Tuesday, January 16, 2018

HM King Michael of Romania, 1921-2017

His daughter once described him as "an amputated soul". His wife said that he lived a quiet life of mourning for his country. Indeed, King Michael of Romania's life was shaped by his country - the love he had for it, and the havoc wrought upon him when he was forced to leave it behind. If any comfort could be drawn from this colorful and often sad life, which came to a close on 5 December 2017, it could be that even though he never lived to see his throne returned to him, the old King was allowed to return to his beloved homeland and finally received the respect he deserved for the service he gave. As a young man in his early twenties, an age when most people are setting the stones for the foundations of their lives and still learning about who they are and what they want to become, King Michael was already thrust toward his destiny as well as carrying the destinies of an entire country on his tall shoulders. The Romanian throne had been a double-edged sword for him: it gave his life purpose, but it had robbed him of his childhood when he was forced to occupy it at the age of six. Michael's father, the wily Prince Carol, had turned his back on his duty, his country, and his family to pursue a scandalous affair with Magda Lupescu, carelessly leaving the mantle which he had been groomed his whole life to bear in the hands of his young son. Michael's mother, the stoic Princess Helen of Greece, did her best to keep the boy disciplined and grounded in spite of his exalted position. Yet she was ultimately powerless to stave off her former husband's damaging presence when he came waltzing back into Romania and usurped the crown from Michael. Michael never forgave his father for the humiliation levied upon his mother in the aftermath of their divorce, and refused to ever see him again after Carol was driven into permanent exile in 1940. 

During his second reign, which began when he was nineteen, Michael endured the dictatorship of his prime minister Marshal Ion Antonescu, who habitually undermined his monarchical authority and dragged Romania into the Second World War on the side of the Germans. The young king knew that Romania would sacrifice thousands of her soldiers for a cause that they had little to gain from, and he advantageously used Antonescu's dismissal of his abilities to perform what many regard as his most courageous deed. King Michael's Coup of 23 August 1944 removed Antonescu from power and transferred Romania's alliance from the Axis Powers to the Allies. This allowed Soviet troops to march through Romania and gain easier access to invade Germany, which most historians agree shortened the war in Europe by up to six months. The coup saved thousands of lives, and yet it left King Michael and his country vulnerable to Soviet encroachment. An agreement between Stalin and Churchill effectively sealed Romania's fate when it gave the Soviet Union the upper hand in influence over Romanian affairs. Just three years later, communist politicians with Soviet backing had infiltrated the Romanian government, and King Michael, at the age of 26, was sent packing into exile against his will. 

In many ways, Michael never truly recovered from the loss of his country. He had some joy in his personal life - he wed Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma and, after producing five daughters together, they remained married for sixty-eight years until her death in 2016. Yet those close to him noticed a withdrawn, remote figure who seemed to nurse the pain of abdication and exile more intently than other deposed monarchs. His cousin, King Constantine II of Greece, for example, has said that he was grateful to have been a young man when he was driven into exile in 1967, for had he been older he would have found the change in his life more difficult to cope with. Yet King Michael certainly never adapted to life in exile in the way of his Greek relative. Perhaps Michael's stormy childhood left scars on him deeper than anyone could truly understand. Certainly the way Romania suffered under decades of brutal communist dictators after Michael's deposition filled him with enormous sorrow. Even his own children have said that he was a distant father at times, which perhaps explains at least partially the troubles his family endured over the years. All but one of his five daughters have been divorced. His third daughter, Irina, was arrested and convicted in the United States for running an illegal cockfighting ring. His grandson, Nicholas, who had been given the title of Prince in 2010 and was being groomed to one day take over leadership of the deposed royal house, was stripped of his title and cast out of the family for undisclosed reasons, which was later revealed to be his unwillingness to acknowledge that he had supposedly fathered a little girl out of wedlock. 

