02 March 2017

If The Queen Had Not Been Born

Today, as I was looking at photos of the King of Sweden's sisters, I thought about the fact that he was the last born child in his family and the only son. This is also true of the current King of Spain and the current King of Norway. For until recently, the royal succession rules were based either on male-preference or did not allow female succession at all. So, if those royal parents had not had one more child (who just happened to be a boy), who would be reigning today in these countries? And, while we are imagining that these three kings were never born, we might as well imagine our other monarchs unborn, too. If none of today's currently reigning kings and queens had been born, who would be wearing the crowns?

By Stefano Chiolo via Wikimedia Commons
If her older brother King Philippe had never been born, Princess Astrid would have become the reigning monarch when their father King Albert II abdicated in 2013. Interestingly, she would have succeeded ahead of her younger brother Prince Laurent because Belgium had changed the laws banning female rulers in 1991 and thereafter allowed birth order without regard to gender to guide it. Astrid has been a busy princess supporting first her uncle King Baudouin, then her father and now her brother. She married Archduke Lorenz, the head of the Austria-Este branch of the (formerly imperial) Hapsburg family. His paternal grandfather was the last Austrian Emperor Charles, who has now been beatified by the Catholic Church. Astrid and Lorenz have five children: Amedeo, Maria Laura, Joachim, Luisa and Laetitia, all of whom bear the rank of princes of Belgium as well as archdukes of Austria. Therefore they are styled as both Royal and Imperial Highnesses. Amedeo married in 2014 and is now the father of a baby girl named Anna Astrid after her two grandmothers.

By Frankie Fouganthin
via Wikimedia Commons
Had Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, who had no brothers, not been born, the throne would now belong to her sister Princess Benedikte. Their other sister, Anne Marie, married the King of Greece, who would later lose his throne. Benedikte was born in Denmark while the country was occupied by the Nazis. She was nine years old when the law was changed to allow women to accede. She married a noble German, the head of the Princely house of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. However, she failed to raise their three childen (Gustav, Alexandra and Nathalie) in Denmark so they were never in the line of succession to throne. If she had been the heiress, I'm sure they would have lived in Denmark and Gustav would now be the Crown Prince. But, due to the succession laws of his father's house barring him from making an "unequal marriage," Gustav has never married his longtime partner, Carina Axelsson, and has fathered no children. Benedikte does have grandchildren from her daughters, who each have a son and a daughter.

By Marcel Oosterqijk
via Wikimedia Commons
The Netherlands
The story in The Netherlands is rather sad to contemplate, for is today's King Willem Alexander had never been born, his brother Prince Johan Friso would have been the heir. Unfortunately, Friso suffered severe trauma in an avalanche while skiing in 2012. The accident left him comatose until his death 18 months later. He left behind his wife Princess Mabel and two daughters, Countess Luana and Countess Zaria. Luana, now 11, might have taken his place in the line of succession, but it's unlikely her grandmother Queen Beatrix would have abdicated in 2013 while Friso was still comatose or even after that due to Luana's tender age. On the other hand, Friso might not have been the heir after all because he actually gave up his royal rights in 2003 when he married Princess Mabel without seeking parliamentary permission. It's unclear whether, as heir, he would have sought it or if parliament would have granted it. If he had still surrendered his rights, the king today would be Beatrix's youngest son, Prince Constantijn, who has two daughters and a son. His oldest child, Countess Eloise, age 14, would be the heir now.

By Rose Brasil?ABR
via Wikimedia Commons
Norway's King Harald had two older sisters. Had he not been born, the eldest, Princess Ragnhild would have succeeded when their father, King Olav, died in 1991 and she would have been followed by her firstborn child Haakon when she passed in 2012. She was the first Norwegian royal to marry a commoner when she wed wealthy merchant Erling Lorentzen and accordingly was no longer considered a member of the royal family. The Lorentzens moved to Brazil after their son's birth, where they raised him and their two daughters, Ingeborg and Ragnhild. Had she had no brother, it is unlikely she would have married Erling unless the king and the government would have agreed to change the rules for her. Had love prevailed and she had surrendered the throne to move to Brazil, it is unclear what would have happened since her only other sibling, Princess Astrid, also married a commoner (and a divorced one! the scandal!) King Olav, born during the reign of his great-grandmother Queen Victoria, was a stickler for royal rules. He only allowed his true heir Harald to marry a commoner after the couple waited years and years for permission. He might have eventually relented for one of his daughters, too. Otherwise, there would be no crown in Norway today.

