29 April 2016

Five Years with the Cambridges

It is hard to believe that five years have already passed since the marriage of Prince William to his long-time live-in love Catherine (Kate) Middleton. It has been an eventful half decade for their family. Let's take a look back at the key moments:

1. April 29, 2011: A Bride and a Title
Not only did Prince William get a wife on this day, but he also gained a title. In previous generations, princes were granted their own territorial titles much early, but for the last several decades, they have been granted upon their marriages. There was much speculation about which title he would receive (see my post on the subject a year before the wedding). In the end, he was given a title with strong sentimental meaning for his grandmother, The Queen. Her beloved grandmother, Queen Mary, had descended from the last royal dukes of Cambridge. However, the fact that the former Miss Middleton is now styled as Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge led to some confusion about what her actual rank is. To clarify (again) as the wife of a British Prince, she holds the rank of Princess, even though she is called Duchess of Cambridge. It is not, however, ever appropriate to call her Princess Kate or, even worse, Duchess Kate, as she holds that rank by right of her husband. This would make her Princess William if they had no other titles to use, just like Princess Michael of Kent. The Palace did not help things when it announced that people could call her whatever they wanted to...

2. December 3, 2012: A Baby is on the Way
I was at a conference in Washington, D.C. when my Twitter feed and email box started blowing up with messages of congratulations. I had to step outside to investigate what was happening. As it turns out, I was not having a baby, but the Cambridges were! Unfortunately, the pregnancy was announced much earlier than usual because Kate was suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a serious and potentially dangerous form of morning sickness for which she had to be hospitalized. The early announcement led to an even more prolonged state of anticipation on the part of royal watchers everywhere. By the time, the big day finally arrived, royal baby mania was even greater than it had been for William's birth, and I think we were all completely exhausted.

3. July 22, 2013: It's a Boy!!
The arrival of a prince temporarily relieved anxieties over the fact that the British succession was still based on the outdated and sexist practice of male primogeniture, by which older daughters with younger brothers are displaced in the line of succession by their brothers and their brothers' descendants. (This is why Princess Anne The Princess Royal was second in line to the throne at the time of her mother's accession, but is now #12 after her brothers and their children and grandchildren.) Kate gave birth in the same hospital as Diana had and under the care of The Queen's own gynecologist. #Awkward  One day later, we got the first glimpse of the boy we would come to nickname "Cheeks" and the day after that we learned that his name would be George Alexander Louis. And, prince or not, there really is not a cuter kid on the planet. He just gets more and more impossibly cuter. The latest pics of him greeting President Obama in his pajamas and robe are almost cuter than I can tolerate!

4. May 2, 2015: (Finally) It's a Girl
At long last, the heir to Diana that the world had awaited was finally here. This is an incredible legacy for a little girl to carry, but her parents did not make it worse by naming her Princess Diana, although her late grandmother was remembered among her names: Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. (Interestingly or oddly, William's youngest first cousin is Lady Charlotte Diana Spencer.) While many believe the name Elizabeth is for The Queen (and it may be), I think it is important to remember that Elizabeth is also the middle name of both Kate and her mother Carole, as well as a fairly common name among her ancestors. Both Charlotte and Kate are unfairly compared to the late Princess of Wales, so I am thankful that so far, Charlotte is looking less and less like her much-mourned grandmother.

The Family Home
During their early marriage, William and Kate continued to reside in their pre-marital home on Anglesey to be near William's military posting at RAF Valley. Since leaving the military, the Cambridge family has at last settled into a country home, Anmer Hall, on The Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk (where Diana was born) and the apartment they renovated in Kensington Palace. They did not choose the apartment where William and his brother Harry lived with their mother. Instead, they selected the one that had belonged to The Queen's late sister, Princess Margaret.

Royal Duties
Some have whispered that the Cambridges have not taken on enough royal duties, but I think it is important that they are not the immediate heirs to the throne. Also, The Queen herself very much enjoyed a more private early marriage and likely approves of the way Kate is being eased into royal duties, especially in light of the disastrous royal introductions of The Princess of Wales and The Duchess of York in the 1980s. They have represented Her Majesty on several foreign tours including travels to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and, most recently, India and Bhutan, as well as paying visits to Continental Europe. On the home front, Kate has taken on several patronages, focusing on children, sport, the arts, and mental health advocacy. Meanwhile, William has continued his support of the armed forces, young people, and conservation. Together, with his brother, Prince Harry of Wales, the couple has a foundation that is dedicated to young people, sustainable development, and supporting the armed forces.

