14 October 2017

The Countess-Not Countess-Countess Almost Queen of England

If not for the extraordinary record of King Henry VIII, his ancestor King John might well be remembered as the most notorious husband among English monarchs. Unlike Henry, whose marital misdeeds were driven largely by dynastic concerns and partly by his libido, John was driven almost entirely by greed. This should come as no surprise as he's best known as the king who was forced to sign the Magna Carta and as the devious Prince John of the Robin Hood tales.

John's first wife died 800 years ago today, on 14 October 1217. But she was no longer his wife by then. She is so little regarded in the history of the time, that even her name is not entirely certain. Various records name her by a wide range of sobriquets from Hadwise to Joan to Eleanor to Isabella. What is certain is that she (whom we shall call Isabella) was herself of English royal descent and the heiress of great amount of territory. As the youngest son of the Angevin King Henry II and his heiress wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, John was called "Lackland" since the great expanse of his parents' English and French lands had already been divided amongst his squabbling older brothers. Henry decided that little John, therefore, needed to marry an heiress. Who better than the daughter of his own cousin, the Duke of Gloucester.

Despite the fact that Gloucester had other daughters and it was traditional to share a patrimony among sisters who had no brothers, Henry declared Isabella the sole heir. When she was about three years old, she was betrothed to nine-year-old Prince John, despite the fact that church law forbade marriages between such close relatives. Henry cared little for church law (you've heard of St. Thomas a Becket, right?) and besides it was easy enough to get a dispensation to overlook their cousinship. A few years later, Isabella's father died and she became Countess of Gloucester in her own right.

The dispensation was never granted. Old King Henry kept Isabella's money for himself. Soon after his death, John married 16-year-old Isabella immediately assumed control of her property. The Archbishop of Canterbury declared the marriage void and placed their territory under interdict, so that their people could not participate in church rites. A papal legate, however, overruled the archbishop and declared the marriage legal...as long as they didn't have sex.

Well, they certainly never had children. John, however, fathered numerous illegitimate offspring during the marriage. And, John was known to have looked about for other even more lucrative brides. Ten years later, John succeeded his older brother Richard the Lionheart as King John but Isabella was never styled as his queen. Almost immediately he set her aside. He received an annulment based on the old grounds that they were too closely related and ran off to marry a French heiress who was technically already engaged to someone else and two was at most 15 and perhaps as young as nine years old.

The divorce settlement was hardly favorable to Isabella, who was forced to give up her rights and riches as Countess of Gloucester. John kept all of that. He did pay for her living expenses but seems to have required her to serve in his new wife's household for a period of time. And, as long as John held on to the Gloucester lands, the still young-ish Isabella was not allowed to remarry. Fortunately for her, John was always looking for ways to make money. Nearly 14 years after the marriage ended, he decided to raise some funds by selling off the right to marry his ex-wife and throwing in the Gloucester lands and title. Isabella was a countess again and married off to the highest bidder, Geoffrey de Mandeville Earl of Essex, who was 16 years younger than she. A year later in 1215, Countess Isabella and her husband joined a widespread rebellion against John--the one which resulted in the Magna Carta. A few months later, Geoffrey was killed in a tournament, but the lands and titles had been left forfeit to the Crown because of the rebellion. Nevertheless, Isabella, now in her forties was more or less in charge of her own life for the very first time.

It was short-lived an unmarried rich woman was a great commodity in those days. After the death of John, the child King Henry III (John's son by his second wife) granted the rebellious Isabella's patrimony to the loyal Hubert de Burgh. Shortly thereafter, he gave Hubert Isabella too and she was married for the third time. She died within a few months, never having had any children. The Gloucester title went to her nephew, but it eventually returned to the crown and is currently held by The Queen's cousin, Prince Richard Duke of Gloucester.

More about Isabella of Gloucester:

Isabella of Gloucester on Magna Carta Trust
Isabella of Gloucester joined the 'never quite making it to Queen' club with she married Prince John on Intriguing History
Isabel of Gloucester, the Lost Queen of England on History...The Interesting Bits
Isabella of Gloucester, Queen of England, Countess of Gloucester and Essex on The Freelance History Writer

11 October 2017

Remembering Josephine Charlotte

Today marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of Princess Josephine Charlotte of Belgium, the firstborn child of King Leopold III of Belgium and his first wife Princess Astrid of Sweden. Read my earlier profile of Josephine Charlotte.

Both of her full brothers, Baudoin and Albert, later became Kings of Belgium and her nephew Philippe now sits on that throne. Josephine Charlotte, however, built her life in Luxembourg after marrying Jean, later the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. The couple had five children, including the current Grand Duke Henri. Josephine Charlotte succumbed to lung cancer in 2005 at the age of 77.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

28 September 2017

Previously at the Palace: Diana & the Photographers

Previously at the Palace: Diana & the Photographers

In this series, we capture the biographical and major news posts from this date in previous years so that you can "catch up" on your favorites or reflect on some topics you might have missed. One paragraph is included here; click the title to see the full post.

By Nick Parfjonov
via Wikimedia Commons
2013: When Diana Played with Fire
"The beginning and the end of Princess Diana's public life are marked by unforgettable images. From the naive teenager caught unsuspectingly with the sun streaming through her floral skirt to the tired blue eyes staring through black eyeliner as she pushes her way through the backdoor of the Ritz. Both photos capture Diana the way so many people like to think of her: innocent, trapped, surrounded by paparazzi ready to take advantage of her at every turn." READ MORE

25 September 2017

Overdue Book Review: Royal Pains by Leslie Carroll

As 2017 lumbers along, I am finally making good on my New Year's Resolutions: fewer television documentaries featuring hunky archeologists or crashed air planes and more royal biographies. Still drawing from my "purchased in 2011" stack of unread "new" books, I have recently completed Leslie Carroll's Royal Pains: A Rogue's Gallery of Brats, Brutes, and Bad Seeds. All in all, it is an easy read presented in thoroughly modern language for a contemporary audience seeking fast (and titillating) stories more than deep and penetrating histories.

