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.

Gelardi, Julia. Born to Rule. St. Martin's Griffin, 2005.
Pakula, Hannah. The Last Romantic. Simon & Schuster, 1985.

Princess Elisabeta of Romania on Lost in the Myths of History

Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark on Gods and Foolish Grandeur
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.