What's Next
It's hard to say whether there will be more children in the future, but they will almost certainly begin to take on more and more public responsibilities, especially after the eventual succession of The Prince of Wales. The next big personal event in their lives is likely to be the marriage of Prince Harry, when the happy threesome will hopefully become an even happier quartet. But, when that will happen is anyone's guess!

24 April 2016

The American Queen Who Never Was

Today as we observe the 30th anniversary of the death of the woman who was born Bessie Wallis Warfield in Baltimore, Maryland, I am stunned to realize that I have never profiled her here on Princess Palace. Better known to history as Mrs. Simpson, she flew too close to the fire and earned a life of luxurious but perpetual exile.

When Wallis arrived in London with her second husband Ernest Simpson, she was socially ambitious but she would not have imagined how quickly she would rise to the very top of British society. At first, she managed to get into the circle of the King's youngest son, the dashing Duke of Kent. From there, it was not a far jump to begin mingling with the heir to the throne, the Prince of Wales, himself. David, as he was known to family and friends, had shown no interest in settling down with a suitable wife. Instead, he enjoyed a series of serious relationships with other men's wives. When his latest lady love American-born Thelma Lady Furness returned temporarily to the States, she made the questionable decision of asking her friend Wallis to look after the "little man." Wallis took the role literally and Thelma returned to find herself replaced.

Early on, the Royal Family and the Establishment were unconcerned: Wallis was just the next in a long line. But, as the King's health began to fail, he became increasingly concerned about David's unwillingness to shoulder his royal responsibilities. The King said that once he died, "the boy will ruin himself in a year." His words were prophetic.

David became King Edward VIII on his father's death in January 1936. He assumed the title and began planning his coronation, but he did not change his lifestyle. He neglected his state work, showed too much sympathy for Nazi Germany, and went on several holidays with Wallis always at his side. Once the obliging Ernest Simpson agreed to a divorce, it became clear that David had decided to marry Wallis and make Her his Queen. Her status as an American commoner with two living former husbands did not sit well with most of the establishment or the royal family. The British public, however, knew nothing about the romance because the press had kept it out of their papers. Imagine how stunned they were when abdication rumors began to circulate. By that time, Wallis has gone to France to wait for her latest divorce while David unsuccessfully argued his case. He would not get his way, so in December, he gave up the crown to his brother, who became King George VI.

By Vincenzo Laviosa 

via Wikimedia Commons
Once the divorce decree arrived, the couple were reunited and they married in June without any of his family present. I believe that Wallis never intended for things to go so far but once David had made up his mind, she was trapped. Their first act as a married couple was to visit Hitler, which was not well-received at home, and there is some indication that David, who had been granted the style and title HRH The Duke of Windsor, became involved in trying to broker peace with Germany during World War II. So his brother the king sent him to be the governor of the Bahamas, a backwater posting that both David and Wallis resented. However that was not the most hurtful thing they received from the Royal Family. David never forgave his brother for refusing to give his wife the style of Royal Highness. He was also never allowed to return to Britain to live although apparently he thought that would eventually happen. The couple did visit on occasion, like for funeral of his mother Queen Mary.

Duke and Duchess of Windsor became highly sought-after party guests on both sides of the Atlantic. He also showered her with jewels, most of which were auctioned off after her death in 1986. He had died in 1972 and she spent her last 14 years alone and increasingly unaware of what was going on around her. In the show of kindness and perhaps mercy, Wallis had been welcomed more or less as a member of the family when she accompanied David's body to England for his burial. By that time his niece was Queen Elizabeth II and she wished not to further the antagonism between branches of the family.

Even today, The Duchess of Windsor remained a figure of controversy among people who follow Royal history. People honor and respect her and David for following their hearts and for the devotion they showed each other throughout their long lives. Others cannot forgive him for his selfish decision to renounce the throne or her for being the cause of that decision. I am usually on the side of those who think they should have chosen honor over personal inclination. However, the result has been the reigns of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II, and I strongly believe the nation is better having had the two of them as monarchs. While David's father predicted that his first son would ruin himself within a year of ascending the throne, the old king also hoped nothing would come between his second son, his granddaughter and the throne. His prediction therefore was not only prophetic but wise.

21 April 2016

Her Majesty at 90: Decade by Decade

Queen Elizabeth II reached her 90th birthday today, with her 94-year-old husband at her side. If her mother is any indication, Her Majesty still has more than a decade here with us. Earlier this week, I posted photos from her first 10 years. Now, I offer you a look into her life for each decade.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born on April 21, 1926 in the London Home of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore, her maternal grandparents. (Read my post about her birth.) As a daughter and the child of the second son of King George VI, she had no expectation of becoming queen one day. At four, she gained a little sister and the two little York princesses grew up in a relatively simple manner, enjoying country life surrounded by horses and dogs.