Carroll began her career and built her reputation as a historical novelist, using pen names Amanda Elyot and Juliet Grey, so she has a deft touch with narrative within a historical setting. She also clearly has a keen interest in the historical characters she chooses to enliven and a more than passing fancy for scandalous scuttlebutt. Before Royal Pains, her two previous works of nonfiction focused on notorious royal marriages and royal affairs. (She has since added several more works of collected biographies to her repertoire.)

I found Royal Pains easy to read, even addictive. However, I was sometimes distracted by the 21st-century terminology employed throughout the work, terms like "BFF". Even the use (overuse) of the term "psychopath" I found a bit disturbing as it is not only a term but also a concept that is modern in every way. Of course, she does provide evidence of psychopathy when she uses it, but it feels more forensic than the rest of the narrative warrants. Carroll also takes great "pains" to tell the reader that both Ivan the Terrible and Vlad the Impaler are considered national heroes among their countrymen, but she never fully explains why this is.

Which leads me to my second disappointment with the book: the selection of historical figures. In the foreword, Carroll explains that she did not have a definition of a "royal pain" beyond the idea of "brats, brutes, and bad seeds" when she started the book. This lack of parameter has led to an odd collection of characters. For instance, no matter how scandalous Princess Margaret's behavior, I would never put her in the same "bad seed" category as the Blood Countess Elizabeth Bathory. With Carroll's light, witty and sometimes even jolly approach to her subjects, I would rather have seen her focus on the less horrific personages. Prince Albert Victor and Princess Margaret, even foolish King John and possibly evil King Richard III would be completely out of place when confronted with Ivan, Vlad and Elizabeth. It would have been better to have one book focused on the possibly mentally deranged and another on the merely spoiled or entitled.

Overall though, it is an enjoyable read, divided into easily digestible segments.

04 September 2017

Royal Baby #3

It has been a week for royal babies! Exactly one week ago, Princess Madeleine of Sweden shared that she is pregnant with her third child. A few days later, her sister-in-law Princess Sofia of Sweden gave birth to her second son, Prince Gabriel Carl Walther. And, today, Kensington Palace announced that The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting her third child next year. As with her first two pregnancies, Catherine is suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum and has had to cancel an engagement due to illness. This prompted the announcement, which is no doubt earlier in the pregnancy than has traditionally been the case with other royal pregnancies.

In celebration of the new babies, but especially the expected children of Madeleine and Catherine, both of whom will be the third born, let's take a look at the third-born children of other royal families.

HRH The Prince Andrew, The Duke of York
While each of The Queen's children had only two offspring, Her Majesty had four. She took a long break between her first two and her last two due to her unexpectedly early accession to the throne when she was only 26 years old. Andrew was born more than 11 years after his oldest brother Prince Charles, but nevertheless had a close relationship with him as a young child. He grew up to be the "handsome one" in the family, and earned the naughty-boy reputation now enjoyed by his nephew Prince Harry. However, he married young, at just 26, to Sarah Ferguson, who it turns out could be even more scandalous. The couple separated and divorced following her well-publicized affairs. They nevertheless remained close and raised their two daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, together. Andrew completed a career in the Royal Navy and took on the role as UK Special Representative for International Trade and Investment.

via Palais Princier de Monaco
HSH Princess Stephanie of Monaco
The poster child of "Royal Wild Child" Princess Stephanie was the youngest child of Prince Rainier and his Oscar-winning wife Grace Kelly. Teenaged Stephanie was in the accident that killed her mother and was quite seriously injured herself. She recovered from that and went on to famously hang with the Hollywood "Brat Pack" of the 1980s, worked as a model, fashion designer and pop singer. She had one child out of wedlock with her bodyguard, married him, had another child and divorced him. Had another child by an unnamed father. Then, she literally ran off with the circus to be with her married boyfriend. Her life may be succinctly described as colorful.

HM Felipe VI The King of Spain
Over on the Iberian peninsula, the King himself is the third-born child. He inherited his throne over his two older sisters upon the abdication of their father because Spain remains one of the few monarchies to still observe male-preference in its succession laws. When Felipe was born, Spain was under the dictatorship of General Franco following the overthrow of the monarchy when his great-grandfather was still king. Franco, however, named Felipe's father, Juan Carlos, as his own successor. This allowed Felipe to grow up in Spain. Upon Franco's death, Juan Carlos brought democracy to Spain. Felipe received a superior education and served in the armed forces and had a couple of long-term relationships before surprising everyone by announcing his engagement to television news journalist Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano. The couple has two daughters, Leonor Princess of Asturias and Infanta Sofia.

Photo Anna-Lena Ahlström, The Royal Court, Sweden.
HRH Princess Madeleine of Sweden
Expectant mother Madeleine is herself the third child of King Carl XVI Gustav and Queen Silvia. She has been widely viewed as one of the most (I think THE most) beautiful princesses of her generation and her name was erroneously linked to both Prince William and Prince Harry. She announced her first engagement shortly after her older sister Crown Princess Victoria had announced her own. Unfortunately, her fiance was publicly unfaithful and the wedding was called off. She recovered within a couple of years and married American-British businessman Chris O'Neill who declined a royal title because he did not wish to give up his business. Their first child was born eight months later and the second followed 15 months later. Madeleine works on behalf of many causes, but is especially devoted to Childhood, an organization to end sexual abuse of children.