Despite these issues, what King Michael will be remembered for is his steadfastness, his bravery, and his wholehearted devotion to his country. When he returned to Romania in 1997, after previous visits triggered unseemly squabbling among Romanian politicians, the enormous crowds that had jammed the streets to cheer him left him so moved that, struggling to maintain his composure, all he could say to them was a simple "I love you". He was not lying; he never has. No other figure in the last century has stood as a champion of the dignity and welfare of the Romanian people than their last king, and no other figure in the last century is more worthy of having his memory preserved as such in death. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Retirement Portrait of Prince Philip

A new portrait of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh has been put on display to commemorate his official retirement from public duties in 2017. The 96-year-old consort, who has been married to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for seventy years, is the longest-serving British royal consort in history, and is the longest-living male member of the British royal family ever, performed his last public engagement in August. Though he will still appear at family functions (including the wedding of his grandson, Prince Harry, in just a few months) and will appear alongside the Queen at state functions and the occasional public engagement, he will no longer perform solo engagements and has stepped down from his active involvement in numerous charities and organizations.

The portrait was done by Australian artist Ralph Heimans. It is a remarkable one, for it emphasizes a number of elements related to Prince Philip's family background.

The painting depicts the Duke at Windsor Castle. At the end of the corridor behind him is the entrance to the Tapestry Room, where his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was born in 1885 in the presence of her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Though many people over the years regarded Philip as a European foreigner, there are those who forget that he has close ties to the British royal family. An anecdote tells us that not long after his marriage to Princess Elizabeth, Philip was forced to endure a tour of Windsor Castle by a courtier who operated under the belief that the place was entirely foreign to him. Exasperated, Philip interrupted the man and said "Yes, yes, I know all this; my mother was born here after all". Painting the Duke standing before the very birthplace of his mother not only adds a sentimental touch, but also nicely emphasizes the fact that he is more connected to Britain than many people give him credit for.

Another remarkable element of this portrait can be found in the sash the Duke is wearing. He is depicted here wearing the sash of the Order of the Elephant, which is the highest order of chivalry in the Kingdom of Denmark  (note the elephant medallion at the bottom of the sash). This emphasizes the fact that the Duke is a descendant of the Danish royal family.

"But wait," you might be asking if you know enough about Philip's background. "Wasn't he from Greece originally?" Yes, Prince Philip was a Greek prince by birth, but we must not forget that the Greek royal family themselves descend from the Danish monarchy. Philip's grandfather, King George I of Greece, was born a Danish prince, the second son of King Christian IX of Denmark. He accepted the offer to become king of Greece in 1863 and arrived in his new kingdom at the age of seventeen, having changed his name, his nationality, and his destiny. All dynastic members of the Greek royal house bore the title Prince/Princess of Greece and Denmark, and the Greek royal family is considered to be part of the extended Danish royal family. Depicting the Duke of Edinburgh with the Order of the Elephant serves as a reminder of the prince's origins and also emphasizes his connection with what is actually Europe's oldest monarchy.

Too many times over the course of Prince Philip's married life have his origins and personal history been obscured or glossed over. He renounced his title as a prince of Greece and Denmark before his engagement to Elizabeth in an effort to make him appear less "foreign" to the British people. He adopted his mother's family name, Mountbatten, which he had no real connection with (it was a name his mother never used for herself, as she had already been married into the Greek royal family by the time her father chose to renounce the Battenberg name). Every effort was made to make Philip appear as naturally British as possible so that his wife's subjects and the British establishment could "stomach" him better. It is therefore heartening to see this portrait and how it prominently displays elements that draw attention to Prince Philip's background and family origins, as he is more than deserving of the respect and gratitude of his adopted country in which he has resided for well over seven decades now.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Return of About Royalty

Hello readers, 

It has been about fifteen months since the last About Royalty post, and there has been an influx of news since the last update. 

2018 is shaping up to be a big year for royal news, with births and a major wedding on the way. Two royal princesses - the Duchess of Cambridge and Princess Madeleine of Sweden - are both due to give birth to their third children in 2018. Another royal relative, Zara Phillips, granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II, also announced her second pregnancy just a few days ago, which along with the third Cambridge baby will bring the number of great-grandchildren for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to seven. 

On an international level, the most high-profile royal event of 2018 is most certainly the May wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle. It is expected that Harry's sister-in-law will have already given birth to her child by that time so that she can accompany Harry's brother to the wedding, and all bets are on that Harry's niece and nephew, Charlotte and George, will be participants in the ceremony. 

