand comment during the royal tour recently re-sparked baby rumors for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Prince William reportedly told a woman who had made a shawl for Prince George that she might have to make another one soon. The lady cheerfully shared the story with the media, confidently stating that he had said it like it was a secret. The world's media and the Twitter-verse were immediately atwitter with many ready to watch every second of an upcoming scheduled wine tasting--would Kate swallow? (Of course not; you don't swallow at a tasting.) Some even reported that they thought they could see a bump.

The Princess Palace is going to go out on a limb here and state categorically that it is my quasi-expert opinion that Catherine Duchess of Cambridge is not pregnant, and here are the reasons why I think she is not:

1. She is in the middle of a grueling overseas tour on the other side of the world, hardly a time when one would want to be in the early stages of pregnancy, especially since...

2. Last time she suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, an extreme form of morning sickness, that left her hospitalized for several days. I don't think that kind of hospital visit is planned for the royal tour of Australia and New Zealand.

3. Since parting from the military, William has returned to school, spending a lot of his time away from home in recent weeks. That doesn't make a pregnancy impossible, but certainly more challenging to plan.

4. Prince William is not likely to have shared a secret like that with a stranger in the crowd. Remember last spring when a woman was certain that Kate had let it slip that she was expecting a daughter?--I think we all believe that Prince George is a son.

5. Others have pointed to a more likely planned conception time following the tour when they have more together time and a less hectic public schedule in the coming months. That seems a more likely schedule that would put 20 to 30 months between the siblings, a spacing that fits well with the families that Kate and William both grew up in.

If I am wrong, you can all point fingers and laugh at me later. In the meantime, try to stop jumping the gun and just enjoy learning more about New Zealand and Australia and catching glimpses of baby George as the royal tour continues.

12 April 2014

Unequal Marriage Equals Happy Marriage?

Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at her
coronation in 1953.
Once upon a time, royalty usually married royalty. The bride and groom often did not meet until just before the wedding. Sometimes, they did not meet until after the wedding, someone else stood as proxy for one or the other during the first ceremony in one country and another ceremony was held later when the two were once again in the same country.

In the last century, particularly since World War II, that tradition has been waning. In fact the last time a royal in one of the currently reigning royal houses marry another royal was 30 years ago when Princess Astrid of Belgium married Archduke Lorenz of Austria, a grandson of the last Austrian emperor.

Today, there are seven reigning Kings and Queens in Europe. Of those, only two made royal marriage: King Juan Carlos of Spain who married Princess Sophia of Spain (daughter of King Paul) and Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom who married the former Prince Philip of Spain (grandson of King George I). One of the current monarchs, the new King Philippe of Belgium, married a member of the aristocracy, Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz, who held the rank of Jonkvrouw, the lowest Belgian title of nobility. The other four are married to commoners--mostly to foreign commoners.

Only King Harald of Norway is married to a commoner from his own country, the former Sonja Haraldsen. It is he, in a way, who has inspired me to take a look at these modern "unequal" marriages. After recently reading the novel, "A Shopkeeper's Daughter," (read my review) I started wondering about the transition toward more royal-common marriages,  specifically wondering whether these marriages, which are supposedly more often love matches are happier. In my consideration, the author of "A Shopkeeper's Daughter," (buy the book) Rachel Wisdom, kindly let me read a college paper she had written on the topic. She contends that the tendency away from dynastic marriages was triggered by several factors including the changing culture of post-War Europe; she looks particularly at the 1960s. She also discusses the fact that the generation of royals born in the 1930s and 1940s were more likely to be sent to schools with "ordinary" people, so they were more likely to meet and fall in love with ordinary people.

The princess-rich Crown Princely family of the post-War
Sweden; the infant is the current King Carl XVI Gustav.
In the 1960s, as Rachel contends, many royals were still strongly urged to marry within their class or to at least marry nobility. However, the pool of available royals in reigning houses was much smaller than it had been a generation or two before. Many monarchies had been abolished as a result of World War I and several more in World War II. By 1960, only eight kingdoms remained, and Greece would fall by the end of the decade. The royal families of the day were also smaller on average than the generations that preceded. In Britain for instance, Victoria had nine children, her heir had six, his heir had six, but his heir had only two. Also, there was a plethora of princesses and dearth of princes. The young royals of the post-War generation in Sweden included four girls and one boy, in England two girls, in Greece two girls and one boy, in Denmark three girls, in The Netherlands four girls, in Norway two girls and one boy, in Spain two girls and one boy, and in Belgium two girls and three boys. Without collateral lines, that's three times as many princesses as princes.

The shift toward marrying commoners did not happen smoothly. Harald of Norway waited a decade for permission to marry Sonja. The current King of Sweden had to wait for the last king to die before he could marry his German love, Silvia Sommerlath. Many young royals even gave up royal titles and/or their places in the line of succession to marry commoners, including a couple of the Swedish king's sisters, the Spanish king's youngest sister and the Norwegian king's sisters.

