31 January 2015

Today's Princess: Louisa Maria La Coast

Louisa Maria's father
By British School via Wikimedia Commons
If King George III truly was mad, perhaps it was because of his brothers and sons drove him to it. None of them wished to marry properly and many of them were kept quite busy fathering illegitimate children. Case in point, George's younger brother William Henry Duke of Gloucester made an inappropriate marriage with the illegitimate granddaughter of a politician. However, George didn't even know about it until six years later, when he passed the Royal Marriages Act in an attempt to prevent such marital mishaps.

William Henry's "love match" didn't prevent him from straying, which brings us to today's "princess": his illegitimate daughter Louisa Maria La Coast. William Henry had fallen for one of his Duchess's ladies-in-waiting, Lady Almeria Carpenter. After the birth of her daughter in 1782, Almeria stayed on as a permanent third wheel in the royal marriage, even traveling with the couple to fled to live on the continent for financial reasons--another downfall of George's brothers and sons.

Meanwhile, little Louisa Maria was raised on a dairy farm by her father's steward. When she old enough, she ran off with Godfrey Bosville Macdonald, who later became the 3rd Baron Macdonald of Slate. The couple didn't marry under English law, instead they simply pledged themselves to each other, which was good enough in Scotland, where they were living. Their first three of their 13 children were born, therefore, without being legitimate according to English law. When they finally married, they seem to have hidden this fact from the children. It is said that eldest son Alexander had lived in expectation of inheriting his father's title. He was dining at a neighbor's house when word reached the dinner party that Baron Macdonald had died. As he prepared to withdraw with haste, his cruel hostess ordered him to sit back down, saying, "You are not Lord Macdonald." With this rude awakening, he learned the secret of his birth and that his younger brother, born after his parents' legal marriage, was now the 4th Baron Macdonald.

Louisa Maria died in 1832.

30 January 2015

Today's Princess: Ulvhild Hakansdotter

Vreta Church where Ulvhild is said to have poisoned a King
By Hedning via Wikimedia Commons
To paraphrase Lionel Ritchie, today's princess was once, twice, three times a queen. The infamous Ulvhild has a reputation as something like a combination of Lady Macbeth and Jezebel for medieval Scandinavia. She married three kings, she mothered another, and she may have killed another.

The daughter of a powerful Norwegian family, she married her first king, Inge II of Sweden, when she in her early 20s. Inge, however, was not powerful enough for her: he shared his throne with his brother King Philip. He apparently wasn't "enough" for her in general because she was also known to have a lover. So, when Philip turned up dead a year or so after her marriage, rumors abounded that he was poisoned by Ulvhild and her lover.

The dates of Inge's death are unclear, but he did not survive much longer. His widow fled to Denmark for safety--not sure why she didn't go home to Norway (wonder what she may have already done there?) Fortunately for her, the Swedish Queen Margaret Fredkulla, died a few years after her arrival and Ulvhild picked up her second crown by marrying King Niels of Denmark.

Scandinavia was in an almost constant state of war during the 12th century, so this marriage didn't last much longer than the first. Niels and all of his companions were slain in Schleswig as they sought refuge following the Battle of Fotevik, where Niels' son Magnus Nilsson died trying to defend his rights as Sweden's king and his inheritance right to the Danish throne.

However, some sources think Ulvhild had already left Niels to flee back to Sweden, where she married the new King Sverker I, who replaced Niels' son on that throne. (Are you keeping up? These are a lot of kings in a short timespan.) This marriage is the only one that seems to have produced children although how many children is not entirely clear. There were perhaps five. Of these, the only ones who are well-documented are the future King Charles VII of Sweden and a daughter, probably named Helena.

Ulvhild remained with Sverker until she died in her early fifties. He then married Richenza of Poland, the widow of Ulvhild's stepson Magnus Nilsson, whom Sverker had replaced on the Swedish throne. Richenza in the meantime had been married to the Prince of Minsk. In return, Sverker helped secure the Danish throne for her son by Magnus, who by the way was married to Ulvhild and Sverker's daughter Helena.

It is a tangled marital web worthy of a telenovela or reality television.

29 January 2015

Today's Princess: Elizabeth Stuart

via Wikimedia Commons
Many princesses have been caught in the midst wars and several have been held as prisoners in conflicts well beyond their control. Madame Royal in France. The Grand Duchesses in Russia. And today's princess, Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of the beheaded King Charles I of Great Britain.

When the English Civil War broke out, what once had been a close and unusually loving royal family was physically split up. The five surviving children of Charles and his French Queen Henrietta Maria would never be all together again. (A sixth child, Henrietta Anne would be born in the midst of the war.) Elizabeth was six years old. Parliament took over custody of her and her younger brother Prince Henry Duke of Gloucester and insisted that they be reared as Protestants in contrast to their Catholic family. They were shifted among various locations over the years, sometimes joined by their older brother The Duke of York (later King James II). Frequently, they were an unwanted burden for their caretakers.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth received an excellent education. She was particularly well-versed in religion and was able to read and write in many languages, including Ancient Greek, Latin, Italian, Hebrew, and French. She frequently wrote eloquent letters to request changes in her treatment. At age 12, she wrote to request that her household (her servants) not be removed from her, as had been planned. Parliament relented, allowing her to keep her quasi-family around her.

Renowned for her sweet and calm temperament, Elizabeth struggled with health issues. Centuries later, her body was examined and found to have suffered from rickets, knock knees and pigeon toes. These deficiencies led to at lease one seriously broken leg.

Her most heartbreaking moment came when she and Henry were allowed to say goodbye to their father as he awaited execution. They had seen him periodically over the years, and loved him dearly. Twelve-year-old Elizabeth stoically recorded as many details of their final meeting as she could remember. He sent his love to their mother, encouraged them to be good Protestants, and warned young Henry not to become a pawn king in the hands of Parliament: do not let them crown you while your older brothers live.

The sobbing children were led away into an even worse political situation. No longer children of the king, they were at the mercy of their guardians, who could not treat them very well lest they be seen as committing treason against Parliament. When their oldest brother swept into the country to have himself proclaimed king against Parliament's wishes, it was decided to move Elizabeth and Henry to the distant confines of the Isle of Wight. Elizabeth, ill at the time, wrote again to Parliament begging not to be moved because of her health. Her pleas went unheard. After the move, she developed pneumonia and died. She was 14.

For two centuries, her grave was marked simply by her initials, E.S., until Queen Victoria made the Isle of Wight her main home. She erected a monument depicting the young Princess, whose dead body had been found resting on the Bible that her father had given her during their last tear-filled meeting.

For more about Elizabeth:
Elizabeth Stewart - The Lost Princess on Madame Guillotine






28 January 2015

Today's Princess: Jutta and Agnes of Denmark

Agnes of Denmark was only a year old when her father, King Eric IV of Denmark, was murdered in 1250. Her sister Jutta was four. Their older sisters were Ingeborg, six, and Sophia, nine. All four young girls were left in the care of the new King Abel, their uncle, who may have had a hand in their father's death. He died two years later and they became the concern of their uncle King Christopher I, who wished to suppress the monetary and regal claims of his nieces by Eric and his nephews by Abel.

