30 September 2013

When Diana Played with Fire

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

A 2013 interview with photographer Jason Fraser in the Daily Mail, however, sheds some light on Diana-and-the-Media battle. None of it is really news. Like many celebrities: Diana often tipped photographers about where she was going to be, not only when she was "on duty" but when she was off as well. The photos of her with Prince William and Prince Harry at theme parks didn't just happen. Paparazzi don't wait at theme parks hoping someone significant will show up. And, it could not have surprised her to have pics in her workout clothes when she chose to use a London gym rather than palace facilities. (When they hid a camera indoors, that is another matter.)

The truth is that Diana started a fire that she couldn't put out. At first, it was innocent enough. She didn't know that people would become obsessed with her, but she did know her choice of that strapless black taffeta gown on her first night as royal fiancee would spark a thousand flashbulbs. As her public career developed and her private life disintegrated, Diana's relationship with the press grew more complicated. As she grew in confidence, she realized that having photographers trotting after her could help shine a spotlight on causes that she cared deeply about: AIDS, homelessness, and land mines, for instance.

She also discovered that the media could be useful in her increasingly public battle with her husband. It was she who sent everyone home for the day and let the ITN crews in to conduct that damning interview with Martin Bashir, during which she famously quipped that she wanted to be the "Queen of People's Hearts" and that there were three people in her marriage. (Not good at math, I think, if you add in the men with whom she admittedly had extramarital affairs.) During that same interview she said she didn't want a divorce, but it seems almost specifically designed to make sure she got one. And, it was Diana herself who recorded her deepest secrets and thoughts and smuggled them to Andrew Morton so that he could write, Diana: Her True Story, the book that started the path toward divorce.

Of course, there were plenty of instances of an angry princess waving off the media on ski slopes and outside shops and cafes. But, the Jason Fraser interview indicates that there were also times when Diana invited the media to come too close. The Daily Mail piece focuses particularly on a phone call between Diana and Fraser that is depicted in the new, widely panned biopic, Diana, starring Naomi Watts. In this call, Fraser says Diana tipped him where she would be in the Mediterranean on that last holiday and essentially invited him to take a photo of her kissing Dodi Fayed. That was the kiss seen 'round the world and it lit a firestorm that eventually led to hordes of paparazzi chasing the princess through the pre-dawn streets of Paris.

Whatever her goal was in summoning Fraser, the outcome was greater than Diana apparently anticipated even after 16 years of interacting with the media. Perhaps she had not learned from her experiences with the Morton book and the Bashir interview, or perhaps she was happy with those results. Like many affairs, perhaps she thought she could control desire by giving just one kiss, but the media never take no for an answer--that's their job.

Once you turn them on, you cannot turn them off. It is a lesson that Diana never seems to have fully learned.

12 August 2013

Young Royal Widows

With the long, slow death of Dutch Prince Johan Friso in 2013, his wife Princess Mabel became the latest in a tragic line of young royal widows. Here are the stories of a few of them.

A widowed Queen Victoria
with youngest child, Beatrice
The most famous royal widow is undoubtedly Queen Victoria. Although we tend to envision her as the ancient old lady she eventually became, she was only 42 when her beloved husband Prince Albert died from typhoid fever in 1861. The youngest of their nine children, Baby Beatrice, was barely six. (Read my post, Darling Baby, about the impact of her father's death on her life.) Victoria was, however, already a grandmother as her eldest daughter was a teen bride and mother--the first grandson, the future Kaiser Wilhelm was already two years old. Victoria's love of Albert is portrayed in the wonderful film "The Young Victoria" and the implications of her deep grief are explored in the even better film "Mrs. Brown." Victoria outlived Albert by nearly 40 years, always dressed in mourning, kept his room as it was when he died, and insisted each of their descendants be named in honor of either Albert or herself; her great-great granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth of York (now Queen Elizabeth II) was the first not to bear at least one of these names.

When Victoria's youngest son, The Prince Leopold The Duke of Albany died, his 23-year-old wife was pregnant with their second child. Princess Helena had been selected by The Queen, who had initially wished to prevent Leopold from marrying. He had inherited hemophilia, which caused Victoria to be overly protective.  He tried to escape by looking for a wife, but his mama didn't like his choices. Shortly before his death, doctors advised him to travel to the better weather of Cannes but Helena's delicate condition meant she had to stay home. When Leopold slipped and fell at his resort, doctors were unable to staunch the bleeding. His young widow became a favorite of the old Queen, who appreciated Helena's friendly spirit and extensive charity work. Helena faced another sad separation when her only son, Charles, inherited the dukedom of Prince Albert's family and was sent to Germany to reign over it at age 16. In World War I, Charles lost his British titles and, with the dissolution of the German monarchy after the war, he also lost his German ones. He later joined the Nazi Party and headed the German Red Cross. Helena's daughter, Princess Alice, married Queen Mary's brother Prince Alexander of Teck, later the Earl of Athlone, who became Viceroy of South Africa. She spent World War II in Canada, where her husband was the Governor General. She remained a beloved member of the British royal family until her death in 1982 at age 97, the oldest British blood royal. Princess Helena suffered a heart attack in 1922 and died while visiting her son in Austria.

Princess Marina, eight years
before she was widowed
When she wed King George V's youngest surviving son, The Prince George The Duke of Kent in 1934, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark was the last royal princess to marry into the British royal family. The gorgeous couple had three children: Edward, Alexandra and Michael, each of whom are active assistants to their cousin, Queen Elizabeth II today. In fact, it was probably at their wedding that Marina's cousin, Philip, first met George's niece, Elizabeth--she was an eight-year-old bridesmaid. In turn, 11-year-old Princess Alexandra was a bridesmaid and five-year-old Prince Michael was a page boy at the 1948 wedding of Philip and Elizabeth. But when little Michael was only seven weeks old, The Duke of Kent was killed in an airplane crash in Scotland while on active duty with the Royal Air Force. Marina was 35. She raised her children alone but remained active as the most glamorous British royal until her own death from a brain tumor at the age of 61. Sadly, she did not live long enough to meet all of her grandchildren.

On the continent the last tragically widowed princess is Princess Caroline of Monaco. First child of Prince Rainier and his American wife Princess Grace, Princess Caroline first married a much older playboy, Philippe Junot. Several years after that marriage was annulled and her  mother was killed in a car crash, Caroline started a romance with Italian businessman Stefano Casiraghi. The two married shortly before the first of  their three children was born. Seven years later, in 1990, Stefano's love of speedboat racing cost him his life. He was 30; Caroline was 33. In 1999, she married The Prince of Hanover and their daughter, Princess Alexandra, was born six months later. The couple is now separated and Caroline became a granny earlier this year.

Princess Mabel of Orange-Nassau joined the ranks of these royal survivors after a nine-year marriage. Because Friso did not seek parliamentary approval for their marriage, she is not an official member of the Dutch royal house, although she is close to her husband's family. After the wedding, she continued her work for international humanitarian causes. After the avalanche that left Friso with severe brain damage 18 months before his death, she has raised their two daughters on her own in London, while her husband remained comatose in a nearby hospital. Later, he was moved back to one of the royal palaces in The Netherlands. It is reported that she spent her 45th birthday at his bedside on August 11th. He died on the 12th.

28 July 2013

Belgian Highnesses 3: End of a Fairytale

The tall stranger was spotted slipping through the back door of Prince Carl's Swedish home in 1925. Nothing remarkable really. Perhaps a new butler reporting for duty. No one guessed that the handsome young man was there to marry the youngest daughter of the house.

But, this was no Downton Abbey moment. The stranger was no rabble-rousing Republican as in the popular series. Instead, he was an incognito prince--the future King Leopold III of Belgium. In yet another twist, unlike so many royal marriages of the day, this pairing was no dynastic match or politic contract, Leopold and his carefree Swedish bride, Princess Astrid, were truly in love.