HRH Prince Laurent of Belgium
The youngest child of the former King Albert II and his Italian wife Queen Paola, Laurent is not well-loved by the media, who portray him as the "eco-blunderer" for his outspoken environmental views and his generally un-royal demeanor. His name has been associated with a couple of scandals including an unapproved visit to the Congo to raise awareness of deforestation. This led him to choose between following the government's rules or surrendering his payments from the state; he chose to be obedient and keep the money. He has also struggled publicly with depression. His wife, British-born Claire Coombs, however, is well-respected for her quiet dignity although she has no official public role. The couple has a daughter and twin sons.

HRH Prince Emmanuel of Belgium
The third of King Philippe and Queen Mathilde's four children, Prince Emmanuel is now 12. He was previously removed from the school attended by his siblings and enrolled in one that has a special focus for learners with dyslexia, a condition that Princess Beatrice of York and Crown Princess Victoria. Emmanuel plays the flute and engages in several sports including cycling, swimming, skiing and sailing. He already speaks three languages: Dutch, French and English.

Image: Jeroen van der Meyde
HRH Princess Margriet of the Netherlands
Born in Canada where her mother and sisters had evacuated following the Nazi invasion of The Netherlands during World War II, Princess Margriet has led an exemplary life in the public eye. She has been a steadfast working royal during her mother's, sister's and now nephew's reigns. She also served for more than 20 years as president of the European Cultural Foundation. She met her husband Peter van Vollenhoven at university. He took no titles or royal role upon their marriage, but their four sons were all given the rank and style His Highness Prince of Orange-Nassau. The couple celebrated 50 years of marriage this year. They have 11 grandchildren.

HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands
The third and youngest son of the former Queen Beatrix, Constantijn is the exact image of his late father, Prince Claus. He is named for his godfather, ex-King Constantine of Greece. An attorney with a Master of Business Administration degree, the prince has held several key positions with the European Union and the World Bank as well as Booz Allen Hamilton and Rand Corporation, which he has worked around his part-time job with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He and wife Laurentien Brinkhorst have three children.

Image: Jeroen van der Meyde
HRH Princess Ariane of the Netherlands
Ten-year-old Ariane has the rounded high cheeks of her grandmother, former Queen Beatrix, and the exotic eyes of her Argentine-born mother, Queen Maxima. The youngest of King Willem Alexander all-girl "A Team" of princesses (her sisters are Alexia and Amalia), Ariane and her family often escape Europe's winter for a bit of South American summer before returning to enjoy the ski slopes. It is not surprising then that she speaks Spanish as well as Dutch and English. Princess Ariane gave her parents a bit of scare by developing a serious lung infection that required an extended hospital stay when she was just a few weeks old. Today she is the picture of health as she enjoys horse riding, hockey and jazz ballet in addition to drawing and guitar.

HRH Prince Sverre Magnus of Norway
Although only the second child of Crown Prince Haakon, Sverre Magnus is the third child born to his mother, Mette-Marit Tjessem-Hoiby, who infamously had a son out of wedlock before she married the prince. He began his education in a state school before transferring into a private Montessori school. Sverre Magnus and his older sister Ingrid Alexandra are the most Norwegian royals in modern history. Their dynasty was started just four generations earlier by a Danish prince who married a British princess. Their son married a Swedish princess. But, in the last two generations, Haakon and his father King Harald married Norwegian ladies, making this prince at least 75% Norwegian. This is a bit extraordinary in continental royal Europe where most royals have not married their own subjects.

HRH Prince Henrik of Denmark
Little Prince Henrik, 8, is the first child of his mother, Marie Cavallier, but the third son of his father, Prince Joachim, who has two older sons from a previous marriage. Named for his headline-gathering French-born grandfather, Henrik is at least 75% French in his heritage through this grandfather and his own mother. Eight-year-old Henrik also has a little sister, Princess Athena. Prince Joachim, his four children, his former and current wives all seem to get on very well, with apparent affection on all sides. Henrik is therefore very close to his older brothers, the oldest of whom just celebrated his 18th birthday.

 Pernille Rohde, PR PHOTO
HRH Prince Vincent and HRH Princess Josephine of Denmark
The third and fourth children of Crown Prince Frederik and his Aussie wife Mary Donaldson are twins Vincent and Josephine, now six years old. The twins have Greenlandic names among their list of names and have visited the Danish territory. They are, in fact, extremely well traveled with many trips to their mother's native Australia, too. They are also very active, with Josephine suffering a broken arm last year. The royal twins often steal the show on royal balcony appearances and photo calls.

22 August 2017

Previously at the Palace: Bonne of Luxembourg

In this series, we capture the biographical and major news posts from this date in previous years so that you can "catch up" on your favorites or reflect on some topics you might have missed. One paragraph is included here; click the title to see the full post.

via Wikimedia Commons
2015: Bonne of Luxembourg
"The intertwining and shifting allegiances of 14th century Europe explain why a Bohemian princess named Jutta born 700 years ago last month is remembered as Bonne of Luxembourg (1315-1349). Although born in Prague as the daughter of the King of Bohemia, she was of the house of Luxembourg. (Her father was a Luxembourgish prince who gained the throne through marriage to a Bohemian princess.) When the French king Philip VI selected her as the bride of his heir--passing over an English princess, which might have been politically wiser--the French decided to translate her "odd" central European name. The closest they could come was the feminized version of the French word for "good" and so she is remembered as Bonne of Luxumbourg (or Good of Luxembourg) while her husband is remembered as Jean le Bon (or John the Good)." READ MORE

16 August 2017

Daughters of York

For more than five centuries, the world has wondered, "What happened to the Princes in the Tower?" Rarely do we ever ask, "What about their sisters?"

