27 December 2009

The Youngest Princesses

My last post about contemporary royal romances made me start thinking about the beautiful new princesses that have resulted from these latest marriages. (Yes, the baby princes are cute too, but this is a blog about princesses. . .) I know many of my readers are not avid royal watchers, so I thought you might like to see pics of these little darlings. For those of you who are already familiar with them, you will probably enjoy seeing them again!

Spanish Royals Attend Easter Mass in Mallorca
It's hard to choose just one photo of Infanta Leonor of Spain. I think she is the most adorable child in the world since Shirley Temple retired her tap shoes! This one of her holding her little sister Infanta Sofia's hand--and wearing matching outfits as they often do--is one of my favorites. Leonor is the oldest daughter of the Felipe and Letizia, the Prince and Princess of the Asturias. She is second in line to the throne after her father. However, under current Spanish law, which uses male-preference primogeniture to determine succession, she would be superceded if her father has any legitimate sons. (This is the same type of succession used in England--if Queen Elizabeth II had had a brother, she wouldn't be queen today.) Changes in the law have been proposed in Spain, but have not yet been adopted.

Danish Royals Attend Sydney Photo Call
In Denmark, Princess Isabella is third in line to the throne following her father, Crown Prince Frederick and her older brother Prince Christian. Denmark, like all of the Scandinavian countries, has adopted gender-blind succession laws. Isabella's name was considered an unusual choice because it is not common in Denmark, but I think it is very lovely. (By the way, take a look at her shoes in this photo--either she was is extremely active or her mom is thrifty enough to use hand-me-downs.)

Norwegian Royal Family Celebrate Norway's National Day
Princess Ingrid Alexandra is second in line in Norway after her father, Crown Prince Haakon. As his oldest child, she takes precedence over her younger full brother, Prince Sverre Magnus, because Norway's succession goes by birth order. However, the law was only changed in 1990. Before that, Norway used Salic Law, which meant women could not accede to the throne at all. Therefore, Haakon's older sister, Princess Martha Louise, was excluded until the new law was passed. Under the new succession law, Haakon, as the second child, would have been demoted. So, Parliament decided that, while Martha Louise would be included in the line of succession, the new gender-blind rules would only apply to children born after 1990. This doesn't seem to bother Martha Louise who dropped her royal status (she's just Her Highness, not Her Royal Highness) when she married in 2002. She has numerous business ventures which would not have been possible if she were heir to the throne.

Belgian Royals Pose with the Christmas Tree
Belgium has a plethora of tiny princesses, but the future queen is Princess Elisabeth (she's on the left, with her cousins, Princess Letitia Marie and Princess Louise). King Albert II has six granddaughters and six grandsons. Elisabeth is the first of Crown Prince Philippe's children and is number two behind her dad in order of succession. She has two younger brothers, Gabriel and Emmanuel, and a younger sister, Eleonore.

Prince Willem-Alexander, Princess Maxima of Netherlands - Photocall

Dutch Royal Family Annual Winter Photocall
Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, like the Queen of England, also benefited from having no brothers. She succeeded her mother, Queen Juliana, who also had no brothers, and Queen Juliana succeeded her mother, Queen Wilhemina, whose brothers had died young. In fact, when the current Crown Prince Willem Alexander was born in 1967, he was the first Dutch prince to be born in more than 100 years. Although Beatrix broke the century-long tradition by having three sons and no daughters, she has made up for it in the next generation: seven of her eight grandchildren are girls. Only three of the girls are princesses, however, as it was decided in 2001 that only the children of the Crown Prince would have royal status; the other girls are countesses. The Crown Prince's three daughters are Princess Catharina-Amalia (called Amalia), Princess Alexia (named for her dad, who is called Alexander) and Princess Ariane, in that order. The top photo shows the three princesses from youngest to oldest. The bottom photo shows Queen Beatrix wrangling her six oldest grandchildren.

All of these little girls are still too young to realize the true impact of their positions. They probably think all children are incessantly followed by photographers! However, their parents have taken measures to raise them as normally as possible. Unlike many previous royals, they were born in hospitals and they attend regular kindergartens with ordinary children. They also appear to have very devoted parents who take them on regular outings to the seaside, theme parks, and other family-oriented spots. And, like most little girls, they seem to have their daddies wrapped around their fingers!

20 December 2009

How to Become a Princess

(2018 Update) If you don’t have monarchs for parents, but you are thinking of choosing princesshood as your career path—today’s princesses have to work (and give up all privacy) for the privileges they receive—here are a few tips based on how some of this century’s royal ladies gained their tiaras. A generation ago, your family still had to live on top of a royal family for you to get inside (Fergie’s dad was a royal polo manager and Diana was literally born on a royal estate), but contemporary royal wannabes can be a little more proactive.

1. Go to high-profile international events

In 1999, Argentine-born New York investment banker Maxima Zorriegueta met the Crown Prince Willem Alexander of the Netherlands during the Seville Spring Fair in Spain. He introduced himself simply as “Alexander.” When he later told her he was a prince, she basically said, “Yeah, right.” The couple conducted a transatlantic affair while she kept her prince’s true identity secret from her folks. She did eventually tell them that the mysterious Alexander was a prince, but Maxima’s wedding was not a true fairytale: her father was encouraged not to attend because the Dutch Parliament questioned his possible ties to a former Argentine military dictator. Both of her parents stayed away from the wedding, but continued to be actively engaged in the lives of their daughter and her three blonde baby girls. Maxima and Alexander regularly make extended family visits to Argentina.

In 2000, Australian advertising agent Mary Donaldson made a fateful choice of night spot during the Sydney Olympics. When the Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark slipped in to the Slip Inn for a nip, lovely Mary slipped in to his life. (Please pardon the puns.) She and her friend reportedly were trying to determine whether the men hanging out in the bar had smooth or hairy chests when three young bucks—who just happened to be Frederick, his brother Prince Joachim and their cousin Prince Nikolaos of Greece—offered to let the ladies feel theirs. Although Frederick was smitten, Mary admits she didn’t fall instantly in love. A year later, she moved to Paris to be closer to him and a year after that to Denmark. And, one year after that, she finally walked down the aisle. (Her dad, a former math professor, moved to Denmark to be closer to his daughter. He helps look after Mary’s two little ones whenever he can.)

Incidentally, the current Queen of Sweden, German-born Silvia Sommerlath, met her prince while working as a translator during the 1972 Olympics in Munich. And, the current Queen of Spain, who was born a Greek princess, reportedly made her love connection with the future King during the 1960 Olympics in Rome (where she was on the Greek sailing team) even though they had met years previously. A warning to you cold-weather ladies: it seems to be the Summer Olympics that produce the most romantic results for young princes, although Prince Albert of Monaco was first seen publically with his current flame, Rhodesian-born swimmer Charlene Wittstock, during the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics, they had met when she competed at an international swimming event in Monaco.)

2. Have mutual friends

Prince Harry was introduced to Meghan Markle by a mutual friend in the summer of 2016. Before their blind date, Meghan famously asked, "Is he nice?" As it turns out, he was. Within a few weeks, they were camping together in Botswana. After that, they began a transcontinental romance during which they managed to stay mostly out of the public eye AND to go very few days at a stretch without seeing each other. Meghan and Harry announced their engagement in November 2017 and were married at Windsor in May 2018, at which time they were created the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

American Marie-Chantal Miller met Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece at a friend’s party in New Orleans in 1993. He grew up in exile, mostly in London, while she grew up all over the world—New York City, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Switzerland—thanks to her family’s wealth from Duty Free shops. In fact, some believe she brought more money into the marriage than he did. Married in 1995, the couple now has five children, with the oldest starting to make their way in society and the youngest still enjoying a happy childhood, as shared by their parents on Instagram. Plus, Marie-Chantal has put her experience as a mother and a retailer's daughter to good use: she has an exclusive line of children’s clothing.

