Tuesday, 27 January 2015

My latest article: Obituary of Johan Martin Ferner

Following the death of Johan Martin Ferner, the businessman who was for 54 years married to Princess Astrid, I have written an obituary which appears in the newspaper Aftenposten today. It may be read here (external link).

Monday, 26 January 2015

Johan Martin Ferner's funeral to take place on 2 February

The funeral of the businessman Johan Martin Ferner, Princess Astrid's husband, who died on Saturday, will as expected take place in Holmenkollen Chapel in Oslo on Monday 2 February at 1 p.m. As befits the low profile of this most anonymous member of the royal family, the funeral will be a private one, without media presence.
I would not expect members of foreign royal families to attend, except perhaps a representative of the Swedish royal family, to whom Princess Astrid was always close. Those Belgians, Luxembourgian and Danish relatives the Ferners were close to are now all dead, with the exception of Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, who at the age of 94 is unlikely to travel to Norway.
Holmenkollen Chapel is part of the Ferners' local parish Ris. It is also close to the royal winter residence, the Royal Lodge, and has long held a special place in Princess Astrid's heart. It was where all their children were baptised and she was deeply upset when the wooden chapel was arsoned by Satanists in 1992, less than two months before Elisabeth Ferner's wedding was due to take place there. The Princess played a key role in raising more than 10 million NOK for its reconstruction. It was completed in 1996, just in time for Alexander Ferner's wedding to take place there.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

At the road's end: Johan Martin Ferner (1927-2015), businessman and royal husband

The business man Johan Martin Ferner, Princess Astrid's husband, passed away at the age of 87 at the National Hospital in Oslo at 5.25 this morning, the royal court has announced. Ferner was the most anonymous member of the royal family and during his 54 years as the Princess's husband he was the very essence of discretion and loyalty.
Born in Oslo on 22 July 1927, Johan Martin Jacobsen was the third and youngest child of Ferner Jacobsen and his wife Ragnhild Olsen. In November of the same year, the children adopted their father's first name as their last name. His father ran a men's clothing store, Ferner Jacobsen A/S, founded in 1926 and still in existence in Parliament Street in Oslo. Johan Martin studied at London Polytechnic Institute, Bradford Technical College and the University of Lyon and worked at Harrods and Austin Reed in London before joining his father's company, where he worked his way up through the ranks until taking over the company jointly with his older brother Finn Christian on their father's death in 1964.
Johan Martin Ferner was a keen yachtsman and won a silver medal at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. The previous year he had for the first time gone sailing with Princesses Ragnhild and Astrid, and they remained part of each other's social circle. In 1953, Ferner married a friend of the princesses, Ingeborg "Bitte" Hesselberg-Meyer (1931-1997), but the marriage was dissolved in 1956. Ferner's and Princess Astrid's friendship gradually evolved into love, but it would be several years before King Olav gave his permission for them to marry. When writing my biography of her, Princess Astrid told me that after her elder sister had married a commoner she was convinced that it would not be possible for her too to do the same, and the fact that Ferner was a divorcé obviously complicated the matters (this was about the same time as Princess Margaret of Britain had to give up her relationship with the divorcé Peter Townsend). Attempts were made to stop the relationship, but eventually the King gave in.
The storm that broke out when the engagement was announced on 13 November 1960 was considered the worst the royal family had so far experienced and contained many of the same arguments that would come up again when the Princess's nephew married a single mother in 2001. Two members of Parliament's presidium boycotted the congratulatory visit to the Palace, while the Christian newspaper Vårt Land declared itself in mourning and thundered against the Princess and her choice of husband. The wedding was set for Asker Church, the parish church near the royal estate Skaugum, but the parish council refused to allow the marriage to be celebrated there. It was only after the King had appealed to the Church Ministry that the decision was overturned. The Bishop of Oslo was unwilling to marry divorces, but the more liberal Bishop of Nidaros, Arne Fjellbu, agreed to do so. The couple were eventually married on 12 January 1961 in the presence of royal guests from Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg and Britain.
Johan Martin Ferner and Princess Astrid, Mrs Ferner, as she was now styled, settled in a villa on Oslo's west side and had five children between 1962 and 1972: Cathrine, Benedikte, Alexander, Elisabeth and Carl-Christian. Until 1968 the Princess, despite ill health, combined her role as wife and mother with that of first lady of the realm and she had continued to take on many royal duties also after her brother's marriage meant that her sister-in-law Sonja tok over as first lady. Johan Martin Ferner kept a very low profile and did not carry out any public engagements, only occasionally accompanying his wife to major events. I believe the interview he gave to Aftenposten on the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1997 was the only interview he ever gave. Instead he focused his attention on the family business, which was eventually taken over by his son Carl-Christian and his nephew Christian, but until recently Johan Martin Ferner still paid regular visits to the store.
King Harald made his brother-in-law a Commander of the Order of St Olav shortly after the couple's golden wedding anniversary in 2011. By then the 84-year-old Johan Martin Ferner had given up on attending evening events and was only occasionally seen at royal events. His last public appearance was the wedding of his youngest son to Anna-Stina Slattum Karlsen on 4 October 2014.