Astrid was the granddaughter of both a Swedish king and a Danish king, and the niece of the Norwegian king, but she grew up with little of the splendor one might expect for such a well-connected princess. With the precarious nature of royal thrones in the post-World War I era, her mother raised her children to be prepared in case they ever needed to take care of themselves--and each of the three daughters were even required to cook for the family once a week.

With two older sisters, a younger brother and many more prominent cousins, Astrid was not really considered a star among the intertwined Scandinavian royal families. In fact, some even considered her dull--one of her greatest passions was needlework. But, she was also kind and open-hearted. When she was just 14, her oldest sister Margaretha married their cousin Prince Axel of Denmark. It was a love match so intense that Astrid's mother joked that the couple could not be left alone together in a room with furniture.

In Belgium meanwhile, the prospect of finding a suitable future queen for Prince Leopold seemed a bit uncertain. A Catholic princess was preferred, but so many of the Catholic houses had fallen, and the German houses were still seen as enemies. So, when Leopold's mother, Queen Elisabeth, started quietly touring Europe to identify potential royal brides she was not at all put off by young Astrid's Lutheran faith. Instead, she saw an ideal daughter-in-law. Imagine her delight, when the couple fell deeply in love. Like her older sister, Astrid could barely keep her hands off of her fiance. The two were even spotted holding hands together in the street. When Astrid finally arrived in Belgium to a grand, public welcome, the couple's kiss was far from the demure pecks we now see on the British royal balcony calls. With such public displays of affection, the official engagement announcement hardly needed the Queen's additional statement that it had been a love match. In fact, her new family adored Astrid so much, that they put absolutely no pressure on her to convert to Catholicism as would have been required in earlier years. Instead, Astrid came to that decision on her own, several years later.

After a honeymoon in the south of France, where the couple could cuddle and hold hands without being recognized, the 21-year-old princess and her 25-year-old groom took up primary residence in small house on a royal estate. Within a year, their first child, Princess Josephine-Charlotte, was born. Three years later, their heir, Prince Baudouin, arrived. Astrid delighted in caring for her children and wheeling them about the garden and parks herself, much to the chagrin of some old stalwarts. She even cooked for her little family herself.

Publicly, Astrid, who with her sisters has trained as a nurse (partly, again in case she needed an income in the future) threw herself into good works, particularly supporting the disadvantaged, children and women. Her fundraising efforts were always wildly successful. And, she was increasingly thought to be the ideal princess: devoted to family ("I'm just a mother," she famously said.), duty and nation.

Then, in 1934, tragedy struck. In the middle of her third pregnancy, Astrid and the nation were stunned to learn of the accidental death of her father-in-law King Albert, who had fallen to his death while mountain climbing in Switzerland. Now, Queen of the nation at just 28, Astrid was deeply saddened by his loss, but she had something else to focus on:  the safe delivery of another little prince, whom she and Leopold named Albert in his memory.

While the family slowly adjusted to the change in their lives, the country fell even more madly in love with Astrid. When she wrote an open letter, called the Queen's Appeal, to assist those struggling through the deep economic crisis of the mid1930s, donations literally flooded in.

In the late summer of 1935, Leopold and Astrid took their two oldest children back to Switzerland, to holiday near the spot where King Albert had so recently died. Always athletic and outdoorsy, the couple enjoyed the freedom and adventure of their mountain trips. In the glow of that Swiss summer, they sent Josephine-Charlotte and Baudouin back home ahead of them, opting to stay just one more day to indulge in a few romantic moments alone so rarely afforded to parents of young children.

It was a gorgeous day as the couple--not king and queen for the moment, but doting husband and wife--set out in their open car to make one last hike in their beloved mountains. Leopold took the driver's seat, with the chauffeur in the back, while Astrid filled a familiar role as navigator with map at the ready. It was this which momentarily distracted Leopold as he approached a curve. Although traveling only 30 miles per hour, the car slammed first into one tree, throwing Astrid against the tree and out of the car. As it careened into another tree, Leopold was also flung out. The car came to as stop at last in a lake with no injury to the chauffeur. Astrid, however, was dead. She had been killed instantly due to head trauma. Leopold was devastated. He ordered the car sunk to the bottom of the lake.

Astrid Chapel
The Belgians, finally having recovered from the sudden death of King Albert, could not believe that their lovely young Queen was gone so quickly. She was not yet 30 years old. A chapel was built near the site.

In many ways, Leopold never recovered. Many speculate that Astrid might have prevented many of the troubles he later faced, disastrous decision-making during World War II and a highly unpopular second marriage, which ultimately led to his abdication when his heir, Baudouin was only 20.

Josephine-Charlotte grew up to become the wife of Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg. Despite the widely held opinion that theirs was not a love match, they produced five children, and were married more than 50 years until her death from lung cancer in 2007.

King Baudouin did marry for love. His bride, the Spanish aristocrat, Dona Fabiola de Mora y Aragon, was his constant companion until his death in 1993. Queen Fabiola suffered five miscarriages, and the throne passed to Baudouin's younger brother Albert. Fabiola was deeply honored within the family and among the people of Belgium.

Belgium's new king and queen Philippe and Mathilde
Albert also married for love, the aristocratic Italian beauty, Paola Ruffo di Calabria. The couple have three children and 12 grandchildren. On July 21, 2013, King Albert II abdicated in favor of his oldest son, King Philippe, whose aristocratic wife Mathilde is the first Belgian-born Belgian Queen, and whose daughter Elisabeth is the very first female heir to the Belgian throne.

23 July 2013

Naming Prince X of Cambridge: A Scottish Surprise?

Many had hoped for a princess who might be called Diana.
With that name off the table, what should they name the prince?

THE BABY has been named Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge. Officially announced on Aug. 24.

With The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's little one now safely delivered, the world has finally learned that the long-awaited, much-heralded child is a boy. Now we can stop talking about what-if situations like a new Princess Diana or Alexandra or Victoria or Elizabeth and start to focus on what in the world they might name a boy. With George and James topping most betting lists, beloved royal commentator Victoria Arbiter cautions that Prince William may just come up with a name none of us have thought of. (See my previous post, What Will Kate Name the Baby?, for my previously thought-of selections and an explanation of general royal naming traditions.)

Since the baby is scheduled to become king one day, I think we can safely presume that the traditionally minded royal couple will choose a name that has been used by a previous monarch.
As my earlier post states, after the Norman Conquest, English kings used just six different names: William, Henry, Stephen, Richard, John and Edward. After the thrones of England and Scotland were united following the death of the first Elizabeth, three more names were added: James, Charles, and George. Before the Conquest, some favorite kings had names like Alfred, Edmund, Edgar, Canute, and Harold.

But, who says William and Kate must limit themselves to English king's names. After all, they met and fell in love in Scotland, which is also the ancestral home of the late Queen Mother. There are several very ancient or very ethnic names that are highly unlikely, but possibilities include Kenneth, Constantine, Donald, Malcolm, Duncan, Alexander, David, and Robert.

Add to that the legendary and semi-mythic King Arthur, who is often now linked to Wales, and the list of possible first names consists of more than 20 contenders. A fair number of choices for any couple, I think.

In my previous post, I originally proposed Robert or George and later added David. I am now officially removing George from my guesses, because it has become just too "popular." The fact that it has been bandied about so much in the media makes me think Prince William will avoid it. Incidentally, I don't think the other popular choice of James will be used either since it is the name of Kate's brother. So, here are my top choices and why:

Robert the Bruce
Robert: Assuming that William and Catherine have an affinity for the land where they met and knowing that Scotland has been one of William's lifelong refuges from the prying press, naming their son for Robert Bruce, who is considered by many to be the best King of Scotland, might appeal to them. Interestingly, the oldest son of the first King William (the Conqueror) was also named Robert; he inherited Normandy while his younger brother inherited England. There have been no royal Roberts since the Stuarts but there have been three kings named Robert.