Whether they were murdered by their uncle, who became King Richard III, or by their brother-in-law, who became King Henry VII, or happened to die naturally with immaculate timing, the little King Edward V and his younger brother Richard Duke of York have been the subject of one of history's ultimate unsolved mysteries. With the exception of their eldest sister, Elizabeth of York, who is a barely more than a footnote in the biographies of her husband and son (Henry VII and VIII) respectively, we hear almost nothing about their sisters. Despite this, we do know quite a bit about their lives.

The daughters of the Yorkist King Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville were plentiful: Elizabeth (1466-1503), Mary (1467-1482), Cecily (1469-1507), Margaret (b. and d. 1472), Anne (1475-1511), Catherine (1479-1527) and Bridget (1480-1517). Had they been boys, there would have been a LOT of princes in the Tower to be murdered!

Elizabeth Woodville
via Wikimedia Commons
Their story starts as a love story between their parents. Elizabeth Woodville's first husband Sir John Grey had died fighting for the Lancastrians before she caught the eye of the Yorkist heir. She already had two sons, when Edward of York won his throne and then secretly married her. Some said, he was already contracted to marry someone else, and it was upon this basis that all of his children by Elizabeth would later be declared illegitimate. Despite the constant political and military turmoil of the ongoing Wars of the Roses, Elizabeth and Edward had a fruitful marriage, producing 10 children in 14 years. (A third son, George Duke of Bedford, died at age 2).

Despite his reputation as a soldier, Edward grew increasingly subject to illness and succumbed to natural causes (pneumonia? typhoid?) shortly before his 41st birthday. One of his final acts was to name his trusted brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, as the Protector for his young son and heir. While little Edward was taken to live in the royal castle known as the Tower of London, Queen Elizabeth's father and one of her Grey sons were taken prisoner for attempts to monopolize power. Elizabeth gathered all of her daughters and the little Duke of York and fled into sanctuary. Gloucester soon accused her of plotting his murder and had several of her allies, including her father and son, executed.

When he demanded that the Duke of York be sent to keep his brother company, she had no choice but to let him go. He also enticed the former Queen and her daughters to come out of sanctuary and live instead under house arrest, eventually bringing some of the girls to court to serve as ladies in waiting to his wife Queen Anne Neville. Meanwhile he had Edward IV's marriage declared invalid based on witness testimony that he had been contracted to someone else when he married Elizabeth Woodville. This meant that all of his children were now considered bastards.

Elizabeth of York:
daughter, sister, niece, wife & mother of kings
via Wikimedia Commons
Elizabeth was an ambitious woman and she soon found her equal in Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, a Lancastrian claimant to the throne. The mothers agreed that Elizabeth's oldest daughter would marry Henry, if he could secure the throne. The young man, defeated Richard (who was killed) at the Battle of Bosworth and declared himself King Henry VII by right of conquest, but solidified his claim by marrying Princess Elizabeth, who by now, was generally thought to be the Yorkist heir due to the disappearance of her brothers. She went on to be immortalized with her portrait on playing cards. She also is best remembered as the mother of the much-married King Henry VIII, although she produced a total of eight children. Her last child died about a week after her birth and Elizabeth followed her the next day having succumbed to infection caused by the birth. It was her 37th birthday.

The second York sister, Mary, had died a year before their father, at the age of 15. Daughter #3, named Cecily for Edward IV's mother, was married off by her uncle to one of his supporters, Ralph Scrope, but it was annulled when her brother-in-law seized the crown. Henry VII married her off to one his supporters, his uncle John Welles 1st Viscount Welles. The couple had two daughters who died young, but their marriage seems to have been happy. After Welles' untimely death, she chose her third husband for herself, a country Squire named Thomas Kyme and lived the rest of her life in relative obscurity. She appears to have had children by Kyme, but the records are rather sketchy and, if they existed, they certainly never took up life at the royal court. She died at age 38.

The fourth York sister, Margaret, died at just eight months old but the fifth sister Anne survived the tumultuous reigns of her father and uncle to be married to Thomas Howard, to whom she had been betrothed by King Richard. After Richard's defeat and death, Howard was not about to lose his claim on marrying a royal princess (since the York children's legitimacy had been re-established so that their oldest sister could marry King Henry.) Henry allowed the wedding. Anne died at age 36, having outlived any children they had, and Thomas remarried. He became very famous indeed as the 3rd Duke of Norfolk; he was the uncle of two of King Henry VIII's unfortunate wives, the two who were beheaded, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

Five daughters of Edward IV on a stained glass window:
Elizabeth, Cecily, Anne, Katherine & Mary of York
via Wikimedia Commons
The ongoing political turmoil of the era also continued to impact the sixth sister, Catherine. Her brother-in-law arranged her marriage with William Courtenay 1st Earl of Devon, by whom she had at least three children. However, hubby got caught up in one of several conspiracies against the new Tudor king. In 1509 he was imprisoned and lost his title for his support of a Yorkist claimant, Catherine's cousin Edmund de la Pole. He managed to keep his head and survived into the reign of nephew Henry VIII, who pardoned him. After Courtenay's death two years later, Catherine was given control over the earldom, which was inherited by her teenage son. Her nephew even honored her by making her a godmother to his daughter, the future Queen Mary. Catherine was the longest lived of all the sisters, passing away at the age of 48. Her descendants are numerous among Britain's aristocracy today, having interwoven with the royal offspring of the Stuart kings and the Hanoverians.

The youngest sister Bridget was only two years old when their father died. Her oldest sister Elizabeth, 14 years her elder, was one of her godmothers. Elizabeth apparently took this role seriously and would look after Bridget until her own death when Bridget was 22. At some point early in Henry VII's reign the little girl was sent into religious life as a nun at Dartford Priory. Big sis Queen Elizabeth paid many of her expenses, especially after the death of their mum. Despite her quiet life well away from the political vagaries of the court or the uncertainties of childbearing, Bridget also had a relatively early death at the age of 36.

