15 June 2022

Double Dynastic Debacle

Princess Helen of Greece
Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons

Royal romance was sweeping through the troubled Balkans in 1921. The beautiful Princess Helen of Greece had agreed to marry the dashing Crown Prince Carol of Romania. Despite his reputation as a playboy -- he had already fathered illegitimate children and married then divorced a woman of lower status -- he seemed to offer some stability, or at least his throne did. Helen was living in Switzerland with her often exiled family when Carol, his mother Queen Marie and his sisters came to celebrate the engagement of Helen's oldest brother 
Crown Prince George to Carol's oldest sister Princess Elisabetha A longtime admirer of Elisabetha, George had often tried to woo the princess. Both families were pleased when the usually disinterested Elisabetha actually accepted his proposal. A pair of royal weddings was soon announced. 

Elisabetha and George married first in Bucharest, Romania in February. Then, the mass of interwoven royal relatives relocated to Athens, where George and Helen's father had only recently been reinstated as King. The second royal wedding of the year took place there on March between Helen and Carol. 

Elisabetha's adoption into her new husband's family did not go well. Neither they nor she made much of an effort to get along. The family often spoke Greek in front of her, which was certainly a slight. It didn't help that she was doing little to learn the language. Elisabetha did not have many sterling qualities to win them over. Even her own mother, the former Princess Marie of Edinburgh, was not a great admirer. Elisabetha had been a beautiful little girl, but she grew less and less attractive. She studied art in Paris for a short time, but she lacked social style and was not affectionate by nature. Her little sister Maria, future Queen of Yugoslavia, note, "Mamma thinks her decidedly dull." A terrible sin in comparison to her sparkling, dramatic, beautiful, and hardworking mother. Queen Marie characterized Elisabetha as narcissistic, cold, and joyless.

Helen, on the other hand, was beloved within her family and welcomed warmly by her husband's family in Romania.

Princess Elisabetha of Romania
George Grantham Bain Collection via Wikimedia Commons

Like many royal and noble young women, both Helen and Elisabetha had trained as nurses during World War I. Elisabetha, however, often was absent from her duties due to some claimed illness or another. She also suffered criticism due to her alleged weight issues. Queen Marie later wanted to send her to a sanatorium not so much for her nerves but because
 "she WILL not understand how fat she is".

By the summer of 1922, the newly married Elisabetha had fallen so physically ill that no one could think she was just being lazy. She had contracted typhoid and then pleuriscy. Her parents went to Greece to bring her back to Bucharest to recover. When her hair began to fall out, it was cut short and she dyed it red. She began applying makeup that heightened her sickly, "ghostlike appearance".

In September, yet another Greek military defeat led to yet another Greek military revolt and sent King Constantine back into exile. Elisabetha's husband became King George II. Although she was unprepared to be queen so young and still recovering her health, she started off well by helping resettle Greeks who were fleeing Turkey. However she really had no love for Greece, for her role, or for her husband. She had made no friends in her new country and she was still refusing to have a child. Added to that, King George was really just a military puppet.

Fifteen months later, when the Greek throne was once again dismantled, Elisabetha and George were invited to spend their exile in Romania. Her parents set them up in a wing of the royal palace Cotroceni. After a while, they found their own residence, where he grew increasingly bored and where she spent much of her time gambling and eating cake. Elisabetha temporarily escaped by traveling to Yugoslavia following the birth of her younger sister's baby. Now Queen Maria of Yugoslavia, little sister was not happy to see her. Their mother sent Elisabetha away after she flirted one too many times with her brother-in-law King Alexander. Having been stripped of all of their properties in Greece, the couple added financial stress to their already troubled relationship. When Elisabetha started an affair with his banker, the marriage was all but over. George spent more and more time away, eventually moving to London. They finally divorced in 1935. Neither remarried. He returned to Greece as King in 1935 and remained until his death at age 56 in 1947.

The Greek Royal Family with Helen in the back row.
By Carl Boehringer via Wikimedia Commons

Nicknamed Sitta, Princess Helen was a tall brunette considered pretty and refined as expected of a princess. She grew up in a relatively tight-knit family. Even when she and three of her siblings were sent to school at Eastbourne in England, their mother Sophie, formerly a princess of Prussia, would come to stay for the summer. First she would visit her British royal cousins at Windsor and then settle in at the Grand Hotel near her children.

Greece, however, was a turbulent country continually engaged in military conflicts during this period. Nevertheless, in the first World War, Greece remained neutral. Instead of peace, however, this stance made them a target from both sides. When Helen was 20, French and British troops landed in Athens. They bombarded the city, including the Royal Palace from their nearby ships. Queen Sophie, Helen, her baby sister Katherine and the women of the palace had to shelter in the cellar for three hours. The ongoing barrage prompted Helen's father, King Constantine, to write a letter to his first cousin King George V in the United Kingdom. "I entreat you," he begged, "do not push us to despair, I have never harbored any plots against you and your allies." A three-week blockade left the royal family with only days worth of food. In the streets, people were dying from starvation and disease. The French insisted that they would only relent if King Constantine left the country and the British stood by the French, even though Queen Sophie was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Helen remarked, "it was as though some dear, trusted friend had cold-bloodedly pushed a dagger in one's back."

It was this event that led to the family's exile in Switzerland while her second brother King Alexander was placed on the throne and left alone without any of his family in Greece, where their Romanian cousins later visited them sparking the double engagements. The Greek royals were in mourning for King Alexander when Carol made his proposal to Helen. The young king had died after being bitten by a monkey. The family was being summoned back to Greece, but Helen could not bear the thought of returning to the place where they had suffered so much. Queen Sophie advised Helen to decline. Besides Carol's terrible reputation, she thought the pair were poorly suited, and she didn't want her daughter to go away from her so soon after losing her son Alexander. Helen later regretted that she had not followed her mother's advice, writing, "I would have been spared years of misery." Queen Sophie's cousin Queen Marie also saw that the young couple had very different personalities, but she hoped the steadfast and reliable Helen would be Carol's savior. Even she later regretted the match, telling Helen that she and Carol should have never met, comparing her son to a disaster from which Helen could never recover.