David: Sticking with the Scottish idea, David is another king name used during the Bruce era. (Did I mention that my dad is named David Bruce and his father was Robert Bruce?--not the same folks, of course.) David is also the patron saint of Wales, and was the name of two native Princes of Wales--an appealing connection perhaps since this baby will likely be Price of Wales one day. David had not been used in the royal family for centuries until it was reintroduced in 1894 among the many names of the future King Edward VIII who was known as David within the family. It was also the name of the late Queen Mother's younger brother (another Scottish tie) and is the name of the Queen's only nephew, Viscount Linley, whose daughter Margarita was a bridesmaid at William and Kate's wedding. And, of course, it has prominent biblical roots as the name of one of Israel's greatest kings. There were two Scottish kings named David.

Alexander: Another Scottish choice, Alexander also has very deep historical ties that stretch back to classical Greece with Alexander the Great. Since the new baby has already conquered the hearts of the world, it might be fitting to name him for a man who was one of the earliest world conquerors. Alexander has not been used as a princely name in Britain for several generations, but it is the name of the current Earl of Ulster, son of the Queen's first cousin, HRH The Duke of Gloucester. The female form, Alexandra, was also the name of The Queen's great-grandmother, who was Queen Consort a century ago, and it is the name of The Queen's first cousin, Princess Alexandra The Hon. Lady Ogilvy, who has been very ill lately and who is also one of Prince William's godparents. There have been three kings named Alexander.

Prince Charles as a young man
Charles: Yet another one with Scottish connections. Both kings of this name (so far) sat on both the English and Scottish thrones but they were of the Scottish House of Stuart. The name had fallen so out of royal use by the mid-20th century that it was said to have been a complete surprise when the current Queen gave it to her first child. The Cambridges could choose to honor William's father (whose parenting skills have often been unfavorably--and quite unfairly--compared to Princess Diana's). The Prince of Wales is the only current royal with this name, although it has a tradition in the Spencer family and is the name of William's uncle, Earl Spencer. Since there is one more Charles in line for the throne ahead of him, the new baby would be Charles IV.

Alfred: This choice would reach back to the earliest days of English kingship. The only King Alfred is also the only English king to earn the epithet "the Great." The name was used for a son of George III who died young and for Queen Victoria's second son,The Duke of Edinburgh (now the title of William's grandfather), which gives this name a connection to Scotland, too. It is not currently used in the royal family and may seem so "old-fashioned" that most people would be genuinely surprised by it. Nevertheless, thousands of Alfreds would likely be christened in the next few years.

The 1st Duke of Wellesley
Arthur: My only suggestion for which I could think of no Scottish connections, the name is steeped in great heroic legends and would evoke British pride with a new Camelot, much the way that many have lauded the Second Elizabethan era. Queen Victoria used this name for her third son, The Duke of Connaught, who was named for the great Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and later became Prime Minister. This adds yet another nationalistic and heroic significance to the name. Among the current family, the name is used by one of the grandsons of The Queen's late sister, Princess Margaret.

Now, we just have to wait a little longer to see how well they will surprise us!!

22 July 2013

Welcome Royal Baby

For the last 32 weeks, the world has been building into a frenzy. Since it was first announced that Catherine The Duchess of Cambridge was expecting a child, there has been no end to the coverage and speculation. Actually, it started much sooner than that. In fact, before the Royal Wedding, I cautioned against getting too much royal baby anxiety too soon. (See Kate Middleton'sFirst Baby.) Her husband may have been born less than one year into his parents' marriage, but contemporary royal brides take longer. This baby is arriving more than two years after the wedding.

The last eight months have undoubtedly been filled with joy, anxiety and anticipation for the royal couple, but they have also been filled with irritation. First, the pregnancy was announced much earlier than usual because Kate had to be admitted to hospital suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe and dangerous form of morning sickness. This hyperextended the length of the public stage of the pregnancy.

Almost immediately, the intrusions started. Some criticized her for being a lazy, whiner who overreacted to sickness. Then, she was chided for going on holiday. Then, there were paparazzi snaps of the baby bump in a bikini. Then, it was that she was staying too thin. Then, she was not carrying on enough royal duties.

On the other side, Kate's supporters gushed over every moment. Where she shopping? What was she buying? What was she wearing? 

Every aspect of the pregnancy has been dissected. When and where was the baby conceived? Midwife or doctor? Hospital or home delivery? Could it be twins? Boy or girl? Was she too posh to push?

Kate and William spent last week at her family's home in Bucklebury, away from the prying eyes of London, but even there, their peace was disturbed when a rescue vehicle was called to free a dog who had caught its head in the fence. Was the emergency crew coming to take Kate to hospital? Was it her dog that had caused the brouhaha? Perhaps is was just one more soul trying to get a peak into the circus that "The Daily Show" dubbed "Her Majesty's Secret Cervix."

Unfortunately, the chatter and intrusion is unlikely to peter out after the delivery. Every detail will be discussed: length, weight, horoscope, hair color, eye color, gender, name, godparents, pram name, university plan... (Read my post on what they will name the baby.)

I suspect that when Kate and William stand in front of those cameras outside of the Lindo Wing with their little bundle of joy, they will be smiling graciously, genuinely excited to share their joy for one public moment. On the inside, however, they may secretly be wishing they could use a phrase so famously uttered by The Princess Royal many years ago and tell us all to "naff off!"

The baby, a boy, was born at 4.24pm London time and weighed 8lb 6oz, according to the announcement from Kensington Palace at 8.30pm on Monday, July 22, 2013.

20 July 2013

Belgian Highnesses II: Three Neglected Princesses

Louise (standing) and Stephanie
King Leopold II of Belgium is remembered today for the violent brutality of his personal rule over the Congo. However, his leadership of his family was also tinged with cruelty and coldness.

His three daughters grew up in an authoritarian environment defined by the unhappiness of their parents' marriage, the loss of their brother, the strictness of their father, and the rigid education of their mother. When the future Leopold II married the Austrian Archduchess Marie Henriette, he had selected her for her imperial and Roman Catholic pedigree. Still a bit of an upstart dynasty in just its second generation, the Belgians needed to bolster their continental ties to continually legitimize their place in royal Europe. Unfortunately, these political necessities left little room for finding a compatible mate for Leopold or for his children. Like so many princesses, Marie Henriette was happiest when she was riding--it was perhaps her only opportunity to experience something akin to freedom. At home, the couple was incompatible. Married as teenagers, they could have grown together but instead they grew apart.

In the first ten years of their marriage, they managed to have three children: Louise, Leopold, and Stephanie. Their son, and heir, was clearly the favorite, but all of the children were subjected to a difficult regime of hard beds, cold baths, and very limited (very formal) time with their parents. The family seemed complete, allowing the king and queen to grow further apart.

Then, tragedy struck. In January 1869, their nine-year-old son and heir contracted pneumonia and died. Not only was this a great personal tragedy, but it had national urgency. Until very recently, the Belgian succession was governed by Salic law: women could not inherit the throne. (In fact, when King Philippe ascends the throne on July 21, 2013, his daughter Elisabeth will become the first-ever female heir in Belgian history.) With little Leopold's death, the regal couple again tried to extend their family, resulting in the birth of yet another daughter, Princess Clementine in 1872.

By this time, their oldest child, Princess Louise was already 14 and at an age when 19th-century princesses seriously started thinking about mates. Even on this matter, Leopold and Marie Henriette could not agree. The Queen was insistent that Louise should marry her much older second cousin, Prince Philipp of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, whose family had settled in Hungary, which the Queen considered her native land. Attracted to a romantic life in the illustrious court of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Joseph II and his beautiful wife Empress Elisabeth, Louise pushed her father for the match. Leopold felt the prince was not illustrious enough and that he had too many ties to the hated Prussia, but he nonetheless conceded.

