31 December 2020

The Best of Royal 2020

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex
image via Wikimedia Commons
The year 2020 will not be well-remembered by most people. From the pandemic to the lockdowns to the economic despair to the racial and political strife, it brought suffering to many of us around the entire globe. While the year started off well enough for most, we royal watchers were already struggling with deep sorrow when 2020 dawned. The year was born just days after the Norwegian Royal Family suffered the tragic suicide of Ari Behn and in the midst of the Sussexes exit from the official British Royal Family, which was made certain on January 9. Even with that we hoped for a brighter year. As royal families, like the rest of us, found ways to cope with the challenges of 2020 -- including Covid-19 illness for the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge, the Prince of Monaco, Prince Christian of Denmark and Prince Joachim of Belgium and unrelated hospitalization for King Harald of Norway -- other brighter spots of hope and joy emerged throughout the year.

Indeed, we had small weddings and new babies to break up the dreary months of 2020. Here are a few of the top highlights.


In Belgium, we gained two new princesses and a new prince although a few within the family many not view this as a "brighter spot" in the year. The development came in October when a Belgian court ruled that Delphine Boël, the natural daughter of ex-King Albert II was entitled to the royal name and royal status even though she not born within a royal marriage. These royal prerogatives were also extended to her two children, Josephine and Oscar, as they are to the other grandchildren of the former king. Albert had long denied that Josephine was his daughter, even refusing court-ordered paternity tests for many weeks despite daily fines for noncompliance. Nevertheless, Princess Delphine has now been welcomed by her half-brother King Philippe and has also met privately with her other half-siblings Princess Astrid and Prince Laurent as well as other members of the family, including her father and his wife ex-Queen Paola. Despite her change in status, her life has not changed and she continues her work as an artist. (Read my post about Delphine.)

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Meanwhile, the current heir to the Belgian throne, King Philippe's eldest daughter Princess Elisabeth Duchess of Brabant completed her sixth form (like U.S. twelfth grade). When she received her international baccalaureate from United World College of the Atlantic in Wales in May, she graduated virtually like most members of the Class of 2020 in schools and universities around the globe. Now 18, she is enrolled at the Belgian Military Academy in Brussels. Military training and service is a common part of preparation for most European heirs now, regardless of gender.


The formerly Imperial House of Habsburg celebrated a lockdown wedding with the marriage of Archduchess Eleonore van Habsburg to Belgian Formula E racecar driver Jérôme d'Ambrosio on July 20 at the civil registry in Monaco. Eleonore is the daughter of the Head of the House of Habsburg Archduke Karl by his first wife Baroness Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, The grandson of the last Austrian emperor, Karl is a former member of the European Parliament and current president of Blue Shield International, an international organization dedicated to protecting cultural heritage. Eleonore is a jewelry designer. In September, the happy couple took a delayed socially distanced honeymoon horseback riding in the Italian Alps.

Then, in September, her cousin Archduchess Gabriella married her longtime love Prince Henri of Bourbon Parma at Schloss Tratzberg in Jenbach, Austria. The Swiss-based bride is the daughter of Archduke Carl Christian van Habsburg and Princess Marie Astrid of Luxembourg (the older sister of the current Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg. The Danish-born groom is a descendant of the former royal Dukes of Parma, who were scions of the French Royal House of Bourbon. The couple has reportedly been engaged since shortly before their daughter Victoria was born in 2017. Unlike the other royal weddings of the year, this one was attended by a larger crowd of family and friends, including the bride's cousins Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume and Hereditary Grand Duchess Stephanie of Luxembourg. Covid restrictions were less severe in Austria at that time; December brought stricter guidelines to the region though I'm not sure how the new recommendations are impacting weddings there now.


Although Princess Theodora of Greece's planned May 2020 wedding on Spetses appears to be delayed until after the pandemic is over, her little brother Prince Philippos surprised us with a lockdown marriage to his longtime love Nina Flohr. The new Princess Nina and her love had a civil ceremony on Dec. 15 in a snow-covered St. Moritz with only their fathers, former King Constantine II of Greece and Thomas Flohr, in attendance. Their engagement had only been announced in September though it actually took place in Greece earlier in the year. 


Another lockdown wedding marked the union of Princess Raiyah bint Hussein and Ned Donovan on July 7 in the United Kingdom instead of the nuptials they had planned to take place in Jordan. Raiyah is the youngest of the late King Hussein's 12 children. Her mother is his fourth wife and widow, Queen Noor Al-Hussein, who was born as Lisa Halaby in Washington, D.C. The British groom is a journalist and is a grandson of the writer Roald Dahl, whose works include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and, one of my favorite childhood reads, James and the Giant Peach. Raiyah is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the UCLA in the field of modern Japanese literature.


For me, one of the most joyous royal moments of 2020 occurred on May 10 with the long-awaited birth of Prince Charles Jean Philippe Joseph Marie Guillaume, who is heir to the Grand Ducal throne of Luxembourg after his father Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume. The baby's mother is the former Countess Stephanie de Lannoy. Guillaume and Stephanie married in 2012. The couple waited many years to be able to share this happy experience with the world while many speculated why they had not yet had a child. The pain of such public speculation (not to mention the heartache if they were having fertility issues) must have been a burden to the couple. Their pregnancy announcement late in 2019 was met with tremendous rejoicing. The fate of the throne was never in questions -- Guillaume has four siblings, several nieces and nephews, and numerous cousins -- so this was a truly personal joy that I and so many others were pleased to be able to share with them. 