Eric's widow remarried and moved to Germany. Her four Danish daughters were sent to live in monasteries. In 1261, Christopher made important marriages for Sophia, who would be Queen of Denmark, and Ingeborg, who would be Queen of Sweden. Without alliances at the ready for Agnes and Jutta, he had to be more creative. Now 15, Agnes became the Abbess of a new convent founded in her name (and nominally "by" her), St. Agneta in Roskilde. However, Agnes did not really care for convent life. Neither did Jutta when she was placed there a couple of years later to become the new Abbess.

In their twenties, the princesses left the convent. Agnes went to manage an estate that had finally been granted as part of her overdue inheritance. Jutta went to Sweden to visit their sister Sophia, and got herself into a spot of trouble. Turns out King Valdemar of Sweden didn't mind sleeping with his wife's sister. The two had an affair that resulted in a son, Erik. While Valdemar did penance before the Pope in Rome, Jutta was sent back to the dreaded convent of St. Agneta. Queen Sophia never forgave her.

It is not known exactly when the two younger sisters died but they lived at least into their forties.

27 January 2015

Today's Princess: Empress Matilda

I could write a whole book about today's princess, Matilda of England. In fact, I have already written a couple of blog posts about her: The Not-So-Wicked Stepmother and Royal Escape Artist.

Shuttled off as a child of eight to marry the Holy Roman Emperor, Matilda likely never expected to see her father's territories of England and Normandy again. She married at 12 and was left in charge of her husband's Italian lands at age 15. She was deeply respected but when her husband died in 1125, without fathering any children with her, Matilda no longer had a role in Germany. She was 23 and a childless widow.

Meanwhile back in England, Matilda's only legitimate brother had died in the sinking of the White Ship in 1120. Her father, King Henry I, had remarried and was trying unsuccessfully to father a male heir. To cover his bases, he recalled Matilda and proclaimed her his heir. The nobles swore allegiance but were uncomfortable about the unprecedented possibility of a reigning Queen. Henry forced Matilda to marry the 13-year-old Geoffrey of Anjou, probably thinking she could have a son who would become his true heir. (A true leap of faith considering her lack of children during the 11 years of her first marriage.)

Geoffrey and Matilda despised each other but did have three sons. Nevertheless, little Prince Henry was too young to take the English crown when Henry I died in 1135. Matilda did not set out immediately to claim her throne, but for good reasons: it was the dead of winter, she was pregnant with her third child, and she was surrounded by her husband's enemies. Her cousin, Stephen of Blois, had no such concerns and he dashed across the Channel to be proclaimed King.

Once she set out for England, 11 years of anarchy ensued with power shifting between Stephen and Matilda--they even took each other captive at different times. During one six-month period, Matilda was actually recognized as the victor, but support withered when she refused to lower taxes and refused to release Stephen. Eventually, Stephen agreed to name Matilda's son Henry as his heir. Matilda returned to Normandy to become Henry's unofficial regent and was a strong influence on his early reign when he became King in 1154. She died in 1167.

Better known as Empress Matilda or The Lady of the English, she was (nearly) the first reigning Queen of England. She captured the throne her father had left her, but she lost it before she could be crowned through sheer haughtiness.

For more about Matilda:
Empress Matilda--A Summary on History in an Hour
Empress Matilda on Sheroes of History
Matilda on BBC History
The Lady of the English - Matilda on Scandalous Women
Empress Matilda - Lady of the English on Medievalists
Stephen and Matilda: Where History Happened on History Extra
Empress Matilda, Lady of the English on Royal Central
Empress Matilda, Not Quite Queen of England on Medieval Queens

For more about Matilda's treasures:
Empress Matilda's Bling on Elizabeth Chadwick: Living the History

Books about Matilda:


Fiction about Matilda:

26 January 2015

Today's Princess: Francisca of Brazil

By Franz Winterhalter via Wikimedia Commons
That's right: Brazil. If you did not know that Brazil once had its own monarchy, imagine if King George III's family had been forced out of Great Britain in the early 19th century and had said, "That's okay because we are still the Kings of Canada!" That is something like what happened in Brazil. From 1645, the Portuguese heir apparent had been titled Prince of Brazil, after the vast colony. Following the Napoleonic invasion of Portugal, the royal family fled to Brazil and a few years later Portugal and Brazil became a United Kingdom. A few years after that, revolution in Portugal led to a schism between the two governments. The Portuguese King defied his government, declared Brazil independent and made himself an Emperor. The monarchy remained in place there until 1889. The relationships among the royal family regarding the two thrones was a bit complex.

For today's princess, Francisca of Brazil, things were not quite so complicated. Her younger brother became Brazil's Emperor and her older sister became Portugal's Queen. Her childhood was rocky. Her mother died when she was only two. She soon had a gentle stepmother in Amelie of Leuchtenberg, a granddaughter of Napoleon's first wife Josephine. However, Francisca's father, Emperor Pedro I was never entirely secure on his throne and he had several children outside of his marriages. He abdicated when Francisca was seven and decamped to Europe, taking his pregnant second wife and his oldest daughter (already Queen Maria II of Portugal at age 10). The younger children stayed in Brazil, where little brother Pedro II was now a five-year-old Emperor. Her closest sister Paula died just two years later.

They were not forgotten in royal Europe, however, where their ties to both the powerful Hapsburgs (their mother had been an Austrian archduchess) and the re-emerging Bonaparte's gave them so political currency, despite the instability of the Braganza thrones in Portugal and Brazil When she was 19, the French Prince Francois of Orleans, the Prince de Joinville, made the ocean voyage to marry Francisca in Rio de Janiero. As a younger son of King Louis Philippe of France, he took his bride to France, but the tumult in that country led them to flee to England. During the Second Empire of the Bonaparte's the Joinvilles were able to return to France, and Francisca eventually died there in 1900, at the age of 73.

Francisca's family maintained connections in the New World. Her son Pierre studied at the U.S. Naval Academy and together with her future son-in-law Robert Duke of Chartres fought for the Union during the U.S. Civil War.

25 January 2015

Today's Princess: Maria Josepha of Bavaria

By Mitjens via Wikimedia Commons
When the future Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II first met his unwanted second wife, he was not terribly impressed: she was old (25), short and pudgy with bad skin and worse teeth. He also noted that Maria Josepha of Bavaria had never had smallpox, a disease which he greatly feared having lost his beloved first wife to it. They married in Vienna 250 years ago today.

The youngest child of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII (the only non-Hapsburg Emperor) and his Austrian wife Maria Amalia, Maria Josepha was, despite her physical failings, a very pleasant person, kind and tender hearted. She greatly loved her husband, as he admitted, and was hurt by his lack of affection for her. Throughout their marriage, he saw her only at dinner and touched her only in bed (to produce an heir) but carried on his life as, in his words, a "bachelor husband." His own sister, Archduchess Marie Christine, remarked that if her husband treated her as badly, she would hang herself from a tree.

Alas, Maria Josepha found little loving kindness from any of her in-laws. Her father-in-law had been the friendliest, but he died soon after she married. When she came down with the dreaded smallpox, her horrified husband refused to visit her. Her mother-in-law, Empress Maria Theresa, came to her and by doing so contracted the disease herself. Maria Theresa survived, Maria Josepha did not. She died childless after just two years of marriage. Her husband, whose letters reveal regrets that he was so unkind to her, did not even attend her burial. He never remarried.

