Saturday, 31 August 2013

How today gave us the Tudors

There's little doubt that without the sudden, unexpected death of Henry V in a chateau near Paris on this day almost 700 years ago there would have been no Tudor dynasty.  English history would have missed out on Henry VIII, all six of those wives not to mention the battling sisters, Mary I and Elizabeth I and all the saucy high spirited shenanigans that went with the lot of them. Because Henry's death didn't just leave a power vacuum at the very top of government that led to the epic battles of the Wars of the Roses.  It also left a young queen a widow at a very early age.  And her high spirits and determination to find happiness after the death of her hero husband led to the creation of a family who would one day take his crown. 

Henry V as played by Tom Hiddleston in the BBC Two adaptation of Shakespeare's most famous royal play
No one expected Henry V to die.  He had been king for nine years and was just approaching his 36th birthday.  He had won famous victories in his campaign to claim the French throne and in 1420 had been named heir to the crown of Charles VI, cementing the deal by marrying Charles' daughter, Katherine of Valois.  His lovely young wife gave him a son the following year and in the summer of 1422, Henry V was again campaigning in France expecting to be its king very soon as his father in law became older and more infirm.  And then suddenly he became ill, most likely suffering from dysentery, and died on August 31st in the Chateau of Vincennes near Paris. 

Laurence Olivier as Henry V in the famous 1944 adaptation of Shakespeare's plays.  He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal but lost to Frederic March
His death left his widow pretty powerless.  She was the mother of a nine month old boy who was now monarch of England and next in line to rule France.  But Henry's brothers, John and Humphrey, quickly put themselves in charge of the regency with no place for Katherine.  She lost her father soon after the death of her husband but her brother's decision to challenge for the throne of France weakened her position even further.  She was now queen dowager and sister of a man claiming a crown that didn't belong to him after the Treaty of Troyes signed it over to Henry V and his descendants.  Charles VII' campaign went from bad to worse as John and Humphrey's power increased.  All the while, Katherine was kept close to the court but allowed little or no say in the upbringing of her son, either as a child or a king.  For a brief moment in time, the House of Lancaster looked rock solid and the pretty widow played the part of Cinderella to her not so ugly brothers in law.
Katherine of Valois was a bit part player for most of her first five years in England
A law preventing her marriage unless she had the permission of the king further cemented her imprisonment - her son was solely responsible for allowing a wedding and what he said on the matter had no legal currency until he reached the age of around fifteen.  Katherine was stuck.  Her own family was dispossessed of its powerbase and her brother was skirmishing away from Paris while her son was in the control of his uncles and she was the blood relative of a usurper.  But if there was any doubt where the Tudors got some of their pluck from, what this Katie did next should answer that.
Renee Asherson as Katherine of Valois in the 1944 film version of the Shakespeare play

The appearance of Joan of Arc fighting for the French cause in 1428, soon after the marriage law was passed, sent shockwaves through the English regency and led to a major escalation in fighting.  It also made France the centre of affairs and this miniscule opportunity gave Katherine the tiny breath of freedom she needed.  Sometime soon after that she took up a member of her household.  By the time Katherine revealed her relationship with Owen Tudor, they had children and claimed to be married.  With her brother, Charles, in the ascendancy over the English in France her brothers in law had more important things to think about than the wedding of a queen and a servant.  She was forgiven her marriage - although there is still no evidence to show whether it ever actually happened - and she and Owen formed a family.  She had taken the only chance she might ever get to do what she wanted.  That seizing of opportunity stood her Tudor descendants in good stead.
The famous painting Henry VIII commissioned to show the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.  Its ascendancy began 691 years ago today
Twenty years after the death of Henry V, his widow was also dead and her Tudor sons were at the court of their half brother.  But the government of England was in tatters and France was ebbing away.  Katherine's first child was already showing signs of the mental health problems that would plague his adult life.  And the nobles who had seen the first Lancaster king take a throne by force began to check their family trees to see if their claim might be strong enough to justify an attempt of their own.  Henry V's great double kingdom was about to dissolve in war and civil war.  But the legacy of Katherine was already proving far more useful for power builders and without it, The White Queen might never have existed at all.
A Victorian telling of the crisis years of Henry VI's reign - the king is shown as submissive and powerless as his realm crumbles around him
Jacquetta of Luxembourg had arrived in England around the time that Katherine had died.  She had married one of the brothers in law who had kept Queen Kate caged in the early years of Henry VI's reign.  On the death of John, Duke of Bedford in 1433 she was ordered back to England but while the court was expecting a grieving widow they instead got a jolly twenty year old who had copied her recently dead queen.  Jacquetta had married a servant sent to help her on her journey home and as they'd forgiven the first lady of the realm, they had to forgive the second.  Jacquetta and her new husband kept much of the cash owed to her as a royal widow and lived a very comfortable life with great contact with court.  While their daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, may have been a commoner she was a very well connected one.  Without the precedent set by Katherine of Valois, Jacquetta would most likely never have been allowed away with her marriage to Richard Woodville which means no pretty daughter to seduce a York king beneath an oak tree and no princess Elizabeth to unite the two houses with her marriage to Henry Tudor.

Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville
The husband and wife parted today in 1422 both played a role in bringing about the most famous royal house in English history.  But while the king may have dreamed it would be his descendants claiming the crown for centuries, it was his wife's genes which determined royal history long after they were both gone.

Friday, 30 August 2013

The man who turned down a queen and accepted a king

Seamus Heaney once turned down the offer to be considered for the role of Poet Laureate, an office created by royalty and whose main role is still to write verse celebrating major royal occasions.  'I've nothing against the Queen personally,' he said, 'it’s just that the basis of my imagination, the basis of the cultural starting point, is off-centre.' 

Seamus Heaney, the boy from Bellaghy who became one of the most famous poets and writers in the world, has died
The great poet, who has died today at the age of 74, was born in Northern Ireland and was a nationalist who made his home in the Republic of Ireland from 1972.  He did accept the title of Saoi, an equivalent to national poet in the Republic, but always maintained that his politics precluded him from being considered as Poet Laureate in the UK.

Seamus Heaney at University College, Dublin in 2009.  He was giving readings up until a fortnight before his death
(photo Sean O'Connor)
There were no politics to complicate the award of the greatest literary prize of his career.  In 1995 he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature from King Carl XVI Gustaf in Stockholm.  That prize is decided by committee and the king hands out the medal and scroll to the recipients after the choice has been made.  For Heaney, it was the highpoint of a lifetime of work that garnered many awards and in which he constantly rededicated himself to words and poetry by encouraging others to strive to achieve what he had.
Seamus Heaney, Nobel laureate, at the prize giving ceremony in Stockholm in December 1995


A right royal hen night

When you might just end up as first lady of the most bling bling monarchy in the world then the hen night has to be good.  Tomorrow, Tatiana Santo Domingo marries Andrea Casiraghi who at the moment is in line to be sovereign prince of Monaco. Of course if uncle Albert has a legitimate heir then Tatiana will have to make do without a principality to call her own.  But at the moment she is in line to follow, one day, in the footsteps of Princess Grace.  And that means the wedding, and everything to do with it, will be scrutinized far more than your average posh do in the sun. 

The bride wore pink to the hen night.  Tatiana Santo Domingo at the heart of her hens on her farewell girlie evening out

So far, Tatiana hasn't let us down.  The hen night was on board a boat off the coast of Monte Carlo with the bride in pink and her ladies in white and every one of them with a perfect garland of flowers around their heads.  While most brides make do with a net veil and an L plate, Tatiana had hand crafted floral headbands.  And dogs.  Yes, dogs.  There was the bride with a lovely little pooch on her lap with Monaco's next royal bride, Charlotte Caisraghi, at the front of the group with another dog to complete the photo.  And there was the national flag fluttering on the back of the boat.  A perfect picture.

Andrea Casiraghi and Tatiana Santo Domingo have been together for eight years

Tatiana says I do in the Prince's Palace on the afternoon of August 31st 2013.  The wedding will be a more private affair than the very public marriage of Albert and Charlene in June 2011 which attracted all kinds of attention for all the wrong reasons after rumours circulated that the princess in waiting had tried to flee her groom with just days to go before the nuptials.  Charlene rubbished that in a newspaper interview this summer and tomorrow she'll be among the guests of honour as the next generation of Monaco's royals starts another wave of royal weddings.