In 2001, Spanish television journalist Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano met the future King of Spain, Felipe Prince of Asturias, at a dinner party hosted by mutual friends. However, their romance didn’t actually start until they met again a year later when she was covering an oil spill in northern Spain and he came to region to commiserate with the people of the area. Letizia continued her high-powered career—having reported from the frontlines of the Iraq war and covered the Sept. 11 attacks—while the two engaged in an extremely secret courtship. Perhaps as a journalist herself, she knew how to avoid other journalists and their intrusive speculation. In fact, newspapers did not begin reporting on their relationship until just days before their engagement was announced in 2003. Coincidentally, Letizia was actually born in the Asturias region, so, in a way, she became Princess of her hometown before becoming Queen in 2014. At that time, her oldest daughter became Princess of Asturias.

Norwegian waitress Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby met the Crown Prince of her homeland through mutual friends at the Quart Festival, a rock festival in her hometown of Kristiansand, in 1996. (I guess I should have attended the festival when I was in Norway in ’92; I could have found him first!) They later shared a taxi and began falling in love. Like most Scandinavian couples, Mette-Marit and Crown Prince Haakon cohabitated before their marriage but eventually tied the knot in 2001. They added two more children to the son she brought into the marriage with her.

3. Select your college carefully

Not surprisingly, university applications usually spike whenever a prince announces where he will be studying. This was certainly the case when Prince William of Wales decided to attend the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. As a fellow art history student, Catherine (Kate) Middleton soon became one of the prince’s inner circle. In their second year at St. Andrews, they and some other friends moved in to a cottage together. Speculation about their relationship grew when he was photographed watching her model a scanty outfit in a university fashion show. In the last nine years, their romance has made quite a lot of money for the tabloids. The constant pressure from the media has often strained the relationship. After a brief split in 2007, they reunited and finally married in 2011. By 2018, they had added two little princes and a princess to the British Royal Family.

4. Enlist in military service

Tessy Antony met the younger son of her country’s Grand Duke, while serving on a NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo in 2004, where she worked as a driver. This apparently helped her meet 18-year-old Prince Louis of Luxembourg when he came to visit the troops. Two years later, their first child was born and, six months after that, the couple was married. To marry his love, Louis gave up succession rights for him and his children. Also, Tessy was denied the rank of princess. Earlier this year, however, Tessy and her two little boys were finally granted royal rank, making her a Princess of Luxembourg while her sons are Princes of Nassau. Since, Tessy and Louis divorced in 2017, she has lost her royal title but she remains active with humanitarian work.

5. Don’t worry if you have a past. . .

Although Charles Prince of Wales was under extraordinary pressure to find a “pure” bride—quite a task in post-Sexual Revolution Britain—when he became engaged to the teenaged Lady Diana Spencer, today’s princes are far less particular. Mette-Marit had been linked to drug users and already had a son from another relationship when she married the Crown Prince of Norway. Mette-Marit's son, the adorable Marius, is so accepted by the royal family that he is listed as a member of the royal family on its official website alongside his royal half-siblings. Meanwhile, Letizia had already been married and divorced, when she met Felipe. Likewise, Meghan has an ex-husband in her past, too. Meghan is also not the only actress-turned-princess: Prince Carl Philip of Sweden's wife, the former Sofia Hellstrom, was an actress and glamour model, who had posed nearly nude and appeared as a reality TV contestant.

6. Don’t worry if you’re of non-European descent. . .

Hong Kong-born British citizen Alexandra Manley met Prince Joachim of Denmark when he worked for a Danish shipping company in Hong Kong. With both European and Chinese grandparents, she became the first mixed-race European princess when they married a year later in 1995. Together, they had two sons before they divorced in 2005. Alexandra had become extremely popular in Denmark thanks to her lovely personality and expansive charitable works, so her former mother-in-law, Queen Margrethe II, gave Alexandra her own title, Her Highness The Countess of Frederiksborg. Since this is a personal title, Alexandra was able to keep it when she married Martin Jørgensen in 2007, although she was downgraded from “highness” to “excellency.” (Lady Diana Spencer lost “Her Royal Highness” upon her divorce although she was allowed the style “Princess of Wales,” as if the title were her last name. Had she remarried, she likely would have forfeited that style to take on her new husband’s name. At some future date, possibly when her son became king, she might have been given a title of her own, but this is purely speculation on my part.)

More racial diversity entered the European houses when Prince Maximilian of Liechtenstein, son of the reigning Prince Hans Adam II, married Angela Brown. Born in Panama of African descent, Angela grew up in New York where she later studied at Parsons School of Design (hello, Tim Gunn!) and became an award-winning fashion designer. The couple met when he was in New York working for Chase Capital Partners in 1997. They married in 2000; she, of course, wore a dress she designed herself.

With the arrival of Meghan Markle on the scene, these previous racially mixed ladies have been all but forgotten. To be fair, she has married into a much more famous royal family and automatically occupies a more prominent place on the world stage. However, it is inaccurate to assume that she represents a true "first." Even in the British Royal Family, she is not the first person of color: Prince Harry's cousin, Lady Davina Windsor, married a Maori man, making him the first POC in the Windsor family. In this case too, Meghan has a more public role. Even I wouldn't recognize Davina's now ex-husband, Gary Lewis, if he were standing next to me. In that sense, Meghan is undoubtedly the most visible person of color in any royal house.

For more about royal love stories, check out this great infographic from Invaluable.

15 December 2009

An Affair to Remember: Princess Margaret, Part 2 of 2

[Read Part I] It is hard to imagine today that the cause for alarm was that Townsend was divorced, but at that time, there had not been a divorce in the English royal family in more than 400 years and the Church of England, of which the queen was the supreme leader, did not condone divorce. Divorced people were not accepted at court. Even more disturbingly for the Queen Mother, for Queen Elizabeth II, for senior courtiers and for the government, the issue of divorce had been at the center of the abdication crisis less than 20 years earlier. One of the key reasons Edward VIII had abdicated was because he wished to marry a woman who had been twice divorced. His position as head of the Church of England and as the moral symbol of the British Empire was untenable. Since he had never particularly wanted to be king, he chose the woman over the crown. His decision was irresponsible in the eyes of the royal family, thrusting his less confident brother, George VI, onto the throne and forcing his young nieces into a permanent spotlight. The Queen Mother, particularly despised him, believing that the stress of kingship (rather than heavy smoking and a lifetime of poor health) had led to her husband’s early death.

Margaret’s desire to marry Townsend reawakened all of those ill feelings. The royal household managed to keep the romance quiet for a bit. There were rumors but the press did not break the story until the princess behaved indiscreetly while awaiting her carriage following the queen’s coronation—she was seen brushing fluff off Townsend’s uniform and a media firestorm ensued. The Royal Air Force sent Townsend out of the country to a two-year posting in Belgium. On the advice of the government, Margaret and Townsend were asked not to see each other for at least one year and to wait another year after that before deciding to marry.

As a princess, Margaret was subject to the Royal Marriages Act which requires royals under the age of 25 to receive the monarch’s permission to marry. After that, they need only Parliament’s approval. By the end of the two-year waiting period, Margaret would have reached 25 and Elizabeth would no longer be in the awkward position of denying permission, which she surely would have done despite her love for her sister. All of the royal family was sincerely religious and the queen was—and is—a stickler for duty. As head of the church, she would not have ignored the church’s tenets about divorce. Nevertheless, everyone seemed to believe that Margaret would be able to marry Townsend if she just waited.

