15 September 2011

Always a Monarch, Never a Mother

The recent unwarranted and extremely premature speculation about the fertility of the newly married Duke and Duchess of Cambridge--by the way, unless you are Henry VIII, you should know fertility is a two-person tango--has prompted some to ask what happens to the throne if they have no children. The answer is that it would pass from a future King Willam to a future King Harry and then to Harry's legal heirs.

In truth, many monarchs have not had children or have had their children predecease them. Since our focus here is royal ladies, I thought we would take a look at "childless" reigning queens and empresses. They may just outnumber the ones with children. For instance, in England, there have been six Queens regnant (seven if you count Lady Jane Grey), but only Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II have produced their own heirs. Both Mary I and Mary II* were succeeded by their sisters who were each succeeded by distant cousins.

Centuries before, the English and Scottish thrones were united, there was a time when a little girl named Margaret of Norway was set to become Queen of Scotland following the death of her maternal grandfather, but her succession was contested. When she died at age seven on the voyage to Scotland, clearly without children of her own, the little kingdom was embroiled in a succession war. Had Margaret lived, King Edward I of England, who was hammering the Scots, might have married her to the Prince of Wales and united the thrones 300 years sooner. Instead, the union took place after the first Queen Elizabeth executed her cousin and presumptive heir Mary Queen of Scots for treason and left the English throne to Mary's son King James V of Scotland. As for Mary, who had inherited the Scottish throne when she was six days old, her mismanagement and personal scandals forced from the throne when James was still a baby.

In Russia, Peter the Great and his immediate heirs were not very good at keeping boys alive--often because they killed them. So, the throne bounced about somewhat haphazardly. Peter was followed on the throne by his widow, then his son, then his niece, then his niece's niece's son, then his daughter. Refusing to marry officially, his daughter Empress Elizabeth adopted her sister's son as her heir. She married him off to a minor German princess who was re-christened as Catherine, but the imperial couple had no children after nine years of marriage. So, some speculate, Elizabeth allowed/encouraged Catherine to find a new stud, which was resulted in the birth of Grand Duke Paul. After Elizabeth's death, Catherine launched a coup d'état to seize the throne for herself. She was ultimately followed by her son Paul, who may or may not have been a Romanov.

In Scandinavia, 14th century Queen Margrethe I served as regent for her only son Olaf II, but when he died at 17, she was invested with the power herself and with her husband, she united the thrones of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. She selected her great-nephew Eric of Pomerania as her heir. Later, the famously tomboyish, cross-dressing Queen Christina of Sweden refused to marry. She eventually abdicated in favor of a cousin, converted to Catholicism and moved to Italy, where she apparently had a rollicking good time. A few generations after that, Queen Ulrika Eleonora succeeded her brother to co-reign with her husband Frederick I, who continued to rule without her after his death and was followed by their son. Today, Margrethe II of Denmark has two sons and is awaiting the arrival of her eighth grandchild.

On the Iberian Peninsula, the various reigning Spanish and Portuguese queens were all dynastically successful although their male counterparts did not always manage to leave legitimate children. Perhaps one of the most interesting stories of fertile female monarchs is being told in The Netherlands, where three generations of queens have reigned in a row. In 1890, nine-year-old Wilhelmina succeeded her elderly father. She had two half-brothers who were supposed to become king instead, but they both died unmarried in their thirties. Wilhelmina passed the throne to her only child, Queen Juliana who had four children--all girls. When her oldest daughter, the current Queen Beatrix had a son in 1967, he was the first Dutch prince to be born in 116 years! He now has three children of his own--all girls!!

*Mary II co-reigned with her husband (and first cousin) William III with the understanding that if she died before him, which she did, her sister Anne would not assume the throne until his death.

11 September 2011

Princesses at Ground Zero

(L-R) Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York Bill Baroni shows Belgium's Crown Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde the plans for a revitalized Ground Zero at the World Trade Center in New York June 23, 2011. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ROYALS)
Ten years ago today, the entire world experienced a terrible tragedy. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 killed thousands of people from dozens of nationalities. For thousands, perhaps millions of people whose families were touched by the deaths that day or the recovery efforts that followed, that day is still a close, personal horror. The remembrance ceremonies, both public and private, will take place all around the world. The truly international scale of the event is indicated by the fact that the site of the main attacks, now called Ground Zero, has become a required stop for any dignitary visiting New York, including our favorite royal ladies.

One (formerly) royal lady undoubtedly has the closest connection to 9/11. Sarah Duchess of York was not only in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, but she was running late on her way to the World Trade Center to meet with the staff of her Chances for Children charity. Fortunately for that staff, they had gathered in the lobby to greet her and, therefore, were able to escape. As ABC News reported at the time, she was "desperately upset for everyone involved in this terrible tragedy," according to her spokesperson. "It is unbelievable, she was just a few minutes away when the explosion took place." Meanwhile, her ex-husband Prince Andrew was on one of the numerous of transatlantic flights that were turned back to Europe when the United States shut down its air space that morning. Andrew and Sarah together attended the memorial ceremonies five years later. Recently, recently has published a children's book online called "The Little Pear Tree" about a tree that survived the attacks.

The next closest connection was with one of our princesses who was also not a royal at the time. Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano was still a highly successful television journalist when her network sent her to cover the aftermath of the attacks live from Ground Zero. This was just one of several onsite tragic stories she covered in her career. In fact, she is reported to have met her husband, Spain's future king Prince Felipe, when he visited an oil spill disaster that she was covering. After Felipe and Letizia announced that they would marry in the spring of 2004, the national celebrations planned for their wedding were greatly reduced as a result of the terrorist attacks in Spain on March 11. As a royal fiancee, the earliest public exposure Letizia experienced was visiting the survivors and victims families of the 3/11 attacks.