By Gregory Zeier
via Wikimedia Commons
In Spain, King Felipe has two older sisters. You have likely heard of the younger one, Infanta Cristina, who recently escaped a prison conviction although her husband was convicted of fraud and embezzlement. The oldest child of the former King Juan Carlos, however, has led a life with less notoriety. It is Infanta Elena who would have succeeded him upon his abdication in 2014. Elena married a Spanish aristocrat, Don Jaime de Marichalar, in 1995 but the couple divorced in 2010. At the time, it was the stuff of newspaper fodder although the couple publicly behaved well before, during and after their divorce. Unlike in British royal divorces, the papers were not full of photos and interviews about royal love affairs. The marriage is thought to have fallen apart after he suffered a brain hemorrhage with a difficult recovery that may have resulted in depression. Since then, Elena has led a quiet life increasingly removed from the public eye. She maintains her lifelong interest in horses and sport. She is not thought to be fond of her sister-in-law Queen Letizia and the two are rarely seen together. From her marriage, Elena has two children, 18-year-old Felipe, who would now be the heir, and 16-year-old Victoria Federica.

Prince Gustaf Adolf's family shortly before his death.
By Atelje Jaeger via Wikimedia Commons
King Carl XVI Gustaf was just nine months old when his father, Prince Gustaf Adolf was killed in a plane crash. He left behind a 39-year-old wife, four daughters and the baby prince. Had Carl not been born the year before, his eldest daughter the then-12-year-old Princess Margaretha would have taken his place in the line of succession, except women weren't allowed to accede. The law was not changed until the current king's reign so it's hard to know whether it would have been changed in Sweden (as it was in Denmark when the King had only daughters). If the rule had stayed in place, another dynastic rule would have complicated the succession: royals could only stay royal if they married other royals. Five Swedish princes in the previous two generations chose to marry for love and give up their royal privileges and responsibilities. At the time of Prince Gustav Adolf's death, two of his brothers has already surrendered their rights to marry "below" them. His other brother Prince Bertil had not married his Welsh lady so that someone would still be eligible to be heir. (The couple finally married in 1976 after Carl XVI Gustaf changed the rules so that he could marry a commoner himself, the current Queen Silvia.) So, with all of these old-fashioned rules barring the daughters, who also all married commoners, and their uncles, Prince Bertil would have become King in 1973, but he had no children. The next male would have been his cousin Prince Lennart Bernadotte, but he also married a commoner. With common spouses and females banned, there would have been no king in Sweden since Bertil's death in 1997.

David 2nd Earl of Snowdon
By Jon via Wikimedia Commons
The United Kingdom
Fans of the Netflix series The Crown know that Queen Elizabeth II only had one sibling, the glamorous Princess Margaret, whose sad love story helped drive the first season of that show. As a young adult, Margaret had longed to marry a divorced man, Peter Townsend, who had worked for her parents. After the love affair was eventually thwarted (which took years), she became the world's most famous party girl enjoying all that London had to offer in the 1950s before falling in love with a Bohemian photographer named Anthony Armstrong-Jones. (Had she been the heir, she might have been strongly encouraged to find a more appropriate royal spouse than either of these gentlemen.) Anthony, who passed away just last month, was created the Earl of Snowdon and the couple had two children, David and Sarah, before their spectacularly controversial divorce in 1978. Nevertheless, had Elizabeth never been born, 21-year-old Margaret would have become Queen on her father's death and if she had made the same matrimonial choices, her son David, formerly Viscount Linley and now Earl of Snowdon, would today be the King of the UK. His wife Serena is an earl's daughter. His heir would be their 17-year-old son Charles. Their other child, Lady Margarita is well-known for having been a bridesmaid when Prince William married Kate Middleton. In this alternate timeline, it is 14-year-old Margarita who would be a media darling instead of the Duchess of Cambridge today.


  1. About Elena and this: "She is not thought to be fond of her sister-in-law Queen Letizia and the two are rarely seen together". That was only invention of the press who really like be cruel with Queen Letizia because this give them a lot of money, there are not proofs of that. We don't know how is Letizia's and Elena's relation because they are very private and Zarzuela Palace is too a very private place, the home of Felipe and Letizia is very close to the palace itself, so who knows?, some years ago the press even said the guilty of strained relation between King Felipe and Cristina was Letizia, the truth is that it was Felipe the one who took distance from his sister and his brother-in-law when the Noos Case comes out to the light.

    BTW, you have a really interesting blog and are doing and excellent work with it.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and your clarification. It is truly impossible to know the state of relationships within any of the families, which is why I prefer to hedge my comments writing, "she is thought to" or "some speculate this" rather than making definitive statements as you may see on other blogs or, even worse, in printed periodicals. Since their accession, Felipe and Letizia have rarely been seen with any of the family except Queen Sofia, and occasionally Juan Carlos. Since the Noos judgement, it seems like Elena has been a lot more visible; at least from this side of the Atlantic. Thank you for reading!!