But many church leaders, government leaders and senior courtiers were working against the couple. As the crisis grew, the Queen Mother apparently withdrew more and more from her daughter and Queen Elizabeth seemed to be “ostriching”, as one biographer put it, burying her head and hoping things would end well.

Margaret and Townsend wrote a steady stream of love letters and spoke frequently on the phone, each believing they would be married once she was 25. As the date approached, Prime Minister Anthony Eden (himself divorced and remarried) threatened that the proposed marriage would require Margaret to surrender her right to the throne (she was number three at the time), forfeit her income from the Civil List, give up her title and royal status, marry outside of the church and live abroad for several years at least. Most, if not all of this, was untrue. Nothing in British law would require her to forfeit her income, status or right of succession. However, she could not have married in the Church of England and they probably would have been asked to live abroad until things were calmer. Neither Margaret nor Townsend seems to have been aware of their true legal status. For her part at least, Margaret was in constant communication with church leaders, corresponding and meeting with bishops as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury on the matter.

Public opinion was divided with many taking the side of “true love” and others supporting Margaret’s duty to uphold certain values. As her birthday approached, things reached a boiling point. Unwilling to deliver the coup de grace, the queen avoided Margaret as much as possible but allowed her to meet Townsend at the homes of friends and relatives as long as they were not photographed together. For three heady weeks in October 1955, they dined and talked amidst growing pressure. The press hounded them, hiring helicopters to fly over the houses where they were staying.

Then, quite suddenly, the crisis was over. Both had reached a breaking point: Margaret and Townsend called it off. It is difficult to know whether the extreme emotional distress, the princess's potential loss of royal status and income, or their strong Anglican faith was the determining factor. Very recent evidence has even suggested that Margaret had been falling out of love by the end--in his memoirs, Townsend said their love had been as strong as ever. Together, they drafted a statement explaining that “mindful of the Church’s teachings” she had decided not to marry Townsend. They saw each other a few more times, reportedly parting in tears, during the next few years until Townsend married someone else in 1959.

The crisis may have been over, but the story of their love haunted Margaret’s public image all of her life and was one of the top items in her obituaries when she died in 2002. The greatest irony was that, in 1978, Princess Margaret became the first royal highness to divorce, setting a precedent for three of the queen’s four children. Two of them have even remarried—Prince Charles to a divorced woman and Princess Anne to a former equerry.

The crisis was more than a romantic tragedy; it was a foreshadowing of things to come. The royal family’s tendency to avoid difficult topics and to misinterpret public feeling would negatively impact them again and again, from the marital foibles of Charles and Diana to the scandalous shenanigans of Sarah Duchess of York to, most seriously, the family’s response to Diana’s death, which has been captured so well in the Oscar-winning film, “The Queen.” After 50 years of ignoring problems or trying to sweep them under the carpet, the royal family was deeply shaken by the public’s reaction to their reaction to Diana’s death. As with the Margaret-Townsend affair, they saw it as a private matter. Today, at last, they’ve come to realize that, for them, private matters are public matters. Partially in response to this, they are making the royal family smaller by giving fewer people titles, official duties and income from public sources. And, they have actual public relations professionals working for them, instead of relying on crusty old courtiers to advise them in these matters.

Inevitably, another royal scandal will one day present itself. We shall see if the lesson of Margaret and Townsend has indeed been learned.

07 December 2009

An Affair to Remember: Princess Margaret, Part 1 of 2

When the beautiful, young princess fell in love with her father’s servant, her lover was banished from the kingdom. “If you marry him, you will be disinherited, disowned and dishonored!”

The age-old fairy tale was an all-too-true reality in 1950s England. The tragic heroine was the lovely Princess Margaret and the inadvertent villain was her sister, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II. Locked in a struggle between love, the traditions of their family and class, and the role of the royal family, the relationship between these sisters was nearly destroyed as one was forced to deny the other’s happiness.

Princess Margaret was 13 when she first met Royal Air Force Group Captain Peter Townsend in 1944. A decorated war pilot, Townsend had been sent on a six-month assignment as equerry to the King George VI, Margaret’s father. Margaret and her 17-year-old sister, Elizabeth, were both entranced by his good looks and heroic past. “Too bad, he’s married,” Elizabeth said of the 29-year-old.

Townsend quickly became a favorite of the entire royal family. The king truly admired him: “I wish I had had a boy like him.” His temporary appointment was made permanent and he was on call 24 hours a day as the king’s personal assistant, wherever the king happened to be. This put quite a strain on Townsend’s already troubled marriage.

Separated most of the time from his wife and children, Townsend was indispensable to the royal family, playing cards with the queen, riding bicycles with the princesses and stalking with the king. He accompanied the king and family on official duties.

The young princesses had lived a fairly secluded childhood, especially during World War II. They were devoted to each other and their parents adored them. “We four,” the king called his family. Elizabeth was reserved and somewhat serious, but Margaret was gregarious and charming. The king said, “Elizabeth is my pride and Margaret is my joy.” Both girls were aware of their status as princesses, but Margaret was the one who was more likely to bristle if proper protocols weren’t followed. When someone asked her how her father was, she replied, “Do you mean His Majesty the King?”

Margaret grew into a lively beauty with a talent both for music and mimicry. Many proclaimed that if she had not been a princess that she might have been a highly successful actress. I believe she could have given her contemporaries Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly stiff competition for the best parts and for space in the movie magazines. Indeed, although she hated the press, as she grew up, the press became obsessed with her. They reported on her every move, every party, every outfit, every person she was seen with. There was constant speculation about whom she would marry.

Little did anyone know that Margaret already had someone in mind.

Soon after the war, the cozy family life of “We four” began to change. First, Elizabeth married and moved into her own household leaving 17-year-old Margaret without her constant companionship. Then, the king’s health began a rapid decline. Margaret turned more and more to her father’s charming equerry for company. Without a doubt, the star-struck youngster had a crush on Townsend from the moment they met. Over the years of her adolescence, she grew increasingly enamored. Trapped in a miserable marriage with an unfaithful wife, Townsend was delighted by the special attention he received from the princess. He began confiding in her, forgetting their age difference and the difference in their stations. At some point, the teenage princess and this man twice her age declared their love to each other.

As the king developed lung cancer and arteriosclerosis, Townsend became even more important to the family and the family became less and less aware of the growing relationship between him and the princess. Distracted by the king’s death and her own sudden ascension to the throne, the new queen was completely surprised when her sister revealed her feelings and requested permission to marry the recently divorced Townsend. Elizabeth was initially supportive and even invited the couple to dine with her and her husband that evening, but she knew it would not be easy. To avoid scandal, she had Townsend transferred to her staff instead of heading her mother’s household (where he had intimate daily access to the princess).

Their mother, now Queen Mother, was less surprised by the news—she had been warned of the situation by another courtier but had refused to believe it. Now, she chose to ignore it. The family asked Margaret to wait awhile before making any decisions, perhaps hoping that the romance would run its course. . . [Read Part II]

29 November 2009

Royal Escape Artist: Empress Matilda

With each creeping step, she could feel the ice unsteady beneath her feet. Trumpets blasted on every side—the soldiers were bearing down but at least the noise covered the sound of her ragged breathing. Matilda pulled the heavy white hood over her face. Draped in white from head to toe, she was nearly invisible in the dark, snowy December night. A few more feet and she would be across the frozen river on her way to safety.

When Henry I’s only legitimate daughter left England at age eight, she probably never imagined that she would one day be sneaking out of Oxford. Sent as a child bride of the German emperor, Matilda might never have returned, but two tragedies intervened: her husband widowed her and her only legitimate brother was killed in the accidental sinking of the White Ship. Henry recalled the beautiful Empress Matilda, now in her twenties, to England, and made the English and Norman lords swear allegiance to her as his heir.