Nevertheless, the wedding went forward in Athens in March after their siblings' wedding in Bucharest in February. By the time, Carol and Helen returned to Romania for their official welcome, Helen was already pregnant. Their son Michael was born in October on the first anniversary of King Alexander's death. Queen Marie was at her daughter-in-law's side as Helen struggled through a difficult delivery. The early birth meant that Helen's own mother was not there as both baby and new mother nearly died. Queen Sophie arrived a week later. Sophie stayed for a while as Helen recovered. Since Helen and Carol's home was being remodeled, she took her daughter and baby grandson back to Greece to continue their convalescence. The next year, King Constantine was forced to abdicate again. Helen and Michael dashed to Italy to be with them. In January 1923, Constantine suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died. "Mama's state simply breaks my heart," Helen wrote to Carol. "I could not possibly leave her just now." Instead Helen brought Sophie back to Romania with her.

This frequent togetherness with her family -- in Greece, in Italy, and in Romania -- set a pattern that Carol did not like. He called it a "crowded marriage." He added to the crowd, while Helen was away, by starting an affair with Elena "Magda" Lupescu. Sexy and vibrant (or vulgar and crude depending on your point of view), the tall redhead was the opposite of Helen. Having already married and been forced to give up an earlier "inappropriate" marriage to Zizi Lambrino, Carol was unwilling to surrender his own desires to the Crown much less to the wife from home he had grown increasingly distant. 

Helen with young Michael
via Wikimedia Commons

In 1925, barely four years after marrying Helen, Carol ran off to Italy to live with Magda. Ever dutiful, Helen offered to go to Italy and bring him back, but her father-in-law King Ferdinand prevented her. Ferdinand had had enough of his son shirking his duties and running off over the years. Carol proposed his own solution to the problem: he begged his family to just pretend he had died in an automobile accident. They declined and the government forced Carol to surrender his rights as heir to the throne in honor of his young son Michael. With King Ferdinand's death in 1927, six-year-old Michael became king with his uncle Nicholas as regent. Helen was recognized as Princess Mother of Romania.  

Carol was not done with them yet. In 1930, with changing political winds, he returned to Romania and was declared King, displacing a confused young Michael. The new prime minister encouraged Helen to take him back. Drawing on what Carol's mother called Helen's "quiet dignity ... golden heart [and] forgiving disposition", Helen reluctantly agreed. Carol, however, refused and blamed Helen for their divorce. Filled with spite, he placed her under surveillance, surrounded her home with police, and severely limited her access to their son. Within two years, he forced Helen out of Romania and summoned Madga to his side. Helen joined her mother in Florence, later buying her own villa there. He only permitted Michael to visit her there twice a year and allowed Helen to come to Romania for Michael's birthdays. 

This went on for nearly a decade before Carol was deposed. Having tried to play both sides against the middle in World War II, Carol finally declared Romania for the Axis powers. However, he was still making too friendly overtures to France on the Allied side for Hitler's liking. Carol, who had already been forced to cede significant territory to Russia now ceded more to Hitler in order to guarantee the safety of the rest of country. By this time, the Romanian government had had enough and Carol was forced to abdicate. The now 18-year-old Michael was restored to the throne. Helen was able to return to his side and the two of them tried to do what they could to thwart growing Nazi hegemony in the country. Helen worked to prevent the deportation of Jews and convinced the prime minister to provide food, clothing, and medical aid to the ghettos and camps. Due to her efforts she was later recognized by the nation of Israel with their honor as "Righteous Among Nations". 

Despite their efforts, Michael was increasingly stymied by the government and their Nazi handlers. The monarchy survived the war but the nation was soon overwhelmed by communism. He was basically a figurehead and constantly at odds with the communist leaders, frequently refusing to do their bidding. When he returned from London after attending the wedding of his cousins Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth) and Prince Philip, he was forced to abdicate and the monarchy was abolished. He was not allowed to return for more than four decades. Since his death in 2017, the oldest of his five daughters Crown Princess Margareta has been officially recognized by the Romanian government with the title Custodian of the Crown. 

As for Carol, he married Magda in 1947 and died six years later. Michael refused to attend his funeral. 

Helen returned to her villa in Florence, welcoming family there when she wasn't traveling and pursuing her interests in Renaissance art and architecture. In her later years, suffering from failing health and financial problems, she moved to an apartment in Switzerland, not far from Michael's home with his family. She eventually moved in with them just before her death at the age of 86.

By Philip de Laszlo via Wikimedia Commons

And lest we forget Queen Elisabetha, whom we left happily divorced in the 1930s, she made a home and reputation for herself back in Romania. When her brother Carol was restored to the throne, she took on the role of First Lady. She was the only person in the family who accepted Magda's role in his life. Through inheritance and financial advice from her lover, she grew quite wealthy and enjoyed her life at the head of the nation. In the early years of Michael's second reign, she kept her head low. By 1944, however, she was readily conspiring with the Communists against him, earning the moniker "Red Aunt." She even consorted with Marshal Tito who had deposed another of her child-king nephews, King Peter II of Yugoslavia. To round out her grand slam of familial betrayals, she even financially supported the guerilla war against her ex-brother-in-law King Paul of Greece. 

Elisabetha's support for the Communists was not reciprocated in the end. When they abolished the monarchy in 1947, she was given three days to pack up and a train to leave on. She ultimately landed in France and fell in love with a young artist, whom she later adopted. She died in 1956.


Bloks, Moniek. "Righteous Among Nations - Queen Mother Helen of Romania." History of Royal Womenhttps://www.historyofroyalwomen.com/helen-of-greece-and-denmark/righteous-among-nations-queen-mother-helen-romania/ Accessed 3 March 2021

Gelardi, Julia. Born to Rule. St. Martin's Griffin, 2005.

O'Donnell, Stephen. "Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark." Gods and Foolish Grandeur20 April 2014. https://godsandfoolishgrandeur.blogspot.com/2014/04/princess-helen-of-greece-and-denmark.html Accessed 1 March 2021.

Pakula, Hannah. The Last Romantic. Simon & Schuster, 1985.