 Having lived in New York before her marriage to Crown Princess Willem Alexander of The Netherlands, Crown Princess Maxima may also feel a very personal connection to the events of 9/11. She and her husband attended the memorial ceremonies at Ground Zero on the eighth anniversary of the attacks.

The King and Queen of Norway were in New York barely a year later, while the debris was still being cleared. Poor weather that day only heightened the dismal view they had of the site. They returned again in 2005 after a Norwegian architectural firm was selected to design the entrance pavilion to National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Last year, their son and daughter-in-law Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit paid a visit to inspect the construction progress of the pavilion.

During her June 2010 trip to address the United Nations in New York, Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath where the South Tower of the World Trade Center once stood. Then, she and Prince Philip traveled to Hanover Square to officially open the British Garden of Remembrance, dedicated to the 67 Brits who died that day. Five years earlier, when the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall made Ground Zero the first stop of their American tour, a tattered Union Jack that had flown that day and been found among the rebel was flown again in honor of the royal visit. The couple left behind a bouquet with a message that read, “In enduring memory of our shared grief, Charles and Camilla.”

Crown Prince Philippe and Crown Princess Mathilde of Belgium were there in June 2011. It was only the most recent of several visits to the site for Mathilde, who had been to the World Trade Center before the attacks and returned again only seven months after the devastation. During her 2002 visit, she was quoted as saying, "'there are no words to describe this now.''

While Queen Margrethe II of Denmark did not include Ground Zero as part of her two-day official visit to New York in June 2011, she will be represented by her son and daughter-in-law Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary next month when several Nordic heads of state gather to mark the 100-year anniversary of the American Scandinavian Foundation and the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

 But only one royal lady has ever been put on the spot about the aftermath on 9/11. Last year, Queen Rania of Jordan was caught in a challenging position while visiting New York to promote a United Nations program for girls. As part of her tour, she had agreed to do media interviews. At the time, a lot of American media was focused on a controversial proposition to build a 'mosque' near Ground Zero and on an irate preacher's call to burn the Qu'ran. When faced with questions about these hot-button topic, the Islamic queen responded with the rational equanimity for which the entire Jordanian royal family is known. She told Matt Lauer of Today, "I think it's very important for us to focus on the actual debate, because my fear is that the debate now is dominated by radicals on both sides who want to preach hatred and spread fear among people. Or, worse still, it's also being used by some demagogues in order -- as a cheap political tool. And what's really important for us is to see the debate being dominated by well-informed people who are reasonable, who really care about the issues at hand. We need to redraw the battle lines. It's not Muslims against Christians. It's not East against West. It's extremists on all sides against moderates of all sides. Once we can really understand that this is the landscape, then we can start to rid ourselves of the evil forces that exist."

05 September 2011

2012: The Year of the Royal Baby

Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria (R) and her husband Prince Daniel arrive to attend the religious wedding ceremony for Monaco's Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene at the Palace in Monaco July 2, 2011. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier (MONACO - Tags: ROYALS ENTERTAINMENT) (MONACO ROYAL WEDDING)
If 2011 is the Year of the Royal Wedding, then 2012 is starting to look like the Year of the Royal Baby. Great news for royal watchers everywhere!

So far in 2011, we have witnessed the Royal Wedding of the Century (so far) with the wedding of Prince William of Wales and Catherine (Kate) Middleton, now known as Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. We also saw Europe's oldest royal bachelor Prince Albert II of Monaco finally come off the market when he married his South African beauty Charlene Wittstock. Then, Prince William's cousin, Zara Phillips, decided to finally make it legal with her live-in love Mike Tindall. Most recently, the heir to the defunct German Imperial House, Prince Georg Friedrich, married his childhood chum, Princess Sophie of Isenburg. Just to name the four most prominent nuptials.

Now, it looks like we are gearing up for a season of royal babies galore. The trend really started earlier this year when Crown Princess Mary of Denmark delivered not one but two chubby little ones, with the uncommon names of Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine. In recent weeks, her sister-in-law, French-born Princess Marie of Denmark has announced that she is expecting her second child in January. A little further north Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden is expecting the next generation's heir to the throne in March. Meanwhile, Philomena Duchess of Vendome (wife of the Orleans claimant to the French throne) is awaiting her second child in January.

Each of these little ones will bring its own excitement. Will Marie have a daughter or give her husband Prince Joachim his fourth son? (He has two boys from his first marriage.) Will Victoria have a daughter and thereby set Sweden up to have two queens in a row?

Of course, a collective international breath is being held for THE announcement about impending royal children for the Cambridges. No one's abdomen is being more closely watched than Catherine. If she foregoes wine at a party, as she is said to have done at Zara's pre-wedding gala, the papers and blogs are full of speculation. The pressure of history is upon her, British heirs are usually born quickly after the wedding. But, more contemporary royal brides tend to wait a little longer before jumping into mommy mode and a few have struggled with fertility issues, as I pointed out in my blog post, Kate Middleton's First Baby.

So, my advice to you anxious baby bump watchers is to chill out. Let Kate enjoy being a newlywed. Let her relax. She'll let us know as soon as we need to know. In the meantime, there are plenty of other royal babies to enjoy!