Here's hoping for a better kiss at this wedding in Monaco - Albert and Charlene do nothing to dispel rumours of a crisis at their wedding in 2011 with one of the least convincing royal snogs ever

Kate's back with all eyes on her front

When you're an experienced royal correspondent with decades of reporting under your belt, you know better than to say anything which might make you the news rather than the story you're covering.  So when the BBC's Nichols Witchell found himself commentating on the surprise reappearance of the Duchess of Cambridge on official duty today he confined himself to the safe and sensible.  'She's looking very well, that's all I'm going to say' he commented as he started his live broadcast from Anglesey where Kate had unexpectedly accompanied William as he opened the island's notorious Ring of Fire marathon race.

Kate on her first official public appearance since becoming a mummy last month

Knowing that all eyes would be on the state of the now famous mummy tummy, Nicholas Witchell steered the report round to the marathon being another chance for the couple to say goodbye to the island they have called home since their marriage as William prepares to move on from his duties there.  Baby George was at home, lucky since the weather wasn't great, and Kate was in those black jeans again with a floaty top that skimmed a very small tummy indeed.

What a difference six weeks make - Kate leaves hospital with baby George on July 23rd 2013

Prince Charles was famously caught off guard while Nicholas Witchell covered a royal skiing holiday, calling the royal reporter awful without knowing his every word will be picked up.  The BBC man went for the far more diplomatic option today as he covered Kate's long awaited first official appearance since becoming a mum.

The man who gave Prince William his name

He was young and handsome.  He provided gossip, royal glamour and for a while was breathtakingly close to the English throne.  He went to Eton, studied history at university and travelled the world, spending quite a lot of time in Africa.  And he gave his name to the man who will one day be king of England.  This week marks the anniversary of the death of Prince William of Gloucester, the man after whom the Duke of Cambridge was named. 

Prince William was named after William of Gloucester who died on August 28th 1972
By now, this prince called William would be a man of 71 and a royal duke.  And who knows whether Charles and Diana would still have chosen his name for their first born had he been alive to see their son arrive in the world.  Another one of those 'what ifs' that make up history.  Prince William of Gloucester was killed in a plane crash on August 28th 1972 while participating in a competition in Wolverhampton.  He was an experienced pilot and took part in lots of amateur air events.  But on this occasion his plane banked soon after take off and he and his fellow passenger, Vyrell Mitchell, were killed.  The prince was buried at Frogmore on September 2nd 1972 by his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. At the time he was ninth in line to the throne.
Prince William of Gloucester was in line to inherit his father's dukedom at the time of his death
William had been fourth in line to the throne at the time of his birth in December 1941.  He was the eldest son of Henry, Duke of Gloucester who was the third son of George V and Queen Mary and who had been pushed closer to the crown by the abdication of his eldest brother, Edward VIII, in 1936.  Until then, Henry had been concentrating on an Army career with the expectation that Edward would marry and have children that would take on royal responsibilities.  However, following the accession of George VI, he took on more royal duties to support his older brother in his new role as king and that meant scaling back his own career.  Henry had been made Duke of Gloucester in 1928 and by the time of the abdication he had a duchess, Alice.  William was their first son, born in Barnet in December 1941, six years after their marriage. 