24 January 2015

Today's Princess: Grace Dalrymple Elliott



Thomas Gainsborough via Wikimedia Commons
Some royal mistresses have one lover. Some have many. Such are the sordid affairs of a Scottish lass called Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Born in 1754 to a middle-class broken home--her father had already left her mother before she was born--Grace was placed in a French convent school, but she returned to Scotland full of charms. Tall for her time, lively and beautiful, she attracted a marriage proposal from a much older, social-climbing doctor. Their marriage gave her access to a higher society than she would otherwise have encountered. With the couple living essentially separate lives, Grace did not follow the rules of society for young women of the day. Her affair with the Viscount Valentia caused a scandal and her husband, despite his many affairs, divorced her. Grace was about 22.





She then started the longest relationship of her life, taking up with the unmarried Marquess of Cholmondeley. Neither was faithful to each other and they did take breaks but they remained in touch with each other until her death. If Grace had hoped to marry him, she was out of luck. However, their relationship gave her access to even higher circles, including French and English princes. Among her many lovers, she could count the Prince of Wales (future George IV), the Comte d'Artois and the Duke of Orleans (better remembered as Philippe Egalite).

Her brief affair with the Prince of Wales may have resulted in a pregnancy. She certainly named her daughter Georgina and boldly listed the Prince on the birth record. The Prince did not acknowledge or deny the child, and he paid Grace an annuity for many years. However, there were several possible candidates for the daddy, including Cholmondeley, who actually took responsibility for raising Georgina, and later Georgina's daughter, too.




Grace spent much of her life moving back and forth between France and England. She was in France, as the mistress of Orleans, during the Revolution. As such, she was very close to the center of things. She was likely an English spy. According to her own not-necessarily-accurate memoirs, she carried letters and messages for Queen Marie Antoinette. She was certainly arrested several times, and was only spared the guillotine because the Reign of Terror finally came to an end.


She lived the last years of her life in France, dying there 1823

For more about Grace:
Grace Dalrymple Elliott on Versailles and More
Grace Dalrymple Elliott: A very high flyer indeed! on English Historical Fiction Authors


Books by Grace:


Books about Grace:



Films about Grace:

23 January 2015

Today's Princess: Benedicta Henrietta of the Palatinate

By Attributed to German School, Brunswick, 17th century
via Wikimedia Commons
The late 17th century was a heady time for Europe's interconnected royal families. With the Catholic v. Protestant tensions simmering down to less virulence, the flowering (and rapid spread) of French culture, and the equally transcendent evolution of the philosophical movements of the day, it is no wonder that we find a princess like the French-born Benedicta Henrietta of the Palatinate. A female-line granddaughter of England's headless Charles I, she was the daughter of a landless German prince and a sophisticated French-Italian political hostess.

Benedicta Henrietta grew up amidst the splendor of King Louis XIV's court, and took that glamour with her to Germany when she married John Frederick the Duke of Brunswick-Luneberg. She was 16. He was 43 but had never married. He had traveled widely and fallen in love with Italy and with the Catholic Church, and so he had converted from Protestantism before their marriage. Two years before their marriage, he had also built Herrenhausen near Hanover, as his own version of Versailles, and it was here that he brought his teenage bride. Benedicta Henrietta quickly set about extending the already growing obsession for all things French, bringing musicians and fashion to her adopted German home. She was also one of many ladies in the family to support the famous philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz, who was the Continent's version of Sir Isaac Newton.

Benedicta Henrietta also shared her husband's admiration for Italian opera and all things Italian. In fact, the two decided to leave their Protestant dukedom and retire in Italy. Unfortunately, John Frederick was taken ill on the journey and died at Augsburg in 1679. His wife was only 27. Instead of keeping her plans to live in Italy, she returned home to Paris, where she lived on the charity of female relatives because her husband had not made very good financial provisions for her. Nevertheless, she was able to arrange very lofty marriages for two of her daughters: Charlotte married the Duke of Modena and Wilhelmine Amalia married no less than the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I (who gave his wife syphilis, but that's a story for another day).

Benedicta Henrietta outlived her husband by more than five decades, dying in 1730 at her sister the Princess of Conde's house in Paris. The couple had had four daughters, but with no sons, his territories passed to his younger brother, Ernest Augustus Elector of Hanover, who was the father of
King George I of the United Kingdom.

22 January 2015

Today's Princess: Matilda of Flanders

By Tosca via Wikimedia Commons
Tiny women can have a big impact on their world. Perhaps as short as 4'2 and certainly not taller than 5', the first post-Conquest Queen of England, is also one of the most memorable. Born nearly a millennium ago around 1031, Matilda of Flanders was the daughter of the rich and powerful Count of Flanders and the French Princess Adele.

Although legend claims that their relationship started violently (with her refusing to marry a bastard and him beating her into submission), Matilda and William Duke of Normandy had a long and successful marriage. It is even said that he was completely faithful to her, including during the four years he outlived her. Their marriage was initially controversial. In fact, they were excommunicated by the Pope for it, probably because they were too closely related. It took nearly a decade to receive the Pope's forgiveness and they were required to build two religious houses as penance. By that time, at least five or six of their nine or ten children had already been born.

The trust they placed in each other is well-illustrated by how they faced the Norman Conquest together. As he prepared for the overseas invasion, Matilda used her own money to surprise him with a new ship, which he used as his flagship. For his part, he left her in charge of Normandy while he was away and she repaid him by managing it well. A year after he had secured the English crown for himself, he brought Matilda to England for her own coronation. To underscore her importance, he altered the ceremony to emphasize that she shared in royal power and was a blessing to the people.

However, Matilda spent very little time in England. Only one of their children, the future King Henry I, seems to have been born there. Instead, she helped run their continental interests. Their marriage did suffer when she funded their eldest son Robert in his rebellion against William for full control of Normandy, which he did not receive until William's death while England went first to their next son King William II and then to Henry. Nevertheless, William rushed to Matilda when she grew ill and he was with her when she died at Caen in 1083 in her early fifties.

For more about Matilda:
Consort Profile: Queen Matilda of Flanders on The Mad Monarchist
Wife to the Conqueror on Arrayed in Gold
Matilda of Flanders, Duchess of Normandy, Queen of England on Saints, Sisters and Sluts

Books about Matilda:

21 January 2015

Today's Princess: Margaret Yolanda of Savoy

Via Wikimedia Commons
I have to admit that the anglicized name of today's princess is not nearly as beautiful as it is in her native Italian: Margherita Violante. Born in 1635, Princess Margaret Yolanda of Savoy was the second daughter and fourth surviving child of Duke Victor Emanuel I of Savoy and his French wife, Princess Elisabeth Christine, sister of King Louis XIII. Her father died when she was only two, leaving her mother as regent of Savoy. One of Elisabeth Christine's main goals was to cement an alliance with her homeland by marrying Margaret Yolanda to her nephew, King Louis XIV--really, who didn't want to marry the Sun King?