Last rites for King Abdullah - and appointment of new heirs

In keeping with Muslim tradition, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who died in the early hours of Friday, was buried already on the same day. After funeral prayers at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque, the King was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in the El-Ud public cemetery in Riyadh.
The King of Bahrain, the Emirs of Kuwait and Qatar, the Presidents of Turkey and Sudan and the Prime Ministers of Egypt and Pakistan attended the funeral, while other foreign dignitaries will arrive in Riyadh on Saturday to pay their condolences to the new King, Salman. Among those expected are the Kings of Sweden and Spain, Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, the Crown Princes of Denmark and Norway and US Vice President Joe Biden.
There were two interesting developments to the Saudi succession, one particularly significant, on Friday. Firstly, King Salman appointed his half-brother Muqrin Crown Prince. Muqrin, the youngest surviving son of Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdul Aziz (Ibn Saud), was appointed Deputy Crown Prince by King Abdullah in March last year. The choice was somewhat surprising as there is an older half-brother, Ahmed, and Muqrin is not the son of a Saudi mother, and some had wondered if King Salman upon his succession would appoint Ahmed Crown Prince. This did not happen, and King Salman also appointed the Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed, the son of the late Crown Prince Nayef, Deputy Crown Prince, signifying that after the deaths of Salman, who is 79, and Muqrin, who is 69, the Saudi succession will at last move from the approximately 45 sons of Ibn Saud to the third generation of the House of Saud.

Friday, 23 January 2015

At the road's end: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (1924?-2015)

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was hospitalised with pneumonia several weeks ago, died at 1 a.m. local time today, it has been announced. The King was believed to be 90 years old. Under the Saudi succession rules, which means that the crown passes between the many sons of the country's founder, King Abdul Aziz (Ibn Saud), King Abdullah is succeeded by his half-brother Salman, who is believed to be 79 years old and in indifferent health.
King Abdullah came to the throne upon the death of his older half-brother King Fahd in August 2005, but had by then already been the country's actual ruler since King Fahd suffered a serious stroke ten years previously. In a Saudi context, King Abdullah, who was very popular with his people, was seen as a moderate and a reformer, who gave for instance the media and women more freedom, but as an absolute monarch he presided over one of the world's most barbaric regimes.
King Abdullah outlived two crown princes, Sultan, who died in 2011, and Nayef, who passed away in 2012, before appointing Salman Crown Prince. For good measure, he appointed another half brother, Muqrin, Deputy Crown Prince last year.
Muqrin, now Crown Prince, is a mere 69, but the youngest son of Ibn Saud, meaning that the shift to the next generations - the grandsons - will probably occur after him.
The death of King Abdullah makes Queen Elizabeth II of Britain the world's oldest monarch.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

My latest article(s): Queen Fabiola and a Danish succession dispute

I have written two articles in the February issue of Majesty (Vol. 36, No. 2), which goes on sale in Britain today. There are seven pages on the life, death and funeral of Queen Fabiola of the Belgians, who died last month, and I also write about Hereditary Prince Knud of Denmark, the younger brother and heir presumptive of King Frederik IX, who never got over his bitterness about losing the crown when the succession was changed in 1953 to allow for the accession of his niece, the current Queen Margrethe II.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