Some royals will hit milestone birthdays this year - King Felipe VI of Spain turns fifty at the end of this month, while his father, King Juan Carlos, reached his eightieth birthday a few days ago. Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark will turn also turn fifty in May. This year will also see King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden hit a milestone as he is due to become the longest-reigning monarch in Swedish history. 

Reflecting back on the year that just ended, 2017 saw its share of big royal news. The Swedish royal family expanded with the birth of a second son to Prince Carl Philip and Princess Sofia. King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway both turned 80, as well as Queen Paola of Belgium and King Simeon II of Bulgaria. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall turned 70, Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece was 50, and Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden reached 40 all in 2017. The 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation was celebrated by the royals in Denmark and Norway. Serbia celebrated a royal wedding (albeit a deposed one) with the nuptials of Prince Philip of Yugoslavia and Danica Marinkovic. The Duke of Edinburgh retired from public duties in 2017, capping over six decades of service to the British people, while in November he and the Queen celebrated seventy years of marriage. A state visit by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain to the UK brought out a host of tiaras and inter-royal mingling. July 17 also marked the 100th anniversary of the creation of the House of Windsor. Japan's Emperor Akihito announced he would be stepping down from the throne in 2019. 

There was sad news throughout the year as well. Prince Henrik, husband of Denmark's Queen Margrethe II, was confirmed to be suffering from dementia. Countess Mountbatten of Burma, daughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten and a cousin of Prince Philip, died at the age of 93. Richard, Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Burleburg, husband of Princess Benedikte of Denmark, also passed away. The most notable royal death of the year was perhaps that of King Michael of Romania, who died in December at the age of 96. His funeral was attended by a number of European royals and brought thousands into the streets of Bucharest to pay their respects.

Here is to an eventful year of royal news and more updates to come.   

80th Anniversary of Greek Royal Wedding

 Eighty years ago, on 9 January 1938, Athens played host to a royal wedding that united the heir presumptive to the Greek throne, Prince Paul, with a princess of an ancient German royal house who was related to him several times over. 

It was a rainy day in the Greek capital when Crown Prince Paul of Greece, the 36-year-old brother and heir of King George II of the Hellenes, wed Princess Frederica of Hanover, age 20. Frederica was the only daughter of Ernest Augustus of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Princess Victoria Louise of Prussia. Paul's mother, Queen Sophie of Greece, was the sister of Frederica's grandfather, the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II. The couple had met through mutual relatives in Florence, Italy, where Paul's widowed mother had purchased a property for herself and her family during the Greek royal family's exile in the 1930s. They met again in 1936 during the Olympic games in Berlin, at which point they became unofficially engaged. The formal engagement announcement was made in 1937. 

Frederica was in the line of succession to the British throne (the House of Hanover had been the reigning dynasty of the United Kingdom until the death of Queen Victoria in 1901), and pursuant to the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, she received the formal consent of King George VI to marry Prince Paul on 26 December 1937. 
Frederica and her parents arrived in Athens, and on the morning of the wedding the bride and her father set out for a carriage ride in the pouring rain to the Metropolitan Cathedral. The wedding was performed according to the rites of the Greek Orthodox Church, while a Lutheran ceremony (in deference to the bride's religion) was held later that day at the chapel of the Royal Palace. 

Though Greek Orthodox brides do not typically have bridesmaids, Princess Frederica appointed a group of princesses to assist her, including her new sister-in-law, Princess Katherine of Greece, and two of her cousins, Princess Cecilie and Princess Herzeleide of Prussia. The five crown bearers for Prince Paul included three Eastern Orthodox royals - his uncle, Prince George of Greece, his nephew, Crown Prince Michael of Romania, Grand Duke Dmitri of Russia - and his two new brothers-in-law, Prince Ernest Augustus and Prince Georg Wilhelm of Hanover. 

After the wedding ceremony, the new Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Greece boarded a state coach back to the Royal Palace and waved to the crowds that had gathered in the rain to see them. 

Paul and Frederica's first child, Princess Sophia of Greece (the future Queen Sofia of Spain), was born ten months after their wedding. Their only son, Constantine, arrived in 1940, and their last child, Princess Irene, was born in 1942. Following King George II's death in 1947, Paul and Frederica became King and Queen of Greece. They remained married until Paul's death in 1964, at which time their son Constantine II assumed the Greek throne. A military coup led the Greek royal family into exile in 1967, and Frederica died in 1981 of complications from eye surgery. 