The marriage negotiations even included a meeting between the proposed couples, an unusual practice for the day. Nevertheless, Louis chose a Spanish cousin instead to end the war with Spain. Rejected by France, beautiful, quiet and graceful, Margaret Yolanda still had much to offer and she was soon snapped up by Ranuccio Farnese, the reigning Duke of Parma. The bride was welcomed with bonfires and celebrations. She was 24; he was 29.

Twenty months later, Margaret Yolanda had a stillborn daughter. Eighteen months after that, she died after giving birth to a son who lived only one day. It was her third wedding anniversary. She was 27. Her husband married twice more. He named his first daughter Margaret. Perhaps this was for his mother, Margherita de Medici, but perhaps it was for the beautiful wife he had lost.

20 January 2015

Today's Princess: Sophie Rhys-Jones

By Frankie Fouganthin via Wikimedia Commons
Not many people can say that they've had The Queen pop in for a cuppa and a quick chat, but the middle class daughter of a tire salesman and a secretary, frequently finds Her Majesty rambling up her drive. In honor of her 50th birthday today, we take a look at The Queen's favorite daughter-in-law.

Sophie Rhys-Jones first met The Queen's youngest son, Prince Edward in 1993. At 28, she had already worked in a couple of different public relations jobs. That day, she was filling in for someone else when the Prince was on a royal visit. As part of the event, Sophie was drafted to play the ancient game of real tennis with him. The encounter sparked their interest in each other, and Sophie soon became his girl at a time when the royal family was still recovering the annus horribilis that had witnessed the demise of all three of his siblings' first marriages. As the war between the Waleses and the continuing media embarrassments of the Yorks stayed on the front pages, Edward and Sophie didn't draw much attention, beyond occasional stories remarking that she was a dead ringer for Diana Princess of Wales (one short-haired blonde girl is apparently indistinguishable for another.) By the time, Edward and Sophie finally married in 1999, the Royal Family had survived the death of Diana and its aftermath.

From the beginning, the couple made it clear that they would do things differently. Instead of the pageantry of huge London weddings, they had a smaller more family-oriented wedding at the family church near their favorite home in Windsor. More dramatically, The Prince was made an Earl instead of a Duke and it was announced that any children would not be styled with princely titles.

Even more amazingly, both of the newlyweds kept their day jobs; Edward as a television producer and Sophie as a public relations consultant. Their commercial interests didn't blend well with their roles as royals: Edward caught flack for being the only person to break the media embargo against filming his nephew Prince William at university and Sophie was caught on hidden-camera footage seeming to criticize politicians and to use her royal connections for business purposes. By 2002, when The Queen's Golden Jubilee added immensely to the royal calendar just at the time when it lost two more of its members (The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret), it was announced that Edward and Sophie would leave their businesses and focus only on supporting The Queen. Since then, there public life has been relatively smooth sailing. They support dozens of charities and represent The Queen on numerous official occasions at home and abroad. Most notably, they are the usual royals dispatched to attend royal weddings in other countries, so Sophie gets to wear her tiaras more than almost anyone else in the family, except perhaps her mother-in-law.

Sophie and daughter Louise at Trooping the Colour
By Carfax2 via Wikimedia Commons
Their personal life, however, has encountered several difficulties. Sophie's first pregnancy was a ectopic and could have cost her life. The second ended prematurely with a placental abruption that almost killed her and daughter Lady Louise. Four years later, the birth of James Viscount Severn occurred without incident, but six weeks later he was hospitalized due to an illness that was eventually discovered to be milk intolerance. During these years, it was revealed that Louise had a vision condition, esotropia, that has since been corrected by surgery.

Throughout all of this, the Wessex marriage has remained strong, and it appears from their family visits to fairs and horse shoes that they are all happy and healthy. Little Louise has been seen more often lately, notably as a bridesmaid at the 2011 wedding of her cousin Prince William. At home, their lives are very "normal"--school projects, playing with pets, and little visits from Granny, who just happens to be the most famous woman on the planet.

For more about Sophie on her birthday:
Read her first interview in over a decade in her Harper's Bazaar
Read royal biographer Hugo Vicker's profile in The Telegraph

There is also a blog devoted to Sophie:
HRH The Countess of Wessex












19 January 2015

Today's Princesses: The Daughters of Queen Anne

Queen Anne as a child.
By Peter Lely via Wikipedia Commons
Because King Charles II had no legitimate children, his brother the Duke of York's daughters Mary and Anne were of keen dynastic importance to the royal House of Stuart. Older sister Mary was still childless at age 20 when 17-year-old Anne married Prince George of Denmark. Pregnant within a few months, Anne delivered a stillborn daughter in May 1684. Within the year, she was expecting again, and her first daughter Mary was born in June 1685 followed ten months later by Anne Sophia. The princess quickly conceived again. Now 20 years old, she was set to be the mother of Britain's Protestant future (See my post When Protestant Princesses Have Catholic Daddies.) Her two daughters and her soon-to-be-born child would secure the throne for another generation.

The year 1687 dawned with great hope. Within six weeks, all of those hopes were dashed. First Anne's infant was stillborn. Then, her husband and both of her daughters were struck down by smallpox. Still recovering from the pain and heartache of her childbed, Anne nursed them all herself. On February 2, nine-month-old Anne Sophia died. Six days later, little Mary slipped away too. She was not yet two years old. In the midst of this, Anne turned 21. At that tender age, she was already the mother of four dead children. Fortunately, George survived and despite their grief, they were able to conceive another child almost immediately, but that son was stillborn that fall. Five children dead by the end of the year. In 1688, the Year of the Glorious Revolution, which secured the throne for Protestants forever, also brought a miscarriage and another stillbirth.

In the next four years, Anne was finally delivered again of living children: William Henry, another Mary, and George. Neither Mary nor George lived beyond the day of their birth. Nine more stillborn babies followed. Six months after the last stillbirth, William Henry, just 11 years old, also died. It was two days after Anne and George's 17th wedding anniversary. They were the parents of 19 dead children.

Two years later, Anne became Queen. Upon her death, the throne shifted to the children of her next closest Protestant cousin, Electress Sophia of Hanover.

18 January 2015

Today's Princess: Anne of Austria

After Peter Paul Rubens via Wikimedia Commons
The Spanish-born Queen of France Anne of Austria is one of the more famous princesses in history because she is a central figure in The Three Musketeers. As such, she has been portrayed in numerous adaptations of that novel and its sequels, including The Man in the Iron Mask.

Her real claim to fame is much more important: she invented chocolate! Okay, that is quite an overstatement. Chocolate, of course, was a popular beverage in Mesoamerica that the Spaniards had brought back for its aristocracy to secretly enjoy. It was not shared with the rest of Europe until the Infanta Anne gave it to her groom, King Louis XIII of Spain, or so some assert. The introduction of chocolate into the marriage of these two 14 year-olds, did not sweeten their relationship. Forced to consummate his marriage while two nurses watched (to ensure no future possibility of annulment), the king stayed well away from his queen for months after that. In fact for the next 22 years, their infrequent marital activities resulted in only four pregnancies, all of which miscarried. The birth of their son, the future Sun King Louis XIV, when they were both 36 was considered a true miracle.