On this date: Marius Borg Høiby's 18th birthday

When he entered public life fifteen years ago he was often referred to as "little Marius", but time flies and today the Crown Prince's stepson, Marius Borg Høiby, turns eighteen and thus reaches his majority.
Marius Borg Høiby was born to the then Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby and Morten Borg on 13 January 1997 and was still just two years old when his mother began a relationship with the Crown Prince in 1999. His family understandably tried to shield him from unwelcome media attention, but many will remember him playing with the Queen on the floor of the Royal Lodge during the 2000 Christmas photo session and as a pageboy at his mother's and stepfather's wedding on 25 August 2001.
The King decided that Marius should be a member of the royal family, but not of the royal house, which means that he is a natural presence at family events, but does not take part in official events that are not family events, except for the occasional more informal event, such as a football match or a concert. Thus he does for instance not join his siblings on the palace balcony on the National Day and it is not expected that he will carry out official engagements or represent Norway abroad as an adult.
So far, the media have mostly left Marius alone, but it remains to be seen whether his unusual position will provide him with the best of both worlds or if his royal status will restrict him in trying to lead a normal life.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

At the road's end: The 8th Duke of Wellington (1915-2014)

Ever since the 1st Duke of Wellington was one of the victors in the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 it has been a tradition that the current Duke of Wellington goes to Windsor Castle on the anniversary of the battle to present the British monarch with a French flag as a token rent for the estate the 1st Duke was granted by the nation in recognition of his victory over Emperor Napoléon I of the French. It would have been wonderful if the 8th Duke of Wellington, who was born two weeks after the centenary of the battle, had been able to present the flag to Queen Elizabeth II on the bicentenary this year, but sadly he died on the last day of 2014, aged 99.
The son of the diplomat and architect Lord Gerald Wellesley, Arthur Valerian Wellesley was born in Rome on 2 July 1915 and was quite naturally named for his great ancestor. However, he was at that time not expected to succeed to the dukedom, but the death of his childless cousin Henry, the 6th Duke, from wounds received in action in Italy in 1943, made his father the 7th Duke and himself the heir apparent to the dukedom, which he inherited - together with a number of other British, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese titles, including Prince of Waterloo, on the death of his father in 1972.
The 8th Duke was a career soldier, who served in the Middle East and Italy during the Second World War and was awarded the Military Cross in 1941. He retired from the British army in 1968 with the rank of brigadier. He was made a Knight of the Garter in 1990.
During the war he married Diana McConnel, who worked in military intelligence, in Jerusalem on 28 January 1944. The Duchess died in 2010. The couple had five children, of whom the eldest, Charles, a former MEP who is married to Princess Antonia of Prussia, succeeds to his father's titles (although it is customary in Britain that the heir to a title does not start using it until after the funeral of the previous holder). Their only daughter, Lady Jane Wellesley, is a TV producer, was at one stage advocated by Lord Mountbatten as a possible bride for King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, but a certain Silvia Sommerlath came in the way of what might have been a grand alliance between the descendants of two of the victors of the Napoleonic Wars.
The 8th Duke of Wellington was last seen in public when he and Lady Jane attended the memorial service for Lady Soames, Winston Churchill's daughter, in Westminster Abbey on 20 November 2014.

Princess Madeleine and family return to Sweden

Following much recent speculation about a move to London, the Swedish royal court has confirmed that Princess Madeleine and her family have left New York, where she has been living since 2010, and will for the foreseeable future live in her apartment in the Royal Mews in Stockholm. According to the royal court the Princess and her husband, Chris O'Neill, intend to find a new home somewhere in Europe, but no final decision about where has yet been made.
It was recently announced that the couple expect their second child in the summer and at the time of the birth of their first child, Princess Leonore, in February 2014, the Marshal of the Realm stated that the royal court's interpretation of the Act of Succession's rather vague requirement for royal children to be brought up in Sweden in order to maintain their rights of succession to mean that they must live in Sweden from approximately the age of six and attend Swedish schools.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Swedish general election cancelled

