Tuesday, 30 November 2010

New books: A crowded marriage

On the day of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death his close friend and distant cousin Margaret Suckley wrote in her diary of Eleanor Roosevelt that “I believe she loved him more deeply than she knows herself, and his feeling for her was deep & lasting. The fact that they could not relax together, or play together, is the tragedy of their joint lives, for I believe, from everything that I have seen of them, that they had everything else in common. It was probably a matter of personalities, of a certain lack of humor on her part – I can not blaime either of them. They are both remarkable people – sky-high above the average”.
The marriage of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt was arguably one of the most consequential marriages in history and much has already been written about it by their many biographers. But so far no book has dealt exclusively with the marriage from its beginning to the end and this is what the American author Hazel Rowley, perhaps best known for her book on Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, has intended to do in her new book Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage, published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux of New York just recently.
It is of course a well-known story and the sources available to Rowley have been consulted by many authors before her. Yet her well-written, engaging account of the Roosevelt marriage has potential for becoming one of the classic books on Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the greatest US presidents, and Eleanor Roosevelt, the most significant of the country’s first ladies.
Rowley’s book provides a brief summary of the main protagonists’ respective backgrounds, but the main story is of course the marriage, which lasted for forty years. Thus the focus is more on the persons than the politics, but as politics was at the centre of the couple’s lives it all gets weaved together.
It is, in Rowley’s words, the story of the marriage’s “evolution from a conventional Victorian family into the bold and radical partnership that made Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt go down in history as one of the most inspiring couples of all time”.
Although I have read many books about them already I keep getting astounded by the remarkable transformation of Eleanor Roosevelt, beginning in the early 1920s, from a rather conventional upper-class woman who professed her lack of interest in politics and held most of the same prejudices as so many others of her class and generation into a radical champion of freedom and a significant politician in her own right, who went on to play an important role on her own in her widowhood.
She never held elected office herself, but obviously grew into a great asset for her husband in his political career. Thus it was both a marriage and a political partnership which both of them would have been poorer without. But it was not always an easy one.
The late Diana, Princess of Wales famously remarked that there were three people in her marriage. In the marriage of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt there were a lot more than three persons. For 36 out of the forty years the marriage lasted Eleanor had to put up with a domineering, interfering mother-in-law, but a greater strain was perhaps the other women in her husband’s life.
Rumours, speculations and gossip have been ripe about various women, including Crown Princess Märtha. The President liked to be surrounded by adoring women he could charm, but Rowley concludes that only two of them really mattered to him in a way that might be called love – Lucy Mercer Rutherford and Marguerite “Missy” LeHand.
Eleanor indulged in a series of what Rowley calls “romantic friendships” with both men and women, of whom she sees Lorena Hickok as someone Eleanor Roosevelt really fell in love with. She obviously also had strong, romantic feelings for younger men such as Joseph Lash and David Gurewitsch, both of whom seem not to have reciprocated her feelings in the way she might have wished for them to do.
Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt seem not always to have cared much for the other’s companions, with Louis Howe standing out as an exception. Howe was alone in meaning as much to both of them and Rowley greatly stresses his importance for their development
Although Rowley writes much on the crowd of other people in the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, this is not a book for gossips. It is to her credit that Hazel Rowley, unlike several other authors who have dealt with the Roosevelts and their relationship, does not rush to any conclusions and rather leaves the questions open if there are no satisfactory proofs to answer them definitely.
All in all she has produced a well-written (bar some unnecessary repetitions) and balanced account of the complex partnership between these two remarkable people. As I read it just after I had finished George W. Bush’s memoirs, I could not help being reminded of the words of the filmmaker and journalist Arne Skouen, who shortly before his death in 2003 remarked on the stark contrast between the then US administration and what he described as the decency he had experienced in the White House when he worked as a Norwegian publicity officer in the USA during World War II.