Anne's life in France was far from stable. Personally raised by her own parents, she was not prepared for the stiffness and distance of the French royal family. Her husband had been raised in a completely different household and rarely ever saw either parent. When his father was assassinated, he became king at age 8, but his mother Marie de Medici did her best to keep him away from power for as long as she could. As a result, he was always highly distrustful and this did not have a positive impact on his relationship with his wife. To make matters more complicated, Anne had been indoctrinated by her beloved father, King Philip III of Spain, to keep the needs of Spain first in her life and politics. This frequently brought her under suspicion, especially when France and Spain were once again at war.

Her husband tried to prevent Anne from becoming regent for their son, but he was unsuccessful. She assumed the regency for five-year-old Louis XIV. With the help of Cardinal Mazarin she helped put down the first Fronde, an aristocratic rebellion, and she ended the war with Spain, sealing the peace by marrying her son to her Spanish niece, Maria Theresa of Spain.

Once Louis XIV reached maturity, Anne retired to a convent and died five years later of breast cancer at the age of 64. Her second son, Philippe Duke of Orleans, is the forebear of the Orleans branch of the family that would briefly sit on the throne following the French Revolution.

For more about Anne:
Anne of Austria on Biography.com
A Little Gossip: Queen Anne of Austria & Spain on It's About Time
A Pink Ribbon for Anne of Austria on Versailles and More

Artwork featuring Anne:


Books about Anne:


17 January 2015

Today's Princess: Freda Dudley Ward

The Prince of Wales and Freda in Canada together
City of Toronto Archives via Wikimedia Commons
I wonder what it felt like to watch the man you had loved for 14 years give up his throne to marry someone else. Such was the situation for today's not-so-royal lady, best known by the name Freda Dudley Ward.

Born Winifred May Birkin, Freda is familiar to fans of Downtown Abbey as she appeared as a character whom Lady Rose rescues from scandal when a love letter to Freda from The Prince of Wales falls into the wrong hands. The real Freda, half-American and half-English, is said to have met the future King Edward VIII when they were both 23 and ended up in the same bomb shelter during a World War I air raid. (There you go, ladies, another place to meet a Prince!) At that point, Freda had already been married for five years to a much-older English gentleman and had two daughters. Freda and the prince launched straight into an affair that didn't seem to bother her husband. Their relationship was well-known among the upper crust, although not to the public--paparazzi didn't exist back then.

Despite the hundreds and hundreds of love letters they exchanged and the prince's declarations of undying love, the affair slowly fizzled and eventually he took up with another half-American (quarter Chilean, quarter Irish) married woman, Thelma Lady Furness (great-aunt of American newscaster Anderson Cooper) before finally finding a full-blooded married American woman, Wallis Simpson, to pledge his love to.

When he was not overseas, The Prince of Wales spent considerable time with his "Fredie Wedie" and with her daughters. Some have even alleged that her youngest daughter might be his, although she was born a year before the two are believed to have met. Even during his Furness affair, he still maintained contact with Freda until 1934, when Wallis took over the role of royal mistress. Freda was shocked to have the royal telephone operator tell her that her calls would no longer be accepted.

By that time, however, Freda had also moved on. She divorced her first husband in 1931, and the same year that the prince married Wallis, she married the Marques de Casa Maury. Seventeen years later, she divorced him, too. Although she outlived the prince by more than a decade, passing away in 1983, she never gave interviews or wrote a tell-all book about her royal affair.

Instead, their story has been told through their love letters, which were discovered and published a few years ago.

For the royal love letters:

16 January 2015

Today's Princess: Eleanor of England

via Wikimedia Commons
Two crowns were dangled in front of Edward I's eldest surviving daughter, Eleanor of England. For a brief time in her teens, it looked as if the throne of England might one day be hers. With several sons already dead, her father certainly took the precaution of drawing up a document that said the crown would pass to her if his newborn son Edward did not survive or he didn't have other sons. It was a bit of an unusual decision for 13th century England; other kings would have chosen their male-line nephews instead of a daughter. Alas, baby Edward eventually became Edward II.

The far more likely crown for Eleanor was as consort of the King of Aragon, but religion and politics kept this one just out of reach, too. As a young child, she was engaged to the heir of Aragon, but his family's ambitions caused the Pope to place an interdict on Aragon. King Edward would not send Eleanor under those circumstances. He kept delaying her departure. When she was 13, he said she was too young to go. This was an odd statement in an age when royal women certainly married younger and sometimes had their first pregnancy at 13. Even odder, she still wasn't sent when she was 15, 17 or even 20. Her fiance died when she was 22, and the option of an Aragonese marriage was no longer available.

Eleanor's youth was very different than today's girls. Her parents left on Crusade when she was still and infant, and didn't return until she was five. She didn't even meet some of her 15 full siblings because they died before her or were born in another country and never made it to England. She didn't meet her famous sister Joan of Acre until that child was seven. Early on, Eleanor was probably closest to her brother Henry, who was just a year older than she. The two of them were being raised in the court of their paternal grandmother, Eleanor of Provence, queen of Henry III. Eleanor had three half-siblings whom she also didn't meet because they were born after she herself died at the age of 31.

Once she no longer was the future Queen of Aragon, her father did seek another husband for her, settling on a French lord, the Count of Bar. It was a far less lofty position, but at age 24, there were not that many prospects for her. Together, they had a son and a daughter, both of whom were still very young when their mother died.

For more about Eleanor, Countess of Bar:
Sisters of Edward II: Eleanor on the Edward II blog

15 January 2015

Today's Princess: Princess Michael of Kent

By Allan Warren via Wikimedia Commons
In honor of her 70th birthday, today we spotlight one of the lowest ranked, but most well-known, Royal Highnesses in the British Royal Family.

Born an Austro-Hungarian Baroness at the tail-end of World War II shortly after her father was kicked out of the Nazi SS, Marie Christine von Reibnitz proudly hails from deep aristocratic roots. (On her web site, she shares many of her royal family trees.) Her parents divorced with her mom moving to Australia and her father moving to Mozambique, so she spent her youth split between three continents. As a young woman, she made her way to London where she took a design course at the Victoria & Albert and launched a career in interior design. She married an Old Etonian banker but the marriage soon fizzled and the couple split.

Then, she met HRH Prince Michael of Kent, the youngest grandchild of King George V, who counts American President Franklin D. Roosevelt among his grandparents. The child of The Duke of Kent and Princess Marina of Kent, Michael is also deeply interested in his roots, which touch every royal house in Europe. They both speak multiple languages. They are both incredibly good-looking people. (And tall: she is six foot--2 meters.)

They were married in 1978, and she took on his title as Princess Michael of Kent. (See my post about titles of royal wives, The Royal Mrs.) Their marriage was clearly a love match but Marie Christine brought a lot of controversy in her wake. Firstly, she is Catholic and Michael had to give up his place in the line of succession to marry her, per current succession laws. (Many of the Kent branch of the family are now Catholic.) Secondly, in the alleged words of her husband's cousin, Queen Elizabeth II, she is "too grand for the rest of us." Princess Michael is unashamedly outspoken about her support of the class system. She and Sarah Duchess of York seem to occupy the two ends of a spectrum of outspoken royals. If Sarah is at the common-touch end of the spectrum, Marie Christine is at the hands-off end. Her public comments have sometimes been interpreted as racist and/or classist, and she has been critical of other members of the royal family. (Her greatest sin for some might be that she called Princess Diana a "bore" and "uneducated.") To be fair, The Queen's nephew, Viscount Linley, once remarked that he would wish his worst enemy "dinner with Princess Michael of Kent."