Louise was traumatized from the start. According to her own account, no one had explained to her the physical side of marriage. She was 15 and her eager husband was nearly 30. He was much more experienced--Louise even later alleged that he had been her mother's lover! The terrified girl ran away from the bed chamber and was later found sobbing in a greenhouse and taken to her mother. In one version of the story, the Queen tried to comfort her and explain her duties, but Louise's version characterizes her mother as shreiking at her. As for the bridegroom, Louise said he tried to ease their future lovemaking by plying her with alcohol and showing her dirty pictures.

Louise did not warm up to Philipp much, but she absolutely delighted in her life in Vienna. She became one of the most glamorous and scandal-ridden women of the court. She learned to love amorous activities and was rarely, if ever, discreet when she embarked on an affair. Her husband was no less faithful. Following the birth of one son and one daughter, they grew more and more separate. Between her busy social schedule and extramarital activities was not a very attentive mother. She was also a sharp-tongued gossip, who enjoyed slandering others.

After just a few years in Vienna, however, she had garnered enough status that she was able to bring her little sister Stephanie to the attention of the imperial family, which was in need of a bride for its devastatingly handsome heir, the romantic and moody dreamer, Crown Prince Rudolph. Stephanie was no less eager than Louise to escape her homelife in Belgium for the cosmopolitan life in Vienna.

The couple married in 1881, and Rudolph, who had already rejected nearly every other Catholic princess in Europe, initially found Stephanie pretty and clever, but she was never able to match her husband's restlessness. Plus, her religious and political conservatism was offended by his liberal, some might even say radical, views. Always dapper and popular with the ladies, Rudolph was never faithful. When their daughter, Princess Elisabeth, who was always known by the Hungarian dimunitive Erzi, was born, most believed that the couple had plenty of time for more children. However, Rudolph, who was flighty like his mother, felt increasingly trapped by Stephanie and life at his father's court. When Stephanie contracted a venereal disease from him, the only reason for his marriage--to procreate--was snatched away.

Given no authority or responsibility by his aging father, Rudolph engaged in dangerous political intrigues and petty romances. Stephanie's patience wore thin. Even her "prettiness" wore off, as she was labeled an "ugly elephant" by her famously beautiful and wispy thin mother-in-law the Empress, whom Rudolph worshipped although from afar as she rarely visited Vienna, preferring to travel impulsively, buying and renovating castles wherever she went. Rudolph grew desperate.

By the time, the now 30-year-old prince started an affair with a teenaged Baroness Mary Vetsera, he was a man without purpose or direction. When he slipped away to his hunting lodge at Mayerling, he may have already decided his course of action. The next morning, Rudolph and Mary were both found shot to death. The events of that fateful night are still disputed. (Read my post, Tragic Death: Rudolph's Final Moment.) The generally accepted theory is that it was a double suicide. Others contend that Mary had no idea what was happening, and still others believe the suicide story was concocted to cover up a political murder. Nevertheless, Stephanie would now never be Empress of Austria. Since her daughter could not inherit the throne, she was also not the mother of the heir. She also was a person without purpose.

In the meantime, back in Belgium, little sister Clementine, now a teenager, had fallen in love with a most appropriate choice: her cousin, Prince Baudouin, who was also her father's eventual heir. Raised almost single-handedly by their mother, Clementine had grown up to be a dutiful young woman. She was deeply in love with Baudouin, but he was less keen on the match. As they moved toward an engagement, Baudouin continued his romantic liaisons with the ladies. Suffering from the flu, he willingly accepted a challenge from his mistress' husband was wounded on the so-called field of honor. Within days, influenza killed 21-year-old Baudouin, and Clementine was left to nurture her broken heart.

Her sister Louise was busily making her own romantic scandals, too. By 1898, the 40-year-old princess had become what we would now term "a cougar." Determined to marry her toy boy, Count Geza Mattachich, she ran away with him, taking her teenaged daughter with her and started divorce proceedings. The clandestine couple made their way around central Europe and the Mediterranean, leaving bad debts and innuendo in their wake. Louise even opened shop accounts in Crown Princess Stephanie's name and defaulted on them. She wanted to be free of her husband but not of her lavish lifestyle. Horrified by Louise's scandalous ways and fearing for her own reputation, her daughter returned home. King Leopold and Queen Marie Henriette both sided with their son-in-law. Prince Philipp even challenged Geza to a duel. Like Baudouin, he was injured but he did not die. Meanwhile, Louise and her lover built up millions of dollars in debt. At one point, he was imprisoned for four years while she was given the choice between returning to Philipp or going to an insane asylum. She chose the asylum. Nevertheless, the divorce dragged on for eight years, until it was finally granted in 1906. Loyal throughout, losing his own title and reputation along the way, Geza and Louise eventually settled in Paris, where so many tragic couples seem to migrate.

Widowed and increasingly estranged from her daughter, Stephanie also found a count to bring her solace. In 1900, against her father's wishes, she married Count Elemer Lonyay de Nagy, a steadfast and dashing Hungarian.

While Leopold was being disappointed by his first two daughters, his youngest was rising in his favor. After her heartbreak over Baudouin, Clementine was allowed to begin travelling. Unlike her sisters, she took no lovers and started no scandals. Instead, she fell in love with Prince Victor Napoleon, heir of House of Bonaparte. Leopold opposed a marriage between them, wishing to avoid poor relations with the Republic of France. Clementine argued with him, but lost. Instead of rebelling, she returned home and assumed the duties of her father's first lady, when Queen Marie Henriette died in 1901.

And, that's when things got really nasty with her sisters. Denied any share of their mother's inheritance, Stephanie and Louise sued the King. Despite the public scandal and his vast wealth, Leopold refused to budge. Louise and Stephanie launched a similar suit in 1909 when he died, leaving his money to his illegal second wife and a new royal foundation.

For Clementine, however, Leopold's death brought a much more important inheritance. Her beloved Prince Victor Napoleon had also never married. She asked the new King, her cousin Albert, for permission, and was finally able to marry him when she was 38-years-old. The couple had two children and lived a blissful life together in Brussels, until World War I when they escaped to England and Clementine joined the Red Cross. After the war, they returned to the continent. He died in 1926, and Clementine survived him by nearly 30 years. She continued her charitable work, ultimately earning the Legion of Honor.

Her sisters, however, were not earning any honor. Stephanie had also joined the Red Cross during the First World War, but she squandered her wealth through gambling and bad business decisions. She wrote her memoirs, "I Should Have Been Empress," but was banned from publishing them. Her second marriage was much happier than her first, but she never really connected with her only child. During World War II Stephanie and Elemer escaped Soviet troops and took refuge in a local abbey. She died there shortly after the war ended in 1945.

Already romantic refugees, Louise and Geza bounced around Europe during WWI. But, they returned to Paris at its conclusion. Louise was devastated by his death in 1923 and followed him to the grave the following year. Ever defiant, she also wrote her memoirs, attempting to justify her unconventional decisions. Her own children never forgave her, and she is remembered today as one of the most tragic modern princesses.

06 July 2013

Belgian Highnesses Part I: Mad Carlota

Portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
In honor of this summer’s new monarch in Belgium, I am offering a short series about Belgian royal ladies. Here is Part I.

Although the Belgian monarchy has a short history of less than 200 years, it has had more than its fair share of princesses with less than fairytale lives.  The first Belgian princesses encountered great personal tragedies. In fact the Belgian royal dynasty is built upon the tragic death of a British princess. To be more precise, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg would never have accepted the Belgian throne in 1831 if his first wife, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales had not died in 1817.