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And, just today, as I finish composing this post on New Year's Eve, another happy announcement has come from the extended Royal Family of Luxembourg. Tessy Antony de Nassau has just shared news on her Instagram (@tessy_from_luxembourg) of her engagement to Swiss financier Frank Floessel. It is not clear exactly how long the couple has known each other, but he first appeared in her Insta posts with her sons by her former husband, Prince Louis of Luxembourg, over Easter during the lockdown. Although Tessy's divorce from Louis, a younger brother of Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume was protracted, they seem to have a friendly relationship as he has also made appearances in her Insta posts with her and their boys, 12-year-old Prince Noah of Nassau and 14-year-old Prince Gabriel. Tessy is an international advocate for girls and women, widely celebrated for her humanitarian work with organizations like Professors Without Borders and Finding Butterflies, both of which she co-founded.


Many royal ladies have been working hard throughout the pandemic to support various charities and communities, but Princess Sofia of Sweden, daughter-in-law of King Carl Gustaf has been actively working in Sweden's hospitals. Early in the global crisis, she enrolled in an online training course and started working as a volunteer as Sophiahemmet Hospital in Stockholm. Her efforts have included assisting on kitchen shifts, janitorial services, and disinfecting medical instruments. Perhaps as a consequence of her noble efforts, both she and her husband Prince Carl Philip tested positives for the coronavirus in November and experienced some mild flu-like symptoms. Early in December, they announced much better news: they are expecting their third child in the spring. Their first two children are Prince Alexander (4) and Prince Gabriel (3) 

The United Kingdom

Like so many brides-to-be around the world, Princess Beatrice of York's wedding plans were scrapped with the onset of lockdowns. Her marriage to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi was originally scheduled for May 29 at the Chapel Royal of St. James's Palace in London. When it became clear that she (and we) would not have the wedding of her (and our) dreams, it looked like we might be waiting for many months or longer before the princess became a bride. Then, suddenly on the 18th of July, we were all delighted to see new photos of our princess bride and her new husband outside of the Royal Chapel of All Saints at Royal Lodge Windsor, her divorced parents' Berkshire home. The scaled-down ceremony included two very special guests, her grandparents Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, who appeared as the only family members in any of the publicly released photos. Underscoring her closeness to her granny, Beatrice wore the Queen's diamond fringe tiara, which once belonged to her own grandmother Queen Mary. (This means that neither York princess wore the York tiara that was gifted to their mother by the Queen and Duke and worn at her own wedding in 1986. The tiara has not been seen in public in years...) Beatrice's dress was created for her by the Queen's dresser Angela Kelly from a Norman Hartnell gown the Queen wore back in the early 1960s. The hem of the dress was augmented to accommodate Beatrice's taller frame and satin-trimmed organza puff sleeves were added to the strappy dress. The effect was both ethereal and temporary; all of the additions were created to be removed so as to preserve the vintage gown in its original state.

Two months later, we got more good news from the Brits as Beatrice's little sister Princess Eugenie announced her first pregnancy. She and husband Jack Brooksbank only shared that the little one is expected "early" in 2021. Perhaps the baby will arrive in time for Eugenie's own birthday on March 23. 

At the end of September, we received news of another wedding in the BRF when Flora Ogilvy shared a wedding day pic on her Instagram account (@floravesterberg). She and Swedish investment banker Timothy Vesterberg were married in a small unannounced ceremony at the Chapel Royal. Art agent Flora is a granddaughter of the Queen's cousin, Princess Alexandra and the late Sir Angus Ogilvy.

Then, at the beginning of December, Mike Tindall, son-in-law of Princess Anne the Princess Royal announced on his radio show that he and wife Zara Phillips are expecting a third child. The couple previously experienced two miscarriages and have two healthy and rambunctious daughters, Mia (nearly 7) and Lena (2). Baby Brooksbank and new Baby Tindall will be the ninth and tenth great-grandchildren for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Good News from Bad

Even in Norway, where Ari's death is still deeply grieved, his family found ways through the sorrow. His daughters by his ex-wife Princess Martha Louise of Norway emerged publicly as they never had before. Middle daughter Leah Behn, 15, grew her status as a social media influencer as her Instagram account (@leahhbeauty) gained more followers and product promotions. Meanwhile, oldest daughter Maud Angelica Behn, 17, became prominent in her work in support of mental health issues. She had bravely and movingly spoken on the topic at her father's funeral just days after losing him. In October, her efforts earned her the "Bravest Woman of the Year" Award from Tara Magazine.

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who initially moved to Canada, settled in Los Angeles and suffered another heartbreak during the summer when Meghan miscarried her second child. She wrote honestly of the experience in a newspaper column many months later earning her both tremendous admiration for speaking on such a personal and still taboo topic suffered by so many women and families. Unfortunately, as with everything the Sussexes do, the column also earned scorn and derision from those who are determined to see evil in anything associated with Harry and Meghan. Nevertheless, they persisted in their efforts to set up their Archewell foundation, made a production deal with Netflix, and launched a new web site and a new podcast, with a special cameo on the first episode by their 19-month-old son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor cheerfully wishing us all a happy new year. 

Indeed, we all ("commoners" and royals alike) are looking to 2021 to bring better things are way. And, many of us are already looking forward to May/June 2022 for the already announced 70th Jubilee for Queen Elizabeth II. Let's all plan to meet in London for an unprecedented celebration!