As junior royals, Prince and Princess Michael have never received money from the government although they were given a five-bedroom grace-and-favor apartment at Kensington Palace. When this became a media firestorm, The Queen paid their rent for awhile, but they were eventually forced to sell their country home and begin paying their London rent themselves. To be fair, they are the most employed royals. They do work for a living. Marie Christine writes royal biographies and historical fiction, she lectures, and she still is an interior designer. She is also devoted to many charities, especially those related to animal welfare and conservation. She occasionally represents The Queen at official events. And, she is a keen gardener.

Finally, I give her credit for raising the two most well-educated members of the British royal family. Lord Frederick Windsor (born 1979) went to Eton and Oxford. (His wife, actress Sophie Winkleman, went to Cambridge.) He is an investment analyst with JP Morgan. Journalist daughter Lady Gabriella Windsor graduated from Brown University and has an advanced degree from Oxford.

More about Princess Michael of Kent
In reading more about Princess Michael of Kent, be aware that most bios of her are predisposed to be either pro or anti. It is difficult to find unbiased accounts.

Pro:
Royal Profile: Princess Michael of Kent on The Mad Monarchist

Anti:
Princess Michael of Kent: life beneath the tiara from The (London) Telegraph
Princess Pushy: The Fabulous Life of Princess Michael of Kent on Scandalous Women

More Balanced:
Behind the Royal Door: Prince and Princess Michael of Kent on Royal Central

Books by Princess Michael of Kent


14 January 2015

Today's Princess: Yolande of Aragon

By Selbymay via Wikimedia Commons

While it was often true that royal ladies had little authority in their own lives, many notable exceptions exist. True, Yolande of Aragon had no choice but to marry Louis II Duke of Anjou. And, she had no actual authority over the four kingdoms of which she called herself queen--Aragon, Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem. But, she gained considerable power as Duchess of Anjou, particularly after Louis' death and she helped to keep the French throne in French, rather than English, hands in the Hundred Years War.

Yolande often ran her husband's sizable, wealthy and powerful French lands while he dashed off to try to secure all of those kingdoms that he thought were his. She not only raised their five children but also oversaw the education and training of others, including most notably Prince Charles, fifth son of King Charles VI of France and his Bavarian wife, Isabeau. Yolande arranged a marriage for young Charles with her daughter Marie, thereby uniting her interests with his. After all of his older brothers had died, Charles became the Dauphin, heir to the French throne.

The Yolande d'Aragon rose
is named for her.
By Ritadesbois via Wikimedia Commons
But, there were problems. First, the English King Henry V had demolished the French at Agincourt and mad King Charles VI had agreed that Henry could have the French throne when he died. Second, Queen Isabeau claimed that she'd had an affair and the new Dauphin wasn't legitimate (nice mother, right?) Third, the Dauphin was a bit wishy-washy himself. One thing, he had going for him was an ambitious mother-in-law in Yolanda. She bolstered his confidence, funded his armies, and orchestrated many of the political moves that kept him in the fight against the English when his father died. Many historians also believe that it was Yolande who brought Joan of Arc into the picture to lend a holy zeal to the Dauphin's quest for the throne and ultimately united the French, sending them on the path to victory. She was undoubtedly one of the people who confirmed Joan's virginity, so that people would take the Maid of Orleans seriously as a prophet.

Renowned for both her beauty and her intelligence, she received perhaps the greatest compliment from her grandson, King Louis XI of France, who said she had "a man's heart in a woman's body."

Yolande has received a groundswell of attention in recent years, 600 years after she lived, as the subject of two French biographies, an English biography by Nancy Goldstone, and a historic novel by HRH Princess Michael of Kent. She was even portrayed by the fabulous Faye Dunaway in the dismal Joan of Arc film, The Messenger.

For more about her:
The Other Joan of Arc on History Today
Yolande d'Aragon, duchess d'Anjou on Xenophon Group
Yolande of Aragon: CEO of France on Unofficial Royalty
Who Was This 'Queen of Four Kingdoms'? post by HRH Princess Michael of Kent on HuffPo

Books about Yolande of Aragon:


13 January 2015

Today's Princess: Mary Adelaide of Cambridge

(2 May 2015--Click for more about the newborn Princess of Cambridge.)

King George III's youngest grandchild, Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, was a big woman in every way. Her circumference troubled many of her relatives. Her over-the-top personality stood in stark contrast to her daughter's shy demeanor. Her extravagant spending caused her to flee England. Her giant heart led her into many, many charitable endeavors (that frankly contributed to some of her money problems.) And, all of this together made "Fat Mary" one of England's most beloved royals with the moniker "People's Princess" that today's royalwatchers generally associate only with Princess Diana.

Mary Adelaide was born in 1833 in Germany, where her father The Duke of Cambridge was acting as Regent in Hanover for his brother King William IV. Four years later, her first cousin Victoria became Queen and the Cambridges returned to England. Fourteen years younger than Victoria, Mary Adelaide became one of Victoria's romantic projects. The Queen longed to find a husband for her vivacious but not very pretty young cousin. Try as she might, her matchmaking efforts were initially stymied, for Mary Adelaide also didn't have any money and her pool of potential partners was limited to princes.

Alas, an eager young prince, with few prospects and even less money, was finally found who was willing to take her on. At the very-old-for-a-Victorian-bride age of 33, Mary Adelaide married the dashing Prince Francis of Teck, a minor serene highness from a morganatic branch of the Wurttemburg royal house. Rather than decamping to live on the continent, the newlyweds remained in England, where Mary Adelaide received some income from Parliament for her role as a royal princess (with some supplements from her Mama) and benefited from grace-and-favor residences in London and in the country provided by Queen Victoria. So it was, that Mary Adelaide's first child, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, known as May, was born in the very same room at Kensington Palace as Queen Victoria. May's birth was followed by three boys, with the last arriving when their mother was 40.

The Tecks with their firstborn, May
By Le Jeune (Carte de Visite)

via Wikimedia Commons
Well loved for her charitable works, Mary Adelaide taught her daughter that this was the best use of a princess's time. She involved her daughter in all of her works with hospitals and children's charities, taking an active role at every stage, behind the scenes and in public. She was indefatigable. These values have been passed along to today's royals as May, also at the hands of the matchmaking Queen Victoria, married The Duke of York (read about their romance in my post, A Royal Love Triangle), who would eventually become King George V. As Queen Mary, she set the tone for the British Royal Family of the 20th century and passed the values she had learned from Mary Adelaide down to her granddaughter, today's Queen Elizabeth II. (She also passed along the Cambridge family's interest in and support of homeopathic medicine.)

Mary Adelaide passed away in 1897 at the age of 63 following an emergency surgery. Fortunately, her husband was able to keep her Parliamentary income until his death in 1900. When the extended royal family dropped their Germanic titles during World War I, their surviving sons became the Marquess of Cambridge and the Earl of Athlone (who married Princess Alice of Albany).


