23 January 2019

Your Favorite Belgian Royal Lady

For this month's quiz, I asked Twitter followers to choose a favorite Belgian royal lady from among Queen Mathilde, her mother-in-law Queen Paola, and her two sisters-in-law Princess Astrid and Princess Claire. While I had no doubt that the always-appropriate and lovely Mathilde would win the day, I was truly stunned that she carried 84% of the vote! I am usually able to include readers' comments in my posts about the polls, but this time, despite more than 100 participants, only two people offered up comments. So, get ready to hear what Sloane, Dahlia and I think!

Queen Mathilde in my opinion is an ideal queen consort. Despite this, she came in third out of four in the Your Favorite Queen Consort poll last year. That's probably because she is less colorful than her colleagues Maxima of the The Netherlands, Rania of Jordan and Letizia of Spain. She just doesn't end up in the limelight as often as they do. For me, she is nearly always perfectly dressed, immaculate but not showy, she never says anything controversial and she just seems quietly but sincerely supportive of her husband King Philippe and their four children. She is just terrific in every category. As Sloane Murray @THERoyalCrabbit wrote, "I selected her because I admire Mathilde’s work in speech therapy (before royal life) and her work with sexually abused children (which, I’m sure she has an advantage having a psychology education). The QMFund for society’s poor is a noble one. Her family life is a good one and I wish I knew more of her."

via Wikimedia Commons
Mathilde's mother-in-law Queen Paola squeaked out a distant second place with 6% of the vote, but no comments. Italian-born Paola is the wife of former King Albert, who abdicated in 2013. At the time of their marriage in 1959, they had no expectation of ascending the throne because Albert's older brother Baudouin was king. Though Baudouin did marry in 1960, he and his wife were unable to have children -- Queen Fabiola had at least five miscarriages. When big brother died in 1993, Albert and Paola assumed their roles. Since the abdication, Paola has been less visible in public not just because her husband is no longer the monarch but because she has suffered from poor health, including a stroke in 2018. A strikingly beautiful woman in her youth, she remains lovely now in her 80s. She remains keenly interested in the arts, crafts and cultural heritage.

UNCTAD via Wikimedia Commons
Mathilde's two sisters-in-law tied at the bottom with 5% of the vote each. Zef Dahlia/QRC @nelainedahlia93 wrote, "It was a hard choice between Queen Mathilde and Princess Astrid. I had the pleasure of meeting Her Majesty last year, lovely lady with a calm spirit but my final pick was Princess Astrid. Regal lady who represents Belgium and her brother with utmost respect." Astrid is the second child of Albert and Paola, wedged between older brother King Philippe and younger brother Prince Laurent, but she doesn't seem to suffer from "middle child syndrome." Instead, she just gets on with it. Level-headed and devoted to serving her family and country, she often has represented her uncle Baudouin, father Albert and brother Philippe on official duties at home and abroad. She previously served as president of the Belgian Red Cross and still is on the Honorary Board of the International Paralympic Committee. At the age of 22, she married Archduke Lorenz of Austria-Este, who was created a Belgian prince. The couple has two sons, three daughters, and one grandchild (so far), who was named Anna Astrid after her grandmother. While Astrid's brothers have drawn criticism at various times -- Philippe for being dull and not-too-bright and Laurent for being selfish and possibly corrupt -- Astrid has always stayed calmly above reproach, which has lent credibility to her various causes, including the battle against landmines.

By Jleclerc via
Wikimedia Commons
British-born Belgian Claire Coombs married Prince Laurent in 2003, when she was 29. Though she became a princess upon her marriage, she did not gain any official role. This is why she is seen less, and is less well-known than her sisters-in-law. Nevertheless, she still has charitable and civic interests, including serving as a Trustees of the British School in Brussels and patron of the Brussels choral society. She occasionally accompanies her husband on his official activities, but these have occasionally been curtailed due his sometimes controversial activities. At one point, he was even threatened with having his government funding withdrawn if he didn't start behaving as expected. He also suffered some serious health issues in 2014. Through all of this, Claire has shown only a graceful and serene face to the public. Claire and Laurent have three children. Daughter Louise was born 10 months after their wedding and twin Princes Nicolas and Aymeric arrived 22 months later.

Sloane Murray @THERoyalCrabbit, whose support for Queen Maxima in the poll is strong, sums up the poll results well, "As to the other three royal ladies, I’m glad to see votes of support for them as well. They are all fine ladies, each with tremendous contributions, their own “signature” style."

