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.