A lot of online bios exist about Mary Adelaide. I recommend:
English or German? Part I on European Royal History


Focusing on her jewels: The Teck Tiaras on The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor

Focusing on her interest in homeopathy: Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge Duchess of Teck on Sue Young Histories

There is also a full-text version of a memoir written about her with the cooperation of her children:

12 January 2015

Today's Princess: Anna Amalia of Prussia, Abbess of Quedlinburg

via Wikimedia
Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia was a legendary monster to his family. He used brutal language and even more brutal acts, feeling justified in tormenting them whenever he desired. He even dragged youngest daughter, Anna Amalia, by her hair when he was in his rages. Dedicated to the military, he viewed the artistic interests of his wife and children as frivolous and forbade them to indulge in music and theatre.

When he died, 17-year-old Anna Amalia could finally explore her musical talents. Her equally musical brother, the new King Friedrich II, taught her how to play the essential instruments of the day: harpsichord, flute and violin. Meanwhile, Friedrich also sought a royal husband for her. Anna Amalia had other ideas. She secretly wed one of Friedrich's soldiers, Baron Friedrich van der Trenck. Their liaison could not be kept secret when she fell pregnant. Infuriated her brother packed her off to Quedlinburg Abbey, a kind of 18th century home for unwed mothers and protestant convent. It is rumored that she was delivered of twins. (The Baron was imprisoned, but escaped. He was recaptured and imprisoned again. He spent much of his life as a spy, in and out of captivity before meeting his end on the guillotine in revolutionary France.)

Anna Amalia seems to have thrived at the abbey, where she was free to pursue her musical interests, and even began writing her own compositions. Few of her works have survived, partly because she destroyed them herself, in fits of perfectionism. More importantly, she collected works by contemporary German composers, including C.P.E. Bach, Handel, Telemann and J.S. Bach. Her extensive collection is credited with helping revive the legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach. More than 600 volumes from her collection are kept today at the State Library in Berlin.

Anna Amalia assumed a lot of authority when she became the Princess-Abbess of Quedlinburg, a self-ruling estate that was part of the Holy Roman Empire, subject only to the Emperor.

For more information:
Princess Anna Amalia and CPE Bach on the CPE Bach web site
Princess Anna Amalia. Secretly Married Composer. Princess. Abbess. on Feminir
Two Prussian Anna Amelies and Their Influence on German Culture on Holocaustianity (includes more about Baron Friedrich van der Trenck)

Samples of her compositions:
March for the Regiment General of Saldern
Flute Sonata in F
Sonata for Oboe and Organ in F Major


11 January 2015

Today's Princess: Anne Beauchamp Countess of Warwick

The Neville Warwick arms
By Ipankonin via Wikimedia Commons
Royal and aristocratic women were often subject to the will of the men in their lives. They were frequently unable to inherit titles or property. The life of Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick shows us that even a woman with a vast fortune of her own had little control over her own life.

Like many 15th century ladies, Anne was married young. Her husband, Richard Neville, younger son of the Earl of Salisbury came from a well-connected family, like she did. At their marriage, she was nine and he was seven. Both of Anne's parents had daughters from previous marriages and Anne had an older half brother, so, while her dowry was generous, no on expected her to become a great heiress. But, fate is a funny thing.

While the Nevilles were supporting the Lancastrian kings Henry V and Henry VI, Anne's fate was changing. First her father died. Then her brother. Then her brother's only child. Anne inherited the
vast fortune of her late mother's Despencer family AND the money, properties and titles of her father's extensive estate, including the Earldom of Warwick. She was 21. Her husband became Earl of Warwick, as her husband, at age 19. Her older half-sisters sued for their portions, but the King sided with the Nevilles. Because Anne was inheriting from her niece, rather than directly from her parents, it was decided that she alone would get the entire fortune.

This family battle had far-reaching consequences: the rift it caused ultimately caused the Nevilles to begin supporting the Yorks in their opposition to the Lancastrian kings and Warwick set about his career as the "Kingmaker." With his help, the Yorkist heir captured the crown as Edward IV, and sent his second brother Richard Duke of Gloucester to live with Anne and her family to finish his training as a knight. Things didn't run smoothly for long. Warwick decided to overthrow the upstart king, who was no longer willing to be his puppet. He conspired to marry his and Anne's oldest daughter Isabel to the king's first brother George Duke of Clarence and launched a military attack to try to put him on the throne. When this failed, he convinced his royal son-in-law to side with the Lancastrians, and married Anne's youngest daughter Anne to the Lancastrian heir Edward Prince of Wales. However, once the Lancastrians launched their invasion, George switched back to his brother's side. Within short order Anne's husband Warwick and her new son-in-law the Prince of Wales both died in battle.

Throughout all of this, Anne was usually at her husband's side--a sign perhaps of affection and perhaps of political agreement between them. His death left her at risk, and she went immediately into sanctuary. In the meantime, her widowed daughter Anne married Richard Duke of Gloucester, making both of her daughters sisters-in-law of the king. This was not very beneficial to her though as Clarence and Gloucester began to fight over their mother-in-laws estate, which the king ultimately split between them, as if she were already dead.

When Gloucester seized power as King Richard III, their is no indication that his mother-in-law participated in her daughter's crowning as the new Queen. Nevertheless, Anne survived and was restored, at last, to a portion of her inheritance when Henry Tudor became king.

Anne outlived everyone who fought over her money. Her husband. Sisters. Brothers-in-law. Daughters. Sons-in-law. Only two grandchildren survived her, but what money remained had already been given back to King Henry, as part of his original agreement with her.

For more information:
The King's Mother-in-Law on Susan Higginbotham's blog
Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick on The Richard III Foundation web site
Anne Beauchamp 16th Countess of Warwick in About.com's Women's History section
and, for a very interesting analysis of Anne's letter to Parliament regarding the restoration of her rights and properties, see Anne Beauchamp Countess of Warwick - Wife and Widow on the Nevill Feast web site.

10 January 2015

Today's Princess: Charlotte Fitzroy

By Unknown 17th Century court painter

via Wikimedia Commons
Even a man with more than a dozen illegitimate children by several mothers is bound to have a favorite. Such was the case with England's randy King Charles II. In this week's paramour side of royal families, we take a look at Charles' favorite child, his daughter, Charlotte Fitzroy (1664-1718).

Known for her sweet nature--as opposed to her rather more temperamental mother Barbara Villiers--Charlotte was also the favorite of her uncle, the future King James II.  She was also considered exceptionally beautiful, but she did not follow her mother down a non-virtuous path. Charles' family was rather complex. He had no children by his wife Catherine of Braganza, but many of his mistresses lived openly at court with their numerous children. However, he was careful to try to avoid hurting his Queen's feelings, and was as gallant as he could be under the circumstances. (Read about her and the other British Queens named Catherine in my post Catherine: An Unhappy Queen?)