16 January 2019

An Actress in the Royal Family

Talented though she is, Meghan Markle was not the first actress to marry into the British Royal Family, although she was the first to give up her career for her marriage. Nine years before Meghan married Prince Harry and became The Duchess of Sussex, British actress Sophie Winkleman married Harry's cousin, Lord Frederick Windsor. The two cousins, who are five years apart in age, grew up as neighbors in Kensington Palace.

Sophie meanwhile grew up in a prominent but not noble London family. Her Canadian mother Cindy Black is the author of several children's books including "Marty the Molecular Ant and Friends" and "Marty's Fellowship of the King's Armor" while father Barry Winkleman published the "Times Atlas of the World." The most famous member of her family, however, is her older half-sister Claudia Winkleman, who has hosted numerous British television programs, including "Strictly Come Dancing" (the British version of "Dancing with the Stars") as well as news, entertainment and lifestyle programs. Claudia's mother, journalist Eve Pollard OBE, is now married to broadcaster and journalist Sir Nicholas Lloyd. It's almost inevitable that Sophie also landed a very public career.

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As a girl, Sophie attended the City of London School for Girls, a nondenominational independent school. She was accepted into the National Youth Theatre, which only accepts about 10% of applicants. Other prominent National Youth Theatre alumni include Ed Sheeran, Hugh Bonneville, Orlando Bloom, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren, Daniel Craig, Michelle Dockery, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Idris Elba, John Oliver, Colin Firth...you get the idea.

Sophie studied English literature at Trinity Hall at Cambridge University, where she was a member of the famous Footlights Club. Eric Idle, Olivia Colman, John Cleese, Julian Fellowes and Hugh Laurie are just a few other former Footlights members. Even Prince Charles The Prince of Wales was a member during his days at Cambridge, long before Sophie was born in 1980. In 2001, Sophie was nominated for the Footlights Best Newcomer Award.

Sophie launched her professional acting career in 2002, appearing in a few different television programs. A few years later, she made her big screen debut as the older Susan in the 2005 classic hit The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. By 2008, she was both dating a member of the British Royal Family and playing a royal in the TV mini series, The Palace. From there, she continued appearing on episodic television, occasionally landing a briefly recurring role as she did on 100 Questions and Peep Show, where she appeared as Big Suze. In 2012, she had the opportunity to work with Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes on the mini series Titanic, but she is probably most well-known to American audiences for her role as Zoey on the long-running comedy Two and a Half Men. Sophie appeared in 18 episodes between 2011 and 2015.

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By then, however, she was already a royal in-law. She married Lord Frederick Windsor, only son of The Queen's cousin Prince Michael of Kent, in a lavish wedding at Hampton Court Palace on September 12, 2009. Although she continued to use her name professionally, she is also known socially as Lady Frederick Windsor. The couple lived for a while in Los Angeles. While she was working on Two and a Half Men, Freddy continued his career as an investment banker. (He is now a vice president with the world-renowned JP Morgan.) Their first daughter, Maud Elizabeth Daphne Marina, was born in Los Angeles in 2013. You may remember her as the little red-haired bridesmaid at the October 2018 wedding her godmother, Princess Eugenie of York. After the family moved back to London, their second daughter, Isabella Alexandra May, arrived in January 2016.

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In December 2017, Sophie faced a near tragedy. After wrapping on a day of shooting for the FX television series Trust, she was being driven home by a chauffeur when an approaching driver hit her car head-on, after swerving to avoid a deer in the road. Sophie, who was in the backseat suffered a broken back and foot and a ruptured abdomen. She said she was certain that she was going to die. It must have been a terrifying ordeal and a challenging recovery, especially for a mother with two energetic young children. During her recuperation, Sophie has shared, Prince Charles sent his cook to the rescue. (Some of us send a casserole to an ailing friend, others send a chef.) The Prince's cook would prepare lunches and dinners for Sophie's family at Clarence House and sent them over to Sophie's every day for weeks while she was hospitalized and after she returned home. Sophie told Hello! that she "heard from pretty much every member of Freddie's family. I was spoiled to bits by them."

Sophie returned back to the public eye a few months later. However, I have not found any information about any film or television projects that she may be working on currently. She may be focusing exclusively on her family or just working on quiet projects--the film industry can be notoriously secretive sometimes.

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For me, the takeaway of this nearly devastating episode is what it revealed about the relationships among the British Royal Family. While the media likes to publish stories about various members of the family being in battles against each other, I suspect that they are actually closer and more supportive of each other than most extended families. I don't even know all of my grandmother's cousins' children's wives. I could hardly call one up, as Prince William did, to check that they were doing okay.

So, it is perhaps easy to imagine a couple of cosy chats between Sophie Winkleman and the newest actress in the family, The Duchess of Sussex. The two of them certainly have some things in common that could make for interesting conversation.