That doesn't mean that there was never love involved when a royal married another royal or princely family. The marriage of Queen Elizabeth and Philip was clearly a love match that started with a school girl crush when she was just 13. Ironically perhaps, her father would have preferred a nice aristocratic English boy over the dashing, penniless Greek prince from an ambitious family. But, love won out and they have now been married for 66 years.

The post-War Dutch royal family with three little 
princesses all headed for controversial marriages.
In The Netherlands the love match between Princess Irene and Prince Carlos Hugo of Bourbon Parma caused her to lose her royal rights for reasons other than his lineage. Because he was a pretender to the Spanish throne, he was a politically controversial choice. Because he was a Roman Catholic, he was a religiously controversial choice particularly for Irene's very religious but very Protestant parents. The couple's intense desire to marry overcame all of this, but it did make their marriage last. They were divorced 16 years later.

This tendency toward marriage for love has meant that more royals have married members of the aristocracy or commoners, but has also meant that royal marriages have become less stable. In the old days, divorce among royals was almost nonexistent and it was extremely controversial. In fact, in 1960, the idea that Princess Astrid of Norway wanted to marry a divorced man was much more incendiary than the fact that he was a commoner. A few years earlier, Princess Margaret in Britain chose not to marry the divorce man she loved after years of battering in the press over the matter.

In her paper, Rachel argues that the rise of the modern media has led to the demise of the accepted royal mistress, which has given rise to royals marrying the people they love instead of keeping them on the side as mistresses (with a few notable exceptions like the Prince of Wales).

Joachim of Denmark with his French-
born second wife, Marie
These marriages for love, however, are less likely to be marriages for life. Already, we have seen a dramatic increase in formal separations and divorces. Three of the British Queen's four children are divorced as was her sister. Two of the Dutch king's three aunts are divorced. Princess Birgitta of Sweden has lived separately from her princely husband for more than two decades and Infanta Elena of  Spain divorced her aristocratic one five years ago. In Denmark, Prince Joachim is on his second marriage. And, in Belgium, King Albert II stepped down last year due to health reasons, but during the middle of a paternity case that alleges he fathered a daughter outside of his marriage to Italian aristocrat Donna Paola Ruffo di Calabria.

The winds of change have definitely cleared out the old formal and informal marriage prohibitions--with a few exceptions (the British heir still cannot marry a Roman Catholic). Interestingly, in the deposed monarchies, the claimants still cling to old dynastic rules about the heirs making equal marriages. This has led to fighting and family feuds among Hapsburgs, Bourbons, Romanovs, Hohenzollerns, etc. Without a reigning monarch to lift the old rules, they are stuck in the past.

Today, the heirs to still extant thrones are married to people they chose despite controversy. Felipe of Spain married a woman who had been married before sparking questions among a Catholic population. Haakon of Norway married a woman who had borne a child out of wedlock. Charles Prince of Wales married the woman who had been his mistress and whose former husband, out of accordance with Church of England rules, is still living. Frederik of Denmark married a foreigner he met in a bar. Victoria of Sweden married a man who had been her personal trainer.

The Dutch King with his Argentine wife and their three
princesses, including heiress Catharina Amalia
Elisabeth of Belgium, 12, and Catharina Amalia of The Netherlands, 10, are still far too young to marry, but they are likely to marry men from families we have never heard of--if they marry men at all, but that would be a different blog topic altogether!

06 April 2014

Princess of the Month: Maria Carolina of Bourbon Two Sicilies

When you are one of 14 children of the king, it is likely that marriage choices are going to be somewhat limited. Throw in the fact that you must marry a Catholic and that your family has a tendency to marry within itself and your options get even more limited. So, perhaps you will not find it odd that this month's featured princess, Maria Carolina of Bourbon Two Sicilies (1820-1861) married her first cousin--as did her Protestant contemporary, Queen Victoria. What seems odd is that Maria Carolina married a man who was openly fighting a war against her own sister.

To provide some perspective, we need to step back a generation and move from Italy to Spain where King Ferdinand VII was suffering from a bit of King Henry VIII Syndrome--he could not manage to father a male heir despite having many wives, though he at least did not kill and divorce his wife like his English predecessor. Ferdinand started by marrying his first cousin Maria Antonia of the Two Sicilies (aunt of our Princess), but she suffered miscarriages with no live births and died at the age of 21. Secondly, he married a niece (yes, Uncle Ferdy married his niece), Maria Isabel of Portugal, who gave him two daughters, both of whom died as infants. Maria Isabel died giving birth to the last one, who was stillborn, when she was only 21. So, Ferdinand married for a third time, this time to a much more distant cousin, Maria Josepha Amalia of Saxony, who managed to live to the ripe old age of 25 but gave no children to her husband.

Maria Christina and her uncle/husband
This led Ferdinand back to inbreeding and he chose another niece, our Princess's older sister, Maria Christina of Bourbon Two Sicilies, who presented him with two daughters AND survived. Throughout all of this, Ferdinand was also struggling for the throne, which was lost for a time to Napolean's brother, Joseph. By the time he married Maria Christina, however, the Napoleanic wars were long over, and he was almost constantly fighting for his throne because of his own poor judgement, ineptitude and willingness to commit atrocities when he felt the occasion merited it.