If it had been the 17th century, Matilda would have enjoyed a peaceful reign as the only contender for the throne. In the 12th century, however, hereditary right only counted if you enforce it. Matilda’s claim had some weaknesses. First, the English did not like the idea of a woman ruler. Second, her second husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, was hated by the English who feared he would become king. (Empress Matilda despised him too—she resented being forced to marry the son of a mere count.) Third, Matilda was in France in December 1135 when her father died and she failed to immediately set out for England.

It was an opportunity that her cousin Stephen, younger son of her father’s sister, seized with alacrity. Stephen raced from Boulogne and braved the winter weather to cross the English Channel. Initially rebuffed by Matilda’s illegitimate half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, he eventually made his way to London with the support of the powerful Archbishop of Canterbury who crowned him on Dec. 26. Stephen’s brother, the Bishop Henry of Winchester, had control of the royal treasury and willingly gave Stephen access to it. The barons, some encouraged by bribes, swore fealty to Stephen.

Matilda’s closest supporters were not ready to surrender her right. Her maternal uncle, the King of Scotland, took advantage of the situation to invade England from the north. From his county of Anjou, her husband attacked the neighboring Normandy to assert her claim there. For almost four years, Matilda worked to raise an invasion force. Finally, in September 1139 she and her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, made their move against Stephen, whose initial popularity had worn thin through his poor judgment, even his brother, Bishop Henry, had decamped.

Robert and Matilda landed at Arundel which was controlled by Matilda’s stepmother, Dowager Queen Adeliza. While Stephen’s men surrounded Arundel Castle, Robert slipped away with assistance from Bishop Henry and returned to his own territory in Gloucestershire. Stephen found himself in the uncomfortable position of laying siege to two women. Thinking that Matilda had little support, Stephen allowed his brother to convince him to let her leave. Bishop Henry then escorted her directly to Gloucestershire. This was her first “escape” in what would be many tedious years of civil war.

Robert and Matilda solidified their position and captured Stephen. By spring, Matilda was preparing for a summer coronation in London. But, the Londoners, fed up by her tax demands, forced her to escape from the city on the eve of her crowning. In the mean time, Stephen’s wife, the popular Queen Matilda, raised an army and began fighting the increasingly unpopular Empress Matilda. Queen Matilda captured Robert. Now, each Matilda held a valuable prisoner. The Empress had no choice but to make an exchange.

Having lost the support of Bishop Henry, Empress Matilda besieged him at Wolvesey in September, but the “King’s Queen” blockaded her. The Empress’s starving forces fought their way out and Matilda fled from place to place, eventually arriving at Devizes. Relentlessly pursued by the Queen, the Empress was desperate to return to her brother’s stronghold at Gloucester. She affected her escape by having herself tied to a funeral bier. Thus, disguised as a corpse, she was carried unnoticed into Gloucester.

Stephen re-established himself in London and was re-crowned. Robert and the Empress appealed to her husband to bring reinforcements from the continent, but Geoffrey was more interested in his increasingly successful efforts to wrest Normandy from Stephen’s control. Without this critical infusion, Matilda continued to struggle.

By the next December, Stephen once again had her under siege, this time at Oxford Castle, with no intention of repeating his Arundel mistake. Refusing to surrender or be captured, Matilda then made her most dramatic escape, draped in white and creeping across a frozen river.

For several more years, Stephen and Matilda battled inconclusively until Robert’s death in 1147 effectively lost her cause. Matilda went to Normandy to co-rule there with her husband while her teenaged son Henry pursued her English claim although he also lacked sufficient strength to overpower Stephen. In 1153, the period called “The Anarchy," ended with the unexpected death of Stephen’s beloved son and heir, Eustace. Lacking the will to fight, the King named Henry as his heir.

Content to allow her son to usurp her claim, Matilda returned to England when Henry peacefully succeeded Stephen a year later.

08 November 2009

Killing Queens: A Bloody Tudor Heritage

The former queen nodded to the executioner. She turned and faced the crowd that had gathered. Then, she knelt. As a final prayer escaped her, the sharp edge of Tudor vengeance sliced through her neck.

Throughout history, a few kings and queens have met their ends on the executioner’s block, but this manner of death reached epidemic proportions during the Tudor period. Everyone knows of Henry VIII's reputation for killing his queens—to be fair, he only executed two of his wives—but fewer people are aware that each of his daughters also killed a former queen. In their cases, however, they were killing their own potential heirs.

Henry’s marital mayhem stemmed from his overweening desire to have a male heir to succeed him. He ultimately got one from the third of his six wives, but at the time of his death, the male succession was far from certain. When Henry died, there were only 12 living descendants of the Tudors—only two of them were males: the nine-year-old King Edward VI and the infant Lord Darnley. Six of the remaining 10 were under the age of 13 and, with the low survival rate of young children, any of these youngsters were at risk for an early grave.

With such odds stacked against the survival of the dynasty, it is perhaps surprising that Henry specifically barred three of the dynasts from the line of succession in his final will, skipping over the descendants of his older sister Margaret, who had married the King of Scotland firstly and, after his death, married the Scottish Earl of Angus. Instead, he selected first his children and then the children and grandchildren of his younger sister Mary, who had been married to (and quickly widowed by) the King of France before marrying the Duke of Suffolk.

According to Henry’s will, the line of succession was:

1. Prince Edward, 9, his son by his third wife
2. Princess Mary, 30, his daughter by his first wife
3. Princess Elizabeth, 13, his daughter by his second wife
4. Lady Frances Marchioness of Dorset, 31, oldest daughter of his sister Mary
5. Lady Jane Grey, 9, daughter of Frances
6. Lady Catherine Grey, 6, daughter of Frances
7. Lady Mary Grey, 1, daughter of Frances
8. Lady Eleanor Countess of Cumberland, 27, youngest daughter of his sister Mary
9. Lady Margaret Clifford, 6, daughter of Eleanor

Those that he barred were Margaret Tudor’s granddaughter Mary (four-year-old reigning Queen of Scotland), Margaret’s daughter the Countess of Lennox (31) and the countess’s infant son, Lord Darnley, mentioned above.

Many of these people met untimely ends, including King Edward, who reigned for only six years. Before his death, in addition to excluding the Scottish line of the family, he also removed his half-sisters from the list. His cousin, Lady Frances then renounced her rights in favor of her eldest daughter, the now 16-year-old Lady Jane, who was coerced into ascending the throne by her ambitious parents and father-in-law. Popular opinion, however, was against her. The English rose up in favor of Princess Mary. Jane was queen for only nine days.

Mary wished to be lenient with the teenager. Jane was initially spared execution. But, six months later, a rebellion was sparked by Mary’s engagement to the King of Spain. The object of the rebel leaders, who included Jane’s father, was to restore Jane to the throne. The situation left Mary no options. In February, Jane was beheaded. She was the third queen to be executed by a Tudor.

Ultimately, Mary had waited too long to try to start a family and she was peacefully succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth, who, having witnessed the tumult of her father’s married life as a young child, opted never to marry. Her permanent spinsterhood left the succession to the throne uncertain for more than 40 years. The descendants of Mary Tudor remained the most likely candidates over the Scottish descendants of Margaret Tudor, but nearly every potential heir was subject to the whims of the Virgin Queen. And, one thing the Virgin Queen really did not like was for members of her court, much less her extended family, to get married without her permission. They did it any way—both of Lady Jane’s sisters, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary, were imprisoned by Elizabeth for marrying without permission. The aging Countess of Lennox was even imprisoned when each of her sons, Lord Darnley and the Earl of Lennox, married without Elizabeth’s blessing.