Princess Elisabeta of Romania on Lost in the Myths of History

Queen Helen of Romania on The Florentine

03 June 2022

The Queen's Royal Ladies Part 2

In continuing celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee, here is Part 2 of the list of royal women who have lived during her reign. Part 2 includes all of the ladies born since the death of Queen Victoria, who previously held the record as longest reigning British monarch. Click here to read Part 1.

by Dorothy Wilding via Wikimedia Commons

Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott
(1901-2004) Born on Christmas Day, she was a daughter of Scotland's largest landowner, the 7th Duke of Buccleuch. Atypical for women of her era, she traveled the world as a young woman and did not marry until her mid 30s. When she married King George V's third son Prince Henry, she became the Duchess of Gloucester. During World War II, she was Air Chief Commandant of the Women's Royal Air Force. In the middle of the war, however, the Duke was appointed Viceroy in Australia and they underwent a harrowing journey through enemy-laden waters with their two young sons to get to the post. After the Duke's death, her niece, Queen Elizabeth II, granted her the right to be called Princess Alice. She lived to be 102. Nearly 20 years later, she still holds the record for longest lived member of the British Royal Family. (Read my post about Princess Alice.)

Princess Marina of Greece (1906-1968) was the last foreign princess to marry into the British Royal Family. As a granddaughter of King George I of Greece, she was a first cousin of Prince Philip, consort of Queen Elizabeth. She married George V's fourth, and arguably most handsome, son Prince George Duke of Kent. When he was killed in a plane crash in World War II, she was left as a young widow with three small children, including a six-week-old infant. She raised her children to be dutiful members of the British Royal Family but kept them connected to their many royal cousins on the continent. Her oldest son, Prince Edward Duke of Kent, stood beside Queen Elizabeth on the balcony during the Trooping the Color ceremony. P.S. Like her sisters-in-law Mary and Alice, she also took on one of the female military branches. In her case, it was the Women's Royal Naval Service. (Read my post, Young Royal Widows.)

Princess Margaret (1930-2002) was the Queen's younger sister. Although they were four and a half years apart, they were usually dressed alike and were almost constantly together. During World War II, the sisters were hidden at a "house in the country", which was actually Windsor Castle. They remained close throughout their lives, including during Margaret's controversial relationship with a divorced man that rocked the early years of the Queen's reign. The family rejoiced when Margaret married society photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones and was heartbroken when it ended in a divorce with both couple's caught in affairs. Margaret always continued her loyal service to her sister and to the Crown, but her later years were troubled by serious health problems. Having suffered yet another stroke, she passed away at age 71 weeks before the death of her mother.  (Read my post about Princess Margaret.)

from Queensland State Archives via Wikimedia Commons

Katharine Worsley
(1933-  ) met Prince Edward Duke of Kent when he was a young Army officer serving near her home in Yorkshire. She was a charming addition to the family. Despite three successful pregnancy, she also endured unsuccessful ones, which led her into deep depression. She eventually found some solace by converting to the Roman Catholic Church. her greatest solace and passion, however, has always been music. Both a performer and music teacher, she eventually opted to discontinue her royal work. For the last two decades, she has preferred to be known in her daily life as Katharine Kent only being addressed as HRH Duchess of Kent when on the rare occasions when she participates in major royal occasions. (Read my post, Meet the Duchess of Kent.)

Princess Alexandra of Kent (1936-  ) is the only daughter of the King's uncle Prince George who died in a wartime plane crash when Alexandra and her brothers were young. Well-connected to Europe's royal families through her mother Princess Marina of Greece (above), Alexandra has spent a lot of time visiting other courts. Nevertheless, she began her life as a working member of the British Royal Family when she was just a teenager, initially at her mother's side. She married Sir Angus Ogilvy, a younger son of the 12th Earl of Airlie. Now widowed and in her eighties, she has had to slow down her royal work in recent years, but continues to be one of the most well-loved members of the family. (Read my post about Princess Alexandra.)

Baroness Marie Christine von Reibnitz (1945-  ) was born in the German-controlled Sudetenland, now part of the Czech Republic, in the waning months of World War II. After the war, the family abandoned their estates and her parents divorced. Her mother took her and her brother to grow up in Australia. She moved to London to study at Victoria and Albert Museum and married a banker. After meeting Prince Michael of Kent, she had her first marriage annulled and married the prince a month later. She was the first divorced person to marry a British royal in centuries. Her Catholicism also made him ineligible for the throne. (That rule was reversed in 2015 and he was restored to the Line of Succession.) Known as Princess Michael of Kent, she and Michael are not officially working members of the British Royal Family although they carry out occasional engagements and participate in major events. She is one of the less popular and more controversial members of the family, with accusations of plagiarism and racism to her credit. She works as an author and interior designer. (Read my post about Princess Michael of Kent.)

By Richard Gough by Wikimedia Commons

Birgitte van Deurs
(1946-  ) was working at the Danish Embassy in London when she met an aspiring young architect, who just happened to be a Prince. As the younger son of the duke of Gloucester, however, Prince Richard offered Birgitte a relatively quiet life on the very edges of the British Royal Family. within two years of their marriage, however, Richard's older brother died in stunt flying accident and his father passed away making him them the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and full-fledged working royals. In 50 years of royal service, they are among the few members of the royal family who have never been touched by scandal or negative publicity. (Read my post, Birgitte's 45 Royal Years.)

Camilla Shand (1947-  ) met Charles Prince of Wales when he was still on active duty in the Royal Navy. Their romance ended when he shipped out and she married her on-again-off-again boyfriend Andrew Parker Bowles though she remained a confidante of the Prince even after he married. As his marriage broke down, they resumed their romance and she became the world's most hated woman. After Camilla and Charles had both divorced, they quietly continued the relationship, finally marrying in 2005 when they were both in the fifties. She uses his secondary title and is known as the Duchess of Cornwall. Over the years, her cheerful attitude and and obvious support for her husband have helped her win over a much of the British public. (Read my post about Camilla.)