13 January 2019

Princesses to Watch in 2019

While I'd like to start the New Year off in a state of great excitement, I'm having trouble drumming up my enthusiasm. After several years of babies and weddings, it's starting to look like a bit of a dry spell is ahead of us. Nearly all of the adult royals are already married. All we have left is Princess Beatrice of York, Prince Philippos of Greece and his older sister Theodora, who is engaged to be married this year. Then, it will likely be years before another royal wedding while we wait for the teens and pre-teens to grow up in Spain, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Most of our married royal ladies also already have two or three children. Could there be a fourth for the Duchess of Cambridge or Princess Madeleine of Sweden? Maybe a third for the Princess of Monaco or Princess Sofia of Sweden? I don't think so... Prince Harry and his cousins the York sisters are our only hope.

I fear that the next four or five years will include more goodbyes than hellos. (Maybe I'm just melancholy because I'm in the middle of preparing a lecture called, "After Elizabeth: The Future British Royal Family," and I don't want to think about the day when Elizabeth II is no longer Queen.)

Let's shake it off and celebrate the things that we can look forward to...

By Carl Rudolph Sohn via Wikimedia Commons
Happy Birthday, Your Majesty!
This year will mark the 200th anniversary of the births of both Queen Victoria (May 24) and her husband Prince Albert (August 26). This will likely mean some updated books and television specials about the diminutive royal lady who ruled an empire that stretched around the entire globe. If you live in or near any place named Victoria, you might check to see if they are already planning a commemoration or festivities. If not, start up your own committee and get the celebrations going. In the meantime, people in the United States can enjoy season three of the delightful and occasional factual PBS series Victoria that starts up again this month. If you are in Britain or planning to go this year, you might want to add Victoria and Albert's Osborne House on the Isle of Wight to your list of places to visit this year. Of course, you could go total fangirl and start planning now to dress as Victoria for Halloween. Enjoy!

A New Empress
After two decades as Crown Princess of Japan, the former Masako Owada is scheduled to become the Empress on April 30 when her 85-year-old father-in-law, Emperor Akihito, abdicates. His decision to leave the throne was reported in July 2016, but was not made possible until the Japanese government passed legislation to allow for abdication. In other words, this has been a long time coming. And, it appears that Masako has spent the last two and half years preparing herself for a more public role. Officially suffering from an adjustment disorder, likely triggered by the stress of Imperial Court life and fertility struggles, Masako spent long periods of time completely out of the public eye and only rarely made official appearances, usually staying home when her husband, Crown Prince Naruhito traveled abroad. In the last few weeks, Masako has once again been seen at court events. With Naruhito's accession, and barring any health relapse, Masako will likely spend more time outside of the palace. We may also get to see a bit more of their 17-year-old daughter Princess Aiko during the transition before she spends the next few years completing her education. As a reminder, Aiko will not be Naruhito's heir because Japan still does not permit female accession -- in fact, princesses are even required to surrender their titles and leave the Imperial Family when they marry. Naruhito's heir will be his brother Prince Akishino, followed by Akishino's 12-year-old son Prince Hisahito. One final note on the Japanese abdication: in addition to the emperor's retirement, it also will likely signal the end of his wife Empress Michiko's long public career. In 1959, she was the first commoner to marry into the family and she also struggled at first to adapt. Nearly 60 years later, however, she is a model Empress, even without the tiaras that she long ago due because their weight irritated problems with her head, neck and back. It will be nice to see a new generation move forward in Japan. After all, Akihito is the only post-World War II Emperor. His father Hirohito, who died in 1989, was the Emperor of Japan throughout the war and in the four decades that followed.

[And before you ask: no, I don't think Queen Elizabeth will ever abdicate. She sees her service as monarch as a lifelong vocation from God. She has stepped down her activities, handing over more and more responsibilities to other members of the family, including some recent charities that she has assigned to Meghan The Duchess of Sussex. If she gets to the point that she feels she can no longer the red dispatch boxes she receives from the government, she may allow Prince Charles to be appointed Regent, but she will remain Queen until her death.]

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Baby Sussex
Get ready, world! Harry and Meghan's little one will be here very soon. Hopefully, the completely uncalled-for nastiness in the gutter media and social media will have stopped by then. I suspect that the new little one, who will only be royal if The Queen changes the rules, will arrive well before their first anniversary on May 19. Under current guidelines, the child will be Lord or Lady X Windsor (or Mountbatten-Windsor). As the editor of a blog about princesses, I really hope it is a girl! Boy or girl, though, I'm not sure that I am going to try to predict the baby's name. With no need to stick to royal history or tradition, the Sussexes can pick from absolutely any name. Let's remember that Princess Anne named her daughter Zara. In fact, I would be incredibly surprised by a name like Victoria or Albert, unless the baby arrives on Queen Victoria's actual birthday, May 24. Otherwise, I suspect that we will see something that better reflects the modernity of the parents. But, please also remember: I am ALWAYS WRONG about royal baby names.