14 August 2017

Previously at the Palace: Children in the Wedding

In this series, we capture the biographical and major news posts from this date in previous years so that you can "catch up" on your favorites or reflect on some topics you might have missed. One paragraph is included here; click the title to see the full post.

2010: Children in the Wedding
"Amidst the pageantry of a royal wedding, a small group of children almost always takes center stage after the bride and groom. This troupe of tiny attendants takes the place of adult bridesmaids and groomsmen." READ MORE

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

12 August 2017

Previously at the Palace: Young Royal Widows

In this series, we capture the biographical and major news posts from this date in previous years so that you can "catch up" on your favorites or reflect on some topics you might have missed. One paragraph is included here; click the title to see the full post.

By Allen Warren
via Wikimedia Commons
2013: Young Royal Widows
"With the long, slow death of Dutch Prince Johan Frisco today, his wife Princess Mabel becomes the latest in a tragic line of young royal widows. Here are the stories of a few of them." READ MORE
(It's hard to believe that it's been four years already.)

08 August 2017

A Different Maria Theresa of Austria

By Johann Ender via Wikimedia Commons
Revolutionaries had forced her to flee Sicily with her five youngest children, but now a new crisis loomed: cholera. The deadly disease made no allowance for widowed queens and their little ones. She had already lost three of her 12 children, and her stepson had lost his throne. When she began to feel the effects of the disease, doctors were summoned, but Maria Theresa of Austria, majestic to a fault, refused their care. She would not be saved by liberal doctors. She passed away on August 8, 1867 at age 51. A few days later, her youngest child, 10-year-old Prince Januarius, died too.

As a great-granddaughter and namesake of the famous Empress, Maria Theresa's life was bookended by revolution. Before her birth, her father Archduke Charles had battled against the French Revolution, but his efforts ultimately failed to save the monarchy or the life of his aunt Queen Marie Antoinette. By the time he married the Protestant Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg, he was already a bona fide hero of the Napoleonic Wars, Austria's version of Britain's Duke of Wellington. Maria Theresa was the first of their seven children, but she was only 13 years old when her mother died of scarlet fever.

At age 20, Maria Theresa was sent to be the second wife of her second cousin, King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, and immediately became a mother to his son, the future King Francis II. Baby Francis' mother, another second cousin of both Maria Theresa and King Ferdinand, had died one year earlier, just five days after Francis' birth. From the beginning, the stepson was close to his stepmother, and she accepted him as her own, even after her own brood began arriving with regularity.

The peace and calm of their family life, with Maria Theresa enjoying both motherhood and needlework, did not extend to their public life. Queen Maria Theresa was thought to have a little too much influence on her husband, and that influence was thought to be too authoritarian. Things only got worse after Ferdinand's death in 1859, placed 23-year-old Francis on the throne. As always, he turned to his stepmother for advice, and she was only too happy to assist him. This not only caused strife with his new bride Maria Sophie of Bavaria, but severe political issues at a time when all of Italy was in turmoil. The forces of Italian unification and revolution were threatening must of Italy's various little states. Whenever any issue large or small arose, Francis' response was often a reactionary overreaction.

In less than two years, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies was being threatened by an imminent invasion by Giuseppe Garibaldi, the man who would eventually unite Italy under one government. Maria Theresa was the first of the royal family to flee with her young children in tow. She was followed not long thereafter by Francis and Maria Sophie. They fled to the coastal fortress at Gaeta, but it was eventually overrun by the opposing Sardinia King Victor Emmanuel II, who would eventually be King of all of Italy. The family then took refuge in Rome, while summering at the papal retreat in Albano Laziale, where Maria Theresa would meet her final defeat at the hands of unrelenting cholera.

05 August 2017

Quick Bio: Matilda of Flanders

Originally from "Queens of England" - 1894.
via Wikimedia Commons

c. 1031

Baldwin V Count of Flanders and Adela of France

William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy & King of England

c. 1051-1052

Statue by Carle Elshoecht (1850). Luxembourg Garden, Paris.
By Tosca via Wikimedia Commons

9 or 10 who lived to adulthood: Robert Duke of Normandy; Richard; William II of England; Henry I of England; Agatha; Adeliza; Cecilia Abbesst of Holy Trinity, Caen; Matilda; Constance Duchess of Brittany; Adela Countess of Blois

Crowned Queen Consort of England at Westminster in 1068

Unknown artist. Pen, ink and watercolour, 18 x 13.3cm (7 1/8" x 5 1/2").
National Portrait Gallery (RN49540). National Portrait Gallery, London
via Wikimedia Commons

Governed Normandy during her husband's absence in England, first English consort to officially share in royal power, secured excellent education for her children (both sons and daughters

UNSUBSTANTIATED CLAIMS: Many stories claim that she turned down William's proposal because he was a bastard. As a result he is said to have ridden to her home (or church) and violently snatched her by her hair, after which she refused to marry anyone else. Also, a poorly conducted examination of her bones in 1959 concluded that she was only 4'2"; it has been discredited.

November 1083 from illness

L'Abbaye aux Dames in Caen, Normandy, France

Photograph of the chancel of the Women's Abbey at Caen
with Queen Matilda's grave shown in the center.
By Greenshed via Wikimedia Commons

04 August 2017

Previously at the Palace: Farewell to Romania's Queen Anne

In this series, we capture the biographical and major news posts from this date in previous years so that you can "catch up" on your favorites or reflect on some topics you might have missed. One paragraph is included here; click the title to see the full post.