Lord Darnley had married his cousin Mary Queen of Scots, thus uniting two claims to the English throne in the body of their child. Darnley was Mary’s second husband; their marriage lasted less than two years before he was murdered, probably at the behest of the Earl of Bothwell, who then kidnapped, raped and married the pregnant Mary in order to control Scotland. Within months, Mary miscarried twins and was forced to abdicate in favor of her son by Darnley, the infant King James VI.

Mary escaped to England where she sought Elizabeth’s protection. Instead, Elizabeth put her on trial for Darnley’s murder and, though the trial reached no conclusion, Elizabeth imprisoned her queenly cousin. For the next 20 years, Elizabeth used Mary’s potential release as a political tool—she also used her own potential marriage in this way, offering to marry and then reneging for political gain. From prison, Mary grew increasingly careless in her own plotting to overthrow Elizabeth and take her throne. Elizabeth reluctantly signed Mary’s death warrant.

As the executioner struck the fatal blow, Mary whispered, “Sweet Jesus.” Thus, she became the fourth and final queen to lose her head to a Tudor.

01 November 2009

The Princesses & The Soldiers

Queen Mary and nurse Princess Mary
Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons
Young Princess Mary did indeed become a nurse and even worked after the war at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. During World War II, she served as commandant of the Women’s Royal Army Corps and later became air chief commandant of Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service, which is still the nursing branch of the RAF.

However, Mary was not the only royal lady to devote herself to nursing. In fact, once Florence Nightingale standardized and professionalized nursing in the 1850s, princesses and queens flocked to be of service during war time. Queen Victoria was a great admirer of Nightingale and of nurses. In 1883, she created the Royal Order of the Red Cross (like a knighthood) to honor trained nurses of exceptional competency and devotion—Nightingale was the first recipient. Initially intended only for British nurses, Victoria altered the criteria so that she could present it to her granddaughter, Crown Princess Sophie of Greece, who had worked tirelessly to nurse the wounded during the Greco-Turkish War of 1897. Sophie was the first of more than a dozen royals to receive the honor.

Sophie, encouraged by her mother, the Dowager Empress of Germany, brought English nurses to Greece to train Greek nurses. She acquired a recently constructed military school and converted it into a hospital. When she wasn’t working at the hospital, she was overseeing the final examinations of the nursing students. Her compassion was readily apparent, even extending to treating the enemy, her proud grandmother noted.

Ileana of Romania in national dress.
From US Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons
The queens and princesses of southern and eastern Europe had the most occasion to become nurses as their countries served as the front lines during the Balkan Wars and both world wars. As a child, Princess Ileana of Romania (who would later found a convent in Pennsylvania), saw her mother, Queen Marie, more often in nurse’s uniforms than in beautiful gowns. Marie was perhaps the most famous royal nurse. Considered the most beautiful royal lady of her day, she became quite a celebrity, even in the United States where she occasionally published articles.

In one of these, she graphically described her experience as a war nurse: “Bed beside bed they lie there. . .I bend over suffering faces, clasp outstretched hands, ray my fingers upon heated brows, gaze into dying eyes. . .A groping hand was stretched out toward me; I took it in mine, whispering words of comfort; bending low toward the parched lips that were murmuring something that at first I could not understand. The man had no face, no eyes; all was swathed in blood-stained cloths.”

Of course, not every princess-nurse was able to stomach the gore and tragedy of the war wounded. The two oldest daughters of Tsar Nicholas of Russia worked daily in a hospital founded by their mother, Empress Alexandra. Eventually, the sensitive Grand Duchess Olga was overwrought and had to be treated with arsenic for a “nervous disorder.” When she felt better, she returned to the hospital but assumed an administrative role while her sister Tatiana continued working in the wards. Even the youngest grand duchesses, 16-year-old Maria and 14-year-old Anastasia (yes, that Anastasia) frequented the hospital, playing games with and reading to the wounded and dying men.

Their maternal aunt, the widowed and childless Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, gave away all of her possessions, became a nun and devoted her life to nursing and orphanages. Like most of the Russian imperial family she was killed during the revolution (she was thrown into a pit and bombarded with grenades) and was later canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece,
mother of the Duke of Edinburgh,
before her nursing days
via Wikimedia Commons
Other nursing princesses also became nuns, including Princess Ileana (mentioned earlier), who started a convent in Pennsylvania after divorcing her husband, an Austrian archduke, and Princess Andrew of Greece, who had been born Princess Alice of Battenberg. Princess Andrew nursed during both World Wars. By WWII, all four of her daughters had married German princes and she was working for the Red Cross in Greece. When a helpful German general asked her if he could do anything for her, she told him “You can get your troops out of my country.” He perhaps didn’t know that her only son, Prince Philip, was fighting on the other side, in the British navy. (Philip is now the husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.)

One of the most dedicated of royal nurses, Eleonore of Reuss-Kostritz, made a career of nursing. A minor German princess, her first claim to fame was as a nurse in the Russian army during the Russo-Japanese War. Under fire several times, she was even decorated for service. She continued nursing after marrying the Tsar of Bulgaria when she was 48, taking over the hospital his mother had started as well as step-mothering his four children. The Tsar had a poor reputation internationally, but his wife, who had earned the unofficial title “The Royal Nurse,” was hailed as a selfless heroine. “My mission in life,” she said, “is to utilize my rank and wealth for the benefit of the less fortunate.”

It was a sentiment undoubtedly felt by many princesses throughout history, but the princesses of the era stretching from the Crimean War in the 1850s to World War II in the 1940s, put the concept of noblesse oblige to work amidst the most difficult of circumstances.

Like Queen Marie, each of them might have written, “I got accustomed to face every horror, to front every epidemic, to hear each cry of distress, to look into the face of Death without shuddering, and bravely to contemplate the most ghastly sights.”

28 October 2009

25 October 2009

The Teenaged Princess & The Soldier

By Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons
Deep in the trenches of Western Front, a young soldier falls beneath a torrent of German bullets. He is breathless. He thinks of home as he slumps into the dark, watery sludge of the trench. His eyes widen with realization. He breathes again. He reaches into his chest pocket and pulls out a little brass box, the silhouette of a young girl still visible despite the bullet’s dent. Replacing the treasured box, he returns to the fighting.

Spared that day, Private Mike Brabston of the Irish Guards later sustained an eye injury that landed him in the hospital. When he had recovered, he asked the hospital matron to return the little box, with his heartfelt thanks, to the young lady who had sent it to him, The Princess Mary, only daughter of King George V.

Private Brabston’s story is just one of many told by British soldiers and sailors who felt their lives had been saved by their “Princess Mary Box.” Intended to comfort and bring a bit of Christmas joy to the troops during that first holiday season of World War I, the little boxes became real treasures to their owners—it kept personal items safe and dry at sea or in the trenches, became a family heirloom, and even occasionally stopped a bullet.

Princess Mary was only 17 when the war started. Naturally shy, her isolation became complete with the declaration of war. Raised entirely at home, never having attended a school of any sort, Mary’s only friends were her brothers and her maid. But, her older brothers (the future Kings Edward VIII and George VI) were away in the military and her younger brothers were away at school. She worried desperately about all of them, particularly Bertie (later George VI)—on the first night of the war, she had a nightmare that he was killed in a naval battle. With both of her parents overwhelmingly busy, Mary had only her maid, Else Korsukawitz, to confide her fears. Then, Else was sent away. As a German national, she was given the choice of returning to Germany or entering an internment camp—she chose Germany. A heartbroken Mary was alone and had nothing to occupy her.