Anne Princess Royal (1950-  ) is the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. An Olympic equestrienne, she met her first husband in the riding world. Always considered one of the hardest working royals, she regularly tops the list for most engagements. Her most prominent work includes Save the Children and the Olympic Committee. She attracted some negative attention when the media got hold of love letters between her and one of the royal equerries, Tim Laurence. She weathered the storm and married Tim. Their marriage has lasted three decades. (Read my post about all of the women titled Princess Royal.)

By John Mathew Smith via Wikimedia Commons

Sarah Ferguson
(1959-  ) is the daughter of Ronald Ferguson, who was polo manager to both Prince Philip and Prince Charles, which meant she met her future husband Prince Andrew when they were just children. Their romance ignited when her friend Diana Princess of Wales played matchmaker on a royal holiday. The exuberant couple, the Duke and Duchess of York, were initially popular but Sarah soon fell victim to the tabloid press's constant attacks for her weight, clothes, and boisterousness. In the end, however, she was her own worst enemy, embarking on some questionable relationships with men while her sailor husband was away at sea. After their divorce, Sarah and Andrew remained close and even live together now 30 years later. Together and separately, they have continued to cause controversy, including accusations of trading access for cash and rape. (Read my post, The Yorks After 30 Years.)

Lady Diana Spencer (1961-  ) was the youngest daughter of 8th Earl Spencer. At age 19, she was launched upon the world stage as the fiancee of Charles Prince of wales, the Queen's oldest son and heir to the throne. While the beautiful and compassionate young woman was rapturously received by an adoring public the marriage was an extreme mismatch that led to one of the most spectacular divorces in recent history, with publicly lodging complaints and accusations at each other and both admitting adultery. Devoted to big causes, Diana remained to devoted to shining a light on AIDS, homelessness, and landmines. Always pursued by the media, Diana spent her last summer in the headlines for a new romance. The whole thing came to a tragic end in a car crash in Paris leaving the world and the Royal Family devastated. (Read my post, Diana and Me.)

Sophie Rhys-Jones (1965-  ) met the Queen's youngest son because someone else called out of work. A PR hack, she got pulled into play a game of royal tennis with Prince Edward during one of his official engagements. With the failure of the Queen's children's marriages, Sophie nd Edward took a slow burn with full support of the royal family becoming the first royal couple to live together before marriage. When they finally married in 1999, the couple initially announced that they would continue their private work, her with her public relations firm and him with his television production company.. However, they were not able to avoid accusations of using their royal status for personal profit and they transitioned into life as full-time royals. They are now one the steadiest and most active pairs in the family. (Read my post about Sophie.)

By Mark Jones via Wikmedia Commons

Meghan Markle
(1981-  ) met the Queen's grandson Prince Harry of Wales on a blind date. A successful American actress, she said in their engagement interview that she was giving up her acting career. Her mixed race heritage drew a lot of racist attention from the beginning of their relationship. A short time into their marriage as Duke and Duchess of Sussex, they announced that they wanted to pursue private interests while maintaining a part-time role in the Royal Family. It was determined that they would leave their roles as working royals. They now live in California although they still have a home in Windsor. Meghan is well-known for her activism, particularly on women's issues. She even led a successful campaign that achieved national attention when she was only 10 years old. (Read my post, An American Princess for Harry.)

Catherine Middleton (1982-  ) met the Queen's grandson, future king Prince William while they were both attending University of St. Andrews. They shared a house with other classmates. After graduation, they broke up briefly before moving in together, following a similar path as his uncle Edward and Sophie in developing their relationship for years before becoming engaged. Since their wedding, they are Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. She has become particularly active with organizations and issues related to early childhood development and mental health advocacy. An avid amateur photographer, she also led the Hold Still photography initiative during the Covid-19 pandemic. She also usually takes the official birthday photos of their children George, Charlotte, and Louis. (Read my post, Five Years with the Cambridges.)

Princess Beatrice of York
(1988-  ) is the oldest daughter of Prince Andrew Duke of York. She was the first British princess to attend University, earning a BA from Goldsmiths, University London. She now works for a multinational data and software company. Her marriage to Edourdo Mapelli Mozzi was delayed during the Covid-19 pandemic, but she eventually opted for a small, private wedding. Their daughter Sienna was born in 2021. Although not a working royal, she occasionally carries out engagements for the Queen and she has her own charitable patronages. She is particularly noteworthy for her work with dyslexia, which she has.

Princess Eugenie (left) and Princess Beatrice
by Carfax2 via Wikimedia Commons
Princess Eugenie of York (1990-  ) is the youngest daughter of Prince Andrew Duke of York. She graduated from Newcastle University and now works as an art gallery director. Like her sister, she is not a working royal but carries out a few engagements and has her own charitable work. Having undergone surgery for scoliosis as a child, she is now patron of Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. She also co-founded Anti-Slavery International. She and husband Jack Brooksbank recently announced that they and their son August will be living in Portugal for a while. (Read my post about Princess Eugenie.)

Lady Louise Windsor (2003-  ) is the daughter of Prince Edward Earl of Wessex. As a male-line grandchild of the Queen, she and her younger brother James Viscount Severn are entitled to royal titles. However, the Queen announced that Edward's children would be styled as the children of an Earl. There has been speculation since Louise's 18th birthday that she can opt to be styled as a princess if she wishes. She as an avid competitive carriage driver. It has not yet been announced what she plans to do next with her life. 

Princess Charlotte of Cambridge (2015-  ) is the daughter of Prince William. Thanks to changes to the succession laws in 2013, she is the first British princess to be born who cannot be pushed down the Line of Succession by the birth of a younger brother. After her father becomes king, she could be given the title Princess Royal, which is reserved for the oldest daughter of the monarch.

30 May 2022

The Queen's Royal Ladies

In celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's 70th Jubilee, here is a quick list of all of the royal women who have lived during her long reign. This list stretches from granddaughters of Queen Victoria born in the 19th century to Her Majesty's own great granddaughters. In Part 1, we look at the British royal ladies who were born during the reign of Queen of Victoria but still alive at the beginning of the reign of her great-great granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II in 1952.