Each mother vied for the most advantages they could get for their children. Titles? Yes, more please. Good marriages? Absolutely! And, although these children were illegitimate, everyone in the kingdom knew that they were beloved by the king and to have the king as an in-law could be a very good thing. This is how nearly everyone in Britain's upper crust--except, ironically, The Queen herself--came to be descended from King Charles II. (FYI The Queen's grandchildren Princes William and Harry and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie have brought this bloodline back into the family through their mothers, Lady Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson, both of whom hail from the English aristocracy and landed gentry.)

And so it was that little Charlotte Fitzroy (whose surname means 'son of the king') was married off at the age of only 12 to Sir Edward Lee, who had been created Earl of Lichfield upon his engagement to her. Their first daughter, also named Charlotte, was born a little over a year later! Over the course of the next 28 years, they had at least 18 children! Nearly every one of them lived to adulthood! (Pardon me for all of the exclamation marks, but really these are extraordinary things.) Two of their sons inherited the Lichfield title, but the male line died out after that. The current Earls of Lichfield descend from a later creation of the title.)

In addition to their country home at Ditchley, the Earl and Countess of Lichfield lived on a huge property in London, for which her father the King held a 99-year lease. Their home no longer stands there, having been replaced by the famous Horse Guards Parade and the even more famous No. 10 Downing Street, as well as the rest of Downing Street.

Despite her closeness to her uncle King James, Charlotte did not follow him into exile following the Glorious Revolution in 1688. Instead, she remained in England and lived a fairly quiet life as wife and mother for another 30 years.

09 January 2015

Today's Princess: Josephine Charlotte of Belgium

By Romanian Communism Online Photo
Collectionvia Wikimedia Commons
A contemporary of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Josephine Charlotte of Belgium had a very different childhood. It started similarly enough; like Elizabeth, she was the oldest child of two loving parents, who were also devoted to each other, King Leopold III of Belgium and Astrid of Sweden. From their the story changes.

At the age of eight, Little Jo, as she was called, lost her mother in a car accident. Then, when World War II broke out, her country was overrun by the Germans. While Elizabeth spent the war hiding in plain sight in the relative comfort of Windsor Castle, Josephine Charlotte and her family were in captivity. After D-Day, they were moved out of Belgium and formally placed under house arrest. They lived in decidedly unregal conditions and often went hungry. After the war, the family was not allowed to return home because King Leopold was unjustly accused of collaborating with the Nazis. Once a plebiscite--for which his now grown daughter was allowed to return to Belgium to vote--returned him to the throne, the family had to endure the king's newfound unpopularity on another front. He had secretly married a commoner, Liliane Baels. Josephine Charlotte was devoted to her father and her new mother-in-law, but her love could not protect them. Leopold was forced from the throne and Josephine Charlotte's brother Baudoin became king.

In the meantime, her grandmother Dowager Queen Elisabeth, and her godmother, Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, were working up a plan to marry Josephine Charlotte to the future Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg. It is still unclear whether this was truly a dynastic match, which the couple tolerated dutifully or whether it was a genuine love match between two people who happened to be royal (as the case between Elizabeth II and her hubby who was born Prince Philip of Greece). Their wedding day was racked by rainy weather and a family feud over the order of precedence concerning the bride's nonroyal stepmother. Josephine Charlotte was visibly shaken, seen to cry and even to faint in the church. Nevertheless, the crowds saw only happiness as she and Jean rode in an open car in the rain and made many balcony appearances.

As Grand Duchess, Josephine Charlotte bore five children, including the current Grand Duke, and took up many noble causes related to youth, family and health issues. However, she also engaged in contemptuous behavior toward her daughter-in-law, the current Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, who had been born a Cuban commoner. Josephine Charlotte did not approve of her background, and Maria Teresa has openly admitted that her mother-in-law was very unkind to her.

Josephine Charlotte spent her leisure time in outdoor pursuits, from gardening to water skiing.

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary since her death from lung cancer at the age of 77.

For more about her wedding, read the extensive description on the Unofficial Royalty Site and on Luxarazzi with more about her wedding gown on The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendour.

For a bio, visit The Cross of Laeken blog.

For info about her jewels, check this link on the Luxarazzi blog.

08 January 2015

Today's Princess: Margaret de Clare

Execution of Piers Gaveston

By Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810–96)

via Wikimedia Commons
Today, we often think that princesses lead a charmed existence, but the truth is that women in general have had a challenging existence throughout most of history and, in some ways, high-born women had no more control over their own lives than peasant women. They might have had (slightly) more comfortable bed and food to eat (most of time) but they were entirely at the mercy of their fathers, husbands, brothers, or sons. In the case of a king's relative, the king ultimately had authority.

So it was, that 13-year-old Margaret de Clare, granddaughter of England's King Edward I, found herself married to a man twice her age who was likely also her uncle King Edward II's lover. Piers Gaveston was certainly a very close friend of the king, and Edward wished to shower him with honors. Marriage to Margaret was a great step up in the world for Gaveston, who hailed from petty continental nobility, for not only was Margaret a royal granddaughter, she was also a great heiress. The king spent lavishly on their wedding and gave them many gifts. When their only daughter Joan was born four years later, the king threw a party that lasted for days.

Whether Margaret was aware of the relationship between her husband and the king, or whether it upset her is impossible to know. She often accompanied Gaveston, when she didn't have to, including when he was at war or when he was exiled to Ireland (because of outrage among the nobles when Edward literally allowed him to be lord over them as regent). Greedy and ambitious, Gaveston was also handsome and charming, and their closeness to the king might have made her life very comfortable. Nevertheless, was always a man to fly too close to the sun. After one too many provocations, he and Edward were both battling against irate nobles, when Gaveston was captured and summarily executed, much to the king's rage. Margaret was 19 and her daughter was only five months old.

King Edward provided generously for his widowed niece. Two years later, after the death of her only brother, she and her two sisters split the wealth of the Gloucester fortunes. A few years later, Edward married her off to another favorite, Hugh d'Audley (who also may have been one of Edward's lovers). Once again, Edward spared no expense celebrating their wedding. However, war soon erupted between the men who had married the Clare sisters, when one of them Hugh Despencer the Younger tried to take it all for himself. When d'Audley joined a rebellion against Edward, only Margaret's pleas spared him from execution. Nevertheless, she was kept under armed guard at Sempringham Abbey while her husband was imprisoned elsewhere.

Margaret had one child with her second husband, a daughter also named Margaret. In motherhood, Margaret suffered several heartaches. Her older daughter, Joan Gaveston, died at age 13. Younger daughter Margaret d'Audley faced a different kind of tragedy when she was about the same age. As happened all too often with heiresses in this period, young Margaret was abducted. This usually meant that the girl was also violated and forced to marry her abductor, in Margaret's case the middle-aged Earl of Stafford. Her parents protested to King Edward III (who inherited the throne after his father's ignoble ending), but the king supported Stafford. To assuage her parents, he gave her father the title of Earl of Gloucester and Margaret became Countess of Gloucester. (Sorry your daughter was raped, how would you like to be a Countess?)

Margaret survived another six years, dying in her late forties. She appears as a character in Shakespeare's Edward II, although the timeline of her life events is not accurate.

Many have cast Margaret's life as a series of tragedies, but for a different view, read
Women of Edward II's Reign, 3: The 'tragic" Margaret de Clare on the Edward II blog, which examines "why almost everything you think you know about Edward II is wrong".