She decided to escape London and went to the family’s country estate at Sandringham in Norfolk. There, she could spend time with her beloved horses and she could visit with her old nanny, the beloved Lala Bill. Lala instantly recognized the princess’s depression and easily guessed the cause. Lala proposed that Mary do something useful with her time, something that would benefit the war cause.

By Simon Speed via Wikimedia Commons
Mary decided that she wanted to send a Christmas gift to all of the soldiers and sailors serving in the British imperial forces. A bit naively, she thought she could pay for it out of her own allowance. It soon became clear that this would be a major undertaking and committee was appointed in October 1914 to help the shy teenager raise ₤100,000. Mary attended every meeting and drafted a personal appeal: “I am sure that we should all be happier to feel that we had helped to send our little token of love and sympathy on Christmas morning, something that would be useful and of permanent value, and the making of which may be the means of providing employment in trades adversely affected by the war.”

By Christmas, nearly half a million little gifts had been distributed. Most included cigarettes, pipe tobacco and a lighter with a Christmas card from Mary. Nurses received chocolates and Indian soldiers received spices and candy. Some soldiers received pencils and paper. And, every gift came in a little brass box stamped with Mary’s profile and initials. She had asked to have the King’s portrait on the box, but he insisted that his favorite child use her own image. Soon, hundreds of thank you letters began pouring into Buckingham Palace. Today, Princess Mary boxes are highly collectible and can be found all over the world.

The experience transformed the shy and lonely girl into a confident young woman with purpose. Soon, Princess Mary was visiting wounded soldiers in the hospital and engaging in charitable activities—often addressing huge crowds. Within a couple of years, Mary announced that there was still more she could do. At breakfast one morning, she told her mother, “I have decided to become a nurse.”

17 October 2009

The Most Neglected Princess: Henry VIII’s Favorite Wife

After a century of fighting between the rival houses of Lancaster and York, the new King of England, Henry Tudor, desperately needed to legitimize his place on the throne he had taken by right of conquest on the battlefield. He tightened up his scanty hereditary claim (through an illegitimate line of Lancasters) by marrying Elizabeth, the daughter of the last Yorkist King. He brought peace and prosperity to England, but that wasn’t enough to solidify the new dynasty he wanted to launch—he needed some serious support abroad.

He couldn’t look to England’s traditional enemy, France, so he approached the powerful “Kings of Spain,” Ferdinand and Isabella, each of whom ruled a Spanish kingdom. After uniting their thrones through marriage, Ferdinand and Isabella launched a holy war against the Moors, reclaiming Spanish territory from the Muslims. Simultaneously, they parented a large family. Their youngest daughter, Katherine, was nearly born on the battlefield—Isabella left the saddle just long enough to give birth.

From infancy, the little Infanta was considered a great beauty. Even better, she had powerful parents and an excellent lineage. Henry thought she would be just the person to make his family a dynasty. So, at the age of three, Katherine of Aragon was engaged to Henry’s son, Arthur Prince of Wales, who was two. In addition to glory and prestige, Katherine would also bring 200,000 crowns (money, not headgear!) as her dowry.

For the next several years, negotiations moved along smoothly. There were two different proxy weddings. But something wasn’t quite right. Queen Isabella was hesitant to send Katherine to England when the agreed-upon time arrived. She just couldn’t bring herself to trust her child to Henry Tudor, who had gained a reputation for being a conniver and an opportunist. Besides, England had a bad habit of deposing its kings willy-nilly and a pretender to the throne, Perkin Warbeck, was causing trouble. Even when Warbeck’s uprising was put down, Ferdinand and Isabella were still worried. There were, after all, numerous people with far better claims to the English throne. If Henry would dispose of one of those fellows. . .

So, following the execution of Earl of Warwick, first cousin of Henry’s wife, Ferdinand and Isabella bid adios to their daughter. Katherine was greeted with tremendous pageantry. Her mother worried that Henry was spending too much money; instead of demonstrating Katherine’s welcome with riches, Isabella wrote Henry that she wanted that the “substantial part of the festival should be his love.” But, Henry, who was actually a cheapskate, wanted to demonstrate the glory of his kingship and his wealth—not a cent was spared on the pageantry.

Katherine and Arthur’s lavish wedding took place at St. Paul’s Cathedral (the last Prince and Princess of Wales to wed there until Charles and Diana) in November 1509, just weeks before Katherine’s sixteenth birthday. After the wedding, the youngsters were ceremoniously put to bed together and left to do their duty. The next morning, according to testimony nearly three decades later, Arthur bragged that he had spent the night in “the midst of Spain.”

The first half of the dowry was paid and the King decided to send the young couple to Wales where Arthur could learn to govern his territory. Aside from some minor squabbling about the final dowry payment, everything seemed fine. Then, disaster. Arthur and Katherine both came down with “sweating sickness”—after less than six months, Katherine was a widow. While her mother and mother-in-law were concerned for her health and welfare (Elizabeth sold some of her own gold plate to personally finance Katherine’s transportation back to London), Ferdinand and Henry were more concerned about the state of their political alliance. Once it was clear that Katherine was not pregnant, both fathers decided separately to propose a marriage between the 16-year-old widow and Arthur’s 11-year-old brother, Prince Henry. The wedding would take place when Henry turned 14. This agreement allowed Ferdinand to keep his military ally and Henry to keep the prestige and the money.

Just to make sure that the Catholic Church would be okay with young Henry marrying his brother’s widow, both Kings applied to the Pope for a special dispensation. One of the crucial questions was whether Arthur and Katherine had consummated their marriage. Katherine said they had not but others said that they had. Just in case, the Pope indicated that his dispensation would be applicable either way. (The Pope’s decision to grant this request would lead to the creation of the Church of England.)

Then, Queen Elizabeth died. King Henry was saddened, but not so much so that he didn’t mind asking if he could marry the luscious Katherine himself. Isabella was horrified and disgusted. Henry didn’t push it; there were lots of other rich princesses he might marry. Why not keep Katherine’s dowry and get someone else’s too?

Then, Queen Isabella died. Her oldest daughter, Juana, succeeded her as Queen and the two Spanish kingdoms were no longer a strong, united power. Over night, Katherine lost a lot of her political attraction. King Henry had Prince Henry, now 14, secretly renounce his betrothal and they started looking for brides for both father and son. Henry also cut off Katherine’s allowance.

Recovering from a protracted illness and devastated by her mother’s death, Katherine was bewildered by King Henry’s sudden neglect. She and her fiancée were no longer allowed to see each other. She became deeply depressed. She quickly ran out of money to pay her staff, to replenish her wardrobe or even to feed herself and her household. She sold jewelry to buy day-old fish. She wrote to her father, who insisted that King Henry should provide for her. Henry, however, duplicitously insisted on receiving the second half of Katherine’s dowry, even though he had no intention of honoring the betrothal between her and his second son. Ferdinand, for his part, was struggling to raise the money while simultaneously funding his huge armies. Besides, under the terms of the contract, he didn’t have to pay until Katherine and her second husband consummated the marriage. The fact that Henry Tudor was one of the richest kings in Europe did nothing to make the situation better.

For the next five years, Katherine grew increasingly desperate. Her staff remained with her but became more and more troublesome. Since she couldn’t pay them, she had a difficult time chastising them and she couldn’t fire them. Her clothes were tattered. Debt collectors were harassing her. She was frequently ill, lonely and sad—in such deep despair that she even considered suicide.

In 1509, however, King Henry started to feel guilty. Perhaps it was the fact that Ferdinand, at last, had the remaining 100,000 crowns. Perhaps it was the fact that he was on his deathbed. Just before he died, he told his son to marry Katherine.