Paul and Frederica are the grandparents of the reigning Spanish king, Felipe VI. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Prince of Wales Visits Grandmother's Grave in Israel

While in Israel to represent the Queen at the funeral of former president Shimon Peres, HRH The Prince of Wales made a private pilgrimage to the Church of Mary Magdalene, an Eastern Orthodox church on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, where his paternal grandmother, Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark, formerly Princess Alice of Battenberg, is buried.

It is the first time the Prince has visited the gravesite. Prince Charles was twenty-one when his grandmother died at Buckingham Palace in 1969. After laying flowers for Princess Alice, Charles paid tribute to another of his relatives buried at the church, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, who was Princess Alice's aunt and a sister of the Russian empress Alexandra.

Princess Alice of Battenberg, who was the mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was born at Windsor Castle in the presence of her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Though she was born deaf, Alice learned to lip read in multiple languages, and grew into a strikingly beautiful young woman. Regarding her prospects as a potential bride for a European monarch, her great-uncle, King Edward VII, is reported to have said that "no throne in Europe is too good for her". She would not marry a king, however, but did end up marrying the fourth son of a king. In 1903, she wed Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, one of the younger sons of King George I of Greece. After her marriage, she adopted the title "Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark", which she used for the remainder of her life. She had five children, of which Prince Philip was the youngest, but spent a great deal of time apart from them after she was committed to a mental sanitarium during the 1930s when she suffered a nervous collapse. After her release, she returned to Greece and remained there during the German occupation in World War II, where she secretly hid a Jewish family in her home. She left Greece and came to live at Buckingham Palace at the invitation of her son and daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, following the Greek military coup of 1967.

In 1994, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, recognized Princess Alice as "righteous among nations" for her efforts in hiding the Jewish family while living under enemy occupation in Athens. The ceremony was attended by her two surviving children, Prince Philip and Princess Sophia. Her remains were moved to the Church of Mary Magdalene in 1988.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

70th Birthday of HM Queen Anne-Marie of Greece

Her Majesty Queen Anne-Marie of Greece turns seventy on August 30, 2016. The wife of former
King Constantine II of Greece, she has led a remarkable life, from her beginnings as a princess of Europe's oldest monarchy to becoming the young queen of a politically unstable kingdom before facing nearly fifty years of exile. Despite such misfortunes, the Queen has drawn comfort from a loving marriage, a happy family life with five children and, later on, nine grandchildren, and the privilege of retaining close family ties to the other reigning houses of Europe.

She was born as Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark on August 30, 1946 at Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen, the third and youngest daughter of King Frederick IX and Queen Ingrid. Her father was the son of King Christian X, while her mother was the only daughter of King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden. Through her mother, Anne-Marie is a great-great-granddaughter of "the grandmother of Europe", Queen Victoria of Great Britain, and through her father, a great-great-granddaughter of "the father-in-law of Europe", King Christian IX of Denmark. Her eldest sister, Margrethe II, is the reigning Queen of Denmark, and her second elder sister, Princess Benedikte, is married to the German prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. 

King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie in the early years of their marriage.
Anne-Marie met Crown Prince Constantine of Greece, her third cousin and a fellow descendant of both Queen Victoria and King Christian IX, when she was thirteen years old and he was nineteen. They met again a few years later, when Anne-Marie was fifteen, and became unofficially engaged. The Danish king and queen asked the couple to wait until their daughter had reached maturity before marrying (King Frederick reportedly locked Crown Prince Constantine in his bathroom after being told of his intentions to propose), but the sudden death of Constantine's father, King Paul, and his ascension to the Greek throne sped up their plans. On September 18, 1964, two weeks after her eighteenth birthday, Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark married King Constantine II of Greece at the Mitropolis Cathedral in Athens. Upon marriage, she officially became Her Majesty The Queen of the Hellenes, and also the world's youngest queen consort.

King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie at their golden wedding anniversary celebration in 2014 with their children and their spouses. From left: Princess Alexia, her husband Carlos Morales; Crown Princess Marie-Chantal, Crown Prince Pavlos, Queen Anne-Marie, King Constantine, Prince Nikolaos, his wife Princess Tatiana, Princess Theodora, and Prince Philippos.