As the only legitimate grandchild of King George III, Charlotte was destined to inherit the British crown. She married her penniless German prince for love and the two planned to eventually rule the Empire in much the same way that Victoria and Albert later would. Early on, Charlotte suffered a miscarriage, but soon became pregnant again. Leopold was at her side when their son was born dead after a very protracted labor. The devastated and exhausted prince finally took to his bed to sleep. 

Within hours, he was awakened suddenly. He rushed to Charlotte’s side, too late to say goodbye as 
the hope of the British throne died from internal hemorrhaging.(Read my post about Charlotte's death.)

While Charlotte’s unmarried uncles, rushed out to find fecund wives to supply a new heir, Leopold’s role was uncertain. He was assured of a steady government income as long as he remained in England as the steadfast widower. But, Leopold had greater ambition. He had hoped to reign over an empire with Charlotte. 

So, when the kingdom of Belgium was created following the Napoleonic wars, Leopold was willing to leave behind an aimless, powerless life in England. He had previously turned down the Greek throne, fearing it was too unstable, which it was. However, the lives of the new Belgian family Leopold created still was bathed in instability.

One year after accepting the crown, Leopold married the French princess Louise of Orleans, who was half his age.  The couple had three sons and one daughter, named Princess Charlotte in memory of Leopold’s first wife. Their first son, Louis-Philippe died as an infant. Then, Queen Louise died at the age of only 38 from tuberculosis, before she could witness the tragic future that awaited her only daughter.

Princess Charlotte married the witty and attractive Archduke Maximilian, younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph II of Austria. Although beautiful in her own right, Charlotte suffered by comparison with her sister-in-law Empress Elisabeth. The free-spirited young Empress chafed at the rigidity of the Austrian court, and her husband often indulged her flights of fancy and flights from court. Elisabeth very much enjoyed the company of Charlotte’s husband, whom she considered an ally in the family.

When Maximilian was offered the opportunity to oversee his brother’s territories as governor of Lombardy and Venetia, Charlotte encouraged him to take it. Together, the beautiful and romantic couple were stars in their own little universe, away from the court in Venice. But, their continuing childlessness was a constant source of personal pain and public criticism. Much like her father, who had longed for something more in his life, Charlotte knew that their life in Italy was an empty one. 

She and her husband wanted to leave their own imprint on the world.

They were given that chance when the upstart French Emperor Napolean III dangled the newly invented Mexican throne in front of them. Dazzled by the prospect of bringing peace and enlightenment to that war-torn, strife-ridden world, 24-year-old Charlotte and 31-year-old Maximilian set sail across the Atlantic. Emperor Franz Joseph and most of their family warned them against the adventure, but the ambitious couple were determined to make their own way.

Almost immediately, Napolean’s overreaching started to have a negative impact at home and he withdrew most of his support. When the United States prevented what little reinforcements Napoleon sent from reaching Maximilian, the adventure was over. Charlotte left her beloved husband to desperately seek help from their powerful connections in Europe, but she was thwarted at every turn. Frantic and frightened for her husband, Charlotte was overwhelmed. She fell into a state of depression. She suffered a total breakdown while in Rome to beg the Pope for help. Meanwhile, thousands of miles from his beautiful wife and all who loved him, Maximilian was captured. That summer, he was executed in front of a firing squad.

Charlotte never recovered. Only three years had passed since she had become Empress Carlota of Mexico, and now, she would never see Maximilian again. Returned to the care of her family, Charlotte was diagnosed as insane. Not yet 30, she spent the next 60 years in seclusion, living quietly and sometimes somewhat lucidly, at family estates. She was oblivious as World War I tore apart the Austrian Empire of her husband’s family. When she died in 1927 at the age of 86, she was buried with the Belgian royal family at Laeken.

15 June 2013

What Will Kate Name the Baby?

THE BABY has been named Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge. Officially announced on Aug. 24.

Predicting royal baby names is more art than science. With unprecedented choices like Estelle in Sweden, Vincent and Athena in Denmark, and Ariane in The Netherlands, baby name forecasting is even less reliable than economic forecasting or the weather report. But, don’t expect the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to name their child Princess Poppy or Prince Dylan. Despite regular infusions of “fresh blood” like Diana, the Queen Mother, and Catherine herself, the British monarchy has remained the most traditional of Europe’s crowns.

For the last two centuries, British royal babies have been given names with historic significance and family ties. The heirs have often been given additional names that honor Wales, Scotland and/or [Northern] Ireland. For many generations after Victoria, she insisted that all of her descendants also have a name honoring either her or Prince Albert, but that tradition was broken with the naming of the current queen in 1926, who was not expected to be monarch. 

However, the first question is not what the names will be, but how many names the infant will receive. Queen Victoria gave each of her children three or four names each, with one exception. For some reason, she gave her heir only two, perhaps because she herself had only two, like the rest of us mere mortals. Edward VII gave all of his children four. George V gave his heir eight names (the same number as his wife Queen Mary) and his youngest son three, but the other kids received four. George VI gave one child three and the other two, while Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales chose four for each of their offspring. It’s unlikely that William and Kate will choose as few as two or as many as eight. Because they like to appear less pretentious, they could go with just three, but four would give them more flexibility to cover those family, historical and geographic interests while also including names they actually fancy.

The baby's 6th great-grandmother,
Queen Victoria as a child
Because this child will be a future monarch, it is highly likely that the first name will be one that has already been used as a regnal name in Britain. Limiting the choices to just the last millennium, the possible names for boys are William, Henry, Stephen, Edward, Richard, John, Charles, James and George. For girls, those names are Mary, Elizabeth, Anne and Victoria—if you include women who ruled for only a few days, you can add Matilda and Jane. If you add the names of Scottish rulers, the list includes Duncan, Donald, Alexander, David, Malcolm, Edgar, Robert and a couple of more ethnic choices (like Macbeth and Lulach) for a boy and Margaret for a girl. Digging deeper into history adds the possibilities of Edgar, Constantine and Harold. Since there have been so few reigning queens, the Cambridges might also look at the names of Queen Consorts. Since the Stewart union of the English and Scottish thrones, these add Henrietta, Maria, Catherine, Caroline, Charlotte, Adelaide, and the betting-parlor frontrunner Alexandra. Male consort names include Albert and Philip.

Looking at family names, it has been more common to remember royal connections than the non-royal bloodlines. Even Diana did not give her sons any Spencer names among the eight they share unless you count Prince Harry’s secondary name Charles, which could have been for her brother but was more likely in honor of her husband. Prince Philip’s parents, Prince Andrew and Princess Alice, were included among the 16 names of his children, but none of his sisters were. However, Philip’s uncle Louis Mountbatten was almost certainly honored in Princess Anne’s final name of Louise and Prince William’s names also include Louis. And, Queen Elizabeth may have been tipping her hat to her mother’s Scottish heritage by choosing the Stuart name of Charles for her firstborn, a name that had not been used in the royal family since the 17th century.

So, the new baby names could easily honor members of William’s immediate royal family and his royal grandparents. For boys, this means Charles, Henry, Philip, and of course William. For girls, it means Elizabeth and Diana. He might also remember his royal aunt Anne, aunt-in-law Sophie or his Spencer aunts Sarah and Jane. Unlike his mother, who ignored her parents when naming her children, he might choose Frances for a girl or John for a boy. Plus, they could signal the esteem they have for William’s stepmother by using Camilla.

The Cambridges are close with Kate’s family, so it is unlikely that the Middletons will be completely ignored as the Spencers were. The names in the last three generations of her family are James, Michael, Peter and Ronald for boys and Catherine, Philippa, Carole, Dorothy and Valerie for girls.
If the couple wishes to include names to recognize Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, they could choose the names of the patron saints. Edward VII’s eight names included David, Andrew and Patrick as well as England’s Saint George. William was given the name of the legendary (and possibly Welsh) King Arthur while Harry got David, which is both the national saint’s name and the name of Welsh Princes of Wales. National hero choices include William Wallace and Rob Roy (Scotland); Llewellyn and Owain (Wales); Robin Hood and Boudica (England); and Brian Boru (Ireland).
Since their royal duchy is Cambridge, William and Kate might also consider names from the last royal Cambridges, who were family of the Queen’s grandmother, Queen Mary. The boys’ names in the family were Adolphus, George, Francis and Alexander while the female names were Augusta, Mary and Adelaide.

