19 September 2018

Your Favorite Princess of Wales

The badge of the Prince of Wales, with the
motto "I serve"
Confession time: I thought long and hard about posting a Twitter poll about your favorite Princess of Wales in the current Twitter climate. I expected full-blown ugliness around Diana versus Camilla -- including a lot more flack about Camilla even being included. As it turns out, 20+ years later, the vitriol may be starting to settle a bit. At least it is clear that the Kate fans versus Meghan fans debate is far more explosive on Twitter. (By the way, I do not believe that there is any actual rivalry between the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex.)

Amazingly, the four most recent Princesses of Wales spread across more than two centuries. This is partly because there were two periods of time with a female heir (Victoria and Elizabeth II) and therefore there was no Prince of Wales to marry a Princess of Wales. Secondly, one of the Princes of Wales (Edward VIII) did not marry until after he had both ascended and abdicated the throne. So, two and a half centuries has yielded four Princesses of Wales, including two who married the same Prince Wales (the current heir Prince Charles). These four women are Princess Caroline of Brunswick, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, Lady Diana Spencer and Camilla Shand, better known as Camilla Parker-Bowles.

by Nick Parfjonov via Wikimedia Commons
Not surprisingly, Diana reigned supreme in the poll, taking first place with 62% of the votes. Diana was a superstar in every way during her lifetime and her tragic early death has sealed her into history, as young and beautiful with so much potential still unfulfilled. As Linda Rossi @LRos123 responded, "Princess Diana was beautifully perfect and imperfect at the same time. Lady, Princess of Wales, Mother, Humantarian, Champion of People; One of a King! Her radiance will never be forgotten or extinguished. Adored and admired across the globe. She related to our struggles." She also has an advantage over the earlier princesses: she emerged amidst celebrity culture as indicated by my husband @SavageTechman's half-serious comment on the poll:  "She has one thing the others don't, an #EltonJohn tribute song...'Goodbye England's Rose'."  Guin Sobral @Guinevere530 also strongly supported Diana, writing that although Diana was "out of the box...she changed the royal mold, from the raising of royal children to how the royal family should interact with the public and with their charities." Guin went on to assert that "What we all see and love about William, Kate, Harry and Meghan is a direct result of the different path Diana chose to take."

But, not everyone agreed, and some strongly disagree about the Diana's greatness, noting a negative aspect to her celebrity and behavior. The Royal Watcher @saadsalman719 shared, "IMHO Diana was the most damaging PoW to monarchy (much more than Caroline of Brunswick) because of her celebrity and personal issues which she exploited!" So, clearly we will never all agree on the Saint Diana versus Demon Diana debate regardless of the Camilla rivalry.

Nevertheless the larger-than-life popularity of Diana clearly shines through this poll. Perhaps Larissa Bona @LarissaBona captures the Diana phenomenon most succinctly. "Diana was a global icon," she commented. "She was bigger than her title and has also managed to outshine her ex-husband and keep him forever in her shadow. She's the most iconic Princess of Wales so far." All of which seems fairly accurate for good or for bad to me. (For my own conflicted take on Diana, read my post Diana and Me.)

by Robert Jefferson Bingham from the Royal
Collection via Wikimedia Commons
In second place is Diana's equally beautiful predecessor Alexandra, who married Queen Victoria's oldest son, the future Edward VIII. She served as Princess of Wales for almost 40 years and Queen Consort for just nine years. She survived her husband by 15 years, dying just one year before the birth of her great-granddaughter Elizabeth II. Like Diana, Alexandra was recognized as a leader of fashion. Alexandra had several personal challenges. Alexandra inherited otosclerosis, an ear abnormality that led her to become increasingly deaf throughout her life. Then, as a child, she acquired a scar on her neck that she sought to hide with high collars or loads of choker-style necklaces, both of which became fashion staples for women of her generation. She nearly died during her third pregnancy due to a simultaneous case of rheumatic fever that left her with a permanent limp. Even that became a positive trait for the popular princess as ladies adopted the "Alexandra limp" in their own gaits. Tragically, Alexandra lost two children during her lifetime. Her sixth and youngest child, Prince Alexander John, died shortly after birth in 1871. Her oldest child, Prince Albert Victor Duke of Clarence, the expected future king, died at age 28 from flu and pneumonia. Add to this a famously promiscuous husband, and it is easy to understand why the gentle but fun-loving Alexandra was always a figure of public sympathy and admiration.

On the downside, within her close circle and extended family considered her a bit selfish, particularly when it came to her almost smothering affection for her children, who called her "Motherdear." Many believe that she prevented the marriage of her youngest daughter Victoria (click for my profile of Victoria) in order to always have a companion with her. In our poll, Alexandra garnered a fifth of the votes with 20%. (Here is my profile of Alexandra.)

by Kelvin Johnson via Wikimedia Commons
Camilla, the current Princess of Wales, ran a close third. Again not surprisingly, she generated a variety of differing opinions. One area of concern mentioned is whether she actually is a Princess of Wales because she never uses that title, opting instead to use her husband's second-highest titles as Duchess of Cornwall and Duchess of Rothesay (when in Scotland). As Guin correctly points out, "While I'm not a Camilla fan, technically she does hold the title Princess of Wales...they (she, Charles and the Palace) have wisely chosen not to refer to her with that title because it was so closely associated with Diana." Even Diana fan Linda agrees that it was a "very wise decision," although she does call Camilla a "home wrecker" for her longtime affair with Prince Charles, which was one of the causes of Charles and Diana's marital breakdown.

Even for those, who picked Camilla, it was not necessarily an easy choice. "Camilla and Alexandra were the best," wrote Zef Dahlia/QRC @nelainedahlia93. "It was a hard decision to pick but my choice went to Camilla. Similarly, The Royal Watcher struggled: "My favourites are between Camilla and Alexandra, who have grace, poise and a strong sense of duty!" All of which are appropriate characteristics for women who married men whose shared motto as Princes of Wales is "I serve." (You can read my profile of Camilla. I also have a post about whether she will be Queen one day.)

from the National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia Commons
At the bottom of our poll is Caroline of Brunswick, of whom, I would venture to guess, most modern royal watchers have never heard. Although she captured a miniscule 3% of the vote, none of her supporters offered a comment to provide insight into their choice. Caroline and George IV had one of the most controversial and hate-filled royal marriages of all time in any nation. Despite the fact that he was already secretly (and illegally) married to someone else, he agreed to marry his first cousin in order to get Parliament to pay off his exorbitant debts. The fussy and fastidious Prince of Wales and the frumpy and gauche Caroline hated each other on sight. He showed up drunk to the wedding and managed to impregnate her within days before swearing to never sleep with her again--one of the few promises he ever kept. The two nearly divorced with each of them taking only cursory interest in their only child Princess Charlotte. Caroline eventually moved to the Continent where she attracted attention of the worst kind due to her low-class lovers and over-the-top personality. Following her daughter Charlotte's tragic death (my post about Charlotte's death), their relationship no longer served any purpose at all. When George finally became King after years of serving as the Regent for his father the "Mad King" George III, Caroline rushed to Britain to claim her crown but George actually locked her out of Westminster Abbey!

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