That June, the new 17-year-old King Henry VIII enacted his own romantic fairy tale and rescued his “very beloved” damsel in distress from her years of deprivation. At 23, Katherine was a bit old for a 16th-century bride but she was still a golden-haired beauty and she was deeply in love with her young knight. Indeed, everyone who met Henry was entranced by him. Athletic, musical, highly intelligent, standing nearly 6’3, with muscular legs and a poetic heart, the clean-shaven King would take many years to transform into the bloated, tyrannical, egomaniacal man who would cruelly abandon his “beloved” Katherine before sending two other wives to the executioner and another to the divorce court. One other died before she could displease him and the sixth one managed to keep her head—barely—and outlive him.

11 October 2009

Victoria’s Secrets: 10 Things You Don’t Know About the Famous Queen

By W. & D. Downey (collectionscanada npg.org)

via Wikimedia Commons
She’s so famous they named an entire age for her. Towns, provinces, lakes, waterfalls, etc., etc. around the globe (in Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas!) were given her name. The popular conception of Victoria is that of a staid, matronly old lady who was stubborn and, perhaps, a bit of a prude. These things may all be true—in part—but the real Victoria was also lively and not quite as immune to temptations of the flesh as she might have history believe. Here are ten things you might not know about one of the most famous women in history.

1. Victoria was raised by a single mother.
Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent, died when she was only eight months old. She was raised, therefore, by her German mother, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg. She was the only child of the Duke although his Duchess had two other children, Charles and Feodora, by her first husband. The elder Victoria was only 17 when her family married her to Charles Prince of Leinengen, who was 23 years older . She became a widow for the first time at 27. When she married the Duke, 19 years her senior, she was overseeing a small German principality on behalf of her young son. After the Duke’s death, she remained in England, although she received little support from the royal family or the government. In fact, she feuded with her brother-in-law, King William IV, and grew increasingly paranoid that her daughter’s life was in danger from the royal family. It was not a pleasant environment for a lonely young girl. Queen Victoria later wrote that, in her childhood, she “did not know what a happy domestic life was.” As soon as she became queen, she made sure that her mother had no authority.

2. She became queen through multiple tragedies.
The Duke of Kent was the fourth son of King George III. All three of his elder brothers should have had many children who would have been ahead of Victoria in line to the throne. (See “The Royal Baby Race”) The eldest brother, the Prince of Wales (later George IV), hated his wife and only managed to have one child, Princess Charlotte, who died after giving birth to a stillborn son. The Duke of York also was not fond of his wife and they had no children. The Duke of Clarence (later William IV) had 10 little FitzClarences by Mrs. Jordan but his two daughters by his wife died as infants. All of these barren marriages and premature deaths left the path clear for the Duke of Kent. Then, his own premature death from pneumonia secured the throne for his infant daughter. Had he lived longer, he might have fathered sons who would have taken precedence over their older sister in the line of succession. In all, eight people had to die for her to become Queen.

3. Her name wasn’t Victoria.
When she was born, the Prince of Wales was serving as Regent for his father, “mad” King George III. The Regent wasn’t particularly excited about the Duke of Kent’s new child. Recently bereaved by the death of his only daughter and grandchild, he also did not think the Kent child had a chance of succeeding to the throne. He, therefore, was less than thrilled when the parents proposed the rather grandiose name of Georgiana Charlotte Augusta Alexandrina Victoria (after, respectively, the Regent, his dead daughter, one of his sisters, the Emperor of Russia, and the baby’s mother.) As nominal head of the family, he delayed the baby’s christening and refused to allow the proposed name. During the christening, the Archbishop of Canterbury had to ask (with rather more urgency than usual) what the baby would be called. “Alexandrina,” the Regent responded petulantly. The Duke of Kent asked whether she might have a second name, perhaps Elizabeth. The Regent finally allowed her to be named for mother, but only if Victoria came after the Emperor’s name. So, Queen Victoria was called “Drina” as a child and Alexandrina remained her official name until she herself insisted on Victoria.

4. Victoria inherited the throne in her nightie.
At barely 18 years old, Princess Victoria of Kent was awakened at about six o’clock in the morning. Knowing the news she was about to receive—her uncle King William IV’s illness had been no secret—she put on her housecoat and met alone with the Lord Chamberlain and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Despite her extremely casual attire and her tender years, the new Queen quickly asserted herself. She refused to allow her mother to accompany her, she met that day with the Prime Minister and with the Privy Council unattended by any female chaperone, in contrast to the standards of the day. Barely five-foot tall with a tiny, bell-like voice, the new Queen was rapidly establishing herself as a giant among the men of the day.

5. Victoria married her first cousin.The closest father figure in Victoria’s childhood was her maternal uncle, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who was also the widower of her tragic cousin, Charlotte, the Regent’s daughter. Leopold had a keen interest in Victoria’s advancement, seeing himself as a protector of her claims to the throne that should have gone to his own child. Even after securing another throne for himself—as the first King of the new Kingdom of Belgium—Leopold maintained a strong influence on the young Victoria. He decided that the Coburgs should try to keep the British throne in their family and advocated a marriage between his sister’s daughter, Victoria, and his brother’s son, Albert. At first, 17-year-old Victoria was not impressed with 16-year-old Albert. However, she soon changed her mind. She wrote to Albert’s father, her Uncle Ernest, that Albert, “possessed every quality” to make her “perfectly happy.” Two years later, after becoming queen, she proposed to Albert, whom she found “beautiful” and “fascinating.” The arranged marriage became a devoted love match.

6. Victoria enjoyed her sex life. . .
From the moment of her engagement, Victoria indulged in kissing Albert “again and again.” She not only relied on Albert’s advice in their public lives together, and promoted nearly any project or plan he proposed, but she also enjoyed a quite intense physical relationship him. At a time when many young married women were admonished to endure their marital duty (“close your eyes and think of England”), Victoria clearly did not have to rely on patriotism to inspire her in the bedroom. When the death of his father required Albert to return briefly to Germany without her, Victoria bemoaned her uncomfortably chaste state to their Uncle Leopold, saying the thought of being separated for even one night was “quite dreadful.” Even more bluntly, she later wrote her oldest daughter about being “clasped and held tight in the sacred Hours at Night when the world seemed only to be ourselves.” Imagine your own mother saying that!

7. But not the consequences.
Despite her chemistry with Albert, Victoria was openly unhappy to find herself pregnant again and again and again. She had hoped to have a few years alone with her handsome husband, but their first child was born barely nine months after the wedding and the second just 12 months after that. By their 17th anniversary, the couple had nine children. While Albert proved an attentive father, in many ways the opposite of the stereotypical Victorian father, Victoria was a rather demanding mother. Albert once even told that it was hard to be friends with her children if she had just been chastising them,. She did not like infants and even wrote that two of her babies were “too frightful.” She wrote that “as a rule children are a bitter disappointment.” Even as a grandmother, she could be less than affectionate; after the birth of her fourteenth grandchild, she wrote that the birth of yet another “little red lump” was “a very uninteresting thing.” She later clarified that she admired “pretty children” although she did not like to have too many around her. Early in her marriage, she had written that a large family would be “a hardship and inconvenience”—an insightful statement from the mother of nine and grandmother of 42. However, she was keenly interested in their education and in their personal lives and was almost always willing to help them out of a scrape.

