Thursday, 26 December 2013

The hidden messages of the royal Christmas speeches

Pictures speak louder than words, goes the saying, and the image given by a first glance at the Christmas Day speeches of Europe's monarchs certainly provides an interesting impression of how they see themselves and how they want to be seen.  Most striking was the background to the speech given by the new king of the Netherands, Willem-Alexander.  While the comfy if imposing chair was to be expected, the new monarch put himself firmly at the centre of his country's royal family with the pictures he displayed around himself.  Most prominent were the three portraits of his daughters on a wall behind him, a reminder of the future of the monarchy he now rules.  But to his side was a photograph of his wife, Queen Maxima, and another of his parents, Princess Beatrix and Prince Claus.  The new king looked forward and back while placing himself firmly in the centre of the royal household.

A king surrounded by the ghosts of Christmas past and those of Christmas yet to come - and firmly in control as the spirit of the royal Christmas happening right now
Family was also central to the image portrayed by Elizabeth II in her Christmas speech.  While the Queen usually speaks in front of a large Christmas tree, this year that had to take second place to the three emblematic photographs that she had placed to her side.  Firstly, a picture of her beloved father, George VI, and another of her mother, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.  Both were shown young and at the height of their powers.  It was a striking image that seemed to say - remember where this royal household, now celebrated around the world, began.  The modern House of Windsor has its roots in the reigns of George V and George VI and the Queen reminded those watching of that as the camera left her face to focus on those of her parents for a few brief seconds.  But the other picture on display was that historic image that cements Elizabeth II's place in history and secures the dynasty she helped her father and grandfather build into the 22nd century.  At the centre of this royal speech was the photo of the Queen with her heir, Charles, and the two kings to be that now wait behind him - William and George.  When her father became king, the throne of England had never been so precarious.  Now, his daughter shows us that it has never been so secure or with such a strong future in front of it.
A dynasty that will last for centuries - the woman who was never meant to be a queen with the parents who were never meant to rule and who, between the three of them, made the throne of Great Britain more secure than it has been in centuries
King Philippe of the Belgians also looked to the foundation of a dynasty but his eyes were firmly on the past.  The new monarch made his first Christmas address under the watchful gaze of the first king of the Belgians, Leopold I, who took the country's throne in 1830 and went on to help found the Victorian dynstary of Great Britain by encouraging a marriage between his niece and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.  Philippe has competition on the king front as his father, the abdicated Albert II, remains a monarch.  His country also has three queens at the moment and the prominence given to Leopold in the same image as Philippe seems to say that it is time to look from the founder to the future as 2014 begins.
King Philippe and King Leopold I of the Belgians shared the stage in the new monarch's first Christmas speech, delivered on Christmas Eve 2013
In contrast, King Juan Carlos of Spain emphasized his own position as head of the royal family of Spain with the images he chose to show in his Christmas speech.  The king usually has a crib and more modern festive decorations on display but there is always a photo to one side showing an important part of his year.  And for 2013, it was Juan Carlos at work with politicians.  After a traumatic time for the royal house, and for the king personally after two major operations and a massive Twitter rumour that he was about to abdicate, this image reminded everyone that he is the head of the house and family and intends to remain so for a long time to come.  It backed up his words where he pledged to lead by example and restore faith and transparency in public figures.
King Juan Carlos of Spain's Christmas speech placed him firmly at the heart of social and political life in his country
But for one king, their presence on its own did all the talking.  King Carl XVI Gustaf spoke to his people from a desk with simple Christmas decorations in the background.  But for a monarch who has just marked 40 years on the throne, and whose royal house consists of him and his wife and children, there is little question over his position at the heart of the monarchical institutions. 
The one and only - King Carl XVI Gustaf is firmly at the centre of his royal household as he marks forty years as his country's monarch

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