Monday, 29 November 2010

New revelations about Queen Silvia’s father’s Nazi past

Swedish TV4’s investigative programme “Kalla fakta” last night again set focus on the Nazi past of Queen Silvia’s late father, Walther Sommerlath. At the time of her wedding in 1976 the Queen’s father denied in an interview with Expressen’s Ulf Nilson that he had ever been a member of the Nazi party, but eight years ago the newspaper Arbetaren was able to prove that he had indeed joined the Nazi party in 1934.
At the time Queen Silvia refused to comment, but in the documentary “Familjen Bernadotte” earlier this year she finally broke her silence to say that her father was not “politically active”, that it was all a “machinery” which one had to be part of and that the factory that he owned was not part of the war industry, but produced electronics such as toy trains and hair dryers, but that it was ordered to produce a membrane for gas masks.
Walther Sommerlath moved to Brazil in 1919 and was still living there at the time he joined the Nazi party in December 1934. In a telephone interview with “Kalla fakta” his eldest son, 81-year-old Ralf Sommerlath, claims that all Germans living in Brazil joined the party and that this was more or less common courtesy.
However, Ana Maria Dietrich, an expert on Nazism in Brazil interviewed by “Kalla fakta”, points out that only 2,900 out of 80,000 Germans in Brazil, joined the Nazi party. These 3.5 % she considers the “convinced” Nazis.
Walther Sommerlath returned to Germany in April 1939, a month before the Nazi party was outlawed in Brazil. He settled in Berlin and on 24 May 1939 he took over the company “Wechsler & Hennig”. His son Ralf later asked him if he bought it from Jews, which Walther Sommerlath firmly denied.
Documents found by “Kalla fakta” show that Sommerlath took over the firm from Efim Wechsler, a Jew, and that this was part of the so-called “Arisieriung” (arification) process after the Kristallnacht, when Jews were forbidden to own companies and thus forced to sell. The documents also show that his factory produced items which were used by the Luftwaffe. It thus seems increasingly clear that Walther Sommerlath misled not only the journalists of 1976 but also his own children about his past.
In a statement on the royal website (external link) Queen Silvia, who was born in 1943, says that she she regrets her father’s membership of the Nazi party, which she did not know about until adulthood and never had the chance to discuss with her father.
Her brother Ralf, on the other hand, says to Expressen (external link) that the Queen is “terribly upset” and he calls the documentary “lies and slanders”. He fumes that if all Swedes are like Mats Deland, one of the three documentary makers, he will never again visit Sweden and tell his sister to “come home”.
The documentary may be watched in its entirety on TV4’s website (external link). The second part of the documentary will be broadcast the coming Sunday.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