Princess Theodora
The exiled Greek king's youngest daughter announced her engagement to Los Angeles lawyer Matthew Kumar in November. The princess also lives in Los Angeles, where she is an actress. Her parents moved back to Greece from London in 2013, and it's likely that the wedding will be held somewhere in Greece. When Theodora's older brother Prince Nikolaos married in 2010, the wedding was on the Greek island of Spetses. I would predict something similar to that with a bit more Hollywood glitz.

And now for the maybe, might, could happens...

Alex Bramall/Buckingham Palace via AP
Princess Eugenie
Newlywed Mrs. Brookbank might reasonably considering starting her own family within the next year or two. Her own mother Sarah Duchess of York gave birth just over 24 months after her marriage to Prince Andrew, if that is any indication, we might not get a pregnancy announcement in 2019...but I wouldn't be surprised.

More Babies? More Weddings"
After the royal baby boom of the last couple of years, 2019 will likely be a bust. Princess Sofia of Sweden could bring fourth a third child, but we might also have seen the last baby for this Swedish royal generation. Within the extended Belgian Royal Family, there are possible family expansions for the older children of Princess Astrid. Her oldest son Prince Amedeo's daughter Anna Astrid will be two this spring, so perhaps a little brother and sister might be welcomed. Astrid's oldest daughter Princess Maria Laura turned 30 this past summer, so we might want to keep an eye on her in these next few years.

Some may also wish for a little sibling to join Monaco's twins, who turned four just last month. Their mum Princess Charlene will be 41 later this month, so maybe just maybe will get a little one. Since all of Princess Caroline of Monaco's full-grown children had babies in 2019, it is unlikely that any of them will be procreating. However, Princess Stephanie of Monaco's son Louis Ducruet is getting married this year, so perhaps Stephanie will get her first grandchild some time soon. Her daughters Pauline Ducruet, 24, and Camille Gottlieb, 20, could also surprise us. As could their cousin, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, the illegitimate half-sister of the twins. She will be 27 in March.

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The only place remaining with the possibility of a slew of royal weddings and royal babies in the next half decade is the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa currently have five adult children and four grandchildren. Princess Alexandra is nearly 28 and Prince Sebastien will be 27 this spring, while father-of-two Prince Louis's divorce was finalized in 2017, even though the final divorce settlement with Princess Tessy still seems to be lingering. (Speaking of which, Princess Tessy, just 33, could also re-marry and add more children to the two she had with Louis.)

As for "big" royal weddings. There just aren't many possibilities. There are only two adult, unmarried children of king/queen out there now that Prince Harry has married and Princess Theodora is engaged. Theodora's 32-year-old little brother Prince Philippos of Greece is attached but doesn't seem to be rushing to the altar. And, the only other eligible bachelor is Prince Andrew The Duke of York, who will be 59 next week. The father of Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie was divorced from their mother Sarah Duchess of York in 1992. Every once a while, rumors fly the "happiest divorced couple in the world" are about to remarry. Now THAT would be a major royal story, indeed!

01 January 2019

Top 18 Posts of 2018

This past year has been a pretty exciting one for fans of royal women. We witnessed the wedding of one of Queen Elizabeth's royal granddaughters and welcomed an American into the British Royal Family. We also got excited by new royal babies in the U.K., Sweden and Monaco. Sadly, we witnessed the passing of the hardworking Princess Elisabeth of Denmark.

Here, on the Princess Palace, I also added a new feature, the monthly Princess Poll, which you all seem to enjoy. At the same, I continued our profiles of historic and contemporary princess as well as offering some historic perspectives on the monarchy today. Based on your readership, you like this variety of offerings. Here are your favorite 18 Princess Palace posts of 2018. (Click the title to link to the post.)

Queen Noor al-Hussein
from World Skull Forum via Wikimedia Commons
Christmas Day marked the 50th anniversary of King Hussein of Jordan's third marriage. In anticipation of the occasion, I offered up these mini bios of the four dynamic women whom the legendary king married.

In one of the earliest Princess Polls, I asked you to choose between the four most recent Princesses of Wales. Not surprisingly, Diana emerged as the leader, but many, many people opted to champion Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, who chooses not to use the Wales title. I was a bit surprised by the outcome, but hope this bodes well for the upcoming Charlesian monarchy.