Now to my predictions, which have not been terribly accurate in recent years (although I did get it right with suggesting Icelandic secondary names for the Danish twins and Marie and Francoise for the secondary names of their cousin). I think the Cambridges will follow the traditions of selecting a regal first name and will honor their families. I also suspect that they will include a nod to Scotland, as the place where they met.

Queen Elizabeth II as a girl with her little
sister Princess Margaret and their
Cambridge granny Queen Mary
Although I am hoping for a girl (I do write about princesses, after all), the latest paparazzi snoopers are predicting a boy based on Kate’s shopping expeditions. So, let’s start with a name for a potential prince. 

For the first name, I think they will choose a regal name, but maybe not one that is from the strictly English tradition. This could mean the British king’s name James (although this is the name of the Queen’s youngest grandson and may be too connected to the Middletons as it is Kate’s brother’s name) or the purely Scottish one of Robert. I also like the idea of David as the name of both Scottish kings and Welsh princes. (Remember that they live in Wales AND will one day be the Prince and Princess of Wales). The medieval names of Richard, John and Stephen could also be resurrected, although kings with those names have tended to have terrible reputations. Another possibility is Arthur as a less expected choice with mystical/mythical connections. A stronger likelihood is George, the regnal name of the Queen’s beloved father.

For secondary names, I predict a tribute to William’s beloved grandfather Prince Philip, who is ailing, and a potential tribute to Kate’s dad, Michael.

For a daughter, much of the world is salivating over the possibility of a new Princess Diana, but I tend to agree with those who think that name would be more of a burden than an honor. However, they could use it as a secondary name. If they really want to shake folks up, they could use both Diana and Camilla and perhaps finally put to rest the nasty people who allege that William hates his father’s second wife.

As I mentioned, the bookies are giving fairly even odds on Alexandra as a first name, but I really think they will honor the Queen by calling the baby Elizabeth (which also is Kate’s middle name). They could also select Victoria, which is rumored to have been Charles’ choice if he and Diana had had a daughter. A nod to Scotland would be to use either Margaret or Mary, both of which are fairly safe guesses for secondary names. Other secondary name candidates are Carole or Caroline and Anne.

So, Catherine, if you are reading this, here are my final suggestions for you: (drum roll please)
Boy: Robert Philip Michael David or George Andrew Michael Charles
Girl: Elizabeth Carole Anne Louise or Victoria Margaret Diana Carole

The baby, a boy, was born at 4.24pm London time and weighed 8lb 6oz, according to the announcement from Kensington Palace at 8.30pm on Monday, July 22, 2013. He was ultimately named George Alexander Louis (all names that were in my pool of guesses!)

08 June 2013

Second Princesses

Reigning queens are somewhat rare, so younger sisters of reigning queens are even rarer. Here are some of these fascinating ladies who were always a princess but never a queen.

Elizabeth and Margaret on a 1947 stamp.
The most famous younger sister of a queen is undoubtedly Princess Margaret of Britain. Four years younger than her much steadier regal sibling, Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret was a lively young girl who grew into an even livelier young woman. However, both girls led a very sheltered life due both to their status and to the onset of World War II. The somewhat cloistered environment helped foster a situation where Margaret fell in love with one of her father's, later her sister's, equerries, Peter Townsend. Although a decorated war hero, he was 16 years older than she and married to someone else. His divorce did not make the romance easier, since the Church of England does not accept divorce and society was much more strict about such things. Margaret chose not to risk her Civil List payments and, after years of painful consideration, did not marry him. She then went on a bit of Harry-esque tear about society, mixed in with Bohemians and selected to marry a photographer. With "indiscretions" on both sides, they later divorced. She continued picking questionable lovers--she was an original Cougar. Her smoking, drinking, etc. took a toll on her health. She died the same year as her beloved mother, at the age of 71. (Read more about her and Townsend in my two-part post, An Affair to Remember.)

The royal family before Christina's birth.
In The Netherlands, Queen Beatrix actually had a trio of younger sisters, a couple of whom caused a barrel of concerns in their time. Princess Irene nearly caused a diplomatic catastrophe by her choice of groom. Not only was Prince Carlos Hugo a Catholic (once again a bigger issue with religion then than now) but he was a pretender to the Spanish throne. At that time, Spain was under the dictatorship of General Franco, with whom the couple seemed too close. The Dutch government did not wish to be seen to be supporting either Franco or one pretender over another. (Ultimately, the Spanish throne was restored, but to Juan Carlos.) Irene's very political behavior led to a government denunciation of her actions. Less than 20 years later, the couple divorce. The youngest sister, Princess Christina, caused great heartache for her family through no fault of her own. Her mother contracted German measles during her pregnancy, which led to Christina developing serious vision problems. Her parents, particularly her mother, relied on nontraditional, faith healers. This caused issues in their marriage, and the influence of these unconventional advisors distressed the public. Modern medicine ultimately helped restore most of her sight. Like her sister, Irene, Christine chose to marry a Catholic and was required to give up her right to the throne. Also like Irene, she eventually divorced him. Only the middle sister, Princess Margriet, has caused no public scandal, has remained happily married, and is still considered part of the royal family. (Read my post about Princess Margriet.)

Denmark's Queen Margrethe II has a pair of younger sisters. Both of them have always behaved impeccably. Princess Benedikte wed at age 24 to Richard 6th Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, who passed away in 2017. They had a son and two daughters. Interestingly, the marriage rules of the princely house are stricter than those of today's reigning monarchies. Therefore, Benedikte's son Gustav, who succeeded as the 7th prince, has been unable to marry his longtime love Carina Axelsson. Carina, however, is fully accepted as a member of the extended royal family, even wearing family jewels on occasion, and she manages the family castle. The youngest, Princess Anne Marie, was the first of the trio to marry when she wed the newly crowned King Constantine II of Greece just two weeks after her 18th birthday. The couple had three children in quick succession, but the third one was born in exile after the royal family fled the politically tempestuous country, eventually losing the crown. They later landed in London, where they are still based, and added two more children to their brood.

Few people realize that Queen Victoria actually had a sister, too. She is often portrayed as a lonely, only child, locked away in her palace, but she actually had an older half-sister and half-brother from her mother's first marriage. Like her sis Victoria, Princess Feodora of Leinengen is actually a great-great-great-great grandmother of today's royal bride. Twelve years older than Victoria, they only lived together for a few years as Feodora married and moved back to Germany when Victoria was just eight. Both sisters did not like the restrictive atmosphere of their mother's home in Kensington Palace, but they remained close throughout their lives and Victoria often gave her money to visit her in England. However, Feodora died nearly 40 years before her royal sister.

14 May 2013

The Original Queen Streak

On April 30, 2013, the longest streak of queens regnant came to an end when Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands abdicated. Beatrix, her mother and grandmother had reigned for a combined 123 years without any kings between them. However, this was not the first time there have been three queens in a row. It happened once before in Tudor England.

Everyone knows that King Henry VIII had a penchant for discarding his wives. Most people know that he was primarily motivated by his desire to father a male heir. The Tudors were not very successful at producing healthy boys, but they did do a fairly good job at making little girls. Henry's generation had one boy (him) and two girls live to adulthood. The three of them together had five girls and one boy live to adulthood. In fact, by the time Henry died, all of his legal heirs were female except for his nine-year-old son, King Edward VI, who only lived a few years after ascending the throne. With Edward's death in 1553, there was only one other male Tudor descendant living, a five-year-old Scottish grandson of Henry's older sister Margaret, but all of the Scots had been barred from inheriting.