New books: Amalienborg, its inhabitants and its court

Amalienborg is the title of a book just published by Gyldendal in Copenhagen, written by Jørgen Larsen and Thomas Larsen and illustrated by Bjarke Ørsted. The title is however somewhat misleading, as this is not really a book about Amalienborg itself, but about the workings of the institution which has its headquarters there, i.e. the Danish monarchy. The book benefits from being written by political journalists with a more analytical approach than what is often the case with books on royalty.
The book opens with two chapters on the origins and history of the complex of four mansions that is Amalienborg, followed by interviews with Queen Margrethe, Henrik the Prince Consort and Crown Prince Frederik. The Queen, known to be articulate, is interviewed in no less than four chapters, but only one of them deals directly with her own relations to Amalienborg, her winter home for most of her life. In that chapter we get to hear about her and her husband’s views on interior decorating and how they reasoned when Christian IX’s Mansion was turned into their home following their 1967 wedding, which is quite interesting reading.
She also says quite much about her mother’s role in relation to Amalienborg, but this is strongly coloured by a daughter’s fond memories of her mother. She tells us how “well-informed” Queen Ingrid was about old houses and how they should be taken care of, but as the recent renovation of Frederik VIII’s Mansion has shown, Queen Ingrid did great harm to that building, often by overruling professionals who had other ideas.
In the other chapters Queen Margrethe speaks about various other things, such as wartime memories, her New Year speeches and her worry that today’s children are not allowed to be children as long as in her days. The chapter in which Prince Henrik is interviewed is more of a portrait of the man, to a great extent based on earlier interviews and his memoirs.
Queen Margrethe, probably the only one among the current European monarchs who could be described as an intellectual, is always a great interview subject, as she is very knowledgeable, has a sharp mind and a wonderful turn of phrase. Some highlights from these interviews are: “I am not without opinions, but they are for personal use”, “When people have sat down to listen, something should be said” (about her New Year speeches, which contain much more than the platitudes and pleasantries of her father’s days), and “Particularly when we want to be modern we end up being very conservative” (about Danish interior decoration in general). But Queen Margrethe has given so many interviews that one tends to feel that one has heard a lot of it before.
To my surprise I found that the most interesting interview in this book was that with Crown Prince Frederik. The Crown Prince and his family now live partly at the Chancellery House at Fredensborg and partly in Frederik VIII’s Mansion at Amalienborg, both buildings which were the homes of his beloved grandmother Queen Ingrid. Crown Prince Frederik speaks of the privilege of being able to live in the same houses as his forebears (a faint hint of cigarette smoke and perfume can sometimes be felt in his grandmother’s former homes) and also gives an interesting insight into the reasoning behind his and Crown Princess Mary’s choice to decorate their mansion with works of contemporary art as well as his own interest in modern art.
It is also interesting to note how he during the past decade or so has grown closer to his mother while at the same time becoming less critical of his own upbringing than he used to be in interviews and speeches. And this is perhaps where Crown Prince Frederik dares to say on behalf of his father what Prince Henrik himself has never gone so far as to say publicly, namely that he felt the needed to turn certain things around when he arrived in Denmark. According to the Crown Prince “he did away with parts of the conservatism which my grandmother and grandfather represented in his eyes. My grandfather was the patriarch, and what daddy did was always right”.
Except for the interview with the Crown Prince I found those chapters which deal with the working of the royal court the most interesting parts of the book. We get to meet some of the key courtiers – the Lord Chamberlain, the Private Secretary, the Master of Ceremonies, the Head of the Information Department – as well as many of the unsung heroes, who provide the reader with an insight into the work of the library, the furniture restoration workshop, the garage, the cleaners, the equerries, the Life Guard and others.
Also interesting are the chapters dealing with the challenges facing the monarchy today, both in relation to the media and in relation to politics and public opinion. The final chapters outline some interesting developments and trends relating to the monarchy in modern days, including the more critical voices which have appeared recently, for instance in connection with the debate over changing the Act of Succession.
(As a disclaimer I should add that although I am repeatedly mentioned and referred to in the book I have not contributed to it and am thus not partial when I review it).

Saturday, 27 November 2010

King Carl Gustaf loses popularity

Dagens Nyheter (external link) today publishes an opinion poll about the Swedish monarchy, which shows that only 51 % think King Carl Gustaf should remain on the throne, while 31 % hold the opinion that he should abdicate in favour of Crown Princess Victoria (13 % are undecided and 5 % left the question unanswered).
This is a rather dramatic change from February this year, when the same poll showed that 64 % thought the King should stay on the throne and only 17 % supported his abdication (with 16 % undecided and 3 % unresponsive).
The poll gives no reason for this abrupt change in opinion, but one might suspect that it has been at least partially caused by the uproar over the scandalous biography Carl XVI Gustaf - Den motvillige monarken, published earlier this month, which caused huge headlines with its claims about extramartial affairs and wild partying, claims which the King gave the impression of confirming when he said that these were old stories which he had moved on from.
Another possible reason could be that the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel this summer generated so much good PR around them that many now want the young and popular crown princessly couple to take over sooner rather than later.
The opinion poll also shows that 70 % of the Swedes support the monarchy, while 17 % are in favour of abolishing it, with 11 % undecided and 2 % not having responded. Last year the same poll showed 74 % in favour of the monarchy, 19 % supporting a republic and 7 % undecided, while the 2005 results were 80 % monarchists, 16 % republicans and 4 % undecided.
The poll was carried out by DN/Synovate on 16-22 November by telephone interviews with 1,011 persons over the age of 18.
The results of this poll correspond rather well with the findings of a poll carried out by Demoskop for Expressen between 13-17 November, which found 69 % in favour of the monarchy.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Swedish court appoints new Director of Information and Press

It has been announced that Bertil Ternert has been appointed Director of the Information and Press Department at the Swedish royal court in succession to Nina Eldh, who unexpectedly announced her resignation in September. Bertil Ternert, a 61-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel who is currently head of information at the airline SAS, will take over from Nina Eldh in January.