Henry, Duke of Gloucester married Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott in November 1935
There are several similarities between the two Williams apart from the handsome face and charming smile.  For a start, they both went to Australia at a young age.  But while baby William was bounced on a blanket by the Prince and Princess of Wales when they toured the country several months after his birth, William of Gloucester made his home there for several years when his father was appointed Governor General of the country.  And while the present William returned to a life mapped out for him as he prepares to be king, his namesake knew he would have to make a career of his own.  Along with his younger brother, Richard, he went to Eton and then Cambridge.  And after graduating, Prince William of Gloucester did what lots of English university graduate do.  He joined the Civil Service.
Alice, Duchess of Gloucester with her two sons, William and Richard, in 1959
Postings in Nigeria and Japan followed but William gave it all up in 1970 and returned to his family home in Bardwell, Northamptonshire.  It's not really clear what prompted it - it was known that his father, by then aged 70, was ill.  The Duke of Gloucester suffered several strokes in later life.  William began the running of his family estate and preparations to take over the dukedom and the responsibilities that went with it.  But around the same time he, too, was undergoing investigation for health problems.  He had a form of porphyria, the condition now blamed for the deterioration of George III's health throughout his later life.  He was known to have suffered skin problems in line with variegate porphyria which causes blistering as well as abdominal pain and sickness and can lead to confusion and an inability to remember an attack afterwards. 

Henry, Duke of Gloucester with his eldest son and heir, William.  Both encountered health problems around the same time
His death in the air accident of August 1972 was a huge shock.  It came just months after the marriage of little brother, Richard, and was a huge blow to his already ill father.  Henry, Duke of Gloucester died two years after his eldest son and was buried near him at Frogmore. 
Prince William of Gloucester
Prince William of Gloucester was never really going to be king though he hovered close to the throne through the war years before moving away from it in 1948 on the birth of Prince Charles.  But the impression he made on the heir to the throne was such that Charles made sure his future king would bear the name of a royal prince who died young.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

When royal first borns don't end up on top

Being a first born child of a monarch or next in line to be monarch is now pretty much a guarantee of ending up king or queen of your country one day.  But being the eldest grandchild seems to offer another guarantee - that of coming nowhere near a crown of your own.  The current wave of European monarchs are all grandparents now - except Albert of Monaco and as his heir is his sister and she's a granny, they're almost there - and only one of them can expect their first born grandchild take the throne.  While there might be lots of interest in the first birth of a new generation, what happens to those babies who are shuffled out of the succession by younger cousins?

King Carl XVI Gustaf and Estelle of Sweden - he's the only one of Europe's current monarchs whose eldest grandchild is in line to take the throne

The continent's longest reigning monarch was the first to become a grandparent. Elizabeth II welcomed her first grandchild in 1977 but while Peter Phillips may have made the front of all the papers on the November day he arrived, he's slipped further and further into obscurity ever since.   He was the first grandchild of a British monarch to hold no title - a choice made by his parents, Princess Anne and her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips.  And while Peter Mark Andrew Phillips began life fifth in line to the throne, he's since slipped to twelfth and will continue to move further away from the crown.  He's worked in sports sponsorship and management as well as banking and has no official royal role.  That lack of duties was one of the reasons he was able to sell an interview and photos linked to his 2008 wedding to Autumn Kelly to Hello magazine, one of the few times he's made the news since his arrival.  The other was in December 2010 when he made the Queen a great grandmother for the first time.  Savannah Phillips, the eldest great grandchild of Elizabeth II, takes an even more remote royal role despite being the first of her generation to arrive.

He might never be king or even have a title but when your the Queen's first grandchild you do get a much better pick of places to hold your wedding.  Peter Phillips married Autumn Kelly at Windsor Castle in 2008.  The official photos were taken at the castle.

The eldest grandchild of King Juan Carlos of Spain was hailed as the securing of the succession on his birth in 1998 but he will most likely never be king. The first child of the Infanta Elena and Jaime de Marichalar was born in Madrid and baptized there soon afterwards with King Juan Carlos as one of his godparents.  Felipe Juan Froilan was third in line to the throne at his birth and stayed very close to the crown until just after his seventh birthday when his uncle Felipe, after whom he was named, began his own family and little cousin Leonor took over the mantle of most likely to succeed in the next generation.  He's now fifth in line and attending school in Madrid after a stint of education in England.  Froilan and his sister split their time between their parents who separated in 2007 and divorced in 2010.  He wad known for his cheekiness as a child and came close to stealing the show at Felipe and Letizia's wedding. His admission to hospital in 2012 after he accidentally shot himself in the foot while at his father caused controversy - as well as the injury, there were legal repercussions as it is against the law in Spain for a child under the age of fourteen to use a firearm.  No charges were pressed against his father and Froilan recovered fully from his injuries. 