The new Queen of the Hellenes only spent three years in her new kingdom before a military coup in April 1967 and the King's failed counter-attack in December of that year forced the royal family to flee into exile. They stayed in Rome and with the Queen's family in Denmark before finally settling in a mansion outside of London, where they stayed until 2013. Between 1965 and 1986, Queen Anne-Marie gave birth to five children - Princess Alexia, Crown Prince Pavlos (who were both born in Greece), Prince Nikolaos (born in Rome after the family's exile), Princess Theodora and Prince Philippos (both born in London). King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie visited Greece in 1981 for the funeral of Constantine's mother, Queen Frederica, and again in 1993 on a sailing trip that led to the Greek government buzzing their yacht with warplanes and stripping the family of their citizenship and private property. A lawsuit filed in the European Court of Human Rights led to a cash settlement with King Constantine, who donated the funds to a charity entitled the Anna-Maria Foundation, named in Queen Anne-Marie's honor and with her serving as chairwoman.
Queen Anne-Marie, her sisters Queen Margrethe II and Princess Benedikte, and their mother, Queen Ingrid.

In 2013, King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie returned to live in Greece. Though they have been deposed since 1973, they retain close family ties to the other monarchies of Europe. Anne-Marie is still a member of the Danish royal family, often present at events such as her sister Queen Margrethe's birthday and jubilee celebrations, and the wedding of her nephew, Crown Prince Frederik, in 2004. Anne-Marie's sister-in-law is Queen Sofia of Spain, consort of King Juan Carlos until his abdication in 2014. Anne-Marie and her husband attended the 2004 wedding of their son, the current Spanish king Felipe VI, and were also present at his enthronement ceremony in June 2014.

King Constantine II and Queen Anne-Marie with their son and daughter-in-law, Crown Prince and Crown Princess Pavlos of Greece, and their grandson, Prince Constantine, preparing to attend the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011.

In true modern fashion, Queen Anne-Marie was celebrated on social media by members of her family. Her daughter Princess Theodora and her son Crown Prince Pavlos took to their respective Instagram accounts to post birthday greetings for their mother. 

Funeral for Queen Anne of Romania

Her Majesty Queen Anne of Romania, the late wife of Romania's last monarch, King Michael, was buried on Saturday August 13 in a ceremony described by the international media as the biggest royal funeral since that of Queen Marie of Romania back in 1938.

While it was not a state funeral, the Queen, who died on August 1 in a Swiss hospital, was given a guard of honor by soldiers of the Michael the Brave regiment. Members of Anne's family were in attendance, along with representatives of various European royal houses. A service held in front of the former Royal Palace in Bucharest (now the National Museum of Art) preceded the Queen's burial at the cathedral of Curtea de Arges. Absent from the service were King Michael, who was advised by doctors not to attend as he is currently receiving extensive treatment for cancer, and Anne's daughter, Irina, who lives in the United States but was arrested in 2013 and convicted of engaging in illegal cockfighting.

Below are photographs from the ceremony.

Coffin of Queen Anne arrives at the Cathedral of Curtea de Arges.

From left: Queen Anne's second daughter, Princess Elena; Prince Radu and Princess Margarita, Queen Anne's eldest daughter and her husband.

From left: Queen Anne's youngest daughter, Princess Maria, comforts her sister, Princess Sofia.

Nicholas Medforth-Mills, Queen Anne's grandson. Nicholas, the son of Princess Elena, was previously styled as HRH Prince Nicholas of Romania following his 25th birthday in 2010, as King Michael had designated him to be third in line to head the Romanian royal house, behind his mother and his aunt Margarita. In 2015, however, the King stripped Nicholas of his title and revoked his place in the succession for undisclosed reasons.

Princess Maria, followed by her nephew, Nicholas Medforth-Mills.

Princess Maria weeps as her sister Princess Sofia comforts her.

Prince Carlos of Bourbon-Parma, Duke of Parma; he is the current head of the royal house which Queen Anne was born into.

Various royals in attendance, including Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna (second from left), the current head of the deposed Russian imperial house, and next to her Georg Friedrich, Prince of Prussia, current head of the House of Hohenzollern, the deposed imperial house of the German Empire and the dynasty from which the Romanian royal family descends.