Queen Mary with a young Princess Elizabeth
and Princess Margaret
via Wikimedia Commons 

Princess Mary of Teck
(1867-1953) was the only daughter of Prince Francis of Teck and the British Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, who as a granddaughter of King George III, was a first cousin of Queen Victoria. The Tecks would later adopt the surname Cambridge and be granted new more British-sounding titles when all of the British royals dropped their Germanic names and titles during World War I. By that time, however, Mary had already married the future King George V and mothered six children. Her second son was Queen Elizabeth's father and Queen Mary was always just Grannie to our Queen, who bears a striking resemblance to her. (Click for A Royal Love Triangle, my post about Mary's romances with her husband and with his older brother. )

Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein (1872-1956) A daughter of Queen Victoria's third daughter Princess Helena and the foreign Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, Marie Louise was considered a British princess for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Helena's children all grew up in Victoria's court. Secondly, except for a brief period when Marie Louise was married to a Germanic prince, she and her spinster sister Princess Helena Victoria lived their lives in Britain. In 1917, when the British royals dropped Germanic names and titles, the two unmarried sisters remained princesses but did not adopt an Anglicized name. While her sister had already passed away, Marie Louise was still alive to attend her fourth coronation when Queen Elizabeth was crowned.

Princess Alice of Albany (1883-1981) was the posthumous daughter of Queen Victoria's youngest son Prince Leopold whose earlier death was due to hemophilia. Alice increased her relationship to the primary Royal Family when she married Queen Mary's brother, Francis Duke of Albany, making her King George V's sister-in-law as well as his cousin. She lost her two sons young (one due to hemophilia) while her daughter Lady May Abel-Smith (nee Cambridge) was a bridesmaid for Queen Elizabeth's parents. Until Prince Philip surpassed her, Princess Alice was the longest lived descendant of Queen Victoria. (Click for my post, A Long Lived Princess.)

Princess Beatrice, Duchess of Galliera
via Wikimedia Commons

Princess Beatrice of Edinburgh
(1884-1966) was the youngest child of Queen Victoria's second son Prince Alfred Duke of Edinburgh who later became Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha through his father Prince Albert's family. He moved the family to Germany when Beatrice was a little girl. She married Infante Alfonso of Spain, a cousin of the Spanish king. Having failed to get permission to marry the Protestant princess, Infante Alfonso was stripped of his royal dignities, but was restored a few years later. After his father's death he inherited his Italian title as 5th Duke of Galliera. They lived in England during the Spanish Civil War although one of their sons died in the conflict. They later moved back to Spain.

Princess Alice of Battenberg (1885-1969) was the oldest daughter of Queen Victoria's granddaughter Princess Victoria of Hesse and Prince Louis of Battenberg. The Battenbergs lived in Britain with Louis serving in the British Navy and eventually rising to First Lord Admiral. Due to his German origins, he lost the position in World War I and the family changed its surname to Mountbatten with him taken on the title Marquess of Milford Haven. Well before that, Alice had married a Greek prince. Her youngest child Prince Philip would later marry the future Queen Elizabeth II, making her the Queen's mother-in-law as well as her second cousin once removed. Born deaf, Alice also struggled with mental health and was institutionalized when Philip was a boy. Nevertheless, she was also a hero, rescuing Jewish people in World War II and later earning the Most Righteous Among Nations recognition from Israel.

Princess Patricia of Connaught (1886-1974) was the second daughter of Queen Victoria's third son Prince Arthur. Her sister Margaret had married the Crown Prince of Sweden but had died young. Patricia gave up her royal status when she married Sir Alexander Ramsay. Today, her daughter-in-law is the chief of Clan Fraser, while her great nephew is King of Sweden and her great niece is Queen of Denmark.

Victoria Eugenie, Queen of Spain
by Jose Moreno Corbonaro
via Wikimedia Commons

Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg
(1886-1969) was the daughter of Queen Victoria's youngest child Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry of Battenberg. She grew up in Victoria's homes before marrying King Alfonso XIII of Spain. The hemophilia gene passed through her into the Spanish royal family. That and many other tragedies led to a very unhappy home. Additionally, the King was ousted from the throne and the family went into exile although Victoria Eugenie and her husband lives separately, with her living partly in her homeland of the United Kingdom. She returned briefly to Spain not long before her death of the christening of her great-grandson, who is now King Felipe V. (Read my post, Death to the Queen, about Victoria Eugenie's escape from Spain.)

Princess Louise of Battenberg (1889-1965) the younger sister of Princess Alice above, Louise was created Lady Louise Mountbatten during the Germanic title/name switches of 1917 that sought to erase the German connections within the British Royal Family. It would cause some issues later when the Crown Prince of Sweden proposed to her. The Brits were required to prove that she had always been of sufficient royal rank to marry a future king. Louise had sworn never to marry a king or a widower, but she did both when she and Gustav Adolf wed in 1924. His first wife was her late cousin Princess Margaret of Connaught. Louise became Queen of Sweden in 1950 but remained down to earth, carrying a note that said, "I am the Queen of Sweden," as an I.D. card in case she got run down when crossing the street. (Read my post, Louise of Battenberg.)

Princess Alexandra of Fife (1891-1959) was the daughter of Louise Princess Royal and Alexander Duff, an Earl whom Queen Victoria promoted to first Duke of Fife on their wedding day. Alexandra and her younger sister Maud were merely styled as Lady during their early years. After their grandfather became King Edward VII, he raised them to the rank and style of Princess. Alexandra succeeded her father as 2nd Duchess of Fife in her own right. She married a royal cousin, Prince Arthur of Connaught, but their only son predeceased her and the Fife title passed to Maud's son. Unfortunately, in her last decade, Alexandra was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis but was able to write some autobiographical stories. Her sister Maud had passed away in 1945.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor
by Vincenso Laviosa via Wikimedia Commons

Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson
(1896-1986) Born into a merchant family in Maryland in the United States, Wallis was married to her second husband when she began a love affair with the Queen's uncle Edward Prince of Wales. After he ascended the throne as King Edward VIII, she and Ernest Simpson quietly divorced. However, a divorced royal consort was unacceptable in the 1930s. Edward chose love over the throne, abdicating after less than one year after becoming king. His brother, the new King George VI made him Duke of Windsor. When the pair married the following summer, Wallis became a Duchess but neither George nor his daughter Queen Elizabeth II granted her the right to be addressed as Her Royal Highness. The Windsors spent most of the rest of their lives living in Paris. (Read my post, The American Queen That Never Was).