Felipe Juan Froilan de Todos los Santos is shown off to the world by his proud parents in July 1998
In Norway, King Harald got two granddaughters in nine months but the first born is far from first in the line of succession.  Maud Angelica Behn arrived in April 2003, the eldest child of Harald's eldest child.  But mum Martha Louise took second place in the line of succession to her younger brother meaning that Maud was born third in line and slid quickly away from the throne when cousin Ingrid arrived in January 2004.  Since then she's moved another step further away and now lives in London with her parents and two younger sisters, Leah and Emma. 

Maud Angelica Behn was born in April 2003 in Oslo, nine months before her cousin - future queen regnant, Ingrid Alexanda

Another eldest grandchild who arrived just ahead of the girl who will be queen is Eloise, first born of the next generation of the Dutch royal family.  She arrived in June 2002, just a few months after her uncle, Willem-Alexander, married Maxima Zorreguieta.  Eloise Beatrix Sophie Laurence was fourth in line to the throne on her birth and a first grandchild for the then Queen Beatrix and her husband, Prince Claus.  Eighteen months later, she slipped a place when Willem-Alexander and Maxima welcomed baby Catharina-Amalia who will one day be Queen of the Netherlands.  She bears the title Countess of Orange-Nassau and is growing up in Brussels where her parents live.

Eloise of Orange-Nassau with her grandfather, Prince Claus of the Netherlands.  She was the only one of his grandchildren to meet Claus - he died four months after her birth.

In Belgium the eldest grandchild of newly abdicated Albert and Paola is Prince Amadeo who was born in 1986, before the couple had become king and queen.  At the time Amadeo had no place in the line of succession but when the laws were changed in 1991 to allow his mother, Princess Astrid, and her descendants rights to the throne, he was suddenly fourth in waiting.  On his grandfather's accession in 1993 he jumped up to third and for much of his youth he was in line to be King of the Belgians as his uncle, Philippe, remained unmarried until 1999 when Amadeo was 13. But Philippe's marriage and the birth of four children meant that Amadeo quickly moved away from the throne of Belgium.  Following the summer changeover which made his uncle the King of the Belgians, he's now sixth in line behind his four cousins and his mum.  He's got a degree from the London School of Economics and works in America.  And despite no crown in sight for this young prince, he regularly makes magazine lists of most eligible boys in town - this year he was number nine on Town and Country's top forty male totty rundown.  But Amadeo will get a title of his own one day, inheriting the role of head of the house of Austria-Este from his father, Prince Lorenz.  And he also gets the prize for most names of any royal grandchild, rejoicing in the full title of Prince Amadeo Marie Joseph Carl Pierre Philippe Paola Marcus of Belgium, Archduke of Austria-Este. 

Prince Amadeo of Belgium did national service in his home country and is now a reserve officer in the army.
Nikolai William Alexander Frederik of Denmark didn't get quite as many names but he did get pretty much the same deal as Amadeo.  First grandchild of Margrethe II, he was third in line to the throne on the day of his birth in August 1999 but has since moved further away from the crown as a host of little cousins arrived.  And just like Amadeo he's had a host of little brothers and sisters join him - the Belgian prince has four younger siblings while Nikolai has three, the most recent being Athena who arrived in January 2012.
Nikolai of Denmark gets a pat on the head from his little sister, Athena.  They are the oldest and youngest of Queen Margrethe's eight grandchildren
Which brings us back to the only first grandchild to be guaranteed first take on the throne of her country.  Estelle Silvia Ewa Mary of Sweden was born in February 2012, eldest child of Crown Princess Victoria and eldest grandchild of King Carl VXI Gustaf.  And thanks to the change in law of 1980, she is in line to be Queen Regnant of Sweden one day.

The three generations of Swedish monarchs at the christening of Estelle

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Kate's shopping trip

Photos have emerged of the Duchess of Cambridge doing the shopping at her local Waitrose and pushing the trolley back to the car.  Nothing new there, we've seen Kate in that car park several times before having done the weekly shop for herself and William.  Except these photos seem to show the Duchess just five weeks after the birth of her baby with a stomach so flat it's barely visible.