At home, Maria Christina, who was 22 years his junior, had some idea that he might not live long enough to sire a son--a real problem in a country where women were no longer permitted to ascend the throne unless there were absolutely no males left in the family, the fine example of Queen Isabella I notwithstanding. Maria Christina convinced him to set aside this dynastic rule, so that their four-year-old daughter became Queen Isabella II when he died in 1833, with Maria Christina as her Regent.

The man who should have been the heir under the old rules, Ferdinand's brother Carlos, did not step willingly aside, launching instead into the first of three Carlist wars. His rebellion did not go well for him and he renounced his rights to the throne in 1845, but only in favor of his son Infante Carlos, not in favor of his niece, the reigning Queen.

Five years later, Infante Carlos married Maria Christina's sister, Maria Carolina, who was nearly 30 years old, quite an advanced age for an unmarried princess of her day. For the next decade, Maria Carolina, her husband and his immediate family continued to struggle against her sister and niece, with one big unsuccessful effort in 1860. Their efforts were ultimately foiled not by Maria Christina, however, but by illness. Both Infante Carlos and Maria Carolina succumbed to the very deadly disease in 1861, leaving no children to carry on on the Carlist cause. The torch passed to his brother and the fighting continued, some contend the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s was part of this ongoing conflict. Even today, there are Carlist claimants to the Spanish throne.

True to the spirit of family feud that started it, there are several,, including Carlos Duke of Parma, Sixto Enrique of Bourbon-Parma, Louis Alphonse Duke of Anjou (although he himself does not make the claim; he is also a pretender to the French throne), and Dominic of Austria. In the midst of all of this, is our Princess of the Month. At war with her own sister. Always in exile. No children of her own. Dead at the age of 40. Truly, Maria Carolina is no example of the happy princess generally portrayed by Hollywood.

04 April 2014

Book Review: A Shopkeeper's Daughter

Most Norwegians today are probably unaware of the romance that rocked their throne half a century ago, even though the lovers are now their consecrated King and Queen. It is hard to imagine that anyone ever thought of Queen Sonja as anything less than regal, and yet she was born merely the youngest daughter of a shopkeeper. Her prince's father, the government, the media, and the nation were shocked at the very idea that a woman with no noble pedigree could ever be royal.

Sonja Haraldsen and then Crown Prince Harald's turbulent but inspiring love story is captured in the brisk novel, "A Shopkeeper's Daughter," by newcomer Rachel Wisdom. Based on years of her own research the book follows the decade-long romance from their first meeting to their wedding. It even provides some imaginative insights into numerous other royal romances of the period, including Sofia and Juan Carlos of Spain, Anne-Marie and Constantine of Greece, Margrethe and Henrik of Denmark, Benedikte of Denmark and Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleberg, and the controversial marriages of Harald's sisters, Princess Ragnhild and Princess Astrid.

Wisdom opens her tale as many conventional romances begin:  with the heroine making a fool of herself in front of her prince. Sonja's natural manner and beauty captivate Harald. He, however, is caught between the desire of his heart and the overbearing commands of his father, who wishes him to marry the beautiful and eminently royal Princess Sophia of Greece. When Harald's diffidence and Sophia's allegedly poor English lead to a heart-wrenching misunderstanding, our heroine suffers one of many heartbreaks in the story.

At various times, Sonja is also bedeviled by snooping photographers, nasty editorial writers, and her naive trust in the people around her. For his part, Harald is caught between duty and shyness and his overwhelming love for Sonja. Both are guided throughout by their strong faith--but it is often challenged. In fact, they spend much of their time running away from and back to each other.

Wisdom nimbly tackles the heavy responsibility of telling a ten-year-long story with the brevity that a light romance requires. Her emphasis on the friendship that develops between Sonja and Harald's cousin, the artistically intellectual Margrethe of Denmark, lends an airiness and naturalness that the story needs to keep it from feeling too dark. There are moments of melodrama though in the depths of depression that Sonja reaches and the treatment of Princess Astrid's illness and engagement. I also wish that Harald didn't seem quite so paralyzed in his decision-making and that his father, King Olav, did not come off as quite such an ogre, but I am a huge fan of the real Olav and I accept that this is a fictionalized version of very complex, real people. No novel could possibly capture it all, especially when Wisdom's goal is to tell you a story about true love triumphing over adversity.  That, after all, is why we read romance novels, isn't it?

So, there must be an evil king, a broken-hearted princess, sniping ladies on dance floors whose snide comments are overheard, and an ever-supportive mother, in Dagny Haraldsen, whose own tragic backstory is far more awful than anything Sonja will ever endure as she waits for the one she loves.

Overall, it is a good read, a fun look inside royal romance at a time when they were changing from arranged marriages to love matches, and an entertaining insight into some royals you may not know much about. But, be sure to read the author's footnote as she shed's some light on when and where she took dramatic license. Buy "A Shopkeeper's Daughter"or get the Kindle edition.