King Michael and Queen Anne
on their wedding day in 1948
via Wikimedia Commons
2016: Farewell to Romania's Last Queen
"Very few queens have worked in a department store. Perhaps only this one.  Born in 1923 to cadet members of the royal houses of Bourbon-Parma and Denmark, Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma had gobs of glamorous cousins more royal than she, but she didn't necessarily have bright prospects. She was born just a few years after World War I and revolution had decimated Europe's royal houses. When she was a teenager, World War II sent her family as blue-blooded refugees across the pond to the United States." READ MORE

03 August 2017

Previously at the Palace: Rudolph's Tragic End

In this series, we capture the biographical and major news posts from this date in previous years so that you can "catch up" on your favorites or reflect on some topics you might have missed. One paragraph is included here; click the title to see the full post.

By Atelier Adele
via Wikimedia Commons
2010: Rudolph's Final Moment
"Rudolph sat stone still on the edge of the bed, tormented by what his life had become, terrified of the next step he must take. Beside him, his teenage mistress lay cloaked by her beautiful hair, her youth forever frozen by the jagged bullet wound behind her ear. Dawn was coming too slowly, too quickly. Crown Prince Rudolph, heir to the dual thrones of Austria and Hungary, knew he had to complete his plan. It had all seemed so simple, why was he hesitating?" READ MORE

02 August 2017

A Dollhouse Fit for a Queen

Many little girls long for a dollhouse. My sister and I used to make furniture and clothes for our dolls who had both a house and houseboat! We even made food for them out of Play Doh, but nothing we did could compare to the ultimate dollhouse.

Created in the 1920s for the Queen Mary, consort of King George V, Queen Mary's Dolls' House was conceived by one of Queen Victoria's granddaughters, Princess Marie Louise. The princess engaged an architect and even had her artist friends and craftsmen create items for the house. The house also includes all of the modern conveniences of the day, like electricity, flushing toilets, and a working elevator. The lowest level has a garage filled with model classic cars with working engines. It is really amazing!

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The house is included as part of the Royal Collection and is displayed at Windsor Castle, where members of the public can view it as part of their tour admission. (Rates for 2017 are £20.50 for adults with discounts children, seniors, disabled people, and families.)

You can also take a virtual tour of Queen Mary's Dolls' House online: Click Here

01 August 2017

Spanish Royals on Holiday

The King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain recently welcomed photographers to their home at Marivent for a photocall with them and their daughters Leonor Princess of Asturias and Infanta Sofia. It's appears from these photos that little sis Sofia, aged 10, is currently taller than Leonor, nearly 12. As they head into their teens it will be interesting to see if Sofia continues to outgrow her sister. Since their father is six and half feet tall, either one of them could hit a growth spurt that takes them well beyond average height! More importantly, we can see a happy and relaxed family in these photos. It is quite clear that the King adores all of his ladies.

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Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

30 July 2017

Previously at the Palace: Zara's Wedding

In this series, we capture the biographical and major news posts from this date in previous years so that you can "catch up" on your favorites or reflect on some topics you might have missed. One paragraph is included here; click the title to see the full post.

By Land Rover MENA (The All-New Range Rover | Global Reveal)
via Wikimedia Commons
2011: A Sporting Scottish Wedding
"Miss Zara Anne Elizabeth Phillips married her longtime love, rugby star Mike Tindall. So, why does a sports star's wife, who is herself an equestrian Olympic hopeful, rate attention from the Princess Palace? Well, there may be no titles involved, but Zara is a royal standout as the only daughter of HRH The Princess Royal. Her life has been closely monitored from the beginning, when she was given her unusual name by her uncle The Prince of Wales to her rebellious tongue-stud clubbing days to her highly successful athletic career." READ MORE

25 July 2017

Abdicating Queens

In honor of the 450th anniversary of the abdication of Mary Queen of Scots earlier this month, let's take a look at the list of Queens Regnant who have given up their thrones, starting with the first European lady to do so, Mary herself. Since her, there has been one each century, except in the 20th century which witnessed the abdications of the mother and daughter Dutch Queens Wilhelmina and Juliana.

after Francis Clouet
via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Queen of Scots, 1567
The turbulence and violence of Scotland's monarchy often meant the early deaths of kings followed by the accession of children. Mary, the only surviving child of King James V was only six days old when she became Queen. The Regency for her was hotly debated between Catholic and Protestant claimants while the tiny Queen was sent to be raised at the French court, where at the age of fifteen she married the Dauphin, who became King of France less than a year later. Before the end of the next year, the teenage King died and his teenage Queen returned to her homeland, which could have hardly remembered. The very Catholic Queen was regarded with distrust by her numerous and powerful Protestant noblemen and by her very powerful cousin to the south, Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was little interested in Mary's desire to be her rightful heir in England. When Mary married their shared cousin Henry Stuart Lord Darnley and further strengthened her claim to the English throne, Elizabeth was infuriated. Although a passionate marriage, it was a troubled one. Darnley wished to be Mary's equal and things grew ugly. In an act of jealousy, Darnley and his men murdered her secretary in front of the pregnant Queen. Several months after their son's birth, Darnley's dead body was discovered. Mary was suspected, but then she was abducted, possibly raped and married to the Protestant Earl of Bothwell. Conspiracy rumors were rampant. The once-again pregnant Mary and her new husband faced an open revolt but their supporters abandoned them. He was given free passage to escape and she was imprisoned, and soon miscarried twins. The despondent Queen, just 24 years old, was forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son. However, that was not the end of her story. She escaped to England but Queen Elizabeth was not eager to help her and instead kept her under close observation. She was tried for Darnley's murder, but Elizabeth found it more politically sound to keep Mary prisoner without an actual conviction. From her imprisonment, Mary embroiled herself in various plots and was eventually caught plotting against Elizabeth herself. For this crime, Mary was beheaded at the age of 44. (Read my post about the Tudor & Stewart Queens: Killing Queens.)