Kate with two bottles of wine and a couple of pizzas and not a hint of a stomach to be seen
If these pictures were snapped on Tuesday 27th August then the Duchess has lost her baby weight incredibly quickly.  Admittedly there wasn't much of it, mostly bump but given the hint of a tum that was still visible in the first official shots of George taken earlier in August, the turnaround is remarkable.  Especially if the pizza and the wine in the trolley were for her.   If this really is the duchess less than forty days after delivery then the royal family better beware.  Being that thin so soon after having a baby is enough to start a revolution.

How to make a royal granny feel old...

The first born grandchild of Margrethe II of Denmark turns 14 today and some new photos have appeared on the Danish royal household's website to mark the occasion.  And very grown up he looks too.  If becoming a grandparent marks a new phase in life then seeing that little baby looking like a young man must mark another.  Suddenly that little baby that left the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen in his mother's arms fourteen years ago looks like a young man. 

Prince Nikolai of Denmark who turns fourteen today
(photo Steen Brogaard)
Nikolai is also shown with little brother, Felix, who at 11 looks very far from little.  Both boys no split their time between the new homes of their parents, Joachim and Alexandra, who divorced in 2005 after a short separation. 

Prince Nikolai and Prince Felix of Denmark in another photo to mark big brother's fourteenth birthday
(photo Steen Brogaard)
It's ben a big year for the eldest of the queen's grandchildren with his confirmation earlier in the summer.  And he's continuing with another royal tradition by attending Krebs School in Copenhagen - just like his father and his uncle, Crown Prince Frederik.
The first glimpse of the first grandchild of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark - Nikolai leaves hospital in mum Alexandra's arms in 1999

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The flat pack prince

If you marry a princess then there's one thing you probably won't have to do unless you really want to and that's put together flat pack furniture.  While other husbands will probably spend at least one Bank Holiday trying to figure out which piece of identical looking wood is part A and which is part K and what happens if you slot them together without checking and find the thing is back to front, royal husbands have palaces full of all kinds of wardrobes ready made for them.  Dowels, Allan keys and annoying pots of glue that stick to everything except the thing they're meant to stick to are not a part of your life.  So Prince Daniel of Sweden must have been a bit perplexed when he found his royal diary for August 26th included a trip to IKEA.

Prince Daniel found himself in IKEA at the start of the week
But when your wife is heir to the throne of Sweden and IKEA just happens to be one of her future realm's most successful businesses, the chances of being asked to bring back something that's fairly cheap and will hold most of Estelle's toys are small.  The prince was finding out about the company's success and how its model can inspire entrepreneurs of the future.  While most of us get to wander through the showroom and then into the warehouse to find the flatpack we need, Daniel was treated to a creative session with the firm's bosses and a chat about environmental sustainability.

Like all men, Prince Daniel can't resist buying yet another torch to add to the pile that will 'come in handy one day if we have a powercut'
The prince also met the founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, at his home to find out how he got started and what tips he had for budding business brains in Sweden.  Unsurprisingly for a man who started up his own business before marrying into royalty, Prince Daniel has a great passion for entrepreneurship and many of his activities are linked to increasing business and commerce opportunities.
Prince Daniel with the founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad. 

Princess Beatrix and the kindness of strangers

Two weeks after losing her second son, the former queen of the Netherlands is resuming her public life. Her official duties for this week include an appearance at a concert in central Amsterdam on August 28th.  But she was seen in public for the first time since the death of Prince Friso at another musical event where she accompanied her third son, Constantijn, and his wife, Laurentien, who were scheduled to attend.

Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands appeared in public for the first time since the death of her so, Friso, at a concert in the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam

Princess Beatrix was with the couple at a concert at the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam given by the International Mahler Orchestra at an event organized by the European Cultural Foundation. 

The princess wore mourning for her first public appearance since losing her second son

After the loss of a loved one sometimes the hardest thing to cope with is the sympathy of others who want to help share the sadness but whose comforting words bring back the tears so hard to keep away in those moments.  Princess Beatrix smiled gently through her whole public appearance and Constantijn and Laurentien were never far from her side as she negotiated the kindness of strangers for the first time since losing her son.