13 % of Germans want a monarchy

While opinion polls on monarchy vs republic seem to be quite common in most monarchies they are rarely done in republics. But following the announcement of the engagement of Prince William of Britain and Kate Middleton the German news magazine Stern (external link) commissioned a poll about German attitudes to monarchy. The poll found that 13 % of the Germans would approve of Germany having a royal family, while 67 % were opposed to the idea and 20 % undecided. A representative selection of 1,000 Germans was polled on 18 and 19 November.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

New books: Distortion points

Since leaving office nearly two years ago, former US President George W. Bush has had the decency to remain quiet and not join those of his fellow Republicans who hurl unconstructive abuse at the current administration no matter what they do (or do not do) as they try to clean up the mess left by their predecessors. However, this month Bush has broken his silence by launching his memoirs, Decision Points, published by Crown Publishers of New York on 9 November, a week after his party regained control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections. But Bush steers clear of current politics and rather focuses on his own career and the decisions he made.
The book’s title is obviously chosen to highlight Bush’s preferred image as the great decider – he writes that when he entered politics, “I made a decision: I would confront problems, not pass them on to future generations”. “I prided myself on my ability to make crisp and effective decisions”, Bush congratulates himself and lets us know that making decisions was “the most important part of the job”.
Thus, rather than telling the entire story of his life and dealing with every issue he had to handle, he has chosen to structure the fourteen chapters of his autobiography around central decisions he made. He believes he “got some of those decisions right, and I got some wrong. But on every one, I did what I believed was in the best interests of our country”.
He has, however, not been consistent in this approach. While some chapters deal entirely with one decision or several related decisions, such as Iraq, others are a mix of miscellanea only loosely related to each other. For instance the chapter “Leading” covers the No Child Left Behind programme, the failed Social Security reform, his state visit to Britain, his 2004 re-election campaign and more.
The first chapter, “Quitting”, begins with his decision to give up his hard drinking, a decision without which “none of the others that follow in this book would have been possible”, and then goes on to chart his background and the first forty years of his life – without giving much details about the drinking, but assuring us that he does not consider himself an alcoholic.
The third chapter, “Personnel”, is more concentrated and deals entirely with the choice of key members of his staff. He reveals he had suggested Dick Cheney to his father as a running mate already in 1988 and stresses the importance of choosing a vice president “fully capable o assuming the presidency”. (Whatever one may think of Cheney this stands in sharp contrast to the irresponsibility of John McCain, who in a moment of desperation chose a running mate wholly unsuitable to assume the presidency – and thereby created a Frankenstein’s monster within the party).
The book is interesting and mostly well-written – better than Blair’s recent autobiography, which is quite surprising giving the stark contrast between Bush and Blair as communicators. But the big problem about it is that Bush thinks he can simply leave out those parts of the story which do not really fit in with his narrative and apparently expects that the reader will not notice. Of course neither one-sidedness nor selective memory is new for political memoirs. But several of the omissions made by Bush are so obvious that it makes the book far from convincing.
This becomes clear early on in the book. We have only reached page 16 when he writes heroically that when the draft was introduced during the Vietnam War, “my decision was easy” when faced with the choice of “join[ing] the military or find[ing] a way to escape the draft. [...] I was going to serve. [...] I would have been ashamed to avoid duty”. He goes on to tell us how he joined the Texas Air National Guard, omitting to mention that this choice of service guaranteed that he would not actually have to go to Vietnam.
During the presidential election in 2004 supporters of George W. Bush chose to cast doubt upon the wartime credentials of his opponent John Kerry, who had served in Vietnam and won several medals. This shameless act goes entirely unmentioned by Bush, who, however, vents his anger at Dan Rather at CBS having “aired a report influencing a presidential election based on a fake document” claiming that Bush had not served his required hours with the guard when he moved to Alabama to work on Red Blount’s Senate campaign.