By Sebastien Bourdon
via Wikimedia Commons
Christina of Sweden, 1654
Although not an infant like Mary Queen of Scots, Christina was also a child when she inherited her father's throne. The last surviving legitimate child of King Gustav II Adolf, the nearly six-year-old Christina was initially in her mother's physical custody, despite her mother's refusal to allow the king's burial for 18 months and her mother's apparent neglect of her. Christina was eventually placed with her maternal aunt and, after her death, with appointed guardians. Her father had not only doted on her but had clearly accepted that she would be his heir, leaving orders that she would be educated like a prince. She learned men's sports: fencing, riding and bear hunting. She studied politics, religion, philosophy, the classical Greek and Roman texts and knew at least nine languages. She became obsessed with collecting both art and books. She had a keen and curious mind--a fact that would trouble her reign in an age of absolutes. Not only did she refuse to blindly accept the precepts of Lutherans, a religion for which her country had fought wars, she actually studied Catholicism, Islam and Judaism. She forced her government into peace negotiations while bringing the cultural booty back to Sweden. Another disruptive issue was her refusal to wed. In an attempt to quiet the insistence on her marriage, she named a cousin (once considered a possible husband) as her heir when she was only 21. Her views and tastes were changeable as she explored so many different ideas. At one period she was solemn and serious, working ten hours a day, barely eating or sleeping. Then, she swung the other direction, indulging in all things pleasurable. At age 27, having reigned quixotically and controversially, she announced her abdication. She shipped many of her books and treasures out of Sweden and left for Rome, converting to Catholicism along the way. She traveled around Europe, unsuccessfully inserting herself in their politics but always returning to Rome. When her cousin died, she even returned to Sweden with the stated intention of being queen again. She later attempted to have herself elected queen of Poland. She remained a controversial figure for her insistence on her regal prerogative, her politics, her religion, and her manner of dressing and behaving like a man. Christina continues to be a fascinating person. In her own lifetime, she was alleged to be oversexed or undersexed, to be a lesbian, and to be a hermaphrodite. Today, some scholars believe she may have been intersex, while others make a number of other medical assertions, from various endocrine disorders to autism. Her skeleton was even exhumed 50 years ago in an unsuccessful attempt to confirm or disprove hermaphroditism--turns out bones aren't a very good indicator of gender issues. She lived to age 62, always following her own rules, but is one of only three women buried in the Vatican Grotto.

By David von Krafft

via Wikimedia Commons
Ulrika Eleonora of Sweden, 1720
Ulrika Eleonora was the youngest child of Sweden's King Charles XI. She had an older sister and an older brother, the soldier King Charles XII. Her mother died when she was young and Ulrika Eleonora grew up in the shadow of her brighter, prettier, more talented big sister Hedwig Sophia. However, Ulrika Eleonora had one major advantage over her sister: she remained in Sweden after her marriage. While Hedwig Sophia was sent to live in Holstein, Ulrika Eleonora's husband stayed with her in Sweden. So, while her big brother was often (really always) away on military campaigns, he left the government in the hands of his younger sister, who dutifully did only what she thought he would do, never asserting her own thoughts or directions. Those around her, however, including her husband, Frederick of Hesse, were far more ambitious and began positioning her as her bachelor brother's heir. In this, Hedwig Sophia had one more major disadvantage: she had died, leaving behind a young son. By rights of primogeniture, as the son of the older sister, the lad should have inherited the throne when Charles died from gunshot to the head in 1718, but Auntie Ulrika Eleonora surprised the ministers by declaring she had inherited the throne. She pleased them by agreeing to end the era of absolute monarchy and they willingly declared her the Queen. However, she really did support absolutism and continually tried to thwart the new constitution. She also created more nobles (to support her aims) than any other Swedish monarch despite her very short aim. With the recent example of joint British rulers William and Mary, she wished to have her husband crowned co-ruler, but such an arrangement was not permitted in Sweden. Nevertheless, she insisted on sharing state business with him. Ultimately, it was determined that he could be king, if she would abdicate. Although unhappy with this decision, she agreed as long as she would be his heir. Her reign had lasted just 14 months. Before the abdication, her marriage, though childless was happy. Once Frederick became King, however, he began a long-term affair and even had children with his mistress. Ulrika Eleonora was deeply hurt and the ministers were deeply concerned that their much respected queen was being disrespected by her husband. Various plans to ask him to leave Sweden and bring her back to throne never went far, and she predeceased him in 1741 after contracting small pox. A succession crisis ensued with her older sister's descendants finally winning the throne following Frederick's death.

By Federico de Madrazo y Kuntz
via Wikimedia Commons
Isabella II of Spain, 1870
Isabella was the daughter of King Ferdinand VII of Spain, who had lost his throne to Napoleon before regaining it, and his fourth wife, Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies, who was also his niece. Her reign was marked by struggle from the beginning. The ambitious Maria Christina had convinced her husband set aside Salic Law, which forbade female succession, on his deathbed, thereby disinheriting his younger brother Don Carlos in favor of two-year-old Isabella. This launched the Carlist Wars in Spain with liberals supporting the new Queen and conservatives supporting Carlos and, upon his death, his successors. Isabella's early reign was only established through military force and she endured several changes in regency before being declared "of age" and no longer in need of a regent at the ripe old age of 13. At 16, she was pushed into marrying Francisco de Asis de Borbon, a double first cousin, by whom she had 12 children, just five of whom reached adulthood. She was a terrible queen, subject to conspiracies and intrigues and rapid changes of government. She showed favoritism and generally was seen as capricious and perhaps and adulteress. Her enemies, especially the Carlists, spread rumors that her husband was homosexual or impotent and that her children had various husbands. After a revolt in 1868, she went into exile and was replaced with an Italian prince under the First Spanish Republic. Still abroad, she agreed to abdicate in 1870 in favor of her son Alfonso , but the Republic did not invite him to become King and he did not return to Spain until after the Republic fell four years later. Isabella, having left her husband, remained in Paris visiting Spain on occasion and still causing problems. She did form a friendship with her estranged husband and was at his bedside when he died in 1902. She passed away two years later and was buried with the Spanish monarchs in El Escorial.

