A reader and I recently had an exchange on the differences between reigning and formerly reigning royal families and it might be interesting to note that Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia addresses some of these issues in a recent interview with Der Spiegel Geschichte.
The 72-year-old eldest grandson of the last German Crown Prince, a historian living in Berlin, was interviewed by Konstantin von Hammerstein and Michael Sontheimer for Der Spiegel Geschichte no 2 – 2011, which is in its entirety dedicated to the history of the House of Hohenzollern, like one of the issues of 2009 was dedicated to the Habsburgs. It is indeed a very interesting magazine, containing articles on many aspects of the history of the former royal family of Brandenburg and Prussia.
The Prince, whom the interviewers address with his legal name as “Mr Prinz von Preußen”, says that he feels just like any other citizen of Germany with the same rights and duties. He describes himself as “fully and completely” a republican. It “happens” that people address him as “Your Royal Highness”, he says, and “I let it happen”, but he points out that there is no such thing as noble titles after 1918 and that his surname is “Prinz von Preußen”. He considers it magnanimous “for a so-called revolution” that the former royal and noble families were allowed to incorporate their titles into their names, given that one could have taken the same road as Austria, which abolished all noble denominations altogether.
When in school after the war Prince Friedrich Wilhelm was not aware of what a family he actually belonged to, something which “mattered not the slightest at home”. He believes his parents had more than enough of other preoccupations than instilling into their children “that we belonged to the former imperial house”. This really only dawned upon him in senior high school, where his history teacher took it for granted that a Prince of Prussia should be especially knowledgeable about history. At this time he began asking his father questions about the family. The family did not mourn its former position, he says, but was “happy to have survived the war”.
When asked about his relations with the currently reigning royal families he points out that the future King Frederik IX of Denmark, the future Queen Juliana of the Netherlands and Princess Sibylla of Sweden were among his godparents and that he remains in touch with Queen Beatrix and Queen Margrethe, the latter being a godmother to his own son Friedrich Wilhelm. The interviewers ask about the House of Windsor and the Prince points out that this name only dates from 1917 and that the Windsors were “a German princely family” before that. “The relations to the Englishmen were naturally from that time always somewhat tense, but I have had several very friendly encounters with Prince Charles”, he says, adding that “I believe that wartime animosities do not matter anymore for Prince William’s generation”.
He speaks English with the Windsors and German with Queen Margrethe, but also French when he has been a guest of her and Prince Henrik. Do royal families separate strictly between reigning and formerly reigning families, the interviewers enquire. “No, the formerly reigning are treated as if they were still reigning”, he says. A reigning king is obviously better placed at table, but “the titles which one hardly knows here anymore are naturally prevalent at such events”. While the ex-King of Bulgaria will be styled “Majesty” on the cards only first names are used when speaking. The Queen of Britain “is Aunt Elizabeth to me”.
Among his own forebears he particularly admires Friedrich Wilhelm, “the Great Elector”, and is most critical of his great-grandfather, Emperor Wilhelm II, who “was a misfortune – for Germany and for our family. […] He did not wish for war and was no militarist, even if he changed uniforms ten times a day. But he made no serious attempts to avoid the war”.
The Prince also addresses topics such as equal or unequal marriages in his family, his relatives’ ties with the Nazis (which, I could add, he has also dealt with in his 1985 book “Gott helfe unserem Vaterland”. Das Haus Hohenzollern 1918-1945) and the current standing of European monarchies.
Among the other topics accorded articles in this interesting issue of Der Spiegel Geschichte are, apart from several Hohenzollern monarchs and of course Queen Luise, the origins of the dynasty, Friedrich II’s relations with Voltaire, the history paintings of Adolph Menzel, the Social Democratic Party and its leader August Bebel, the Hohenzollerns and their “unloved capital” Berlin, the Romanian branch of the dynasty, World War I, the reburial of Friedrich II, the scandalous Prince Ferfried of Hohenzollern, and the Prussian crown regalia, which have recently been the subject of an exhibition at Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin. All in all a highly recommendable issue of this magazine.