In the same vein we hear that John McCain during the Republican primary of 2000 was “justifiably upset about insulting language some of my supporters had used in South Carolina” – read: “the smear campaign directed at him, his character and his family by my supporters”.
This tendency to give us only that half of the story which reflects well on him is present throughout the book, also when it comes to graver issues such as Guantanamo and the “War on Terror”. The prisoner camp at Guantanamo was established to avoid giving the prisoners the rights stipulated by the US Constitution. However, the only problem about Guantanamo was obviously that it was on the soil of the country ruled by Fidel Castro.
The prisoner camp (pardon, “detention facility” seems to be the correct newspeak term) itself was really a spa hotel, we are given to understand: “At Guantanamo, detainees were given clean and safe shelter, three meals a day, a personal copy of the Koran, the opportunity to pray five times daily, and the same medical care their guards received. They had access to exercise space and a library stocked with books and DVDs. One of the most popular was an Arabic translation of Harry Potter”. The prisoners must really have had a swell time in between the mistreatments.
He goes on to stress that “our humane treatment of the Guantanamo detainees was consistent with the Geneva Conventions”, but that “al Qaeda did not meet the qualifications for Geneva protection as a legal matter” simply because “the terrorists did not represent a nation-state” and the Geneva Conventions apparently only apply for wars between nation-states. This is of course one of the more dubious of the Bush administration’s reinterpretation of laws.
Bush frequently stresses how much history he had read and obviously hopes that history will save his reputation in the longer term. He states that he was “struck by how many presidents had endured harsh criticism” and reminds us that “[t]he measure of their character, and often their success, was how they responded. Those who based decisions on principle, not some snapshot of public opinion, were often vindicated over time”. But what strikes me is how often he points to history, yet failed to learn any lessons from it.
The book opens with a photo of George W. Bush standing among the ruins of the World Trade Center in September 2001. This was the peak of his presidency and is of course how he would wish to go down in history. “This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing”, he said in his speech at the memorial service held at the National Cathedral on 14 September 2001. Nearly ten years on these words seem even more incredibly naïve than back then.
The events of 9/11 redefined the entire purpose of his presidency. Here he points towards the lessons of history and writes on page 155 that he was “keenly aware that presidents had a history of overreaching during war”. He gives the examples of John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, before adding that his own “most solemn duty, the calling of my presidency, was to protect America – within the authority granted to me by the Constitution”.
Interestingly, on page 169 we are told that his “most solemn responsibility as a president was to protect the country” and that he therefore “approved the use of the [enhanced] interrogation techniques”. In only fourteen pages the “authority granted to me by the Constitution” has dropped out of the context.
The importance of the Constitution is again brought up when he states that he wanted Supreme Court judges “who believed the Constitution meant what it said”. This comes from a man whose administration, as Anders Henriksen has shown in his interesting book Arven efter Bush – Præsidentembedet og krigen mod terror, subscribed to the so-called Unitary Executive Theory, which argues that the usual interpretation of the US Constitution’s words on the separation of power is wrong and that the original intention was that certain powers were reserved exclusively for the President and others exclusively for Congress, and used this theory in many creative ways to stretch the President’s authority, to ignore Congress, to reinterpret laws and conventions to suit their needs and how they by this sort of manipulation were able to justify (at least to themselves) their right to hold prisoners without giving them access to the judicial system, to treat prisoners in a way which we now know amounted to torture, etc. It should be added that the Unitary Executive Theory has few supporters among constitutional experts and was in the end soundly rejected by the US Supreme Court.
Bush maintains that what he calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” and used on prisoners of the “War on Terror” were entirely legal. Thus he replied “Damn right!” when asked to authorise water-boarding. This was in fact really great, he tells us, as they got so much out of it, including information which prevented attacks on Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf in London – incidentally, these claims have already been rejected by British intelligence. (He misses out on the parallel, or rather contrast, to his own words in the debate on stem cell research: “Even the most noble ends do not justify any means”).