Mary, Princess Royal (1897-1965) was born during Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and there had been some talk of naming her Diamond. (If the current Queen has any great-grandchildren this year, I hope the poor child won't be called Platinum!) The only daughter of the future King George V and Queen Mary, she married the much older Earl of Harewood. She took up many royal patronages and served as chief commandant of the Women's Royal Army Corps. An expert in cattle breeding, she enjoyed many country pursuits and oversaw the renovation of her husband's family seat of Harewood House. (Read my post, Mary Princess Royal, Countess of Harewood.)

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900-2002) was the youngest daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. When she married Queen Elizabeth's father in 1923, she became a darling of British public. She is credited with guiding her more mercurial husband through his battle with stammering and through his unexpected succession to the throne when his brother abdicated in 1936. After cementing her role at the heart of the nation as Queen Consort during World War II, she was devastated by her early widowhood at the age of 51. It took her a few years to figure out her new role as Queen Mother but she lived another 50 years as Britain's favorite grandmother. She had a close relationship with both of her daughters. (Read my post, In Memoriam: HM Queen Elizabeth.)


23 May 2022

A Dutiful Royal Sister

by Stefano Chiolo via Wikimedia Commons

Britain has Princess Anne -- a highly capable, reliable and hardworking princess devoted to the well-being of the nation and the monarchy. Belgium has Princess Astrid, second daughter of the former King Albert II and his Italian wife Paola. Currently fourth in the line of succession, Astrid was born with no right to the throne due to her gender. It was also expected that her uncle King Baudouin would have children leaving younger brother Albert's children, especially his daughter, to fade into the background of the royal tapestry. But things changed.

In 1962, Albert and Paola chose to name their baby daughter after his mother, Queen Astrid, a former Swedish princess who had died in a car accident on holiday when Albert was barely a toddler. She grew up sandwiched between her older brother Prince Philippe and younger brother Prince Laurent. She went to school in Brussels before enrolling for a year to study at Leiden University in The Netherlands, then on to the Institute of European Studies, and finally to the University of Michigan in the the United States. She returned to Belgium and soon announced her engagement to a scion of the former Imperial House of Austria. 

Archduke Lorenz of Austria-Este is a grandson of the last Emperor of Austria, Karl I, and is the head of his branch of the family. Seven and a half years older than Astrid, Lorenz has already established himself in a banking career with postings in several major European capitol. He was warmly welcomed into the Belgian royal family when the couple wed in 1984. Over the next 19 years, they had five children, each of whom carries princely Belgian titles and archducal Austria-Este ones. In birth order, they are Amedeo, Maria Laura, Joachim, Luisa Maria, and Laetitia Maria. Now that the older children are grown, they are also Astrid and Lorenz are also proud grandparents.

Embed from Getty Images

In 1991, the succession laws were changed not only to allow female inheritance but to adopt absolute primogeniture, allowing birth order to dictate position. This placed Astrid at the time behind her father Albert and her older brother Philippe but ahead of her younger brother Prince Laurent. When her uncle King Baudouin died in 1993 and her father became King, Astrid moved to number two, but she only held that position until Philippe starting having children and pushing her down the line.

Nevertheless, Astrid and Lorenz have been devoted to the nation and the monarchy, which led his father-in-law to make him a Prince of Belgium in 1995. Astrid's interests lie particularly in medical areas and landmines. She served for many years as the head of the Belgian Red Cross and was a Special Envoy of the Ottawa Treaty, traveling the world to encourage nations to sign on to the agreement to ban the use of anti-personnel landmines. She also is a colonel in the Belgian military's medical branch and serves on the board of the country's Paralympics committee.

Although a broken vertebra sidelined her in 2021, she soon returned to royal duties. Pleasantly and calmly representing king and country.


Meet the Very Stylish Royal Family of Belgium on Glamour
Princess Astrid on The Belgian Monarchy
Princess Astrid of Belgium, Archduchess of Austria-Este on Unofficial Royalty
Princess Astrid of Belgium Fractures Vertebrae on Royal Central

16 April 2022

Prince Leopold and His Legacy

Young Leopold and Queen Victoria

In the history of royal hemophilia, Prince Leopold was patient zero. His mother, Queen Victoria, longed to wrap in cotton wool and keep him safely near her where she could always keep an eye on him especially after his father Prince Albert died when Leopold was just eight years old. Unlike his brothers, Leopold was not permitted a military career and went instead to university at Christ Church, Oxford. After traveling in Europe, the United States and Canada, where his sister Princess Louise's husband was Governor General, Leopold longed for his own overseas appointment. Victoria would not permit it, keeping him instead as an unofficial secretary for herself, as she had done with most of his five sisters. 

Leopold wanted to be independent and pushed against his mother's restraints. Although he was created Duke of Albany at age 28, tt seemed marriage might be the only true path to escaping Victoria's smothering attention. Even here, though, he was thwarted. Several British brides were rejected and he had trouble settling on a foreign princess until his matchmaking oldest sister Victoria Princess Royal suggested Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont, whose sister was married to the King of the Netherlands. Both the Queen and Leopold found the lovely and well-educated Helena to be pleasing. Perhaps more importantly, Helena was willing to marry a man whose very life could be in danger every time he banged his knee or bumped his head.

The couple married in April 1882 and were soon able to surprise the Queen with Helena's pregnancy. Although Victoria had presumed that fatherhood was not a real possibility for him, the birth of little Princess Alice of Albany nine months after the wedding proved something of a miracle. By the end of that year, they shared the news that Helena was expecting yet again. The happy couple were delighted with their growing family, but Leopold's health concerns, which also included a mild form of epilepsy, were not improving. As had happened before, his doctors advised him to seek a warmer climate as a refuge from the British winter which caused great pain in his joints. With Helena's advancing pregnancy, she stayed behind with their baby daughter while her husband traveled to Cannes.