When she was 10 years old, Elizabeth's life changed forever. Her grandfather had died and her unmarried, childless uncle King Edward VIII decided to abdicate the throne, leaving her father to become King George VI. Since she had no brothers to displace her in the male-preference succession laws of the day, Elizabeth was thrust into a spotlight. Rather soon thereafter, the entire world was thrown into disarray by World War II. Elizabeth spent her teen years mostly at Windsor Castle, which remains her favorite home, helping to tend a victory garden and spending many nights in bomb shelters. Near the end of the war, she was finally old enough to join the war effort, which she insisted upon. She joined the Auxiliary Territorial Services and trained as a truck driver and mechanic. To this day, she is probably still the only auto mechanic in the royal family.

Before the war ended, Elizabeth had already selected her life partner, her third cousin Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, who had renounced his Greek citizenship and royal titles during his war service in the British Navy. (Read my post about their romance.) The two were married in 1947 and he was given the title The Duke of Edinburgh. Their first child, Prince Charles, was born just a year later with daughter Anne arriving not quite two years later. Early in their marriage, Philip was posted with the Navy to Gibraltar and Elizabeth enjoyed some relatively carefree days as an "ordinary" wife of a young officer. Alas, her youthful bliss was short-lived when her father died tragically young and Elizabeth became Queen at the age of 26. She was away on a royal tour in Kenya at the time, staying at the Tree Tops hotel, and did not learn she was Queen for many hours after it had happened.

Embed from Getty Images

Having spent much of her early reign traveling throughout the Commonwealth and around the other parts of the world, Elizabeth postponed the expansion of her family until she was in her 30s. Prince Andrew was born shortly before her 34th birthday and Prince Edward four years later. It is generally believed that she was much more relaxed by this time, and that the younger siblings probably got a bit more quality time with their mum than Charles and Anne had.

In her 40s, The Queen began to encounter something she had never known: whispers on unpopularity as general unrest and economic issues spread over to include the Royal Family, which was seen as being outdated and too aloof. And so began an effort that continues today to present the family as more "normal." It began with the screening of a behind-the-scenes documentary of the film "Royal Family" in 1969 and included a rather modernized installation of Prince Charles as The Prince of Wales. Adding to the "common" touch, Charles is the only non-Welsh Prince of Wales who actually learned to speak Welsh.

It was in her 50s that Her Majesty became a grandmother. Her first two grandchildren were born to Princess Anne in 1977 and 1981, with Anne making the decision that neither her husband nor her children would bear titles of any kind. 1981 also ushered in the age of Diana The Princess of Wales who would revitalize--and traumatize--the monarchy like never before. With the birth of the two Wales princes, Her Majesty ended that decade in a haze of happiness that would not last long.

By her mid-60s, Elizabeth had two more grandchildren, the York princesses, but she also had two "troublesome" daughters-in-law. When both the Wales and the York marriages hit the skids at the same time, with much accompanying scandal and tell-all interviews and books, The Queen already had enough heartache. But, more was in store, when a fire tore through a large part of her beloved Windsor Castle, and questions about who would pay for the restoration combined with the other scandals led the monarchy near its lowest point, but even more was yet to come.

The Queen's 70s opened with the tragic death of Diana, which sent millions maybe even billions of people into deep mourning. When Her Majesty made the decision to stay on holiday in Scotland with Diana's two motherless boys safely ensconced away from public eyes and the media instead of returning immediately to London, the world was perplexed. Elizabeth returned to the capital shortly before the funeral and offered a generally well-received heartfelt tribute on television. Just five years later, more tragedy struck as The Queen lost her beloved little sister and her idolized mother within weeks of each other. Joy started to peek back in as her youngest son started his family with the birth of a daughter.

In her 80s, Elizabeth emerged into greater popularity than ever. With the birth of Edward's son, she became a grandmother for the last time in 2007 and three years later, she became a great-grandmother for the first time. In 2011, the family experienced another surge of public adoration with the marriage of grandson Prince William of Wales (now The Duke of Cambridge) to Kate Middleton. Then, 2012 brought two waves of excitement as the world celebrated The Queen's Diamond Jubilee at the beginning of the summer and the London Olympics at the end. During the Olympic Opening Ceremony, The Queen and her beloved corgi dogs were featured in a film with fictional British spy James Bond, which ended with an Elizabeth lookalike parachuting from a helicopter into the stadium and then The Queen emerging into public view as if it had indeed been her falling from the sky.

