Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Europe's ageing monarchies

Charles, Prince of Wales is the boy who waited.  The prince is the oldest person ever to be heir to the British throne and he's also held that position longer than any other.  And if his mother lives anywhere near as long as her own mother, the boy who became first in line to the throne at the age of just three will be a man approaching eighty when he becomes king.  But Charles is just the beginning of a generation of men and women who will assume their destinies at a much greater age than any of their predecessors.  Europe's monarchies are getting older.

Prince Charles is just the beginning of a new wave of older kings with Prince Frederik among a whole generation of monarchs unlikely to begin their reigns until their sixth or seventh decade
This new wave of blue rinse bods at the top is inevitable given the general ageing of the population.  Although royal families have had the best of everything from nice, warm places to sleep to top doctors to sort out their aches and pains, the general rise in living conditions all round also means they're getting healthier and happier along with the rest of the population.  Plus, all those pesky things that used to do for kings and queens in days of yore are gone.  The chances of dying in battle or revolutions is much lower as is picking up a strange medieval illness with no cure.  But healthier monarchs mean older heirs - will the ageing process bring wisdom with it or leave Europe with a generation of kings and queens too old to do the jobs for which they were born?

Edward IV survived battles, imprisonment and exile but wine, women and song added to stress and all kinds of infections with no cure led to his early death at the age of 41
After the UK, Monaco has the oldest heir to its top title.  In the absence of any legitimate children, Prince Albert II's throne will pass to his sister, Caroline, who is 56 and fast approaching 57 meaning she's second on the list behind Prince Charles when it comes to heirs packing the years.  She's also the only heir to the throne in Europe to be older than the person she could succeed.  Like Charles, she has a son and heir waiting behind her and, like the British royals, that child of the eighties became father to a son this year.  Of course, Caroline and her descendants could be moved out of the way with the arrival of a baby for Albert and Charlene but at the moment, the Princess of Hanover hovers at the foot of her country's throne. 

Caroline of Monaco got the film star looks of her mother but may yet inherit the throne of her father - at 56, she is the second oldest heir in Europe

And then we have the fortysomethings.  The honour of being the most senior of the middle aged monarchs in waiting goes to Prince Felipe of Spain.  Born in January 1968, he's reached the grand old age of 45 with still no sign of a throne.  While social media went mad, almost frenzied, in September with rumours that Juan Carlos I was about to abdicate the reality is that Felipe will succeed in the most traditional of manners.  Only death will bring him a crown.  He has been his father's heir all his adult life and remains firmly in his shadow.  Even a higher profile in recent months as Juan Carlos undergoes treatment for a hip problem has left him clearly as the second man in the Spanish royal house.  Of all Europe's heirs, he perhaps faces the hardest battle to be seen as a king - not least because of the problems facing the family he will one day rule.

Heir to the throne since the age of seven, Prince Felipe of Asturias has been one step away from his country's crown through his youth and into middle age

The Spanish king is 75, approaching 76, and will celebrate his 40th jubilee in November 2015.  Felipe is looking at remaining next in line well into his fifties.  As is Frederik of Denmark who is just a few months behind his Spanish cousin, arriving in May 1968.  His mother is 73 and descended from a mother who lived to ninety years of age.  Like Juan Carlos, Margrethe has indicated she will never abdicate her throne which means Fred could be running Charles a close second in the wait he has to be king.  Should Margrethe match Queen Ingrid then Frederik will be over sixty by the time he takes his country's throne.

He might not be doing the Copenhagen Iron Man by the time he becomes king - Frederik of Denmark is keeping on running as middle age approaches but might well be a pensioner by the time he takes his country's throne
Prince Haakon Magnus has just joined Felipe and Fred in the forties club but like them faces a wait to be king.  While the Crown Prince of Norway is named regent more often than his counterparts, his role is still the junior one in the regnant relationship.  King Harald of Norway, now 76, shares many of his political responsibilities with his heir but is still very far from handing over power meaning that Haakon is in line to be another older king
The beard might well be grey by the time it's topped with a crown - Prince Haakon Magnus of Norway in an official portrait to mark his 40th birthday earlier this year
Sweden's future queen, Crown Princess Victoria, is now 37 years old.  Her father may have just celebrated his fortieth jubilee but he is among the youngest of his generation of European kings, aged 67, and descended from kings who have regularly lived beyond the age of 90 in the last few generations.  Victoria might not take the throne which was made hers by her modern thinking father until she is over sixty.  

Victoria of Sweden on her wedding day as her proud father looks on
The fact that being a monarch is a job for life means the wait is likely, and hopefully, very long for all of them.  In cases of abdication, it becomes easier to predict when a crown might come a prince or princess' way.  The Netherlands now has the youngest monarch in Europe and the youngest heir to the throne and Catharina-Amalia, the Princess of Orange, knows that her father will most likely step aside for her at some point but not for a couple of decades at the earliest.  She will, like him, probably be around 40 when she becomes her country's regnant and is likely to pass her own crown on in a similar way.

The youthful king - Willem-Alexander is Europe's youngest monarch and has the continent's youngest heir.  By the time he is ready to hand on the throne, his daughter will be around forty
Another abdication is less certain in Belgium.  The country's new king, Philippe, was 53 on the day he became monarch and until earlier this year may well have expected to be much older as his father, Albert II, is 79 and wasn't top of anyone's abdicating monarchs list.  Whether this decision to step aside, and the smooth transition which followed, becomes customary as it has in the Netherlands can't be known for decades.  But with the heiress to the throne, Elisabeth, twelve years old the chances are that without an abdication she may join the European trend and start looking forward to being an older monarch.

Elisabeth of Belgium may well lead her country as an older monarch, following the trend being set across Europe

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