The extraordinary Swedish general election which it was recently announced would take place on 22 March will now not take place after all, it was announced on Saturday. This follows from an agreement reached between the governing Social Democrats and Green Party and the four parties of the centre-right block which aims at making it possible for a minority government to survive despite the stated intention of the right-wing extremist Sweden Democrats, who hold the parliamentary balance, to defeat any government that will not do the extremists' bidding.
The decision to hold an extraordinary parliamentary election in March was announced by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven on 3 December, after the Sweden Democrats ensured that his government's budget was defeated and the budget proposed by the four centre-right parties, which ruled for eight years until they were defeated in September's general election, was adopted instead.
However, the Social Democrats and the Green Party on one side and the Conservatives, the Liberal People's Party, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats on the other have now reached an agreement, valid from 2015 till 2022, which says that neither of them will block the election of the leader of the largest party constellation to the premiership and ensures that the government will be able to get its budget proposal through Parliament, while it will also no longer be possible for the opposition to amend single parts of the budget.
This agreement across the divide between the two blocks cancels out the influence of the Sweden Democrats, who responded by stating their disgust that it will be possible for a "very small minority" to decide over a majority, which seems to be an ironic statement from a party which after receiving thirteen percent of the votes made clear their intention to defeat any government and budget that would not do their bidding. he Sweden Democrats will now call for a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and have demanded that the four centre-right parties join them in defeating the government, something those parties have again made it clear they will not do.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Princess Madeleine expects second child

The Swedish royal court has just announced that Princess Madeleine and her husband, Christopher O'Neill, are expecting their second child next summer. Their first child, Princess Leonore, was born on 20 February this year.

My latest article (and a radio documentary): The Sword of State and Carl XIV Johan's legitimacy

The most interesting item among the Norwegian Crown Regalia is in my opinion the Sword of State, which the then Crown Prince Carl Johan of Sweden carried in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, when he played an important part in defeating his great rival and former master, Emperor Napoléon I. The victory of Leipzig again paved the way for his conquest of Norway the following year, an achievement which meant that he succeeded at what generations of Swedish kings had failed at.
As Carl XIV Johan could not lay claim to any blue blood, he used to say that he built his legitimacy on his sword, in other words his military achievements. He could not have made this any clearer than when he became King in 1818 and gave the sword from Leipzig to Norway to serve as the kingdom's Sword of State and had it engraved with allegories (now almost entirely destroyed) which represented both the peaceful union of the two nations and his programme for the union.
About this I have written an article which appears in the 2014 edition of Trondhjemske Samlinger, the yearbook of Trondhjems Historiske Forening (the Historical Assocation of Trondheim), which was published earlier this month, and NRK's programme "Museum" has made a radio documentary featuring me and Steinar Bjerkestrand, the director of the Restoration Workshop of Nidaros Cathedral, that will be broadcast on P2 at 4.03 p.m. tomorrow and at 8.03 a.m. on Sunday and which is already available as a podcast (external link).

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Book news: The male consorts of female monarchs

While much has been written about female monarchs, there has until now been no study of the roles and challenges of the men who were in the unusual position of consorts to female rulers. Therefore I am glad to be one of the contributors to the new book The Man Behind the Queen: Male Consorts in History, edited by Charles Beem and Miles Taylor, which has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan of New York.
My contribution is a chapter on Prince Consort Henrik of Denmark and his struggle for recognition of the role he has tried to carve out through his more than four decades as the first ever male consort of a Danish monarch. But this is only the last chapter of a book that covers a number of male consorts in Navarre, Spain, England/Britain, Sweden, Russia, Austria, Portugal, Brazil, India, the Netherlands and Denmark from the end of the thirteenth century till today.
The table of contents:

Introduction: The Man Behind the Queen; Charles Beem and Miles Taylor
1. The King Consorts of Navarre, 1284-1512; Elena Crislyn Woodacre
2. Ferdinand the Catholic: King and Consort; David Abufalia
3. "He to be Entitled Kinge": King Philip and the Anglo-Spanish Court; Sarah Duncan
4. Why Prince George of Denmark Did Not Become a King of England; Charles Beem
5. From Ruler in the Shadows to Shadow King: Frederick I of Sweden; Fabian Persson
6. Count Ernst Johann Bühren and the Russian Court of Anna Ioannova; Michael Bitter
7. Francis Stephen: Duke, Regent and Emperor; Derek Beales
8. Prince Albert; The Creative Consort; Karina Urbach
9. Commemorating the Consort in Colonial Bombay; Simin Patel
10. Ferdinand II of Portugal: A Conciliator King in a Turmoil Kingdom; Daniel Alves
11. Gaston d'Orléans, Comte d'Eu: Prince Consort to Princess Isabel of Brazil; Roderick Barman
12. The Rise and Fall of Siddiq Hasan, Male Consort of Shah Jahan of Bhopal; Caroline Keen
13. Royalty, Rank, and Masculinity: Three Dutch Princes Consort in the Twentieth Century; Maria Grever and Jeroen Van Zanten
14. Prince Philip: Sportsman and Youth Leader; Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska
15. The Prince Who Would Be King: Henrik of Denmark's Struggle for Recognition; Trond Norén Isaksen

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

My latest article: Churchill and his monarchs

Because of Christmas the January 2015 issue of Majesty (Vol. 36, No. 1) goes on sale already today and to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Winston Churchill's death on 24 January 1965 I have written an article about his relations with the British monarchs throughout his political career, which began when he was elected to Parliament in the reign of Queen Victoria and ended with his second term as Prime Minister in the reign of her great-great-granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. Churchill was, according to his wife, "the last believer in the divine rights of kings", but his relations with the royal family were not always smooth, particularly not with George V.
This issue was sent to the printers a few hours before the death of Queen Fabiola of the Belgians was announced, so my obituary of her will appear in the February issue, which will be out in a month and where I will also write about Hereditary Prince Knud and his loss of the Danish crown.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Foreign guests for Queen Fabiola's funeral

At 10 a.m. tomorrow the funeral of Queen Fabiola of the Belgians, who died last Friday, will take place in the Cathedral of Saints Michel and Gudule in Brussels.
The late Queen had herself wished for a simple funeral in the local parish church in Laeken and did not want to lie in state, therefore asking for "a coffin so ugly that they will not dare show it to the public", but this was apparently deemed incompatible with the dignity of the monarchy and her body has now laid in state at the Royal Palace since it was taken there on Tuesday.
All the members of the Belgian royal family are of course expected to attend, with the exception of Princess Marie-Christine, who has been estranged from the rest of the family for decades and did not even attend the funerals of her parents, and a number of foreign dignitaries will also be present. The Luxembourgian delegation will include the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess, Grand Duke Jean and the Hereditary Grand Duke and Hereditary Grand Duchess. The Queen of Denmark and the King and Queen of Sweden will be there, and so will the King of Norway, who rarely leaves the country on Fridays, when he presides in the State Council, but has now appointed the Crown Prince Regent in his stead. King Harald will be accompanied by his sister, Princess Astrid; both being first cousins of the late King Baudouin, to whom they were close.
The Netherlands and Spain will be represented by their former monarchs, Princess Beatrix and King Juan Carlos, respectively, the latter accompanied by Queen Sofía.
The Empress of Japan is flying in from Tokyo, which is only the second time that she leaves Japan without the Emperor, while Thailand will send Princess Sirindhorn. The British royal family, a short train journey away from Brussels, will according to the Belgian media not deign to attend, but be represented by the British ambassador to Belgium.