Prince Johan Friso of Orange-Nassau died on August 12th 2013, eighteen months after suffering brain damage in a skiing accident in Lech in Austria

The Dutch royal household has just announced some more public engagements over the coming month for the former queen as she comes to terms with life without her son.  And no doubt as time moves on, the condolences of her fellow citizens will help the princess as she grieves.

Monday, 26 August 2013

England's only official male consort

He gave his first name to a hall, a museum, a memorial, a thousand streets and tens of thousands of babies who were all named after him when he arrived in England.  And every generation of British royals since his have had a bevy of boys with his name somewhere among theirs. He remains the only man in British history to ever officially hold the title of Prince Consort.  Today is the anniversary of the birth of Prince Albert.

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the only man ever to be made Prince Consort
Considering how prolific the name Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became, it's perhaps a bit of a surprise that it wasn't the name he received on his birth in Schloss Rosenau near Coburg on August 25th 1819. His first name was Francis with Albert coming in second in a five horse race that also included Augustus, Charles and Emmanuel.  And he was born a prince of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld but when he was six his great uncle died leading to a reshuffle of the German duchies that led to Albert's father becoming the ruler of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
Prince Albert as a child with his brother, Ernest, and their mother, Louise.  She was exiled from court soon after this painting was made.
But different names were the least of Albert's worries as a child.  His father, Ernest, and his mother, Louise, had quickly grown to hate one another and she was exiled from court around the time of Albert's fifth birthday.  Louise had married her lover by the time Ernest became Duke and he had found another wife closer to home, making his niece his duchess.  Albert grew up with his cousin, Antoinette, as his stepmother.
Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, married his niece.  One of his illegitimate daughters married her own first cousin bringing a whole new meaning to keeping it in the family
It's surprising that from this turbulent childhood grew a man who would establish the whole idea of a royal family in Britain.  Because it was Albert's romantic and solid marriage to Victoria and their nursery of nine children that formed the modern image of family that has been a bedrock of the British royal image ever since.  There was none of the infidelity associated with kings and queens of old.  The queen loved the prince and the prince loved the queen and their children grew up in a happy home.
The famous portrait of Victoria and Albert with their eldest five children, painted by Franz Xaver Winthalter in 1846.  It cemented the family image of the royals.
Albert was made Prince Consort by Victoria in 1857.  By then his public role had become considerable and he campaigned for better working rights and reform of the education system as well as abolition of slavery.  While Victoria was the public head of the family, at home that role belonged to him.  He was in charge of their children's education and leisure and was lent on heavily by the queen in her political and public duties.  He was by her side for just 21 years of her 63 year reign but his influence was such that even now it is impossible to think of Victoria without the man born 194 years ago today - Albert.

Felipe needs an Olympics win

In a few days time, Felipe of Spain will arrive in Buenos Aires to help with the final push in the bid to bring the Olympic Games to Madrid in 2020.  He's the Honorary President of the city's attempt to become the host venue and he will spend five days in meetings, at presentations and talking face to face with the members of the International Olympic Committee who will decide where the greatest sporting show on earth will take place in seven years' time.  If Madrid does win the race for the rings then it could give Felipe the boost he needs at a tricky time for the Spanish monarchy.

Crown Prince Felipe of Spain at the July IOC meeting in Lausanne in which he contributed to Madrid's technical presentation in its bid to win the 2020 Olympic Games
The future king was described as the star of the show when the Madrid bid went to Lausanne earlier this summer to make a technical presentation. His passion and enthusiasm for the Games was praised and given some gravitas as he is a former Olympian himself.  And with the competition for the 2020 games wide open, the prince could yet make a big difference.  Tokyo is thought to be just edging things and is the only one of the three final cities to have hosted a games already, in 1964.  Spain had the even more recently when Barcelona took the honour in 1992 with Felipe famously carrying the flag for his country at the opening ceremony.