My four-part series honoring ALL of the Russian Imperial women who were alive at the start of the Russian Revolution included this piece that focused on Tsar Nicholas' mother and sisters. Part 3 and Part 4 were not far down the list. Surprisingly, Part 1 about the murdered Empress and her daughters did not rise very high in the year's readership.

It's a bit unusual for posts published so late in the year to rise into the top, but this Princess Poll made the cut. In this one, readers were asked to select between the Mary of Denmark, Masako of Japan, Mette-Marit of Norway and Victoria of Sweden. Interestingly, the one who won is the only who was born royal, but people seem to like her for her "common" touch.

Anne Princess Royal
from Chatham House
via Wikimedia Commons
For this edition of the Princess Poll series, you were asked which of the four British Princess of the Blood tops your list: Alexandra, Anne, Beatrice or Eugenie. Spunk and grit seem to be the characteristics you must preferred in this one.

Prince Louis of Cambridge's birth in April marked a historic moment in Britain. It was the first time in British history that an older sister did not yield her right of succession to a younger brother. In an age when women are still not recognized as equal human beings in many parts of the world, I felt it was a moment to celebrate.

Okay, one of the things that we royal watchers most enjoy is trying to guess what a baby's name will be. Second to that is guessing future titles! This post explored some of the options that might have been granted Prince Harry upon his marriage. (Full disclosure, I really did not think Sussex would be the choice.)

Continuing with the title guessing games (like #12 above), I got a bit carried away with the idea that The Queen might select a Royal Dukedom for Prince Harry with significant Scottish connections. I was excited, but wrong again. Of course, he did receive a secondary Scottish title, Earl of Dumbarton, which will be used as a courtesy title by his oldest son, if he has one. (I'm hoping for a girl this spring -- hello, I write about princesses -- but I'll probably be wrong again. My prognosticator has been off for a while now.)

Inspired by recent reading of the official biography of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, this post spotlight's her strong and decades-long interest in Africa, which started when she and her new husband spent months there during a partly official and partly private sojourn when they were still just the Duke and Duchess of York.

Queen Maxima
Oliver Abels (SVT)
via Wikimedia Commons
The very first Princess Poll post continued to get traffic throughout the year causing it to also be your favorite Princess Poll post. This poll focused on the four younger consorts: Letizia, Mathilde, Maxima and Rania. The colorful and vivacious Dutch queen from Argentina took was more popular than the other three combined.

As they say, "it's who you know." Ingeborg may not have been a significantly ranked royal lady herself, but she was closely related to many very significant royals, including monarchs in Denmark, Greece, Norway, Sweden, Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Russia.

In commiseration with Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, whose consort Prince Henrik passed away in February, I offered this look at reigning Queens who lost their spouses and lived the longest in widowhood. Queen Victoria is likely the most famous royal widow, but she actually was not the longest widowed...

As rumors became stronger that Prince Harry would be created Duke of Sussex upon his marriage to Meghan Markle, I decided to take a look at the history of the Duchesses of Sussex. It turned out that Meghan is actually the very first because, although the only previous Duke of Sussex had two wives, neither woman was granted royal titles or styles. This post introduces both of them.

Early in 2018, I finally turned the spotlight on King Edward I's second wife, Margaret of France. It was about time considering that I had covered his first wife, Eleanor of Castile, all the way back in 2011. Barely more than an adolescent when she became Queen of England and following a well-loved predecessor, Margaret was remarkably successful as both wife and queen.

Prince Louis and The Duchess of Cambridge
Matt Porteous/Kensington Palace
So, I must admit that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge did not name their son Frederick or Alfred, but considering the names of their first two children, it seemed logical that they might pick a name from among those commonly used by the Hanoverian Dynasty. As always, though, my predictions were incorrect.

In May, when it was announced that Thomas Markle would not escort his daughter down the aisle, everyone wondered who would walk with her. Some thought perhaps her mother Doria Ragland should do the honor, so I wrote this post about the last mother to escort a British Royal bride: Queen Victoria! (Prince Charles accompanied Meghan on the day.)

In observation of the 200th anniversary of the House of Bernadotte, I offered up these mini bios of the dynasty's Queens from Napolean's ex-girlfriend to today's Brazilian-German "Dancing Queen."

By far, the most popular post of the year was this review of Hugo Vickers book tracing the work and notes of James Pope-Hennessy's official biography of Queen Mary. It is a truly incredible volume that I cannot recommend too highly. In fact, I hope that the thousands of people who read this review also read the book!