Two heirs in two minutes for Monaco

At 5.04 p.m. on Wednesday 10 December Princess Charlène of Monaco gave birth to a princess, who will bear the name Gabriella Thérèse Marie. However, as Monaco is one of the monarchies which still have male-preferred succession, Princess Gabriella lost her position as hereditary princess after only two minutes, when Princess Charlène gave birth to a prince, who has received the name Jacques Honoré Rainier.
Princess Gabriella and Prince Jacques, who were born at the Princess Grace Hospital in Monaco, are the first legitimate children of Sovereign Prince Albert II. While Prince Jacques received the traditional title for the heir to the throne, Marquis of Baux, Princess Gabriella was created Countess of Carladès.
The name Jacques has been borne by one previous ruler of Monaco, Jacques I, born Count Jacques Goyon de Matignon of Thorigny in 1689. In 1715 he married Princess Louise-Hippolyte of Monaco, who became the second female Monegasque ruler when her father Antoine I died in April 1731. However, the Sovereign Princess herself died at the end of the year and was succeeded by her husband, who reigned for nearly two years before abdicating in favour of their son Honoré I. Prince Jacques died in 1751 in his Paris residence, Hôtel de Matignon, today a very well-known address as the official residence of the French Prime Minister.
The name Honoré has been borne by five sovereign princes of Monaco, while Rainier was the name of the thirteenth-century founder of the dynasty and his son as well as of the new-born children's paternal grandfather, the late Sovereign Prince Rainier III.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Queen Fabiola's funeral, lying-in-state and inheritance

The funeral of Queen Fabiola of the Belgians, who died on Friday night, will take place in the Cathedral of Saints Michel and Gudule in Brussels at 10 a.m. on Friday 12 December, the Belgian court has announced. Queen Fabiola will be buried next to her husband, King Baudouin, who died in 1993, in the crypt of the Church of Our Lady in Laeken on the outskirts of Brussels.
On Monday morning the late Queen's coffin will be taken from her home, Stuyvenberg House, where she died, to the chapel of the nearby Laeken Palace, her home from the time of her marriage in 1960 until 1999. On Tuesday afternoon her remains will be brought to the Royal Palace in the city centre, where she will lie in state until the funeral. The public will be allowed to file past to pay their respects between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesday and between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Thursday.
The royal court has also announced that Queen Fabiola has left all her possessions to the Hulpfonds van de Koningin, a charity she set up at the time of her wedding in 1960. The members of the royal family will therefore inherit nothing, which will probably disappoint those who had hoped to see her jewellery pass to Queen Mathilde.
The funeral will probably see a large number of representatives of foreign royal families, both reigning and deposed. As for the Norwegian royal family the timing means that the King may not be able to attend, as the Council of State is held at 11 a.m. on Fridays, although it is possible that he could leave the Crown Prince to preside as Regent. Princess Astrid, who was close to her cousin King Baudouin, may also attend - although she for unknown reasons missed the funeral of her aunt-by-marriage and dear friend Princess Kristine Bernadotte in Sweden on 15 November she was well enough to travel to Trondheim for an official engagement twelve days later.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

At the road's end: Queen Fabiola of the Belgians (1928-2014)