No one wanted to revert to a male descendant of the Yorks or Lancasters. The Wars of the Roses had ended in the last century when Henry's Lancastrian father seized the throne by right of battle and married a Yorkist princess. Besides, the Tudors had been fairly thorough in eliminating most of the potential heirs from the old lines. That left seven female Tudor descendants as the only conceivable monarchs.

Politics and religion quickly caused a struggle for power. There were potentially three real contenders, and interestingly, all three eventually became queen.

Since Henry broke with the Church, the rising tide of the Protestant Reformation had caused deep rifts in the country. One one side stood the Catholics who included Henry's oldest daughter Mary. On the other were the Protestants, among whom was young King Edward and his protectors. Henry's third child, Elizabeth, tried not to talk about religion very much.

Queen #1: Lady Jane Grey
With Edward's death, it looked like power would shift back to the Catholics, so Edward's regent, the Duke of Northumberland, hatched a plot to protect Protestantism and to benefit himself. He married his son Guilford to Edward's Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey. Weeks later, Edward died. Both Mary and Elizabeth were not in London, which provided Northumberland his opportunity. He placed 16-year-old Jane on the throne and began trying to consolidate power. Unfortunately for him, and ultimately for Jane, the English were not pleased with this very irregular coup. Mary marched on London, easily overcoming any resistance. After a nine-day reign young Jane was imprisoned in the Tower. Northumberland was executed within weeks, but Mary hesitated to exact vengeance against Jane. After all, Jane had been nothing more than a pawn in the scheme and she was barely more than a child. Nevertheless, Mary strongly desired to marry her cousin, King Philip II of Spain, who did not think it was a good idea to let pretenders to the throne linger and potentially attract supporters. Mary was persuaded, and had Jane beheaded the following February.

Queen #2: Bloody Mary
Thanks to the bitter divorce struggles of her parents, Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon, Mary's adolescence and early adulthood were marred by great emotional pain. She was separated from her mother, and was not even allowed to visit her on her deathbed. To add insult to injury, Henry also declared her a bastard and would not allow her to marry. By the time she came to the throne at age 37, she desperately wanted to marry and have a legitimate Catholic heir to bring England back to church her maternal grandparents, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, had fought so hard to defend. Her marriage to Philip, who was often out of the country, provided little opportunity for conception. Mary endured two phantom pregnancies before dying of influenza at age 42. During her five-year reign, she concentrated most of her efforts on restoring Catholicism and persecuting Protestants, thereby earning the nickname that eventually inspired the morning cocktail.

Queen #3: The Virgin Queen
During her sister's reign, Elizabeth dutifully served her sister and carefully sidestepped the question of her religion, although she was unable to protect herself from others who used her name as the focus of rebellion. She spent some of the time imprisoned, but managed to sweet talk her way into Mary's good graces. She acceded the throne with no problems, and quickly removed England from the Catholic church. Like her sister, Elizabeth had a traumatic childhood. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, had been beheaded on trumped-up charges of adultery when Elizabeth was only three. Elizabeth then watched her father work his way through three more wives. Elizabeth was also declared a bastard and marriage was closed to her by her father, brother and sister, each of whom did not wish to empower her prospective bridegrooms. Elizabeth does not seem to have developed a strong desire to marry and dilute her authority over her kingdom, her household or her person. Instead, she used her potential marriage as a bargaining chip. Men all over Europe sought to marry her and she squeezed every bit of influence, power or money out of each opportunity without ever taking a husband. Her long reign was one of glory for England, especially after the defeat of her brother-in-law Philip's Spanish Armada, and the establishment of colonies in America. When Elizabeth executed her cousin and prospective heir, Mary Queen of Scots, for treason, she eliminated the possibility of adding a fourth queen to the queen streak. She was succeeded instead by Mary's son James.

Thus, the first three-queen streak in history lasted 48 years from 1553 to 1601.

For more about these Tudor queens and their propensity for killing their cousins, read my post Killing Queens: A Bloody Tudor Heritage.

12 May 2013

10 Centuries of Royal Moms

In honor of Mother's Day in the U.S., I have decided to highlight a millennium of royal moms, with one mother from each of the last 10 centuries. Who makes your list?

12th Century: Eleanor of Aquitaine
Children: Two daughters by Louis VII of France; Five sons and three daughters by Henry II of England
Cats may have nine lives, but Eleanor had at least six. Surviving more than twice as long as her contemporaries, her life spanned nearly the entire century and crept into the next. As a teen, she became Duchess in her own right of the powerful and rich land of Aquitaine. Then, she had a miserable marriage with King Louis VII of France. Lusty and warm-blooded she tricked the devout and rather chaste Louis into a divorce, so that she could marry the younger, more masculine and randy future King of England, taking her lands with her and shifting the balance of power in Europe. Later, she joined her sons in rebellion against King Henry for which he imprisoned her for 16 years. After his death, she was a guiding power during the reign of her favorite son, King Richard the Lion Heart. Then, after his death, she helped secure the throne for her youngest son, thereby sealing the fate of a grandson who had a stronger dynastic claim. At 77, she traveled across the Pyrenees to bring back her Spanish granddaughter to marry her to the French king in an attempt to help bring peace between the countries she had set against each other.

13th Century: Blanche of Castile
Children:  Three daughters and ten sons by Louis VIII of France
The mother of two saints (St. Louis and St. Isabelle of France), Blanche was the very granddaughter Eleanor of Aquitaine escorted across the mountains. Widowed before she was 40 (and with the first five of her young children already dead), Blanche became Regent of France and defended her son's inheritance against both French nobles and her English cousin, King Henry III. After Louis IX came of age, Blanche remained close to him, often intervening in his marriage and in politics. When he went on Crusade, she once again assumed the Regency and held power until her death four years. In recent decades, Blanche has become a key figure in the Holy Blood/Holy Grail myths regarding a bloodline of descendants of Jesus, which inspired "The Da Vinci Code." According to these tails, it was Blanche who hid documents at Rennes-le-Chateau to protect the holy secret. (For more about Blanche, read my profile of her daughter-in-law Marguerite of Provence.)

14th Century: Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster
Children: Two daughters and one son by Sir Hugh Swynford; one daughter and three sons by John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster
In an age when marriage was more about property than romance, Katherine de Roet Swynford found both through her illicit love affair and later marriage to a king's son. Raised among the royal court of the English queen Philippa of Hainault, Katherine likely knew her future husband as a child. When the queen arranged an appropriate marriage for her and Katherine's dutiful attitude later earned her a role as governess to John of Gaunt's daughters by Blanche of Lancaster. This tight weave of court circles is further underscored by the fact that a famous tribute to Blanche, the poem "My Last Duchess," was written by Katherine's brother-in-law, who just happened to be Geoffrey Chaucer. After Blanche's early death, Katherine and John embarked on a love affair that did not prevent him from making a political marriage with the Spanish Princess Constance of Castile. All four of Katherine's children by John were born during his second marriage. Given the surname Beaufort, they were all legitimized when the couple final married after Constance's death. Greatly favored by the royal family, Katherine was granted property of her own and managed it prosperously. The Beauforts played a critical role in the Wars of the Roses, and the Tudor dynasty is descended directly from them.