8. Victoria was a single mother.
Alas, one of the reasons she was so burdened by her maternal role, or so she said, was because she had to head such a huge family entirely alone. Like her mother before her, Victoria became a single mother; Albert died of typhoid at a tragically young age. Only 42 at the time, Victoria still had seven children at a home, aged four to 18. Her eldest daughter was married and living in Germany. Her eldest son, Bertie, was in college. In fact, she blamed Bertie for Albert’s death, believing that his fatal illness had been contracted when he rushed to Cambridge to chastise Bertie for a sexual indiscretion. Although Albert had been ill for some time prior to this and had been involved in other stressful activities—including his successful intervention in the Trent Affair of the American Civil War—Victoria never forgave their eldest son. She also clung to her youngest child, Beatrice, allowing her to marry only when the prospective bridegroom agreed to live with his mother-in-law for the rest of her life.

9. She was the grandmother of Europe.
By the time Victoria died in 1901, she had 96 descendants, some of whom had predeceased her. Among her children and grandchildren were the crowned heads of England, Germany, Greece, Norway, Russia, Rumania, Spain and Sweden. All of the reigning houses in Europe are descended from her except the Monaco, the Netherlands and Belgium. As of September 1, 2009, according to the Monarchies of Europe website, there have been 1,053 descendants of Queen Victoria, including 828 who are still living. The number would be even higher except that many cousins married cousins. In fact, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip are both her great-great grandchildren. She is descended through Victoria’s oldest son and he through her second daughter.

10. We’ll never know all of her secrets.
Although Victoria was a prolific writer, (it is estimated she wrote 60 million words!) documenting her long life through thousands of letters and journal entries, we have not inherited this vast resource in tact. Victoria herself often edited earlier journals. More crucially, her youngest daughter Beatrice transcribed her journals after Victoria’s death, electing to omit or revise passages she felt unworthy of her mother’s heritage and then burning the originals. Although an earlier copy exists of Victoria’s journals prior to Albert’s death in 1861, the four decades of her widowhood have been whitewashed by her well-meaning daughter. Among the topics that may not have survived Princess Beatrice’s editorial work is the true nature of Victoria’s relationship with her Highland servant, John Brown. Speculation at the time alleged that Victoria had an improper, even sexual, relationship with him, and her sharpest critics called her “Mrs. Brown.” That unusual friendship (or more!) is the subject of the excellent film for which Judi Dench earned an Oscar nomination in the title role.

03 October 2009

When Protestant Princesses Have Catholic Daddies

James with his first wife and their daughters,
Mary and Anne, in happier times
Even in the closest of families, a second marriage can have a devastating effect. Throw the Scottish and English crowns into the mix and you have a recipe for strife, distrust and rebellion.

Such was the case when James Duke of York, heir to his brother, King Charles II, married Mary Beatrice of Modena in 1673. Just 15 years old, the Italian princess had been chosen specifically to help the Duke father legitimate, Catholic sons to inherit the English throne. Although the 40-year-old bridegroom wrote his 11-year-old daughter Mary, that he had provided a “playfellow for her,” Mary and her eight-year-old sister Anne could hardly have been enthusiastic about this new member of the family.

Having been restored to the throne following a bloody Civil War (in which Charles’ and James’ father had been beheaded), the royal family’s role in England was hardly stable—rocked as it still was by the religious turmoil between Protestants and Catholics initiated by Henry VIII more than a century earlier. The family was outwardly and officially Protestant, but well-founded rumors abounded that both the king and his brother were secret Catholics. The English were clear, however, that they did not want a Catholic king. So, the royal family presented a Protestant front. Having no legitimate heirs of his own (although much of today’s British aristocracy is descended from his many illegitimate children), Charles II wisely decided to have his brother’s daughters raised as Protestants, diligently tutored by the Bishop of London.

In time, Mary would have inherited the throne from her uncle and father and England would perhaps have found some religious and political stability. But, daddy had other plans. As quickly as possible, he made Mary Beatrice his own “playfellow” and started a second family. At first, his second wife was even less successful than his first at producing healthy children. Each one, mostly girls, died very young. By the time he became King James II in 1685, he still only had two children: Mary, now married to her Protestant cousin William of Orange, and Anne, who had an infant daughter by her Protestant husband, George of Denmark.

For the next couple of years, the second wife had no more pregnancies and it seemed that the childless Princess Mary would be queen, followed by the very fertile Princess Anne, who was conceiving at least one child a year, although only two, Princess Marie and Princess Anne Sophia, had been born alive.

Then, Anne’s luck really changed. In 1687, she gave birth to another stillborn. Just days later, her beloved George and both of her young daughters contracted small pox. Having survived the disease as a child, Anne personally nursed her family. First nine-month-old Anne Sophia and then 19-month-old Marie died. Exhausted and heartbroken, Anne stayed at George’s side. In the words of Lady Russell, “sometimes they wept, sometimes they mourned. . .then sat silent, hand in hand.”

George recovered slowly and the couple once again found that they were expecting. Then, after years of waiting, Anne’s stepmother announced that she also was pregnant—the hoped-for male heir would supplant Anne and her sister in the line of succession. Anne gave birth prematurely to a dead son in late October. Distraught as she was over the deep, personal losses she had suffered in such a short period, she was highly mistrustful of her stepmother.

Mary of Modena and young James
Like many staunch Protestants, she alleged that Mary Beatrice’s pregnancy was fake and that the king planned to foist a false heir on the nation. Anne told others that her stepmother would not allow her to touch her belly to feel the child move as, Anne falsely claimed, she had done in her earlier pregnancies. Throughout that winter and spring, Anne sent harsh letters to her sister at The Hague, accusing the queen and king of nefarious intentions. Anne herself conceived again and suffered a miscarriage in April. Pleading ill health, she convinced her father to let her go to Bath and thereby managed not to be present at the birth of her half-brother, James Francis Edward, on June 10.

She wasn’t the only one who found an excuse to stay away. Even though they were entitled to attend the queen’s delivery, scarcely any Protestant nobles and officials came. The large attendance of Catholics only helped spur the wild rumor that the new prince was actually an impostor, brought into the room in a warming pan and foisted on the nation as a threat to Protestantism.

Anne and William
Tensions rose quickly. Within a year, the king and queen and their infant son fled the country, Parliament declared that, by fleeing, the king had abdicated, and Princess Mary and her husband William were invited to be the first and only co-monarchs in British history. They named the perpetually pregnant Anne as their heir and prayed that her new pregnancy would result in the next generation of Protestant heirs to ensure stability for the land. In July 1689, Anne gave birth to a baby boy, named William in honor of the new king, and all seemed well for a while. . .

26 September 2009

The Princess of Wales' Wayward Son

Duke Of Clarence
Back in 2005, I briefly wrote for the Unofficial Royalty site. This one recounts the brief but troubling life of a prince who would have been king, Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence. Not very bright, overindulged, promiscuous--these were some of the nicer things said of him. Even today, some scholars are trying to prove that he was actually Jack the Ripper.

Click to read his wayward tale and find out how his fiancee still managed to become Queen of England without him.

Royal Wedding Fiasco

Royal Meeting
Back in 2005, I briefly wrote for the Unofficial Royalty site. This one traces the incredibly bad behavior of one royal couple. Two hundred years before Charles and Diana battled it out in the divorce court, another Prince of Wales desperately tried to get rid of his wife. They despised -- and insulted! -- each other from the moment they met. What led to this disastrous -- and technically illegal -- marriage?

Click to read about one of history's most inappropriate weddings, the nuptials of the future George IV and his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick

Europe's Most Notorious Woman

Queen Eleanor
Back in 2005, I wrote a few columns for the Unofficial Royalty site. This one celebrates the early life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. In an age when women were merely possessions and royal women were pawns, Eleanor ruled her own land, became Queen of France, went on Crusade, divorced her husband, became Queen of England, led a war against her husband, and outlived most of her many children--including Richard the Lionheart.

Click to read about how she became the most powerful woman in France, then duped her King and changed her own destiny.