The Duke & Duchess of Albany
photo by John Thomson via Wikimedia Commons

Leopold stayed at a private home called Villa Nevada. It seemed a safe enough place for the young man, but his hemophilia could make almost any accident deadly. His nephew, Prince Friedrich of Hesse, had died a decade earlier when the toddler suffered an accidental fall while playing with his brother. The warmth of the south of France could not protect Leopold from an accidental slip on the stairs. After banging his knee and his head, the 30-year-old prince knew the routine. Although he had no external injuries, he went immediately to lie down in hopes of thwarting any potential internal bleeding. Since hemophilia prevented his blood from clotting, his condition rapidly deteriorated. By the next morning, he had bled to death from an apparent cerebral hemorrhage.

Queen Victoria had tried to keep Prince Leopold close to her. She was devastated to lose him so far away. Princess Helena, a widow at 23, carried on with resiliency. Their son, Prince Charles Edward, the new Duke of Albany was born four months later. Helena earned Queen Victoria's great admiration and respect as the young woman focused not just on her own children but also on endeavors related to the arts and health care. She survived Leopold by nearly four decades, passing away after a heart attack in her early sixties.

Prince Charles Edward was selected as the heir to Saxe-Coburg, the princely inheritance of his grandfather Prince Albert's family. This separated him as a teenager from his mother and sister in England. When the first World War came, it also put him on the "wrong side". As a result the Albany title has been abeyance for over a century although he has many descendants alive today, including the King of Sweden and his sisters.

Princess Alice of Albany with her children
May and Rupert
photo by Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons
Hemophilia, however, did not leave the Albany family tree with Leopold's death. Since it is carried on the X gene, it always passes from a hemophiliac father to any daughter he might have. Since Princess Alice inherited a healthy X gene from her mother, she did not suffer the condition herself - women rarely do since they would have to inherit it from both parents. She married Prince Alexander of Teck, brother of Queen Mary. In the great re-titling of 1917 to rid the British royals of German names and titles, Alexander was created Earl of Athlone with the surname Cambridge. The couple and their children remained close friends of their royal relatives on the throne. Their second son, Maurice died as an infant so it is not clear whether she passed the hemophilia gene to him. Their first son, Rupert Viscount Trematon definitely inherited the condition that had caused Princess Alice to grow up without her father. 

Just before his 21st birthday, Rupert and two friends crashed their car into a tree in France. One friend died quickly while the other survived. Rupert was rushed to hospital with a small skull fracture. It took two weeks for him to bleed to death from cerebral hemorrhage, the same kind of bleed that had killed his grandfather. 

Leopold's legacy carries on in the descendants of Alice's daughter Lady May, who married Sir Henry Abel-Smith, and the Saxe-Coburg family. The boy who Queen Victoria tried so hard to keep close to home now has dozens of descendants scattered across Europe.

07 February 2022

Jubilee: A Message about Monarchy

Somewhere in the wee hours of that February morning, a father breathed his last. His one remaining lung finally surrendered to the cancer that had ravaged him for years. 

A continent away his daughter woke amidst the sunshine of the Kenyan wilderness, well-rested from a short respite from an otherwise heavy schedule that she had agreed to undertake to give her father a break. Later that day, as her husband walked toward her with a quietness unusual for his athletic and restless spirit, she had no idea that her entire world was about to change. At 25, she was called to bear the heavy mantle of monarchy. One lone figure in a long line of men and women stretching back nearly a millennia.

The Queen's official Jubilee photo shows her commitment to work by including the Red Box and underscores her role in
the continuity of the Monarchy by including a photo of her father.
Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Seventy years on, Queen Elizabeth II thinks of her dear Papa on this day when the rest of the world thinks of her. Most of us have never known another British monarch. She has been consulted by 15 British Prime Ministers from Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher to Boris Johnson. She has watched 14 American Presidents come and go. And, yet she has remained as steadfast as  the white cliffs of Dover as immediately recognizable as Stone Henge. Despite the heartaches that have troubled her family and broken her own heart, she has emerged now a smiling, peaceful lady whose eyes have witnessed nearly a century of turbulence and progress.

On the eve of her landmark 70th anniversary on the throne, she shared a message that drew a solid line connecting the dots of legacy she inherited so long ago and that she will undoubtedly pass on to the Prince of Wales within the next decade. It is a well-crafted statement underlining her sense of duty and devotion to the wide array of nations she represents and allowing us a glimpse of her most central characteristics, loyalty and service.

Let’s review this beautiful message one section at a time.

Tomorrow, 6th February, marks the 70th anniversary of my Accession in 1952. It is a day that, even after 70 years, I still remember as much for the death of my father, King George VI, as for the start of my reign.

Here The Queen accomplishes two things simultaneously. She links her role as monarch directly to those who have come before her by specifying her immediate predecessor. She also gently reminds us that it is a day of mourning for her. King George VI was darling Papa and trusted mentor. She was a very young woman just four years into her marriage with two toddler children. She imagined a life much more like the one her grandson Prince William has been able to live, pursuing his own interest and raising his children without daily boxes of government boxes. His family life was interrupted but not dominated by royal tours and duties as a young person. Instead her entire life was upended. She paused her family planning, leaving an entire decade between her second child and her third. She watched her husband struggle as he surrendered the ambitions he had in a career he loved to walk behind her for the rest of his life. At an age when most of us still don’t know what we want to be in life, she became the Head of State for millions, a figurehead for even more, and the matriarch of a clan that would be riddled by divorce and tragedy. It is 70 years birthed in her own personal sorrow and sacrifice. 

As we mark this anniversary, it gives me pleasure to renew to you the pledge I gave in 1947 that my life will always be devoted to your service.