15th Century: Isabella Queen of Castile
Children: Five daughters and two sons by Ferdinand King of Aragon
With many ferocious and famous moms (including Margaret Beaufort, Catherine of Valois, Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville) Isabella emerged as my choice because she was a queen in her own right, she remains internationally well-known, and by golly she personally led her troops into battle even when she was pregnant. Granted, she didn't fight, but just riding along was pretty difficult work even without the complication of pregnancy. Most famous for funding Columbus' voyage to the New World and sparking Spain's rapid rise to riches and power for the next several centuries, Isabella was also fiercely religious. Together, she and her husband were known as The Catholic Kings. In fact, having united most of Spain's warring territories through their marriage, they focused their battles against those of other faiths, pushing the Moors out of southern Spain where an Islamic culture had flourished for centuries bringing artistic and scientific progress. They were also the founders of the Spanish Inquisition, which persecuted Jews, Muslims and, later, some Protestants. Despite efforts to secure their joint kingdoms by marrying their children into Portugal, England and the Holy Roman Empire, the deaths first of Ferdinand and then of Isabella left the Spanish empire in the hands of the Hapsburgs for their sons died without issues and their daughters, including Catherine of Aragon and Juana La Loca, all lived rather tragic lives. In 1972, Isabella was named a Servant of God, the first stage in an investigation that could lead eventually to her sainthood.

16th Century: Catherine de Medici
Children: Five daughters and five sons by Henry II of France
At a time when child mortality rates were very high, it was still unusual for a woman to outlive nine of her children. Born into a tremendously rich and powerful but barely noble Italian family, the teenaged Catherine's marriage to the future French king secured higher status for her family. Orphaned as an infant, she was bounced among family members as a political pawn and even spent three years in a convent before being sent to France. Here, she continued to suffer due her husband's very public preference for his mistresses, including Diane de Poitiers. In essence, Catherine had no role except as his brood mare, a role she failed at for the first 10 years of her marriage. She finally came into her own when Henry's death thrust her into the role of Regent for their son King Francis II and then for their son Charles IX. When yet another son, Henry III, acceded, Catherine continued to exert her influence. She came to power during the violent religious and political struggles of the Reformation. Her early softness toward Protestants eventually hardened and she is often held responsible for the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre that killed thousands. With the death of her youngest son and the infertility of Henry III, Catherine knew that the Catholic kingdom she had fought so long to preserve would eventually cede to her Protestant son-in-law Henry of Navarre. She could not have foreseen, however, that Henry would convert and end the religious wars, saying "Paris is worth a Mass."

17th Century: Anne of Austria
Children: Two sons by Louis XIII of France
Having suffered several miscarriages, Anne finally gave birth to a living child, the future Sun King, Louis XIV, when she was 37. Anne was always very nurturing, having acted as mother to her younger siblings from the age of 10 when their mother died. Childless for the first 23 years of her marriage, she was never close to her husband or to her mother-in-law, Marie de Medici, whom he overthrew from her Regency when he and Anne were just 16. When Louis brought Cardinal Richelieu to power, Anne was further alienated by his policies against her family, the Hapsburgs--her letters home were always opened and read. Despite Richelieu's death, Louis tried to prevent Anne from becoming Regent when he died, but he failed. Anne took power in the name of her four-year-old son and soon installed Cardinal Mazarin at the head of the government. When Louis XIV came of age, her power began to fade and the death of Mazarin left the young king fully in control 10 years later. Anne eventually retired to a convent and died of breast cancer when she was 64. She is remembered today for fictional portrayals of her in the various novels, plays, and movies about the Three Musketeers.

18th Century: Maria Theresa Empress of Austria
Children: Eleven daughters and five sons by Francis I Holy Roman Emperor
If Queen Victoria is the materfamilias of the 19th century, Maria Theresa holds the distinction in the 18th, but with nearly twice as many children and considerably more personal power. Like Victoria, Maria Theresa inherited the throne at a young age following a succession crisis that had left no male heirs; unlike Victoria, her succession sparked wars that caused the empire to lose territories. Like Victoria, she was madly in love with her husband and deeply mourned him. Unlike Victoria, she actually shared power with her sons. Despite her very conservative views (which included trying to expel both Jews and Protestants as threats to the peace), she introduced many reforms to modernize the military, the treasury, health care, education and, even, civil rights. Her own personal asceticism was apparently not inherited by most of her 11 daughters, all of whom were named Maria. Among them are the infamously risque Queen Maria Carolina of Naples and the much celebrated Queen Marie Antoinette of France.

19th Century: Princess Alice of the United Kingdom
Children: Five daughters and two sons by Louis IV Grand Duke of Hesse
In the century that saw the rise of the modern child-centered family, it is not surprising that innumerable royal ladies were also devoted mamas. For top honors, however, I have selected Queen Victoria's second daughter, Princess Alice. Like her older sister Vicky, Alice ran roughshod over her mother's parenting advice. Admitting that she did not like childbirth--"we are most like animals"--and that "all babies are ugly," The Queen was shocked to learn that Alice was breastfeeding her babies. Alice rejoiced in a hands-on approach that was only just beginning to emerge among the higher classes. Having nursed her father and comforted her grieving mother, Alice married just eight months after Prince Albert's death and was at first deeply homesick and still in mourning, despite the presence of her beloved new husband. Alice soon adjusted to her new life and carved out a role personally caring for the sick and the poor, particularly during the Austro-Prussian War. The role of nursemaid suited her well and she even stayed longer in England once to help her older brother, the Prince of Wales, recover from typhoid. When her youngest son, a hemophiliac fell from a second story window, however, there was nothing she could do to save his life. She was still mourning for him five years later, when the family was struck by diptheria. Only she remained well, and doctors urged her not to touch or cuddle her ailing children. When the baby Maria died, Alice could not restrain herself from comforting the others. She soon contracted the disease and died on the anniversary of her own father's death at the age of 35. Two of her surviving daughters married into the Russian Imperial House: Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Empress Alexandra. Both were murdered in the Russian Revolution and both have since been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church.

20th Century: Lady Diana Spencer
Children: Two sons by Charles Prince of Wales
This time, with many royal mothers to choose from, I decided to go with the one who is undoubtedly the most popular. The marriage of Diana and Charles brought new life and renewed interest to the British Royal Family. Although both Prince William and Prince Harry have always been incredibly close to their father, the public regularly credits Diana for their good characters, sense of fun and devotion to good works. While Charles parented largely out of the spotlight, taking them on the royals' usual country retreats to Scotland and Norfolk, Diana introduced them to "ordinary" life with visits to theme parks and fast food restaurants where they were often photographed. When Diana died, she left a huge estate to the boys, which they inherited as adults. Nearly 16 years after losing her, both princes continue to honor their mother publicly. William notably did so when he gave Diana's engagement ring to his bride and Harry most recently drew headlines by mentioning her during his visit to the United States. As the Diana exhibition at Althorp prepares to close down, the princes will become masters of all of those artifacts, materials, and memorabilia. The world is waiting to see what they do with them. Even more hungrily, everyone is waiting to discover whether William will name his child, due in July, for his mother.

21st Century: ???
Children: ???
Just over a decade into the new century, it is impossible to say which royal mother will emerge as the mum of the century--they haven't even all been born yet! To judge by the first decade, perhaps it should be one of the two who have had the most children: with five children each, there are Crown Princess Marie Chantal of Greece and Princess Astrid of Norway, who both started their families in the last century, or with four apiece, there are the Infanta Cristina Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, Princess Mathilde Duchess of Brabant and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, who pulled it off in just three pregnancies. Or perhaps it should be Crown Princess Masako, who despite a stress disorder that keeps her largely out of the public eye, has continued to mother her only child. Or perhaps it should be Crown Princess Mette Marit of Norway who managed to keep things together as a single mother and still catch a prince, with whom she has had two more children. Or perhaps Sophie Countess of Wessex, who struggled to have each of her children.

Whichever royal moms you celebrate, the women highlighted here are all examples of the ferocious love mothers have for the children and of how women can blend motherhood with careers that can change the world. (For an overview of royal ladies who struggled to be mothers, check out my 2011 post, Always a Monarch, Never a Mother.)

For all of you who are mothers yourself, happy Mother's Day from the Princess Palace.