Queen Fabiola of the Belgians has, as previously mentioned, died in her home in Brussels on Friday evening. The 86-year-old widow of King Baudouin I was known for her diligent work for the benefit of the less fortunate, but recently came under heavy fire for her inheritance arrangements.
Born Fabiola Fernanda María de las Victorias Antonia Adelaida de Mora y Aragón in Madrid on 11 June 1928, was the sixth of the seven children of Gonzalo de Mora y Fernández, Marquess of Casa Riera and Count of Mora and Blanca de Aragón y Carrillo de Albornoz, who were of fairly recent nobility but owned significant estates and were closely connected to the Spanish court. Indeed Queen Victoria Eugenia was Fabiola's godmother.
Fabiola spent parts of her childhood in exile, as her parents in 1931 chose to follow King Alfonso XIII's example and flee the country after the republican election victory. The family lived in France and Switzerland for two years before returning to Spain, but fled again when the Civil War broke out. It was only after Franco's victory in 1939 that the family settled permanently in Spain.
Fabiola trained as a nurse and worked in a poorhouse in Madrid. She also wrote twelve children's stories, which obviously sold very well in Belgium when they were translated and published there after she became Queen.
That happened on 15 December 1960, when Fabiola wed King Baudouin I in Brussels's Cathedral and put a smile on the face of the man who had until then been known as "the sad king".
As Queen, Fabiola was particularly involved with social issues, physical disabilities, mental health, education and children with learning difficulties. Sadly the couple proved unable to have any children of their own, but the marriage was by all accounts a very happy one.
King Baudouin, whose health was not strong, died suddenly from a heart attack while holidaying in Spain on 31 July 1993, and many will recall the dignity shown by Queen Fabiola as she, dressed entirely in white, followed his coffin to his last resting place.
Queen Fabiola was only 65 when she was widowed and she continued to play an active part for many years and remained a fixture at royal events. In 2013 she was heavily criticised for setting up a private foundation which would allow her to bequeath money to her Spanish relatives and charities without paying inheritance tax. Although this was perfectly legal it did not sit will with the public at a time of financial trouble.
In recent years Queen Fabiola was increasingly weakend by osteoporosis and by the autumn of 2012 she was in a wheelchair. She attended the inauguration of her nephew Philippe as King on 21 July 2013, but the memorial service for King Baudouin on the twentieth anniversary of his death ten days later turned out to be her last public appearance.
In recent months she had suffered from respiratory problems and been confined to her home, Stuyvenberg Palace, where she died on Friday at the age of 86.
A more detailed obituary by me will appear in the February issue of the British monthly magazine Majesty, which will be on sale at the end of January, as the announcement of her death came just after the January issue had been sent to the printers.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Queen Fabiola has died

The Belgian royal court has just announced that Queen Fabiola, the widow of King Baudouin I, died in her home, Stuyvenberg Palace in Brussels, this evening. No further details have yet been given, but the 86-year-old queen dowager had been confined to her home with respiratory problems for some time and had not been seen in public since 31 July 2013, when she attended a mass in memory of her husband on the twentieth anniversary of his death.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Right-wing extremists oust Swedish government

When the King and Queen of Sweden return from their state visit to France on Thursday night they may perhaps wonder if their kingdom has turned into a banana republic in their absence. At least that may seem to be the case after the right-wing extremist party the Sweden Democrats on Wednesday ousted the government which took office two months ago and declared their intention to defeat any government or budget which does not comply with the Sweden Democrats' anti-immigration policy, thus threatening to make Sweden ungovernable. The Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, will now dissolve the Parliament that was elected in mid-September and an extraordinary election will be held on 22 March next year, something which has not happened since 1958.
The crisis erupted when the Sweden Democrats, who hold the parliamentary balance, broke with the parliamentary custom that a party lays down its votes after its own budget proposal has been defeated in the first round. Rather than doing this the Sweden Democrats voted in favour of the budget proposal of the four centre-right parties who formed the previous government, but lost power in the election in September, which was thereby passed instead of the one proposed by the current government, a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Green Party.
The government are obviously unwilling to govern Sweden according to the opposition's budget and Prime Minister Stefan Löfven was therefore left with three choices: to send the budget back to the financial committee to try to achieve a compromise with the centre-right, to resign and let the Speaker of Parliament try to find someone capable of forming a new cabinet or dissolving Parliament. After it became clear on Tuesday evening that the Sweden Democrats would indeed use their power to defeat the government Löfven invited the leaders of the four centre-right parties for talks to try to reach an agreement across the divide between the two blocks, but all such attempts were rejected by the centre-right, who despite insisting that they would not give the extremists any influence seem to relish this opportunity to humiliate the Social Democrats, who has traditionally been viewed as the natural party of stable government.
This does however seem like a dangerous game to play, as the centre-right seem to have no plans for how to be able to form a cabinet or pass a budget if the extraordinary election leaves them as the largest parliamentary block but the Sweden Democrats still hold the parliamentary balance. After losing their parliamentary majority in the 2010 election the centre-right governed for four years with the tacit support of the Sweden Democrats, but this opportunity has now been blocked by the extremists' vow to defeat any government and budget that will not do their anti-immigration bidding.
Parliament will be formally dissolved on 29 December, but will continue to sit until the date of the extraordinary election on 22 March. In the meantime Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will carry on, but with the opposition's budget having been passed stalemate will reign in Swedish politics until the end of March.