United Nations Information Office
via Wikimedia Commons
Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, 1948
Wilhelmina was the only child King William III of the Netherlands had with his much younger second wife of Emma of Waldeck-Pyrmont. His grown sons by his first wife never married and died before he did. Like all of the Queens already discussed here, Wilhelmina succeeded to the throne when she was still a child although she was older than the others at age 10. Her accession was not marked by controversy as with the others, and her Regent, her mother Emma, was well-admired. She grew to adulthood with grace and was enthroned at age 18. At 20 she married Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a happy marriage sadly marked by several miscarriages. For nearly a decade, it was feared that she would remain childless and be succeeded by a German cousin who was under the influence of the despised Kaiser Wilhelm II. However, her only living child Juliana's arrival in 1909 thwarted that worry. She was strong-minded and not easily intimidated, even standing up to the Kaiser personally. She led her small country successfully through World War I by maintaining neutral. Her popularity help assuage civil unrest after the war. Ultimately, the Kaiser had to surrender his hauteur as he sought refuge in the Netherlands after he lost his throne. Between the wars, Wilhelmina led her country to prosperity with industrial development. She herself was renowned for her business acumen which led to her becoming the world's first female billionaire. Nevertheless, the Nazi invasion in 1940 forced her to flee wearing only her nightgown and housecoat. She took refuge in Britain despite her well-known dislike of England stemming from earlier conflicts between the two countries and their settlers in South Africa. She led the government in exile, becoming a symbol of the Dutch resistance back home. After the war, she did not return to palace living, staying instead at The Hague and touring to visit her subjects around the country by bicycle. By this time, her health was failing and this led to her decision to abdicate in favor of her daughter in 1948, taking the title of Princess, a tradition that has now been followed by both her daughter and granddaughter. She lived a mostly retired life in the country until her death in 1962, emerging only on occasion.

By Hilterman, Dutch National Archive
via Wikimedia Commons
Juliana of the Netherlands, 1980
The only daughter of Queen Wilhelmina, Juliana is the first of our abdicating queens who did not accede as a child. She grew up happily and although educated at home, a small class of students was formed to study with her. She completed a Bachelor's degree at Leiden University, making her the first reigning queen to have a university degree. Because her family was deeply religious Protestants the search for a husband of suitable faith and rank was challenging. Fortunately, Juliana fell in love with the clearly qualified Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld. Nevertheless, the savvy Queen Wilhelmina also made sure that there was an ironclad prenuptial agreement. The couple went on to have four children, all daughters, the third of whom was born in Canada where Juliana had fled with the girls after the Nazis invaded The Netherlands. Her husband stayed in Britain to assist his mother-in-law with the government-in-exile. After the war, Juliana was active as the president of the Dutch Red Cross in an efforts to help her starving and devastated country recover from the brutality of the Nazi occupation. During her final pregnancy, she contracted German measles, causing near total blindness for her youngest daughter, for which the deeply religious Juliana and Bernhard sought all kinds of remedies both medicinal and of the faith healing variety. When her mother's declining health led to her abdication, Juliana ascended the throne at age 39. She continued her mother's tradition of riding around the country on bicycle and adopted a rather casual approach to interacting with her subjects. Her reign saw the decolonization of most of the Dutch overseas territories abroad and by some serious controversies at home. When a devastating storm caused massive flooding in 1953 killing thousands, Juliana threw on her boots and marched into the flood waters to personally help rescue people who were trapped. The affection she earned helped her get through major controversies that arose when it was discovered that she had moved a faith healer into the palace who might be exercising too much influence, when she cut off her second daughter for secretly marrying a Roman Catholic with a Carlist claim to the Spanish throne, and when it was revealed that her husband had accepted $1.1 million bribe. Bernhard had to resign from most of his activities but Juliana recovered and continued a reign until abdicating on her 71st birthday in 1980. She lived another 24 years, suffering from Alzheimer's disease during the last half of that time. Her husband died eight months after her.

By Emil Ketelaar/FrozenImage
via Wikimedia Commons
Beatrix of the Netherlands, 2013
Young Beatrix spent most of her early childhood in Canada, separated from her father and her country due to the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands during World War II. She returned to her homeland at age seven. She not only attended university, but completed a law degree. Her decision to marry a German, Claus von Amsberg, who worked in the German embassy and who had been a member of the Hitler youth and the German military drew huge protests, even on her actual wedding day, when a street battle between protesters and the police erupted. After her mother's abdication, Beatrix faced violent protests again on her investiture day from people wishing to demonstrate about poor housing conditions. Nevertheless, she persisted in the informal and friendly style established by her mother and grandmother and both she and Claus gained popular support and affection. The couple had three sons and eventually eight grandchildren. Claus passed away after a long illness in 2002, leaving Beatrix to soldier on alone. She faced one more violent moment in 2009 when a lone assailant crashed his car into a royal procession. Although none of her family were injured, several people died and the queen was deeply shaken. She faced further tragedy when her second son, Prince Friso, was buried in an avalanche. By the time he was rescued, he had suffered an extended period of oxygen deprivation and remained in a vegetative state. Beatrix decided to abdicate on the 33rd anniversary of her accession, having become at age 75, the oldest reigning queen in Dutch history. She was able to spend more time with Friso, who had reached a minimally conscious state, before his death later that year. Beatrix reverted to the title Princess and still carries out royal duties but not at the level or with the frequency she did while Queen. She spends as much time as she can with her family. (Read my post about the three Dutch queens End of the Queen Streak.)