Now 90 years old, Elizabeth's popularity is still surging. From the celebration of her becoming the longest-reigning monarch last year, surpassing her great-great grandmother (see my post about that) to the beacon fires and street parties taking place all over Britain today, it seems like she will go on forever. Happy birthday, Your Majesty!

20 April 2016

A Different Princess Beatrice

Beatrice (foreground) with her oldest
and glamorous sisters, Marie and Victoria
Melita. The trio had one more sister
and an ill-fated brother.
via Wikimedia Commons
The youngest sister of the gorgeous Queen Marie of Romania and the controversial Victoria Melita, who married and divorced a Hessian cousin before eloping with a Russian grand duke, Princess Beatrice was always known as Baby Bee within her family. Her father was Alfred Duke of Edinburgh, who later inherited the Duchy of Saxe Coburg and Gotha from his father's family. Her mother was an Imperial Highness, the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, daughter of Czar Alexander II.

Born on April 20, 1866, Beatrice was named for her aunt, Queen Victoria's youngest child Princess Beatrice. And, both Aunt Beatrice's daughter Victoria Eugenie and her namesake married into the Spanish royal family. Although her cousin married for love and became the Queen of Spain, her life was marred by an unhappy marriage and the tragedy of hemophilia, deafness and early deaths of several of her sons. Our Beatrice met her future husband at that disastrous wedding (the bridal couple was nearly blown up by an assassin). He was the King of Spain's cousin, Don Alfonso de Orleans y Borbón, who was an Infante of Spain and the 5th Duke of Galliera.

However, partly because Beatrice refused to convert to Catholicism, the couple was initially exiled from Spain. After a few years, they were allowed to return and she eventually converted. The couple had three sons, but the middle boy was killed in action during the Spanish Civil War. The family also lost their Spanish estate during that war, but it was eventually restored to Beatrice during the Franco regime. A widow for nearly 30 years, Beatrice died there on July 13, 1966 at the age of 82.
Beatrice with her three sons: 
Alvaro, Alonso and Ataúlfo
via Wikimedia Commons

18 April 2016

Happy 90th: Baby Queen Elizabeth

As Queen Elizabeth II prepares to celebrate her 90th birthday on April 21, I thought it be jolly good fun to take a look at what she looked like in the first decade of her life. I just love her golden-curled baby photos! She made the cover of Time magazine when just an infant, even though she had no expectation of inheriting the throne--and she set a trend for the color yellow before she could even toddle.

Look at this face. It could almost be a picture of baby Prince Charles.

Almost nothing is cuter than a baby in a baby-sized chair.  You can certainly tell that this is the great-grandmother of a prince who would be nicknamed "Cheeks" by his fans.

Already waving while still in the pram. She christened herself with her family nickname of Lilibet, her own baby-talk version of her name.

It's in photos like this that I can see the faces of her granddaughter Lady Louise and her great-granddaughters Savannah and Isla Phillips.

What little girl doesn't love a ridge on a tricycle? I'm loving the hat.

The princess as ballerina.

At one of her very first garden parties. This one was at her mother's ancestral home in Scotland, where the York family spent quite a bit of time. Elizabeth was born at the Strathmore's home in London and sister Margaret was born at their castle in Scotland.

This is one of the rare photos where Margaret Rose is not shining, while big sister Lilibet is simply glowing. Notice the monogram on her purse. Elizabeth said that she would call her baby sister "Bud," because she was not quite a Rose yet.

Embed from Getty Images

Another darling little purse, or perhaps the reverse side of the one above. And, clearly she is in Scotland again and out in the country. Both places where she still likes to spend her personal time.

A little beauty at eight years old. In this photo, she looks remarkably like her father--it's something about those eyes.

Just hanging out with Granny (Queen Mary) and Grandpapa England (George V) on the balcony at Buckingham Palace. You can just see the top of Margaret's head above the bunting.

Embed from Getty Images

Her great love for corgis started when she was just a girl. They have become synonymous with her.
In fact, her corgi Susan, an 18th birthday gift, even has her own Wikipedia article.

Just a few months before their uncle King Edward VIII's abdication changed their lives forever, the royal sisters posed for this photo outside of their child-sized Welsh cottage with one of their many furry friends. By the end of that year 1936, Elizabeth would be the heir to the most important throne in the world. She was just 10 years old.