The prince at the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics of 1992

The prince has been highly praised by Spain's Olympic Committee for his work in the bid process and a win could make a difference to his standing in the country.  The games would cost Spain a fortune but they would bring massive employment opportunities and epic sponsorship.  If the prince can help put people back in work and get some cash into his country then it might just improve his standing and that of his family.

The prince with the members of the Madrid 2020 bid team including his aunt, Infanta Pilar, who is an honorary member of the International Olympic committee so has no vote in the final ballot
Because there's no doubt that the royal house that Felipe will one day run is in trouble.  The summer holidays have been a disaster not least for the prince's wife, Letizia, who has been criticised on all sides for her short stay in Mallorca and for once again not revealing the destination of the family holiday she's now on with Felipe and their two girls.  The princess has been absent from view for most of August and rumours of a crisis in the Asturias marriage have continued despite denials.  The first time the couple will appear together in public since the photo session in Mallorca at the beginning of August will be in Buenos Aires on September 7th when the IOC makes its announcement.

Felipe and Letizia's last official public appearance together was at the beginning of August when they attended the annual dinner for the authorities on Mallorca

The princess' arrival at the event for the denouement will mean that if Madrid does win there will be a smiling shot of Felipe and Letizia beaming out from every paper and magazine in the country for weeks, if not months, to come.  The prince's close association with the bid means that if Spain does find itself preparing to host thousands of athletes and millions of visitors in 2020 then Felipe will have a project to keep him occupied and the Asturias a lead role in a major national event. 

The Asturias in Mallorca with their daughters - Felipe's close involvement in Madrid 2020 will mean that if the city wins, he and his wife will be natural choices for major royal involvement in what will be a huge national project
If Madrid loses then the prince still wins.  His commitment to the project and the fact that he will be so heavily involved in trying to win enough votes to make his country the centre of world attention once more will win him plaudits even if Tokyo or Istanbul get the actual prize.  But a loss won't necessarily bring the same golden benefits to Letizia or his wider family.  While the prince can claim personal credit for his efforts to make Madrid 2020 a success, win or lose, his wife's involvement has been minimal and is all but limited to being in the front row for the big announcement.  It's hard to see Letizia getting any of the credit for the bid process without a win.

Letizia has had a long and bumpy summer this year

So when the IOC makes its announcement at the beginning of September, a Madrid victory could be great news for the city and the country.  Felipe says he has a good feeling about the bid.  Spain's first Olympics cemented him in his nation's consciousness as the poster boy prince.  If he's right and the country is about to welcome the games once more then Spain's second Olmpics could be even more influential for him as he tries to secure his place in royal history

Sunday, 25 August 2013

The royal Bridezilla?

Reports that the Duke of York and his former wife may be about to get back together are nothing new.  Prince Andrew and the former Sarah Ferguson have a reputation as the happiest divorced couple in town and they have shared a home, on and off, since their split became legal in 1996.  Every few years rumours of another wedding for the pair surface - today's whispers mention an unnamed friend saying it will happen, eventually.  Which covers all bases for a while at least.

The wedding of Andrew, Duke of York and Sarah Ferguson on July 23rd 1986
Let's just hope that if they do go for a rematch, Fergie is a bit less wedding obsessed this time round.  Her nuptials in 1986 were bridezilla before the word was even coined.  We've come to expect a few regal signs on royal wedding garb but her dress was so heavy with symbolism it's a surprise she managed to walk up the aisle.  Never mind the obligatory Fergie bow at the back, there was a sprinkling of her personal emblem, the bee, alongside anchors and waves for her sailor prince, an A for his name intertwined with an S for hers, roses, flowers, hearts, thistles and more mini bows.  The floral headdress came off during the signing of the register to reveal a tiara, showing her move from commoner to royal duchess, and then it was back to the Palace for a cake painted with so many royal reminders that even the usual multiple tiers were crowded. 
The back and front of the wedding dress of Sarah, Duchess of York were filled with symbols linked to her family, future husband and romance
It would be a major comeback - the duchess wasn't invited to William and Kate's wedding and she's been making her own way in the world since 1996.  But if the invites are for Andrew and Sarah, and not Beatrice and Dave as had been widely predicted, then fingers crossed for a more discreet affair.