Once again drawing attention to the deep historical threads that sustain the monarchy, the Queen references the speech she gave from South Africa on her 21st birthday via worldwide radio broadcast. In this oft-quoted speech she said, “I declare before you that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.” Nearly 74 years later, this reminder tells us that she still has no intention of abdicating as has now become somewhat common in other monarchies. Despite much speculation today that she might step down due to her very advanced age, there are two additional facts that may indicate her mindset against the idea. Firstly, the last British abdication, that of her uncle King Edward VIII caused great turmoil in her family when she was only 10 years old. The stress of the responsibilities it placed on her beloved father might very well have shortened his life, as her mother seemed to believe. It also set her on the path to the throne that she might otherwise have avoided had that Uncle instead married a “suitable” woman and had children. Elizabeth might have been a lady in the country with her horses and dogs who showed up on the balcony as a royal cousin a few times a year, no more notable on the world stage than Princess Alexandra is today. Secondly, at the time of her coronation in 1953, Elizabeth took a lifelong vow before God. She is known to have a deep faith that would prevent her from breaking a promise to God.

As I look ahead with a sense of hope and optimism to the year of my Platinum Jubilee, I am reminded of how much we can be thankful for.  These last seven decades have seen extraordinary progress socially, technologically and culturally that have benefitted us all; and I am confident that the future will offer similar opportunities to us and especially to the younger generations in the United Kingdom and throughout the Commonwealth.

Here Her Majesty draws upon her role as the nation’s chief symbol of continuity and hope. Despite all the difficulties that have plagued everyone across these seven decades and particularly in the last couple of years, she is using the power of monarchy to do what Winston Churchill noted was the role of her 1947 wedding in the aftermath of World War II; she is bringing a touch of color to the gray by reminding of us all the good that has also happened. As a person of deep person faith, she almost certainly chooses to focus on “hope and optimism”. This is a very different world from that of 1952. The British Empire she inherited is now a Commonwealth of Nations. As the Head of that Commonwealth, she has used her quiet power as a means of change. Politically limited by her role, she has often been subtle but powerful nonetheless, choosing to dance with Black African leaders, driving heads of state from countries that ban women from driving. She has an inner strength and determination that enables her to achieve her own goals with a tenacity that cannot be mistaken. If you doubt this, please refer to her campaign to marry the man of her choice against her father’s better judgment

This section of the message takes the next step forward too, once again underlining The Queen’s responsibility to provide continuity for the nation. She pays homage to the younger generations, encouraging and powering them to pick up the torches that she and others have provided and to carry them into an even bolder, even better future.

I am fortunate to have had the steadfast and loving support of my family. 
I was blessed that in Prince Philip I had a partner willing to carry out the role of consort and unselfishly make the sacrifices that go with it.  It is a role I saw my own mother perform during my father’s reign. 
This anniversary also affords me a time to reflect on the goodwill shown to me by people of all nationalities, faiths and ages in this country and around the world over these years.  I would like to express my thanks to you all for your support.  I remain eternally grateful for, and humbled by, the loyalty and affection that you continue to give me.  And when, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes King, I know you will give him and his wife Camilla the same support that you have given me; and it is my sincere wish that, when that time comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort as she continues her own loyal service.

These three paragraphs should be considered together as they carry the continuity theme in regards to the Royal Family from the past to present to future. She pays tribute to the support of her family without naming or omitting anyone as some may have thought she should have done. This underscores the role of the Royal Family not just in personally supporting the Monarch but also in publicly supporting the Monarchy.

Then, she speaks specifically about the value of the consort, naming both her own recently passed husband Prince Philip and her mother, the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. Before moving into the future, she takes an aside to thank the people of all diverse backgrounds for their support as part of a broader human family and to deftly enlist their agreement to what she is about to say. It is here that we get the statement that has come to dominate coverage of this Platinum Jubilee message. For it is here that The Queen gently but unequivocally states her desire that her daughter-in-law Camilla should be called Queen Consort once Prince Charles becomes King. To be clear, there has never been a tradition of the wife of a British King being anything other than Queen Consort, although variations have existed in other countries. A British King’s wife has always been a Queen. This issue only required clarification because the tradition was stood on its head in 2005 when it was announced ahead of Charles and Camilla’s wedding that she would take the title Princess Consort upon his accession. The same announcement shared that she would forego the use of the title Princess of Wales (which is still her title). Many people have presumed the reason for this: out of deference or respect to his first wife Diana or because Camilla did not want to use the same title Diana had used. The truth is that the actual statement gave no reason. Presumably, the decisions about these titles were both made out of a motivation to placate the large segment of the population that despised Camilla for her role in the breakup of Charles and Diana’s marriage. With the passage of time (and the calming of emotion), many have come to realize that there were many issues in that marriage with plenty of “blame” to be had by everyone involved. However, The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee message spotlights the number one reason those decades-old reasons are no longer so important: Camilla’s loyalty and her demonstrated service to the Monarchy, to her husband, and to the nation. Few could argue that Camilla has been anything but an excellent addition to the Royal Family and a great helpmate to Prince Charles. She is pleasant, jolly, and hardworking. She has taken on a range of causes from dog rescues to childhood literacy to osteoporosis. She has steered clear of any controversy in the 30 years since Charles and Diana officially separated. The Queen apparently believes her loyalty and work ethic deserve recognition.

However, many have questioned why this information was included in the Jubilee message. Some have claimed that this distracts from the theme of the celebration, that it distracts attention from The Queen herself or, more radically, that Charles forced her to include it. I think none of these things are true. The Queen has always put The Crown above herself. For her, this Jubilee is about the continuity of Monarchy, not about any achievement that she has made. Remember, for her this Jubilee is a combination of the early loss of her father and her own good fortune of having a long lifespan. By paving the way for her successor to have as smooth a transition as possible, she is ensuring the survival of The Crown, which, to her, is more important than the head that wears it. If the public can come to accept Camilla as a rightful and deserving Queen Consort before Prince Charles becomes King, everything will be less traumatic for the Monarchy.

And so as I look forward to continuing to serve you with all my heart, I hope this Jubilee will bring together families and friends, neighbours and communities – after some difficult times for so many of us – in order to enjoy the celebrations and to reflect on the positive developments in our day-to-day lives that have so happily coincided with my reign.

In this final paragraph, The Queen beautifully wraps up her overarching themes of service, unity, and hope. It is a well-crafted message. One of the most immaculately written that I have ever read. I wish Her Majesty and all of us a joyous celebration. I look forward to her remaining time as Monarch and, with the fullness of time, will likewise celebrate the passing of the Crown to Prince Charles with his Queen by his side.