“[Y]ears later” (in fact as soon as it was revealed in 2004) some lawmakers “charged that Americans had committed unlawful torture”. According to Bush, this view was not only wrong, but also outrageous. “I had asked the most senior legal officers in the U.S. government to review the interrogation methods, and they had assured me they did not constitute torture”. Naturally Bush does not mention that the US after World War II executed as war criminals Japanese soldiers who had water-boarded American prisoners.
And even though countless legal expert, human rights activists, politicians and others agree that it was indeed torture, it seems that in Bush’s eyes the government’s own experts could not possibly be wrong – in that he reminds me of how Nixon famously told David Frost that things were not illegal if they were done by the President.
“To suggest that our intelligence personnel violated the law by following the legal guidance they received is insulting and wrong”, fumes Bush as he goes down in the history as the US President who with a light-hearted “damn right!” set aside human rights and became responsible for war crimes by authorising torture. This is indeed only the most serious example of how Bush throughout the book shows a tendency to mark out disagreement with his own views in strong terms as well as an inability to handle unwelcome truths.
This significant flaw to his character has obviously been with him for a long time. When he was a young man and his adored father lost his run for the Senate against Democrat Ralph Yarborough, the chaplain at Yale, an old acquaintance of his father’s, told him that he had been “beaten by a better man”. This was, in the words of the younger Bush, a “self-righteous attitude” which “was a foretaste of the vitriol that would emanate from many college professors during my presidency”. So it could not possibly happen to be the simple truth?
Howard Dean saying that “[t]he idea that we’re going to win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong” is given as an example of the “hot” rhetoric on Iraq at the time of the 2006 midterm elections. To most others this would seem a truthful assessment of realities rather than “hot rhetoric”, but of course the truth may hurt when it does not correspond with what one wants to hear.
Similarly Edward M. Kennedy is castigated for “his vitriolic speeches, in which he claimed I had ‘broken the basic bond of trust with the American people,’ compared me to Richard Nixon, and called Iraq ‘George Bush’s Vietnam’”, all of it examples of a rhetoric which Bush wished he had been able to “tone down”.
When the New York Times drew a comparison between Afghanistan and Vietnam, Bush “was amazed the Times couldn’t even wait a month to tag Afghanistan with the Vietnam label”. However, the press’s role is not to act as cheerleaders for the government, but rather to present background and possible consequences of the events taking place. And nine years on, with no-one seriously believing the war in Afghanistan can be won, it seems the newspaper’s comparison has turned out to be a rather accurate foresight.
It is also striking how Bush frequently contradicts himself, apparently without realising that what he writes in one chapter entirely undermines the impression he has tried to create in another chapter. For instance he tells us on page 184 that in attacking Afghanistan “[w]e were acting out of necessity and self-defense, not revenge”, yet he has let us know on page 127 that his “first reaction” after 9/11 “was outrage. Someone had dared attack America. They were going to pay”, on page 128 that his “blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass” and on page 148 told us of how people he met in New York a few days after 9/11 told him to “find the bastards who did this and kill them”, himself adding: “This was personal”. When the first bombs fell on Afghanistan, “our troops had painted the letters FDNY” onto several on them for the New York fire-fighters who died on 9/11. When he was asked to authorise water-boarding he thought of those killed on 9/11 and on Daniel Pearl, the journalist who was taken hostage and killed by al-Qaeda, before replying “Damn right!” Obviously, revenge was actually a rather major reason for what he did.
“I supported the [Palestinian] elections”, he tells us, adding: “America could not be in the position of endorsing elections only when we liked the projected outcome”. This is one of the best examples of the blatant hypocrisy found in parts of this book, for obviously they could refuse to accept the outcome of that very election.
Another: That Harry Reid had “written off the surge [in Iraq] as a failure before all of the additional troops had even arrived” was “one of the most irresponsible acts I witnessed in my eight years in Washington”, writes the man who on false pretexts invaded a country without a plan B and hardly a plan A.
He insists that he really wanted a diplomatic solution over Iraq, which simply does not ring very convincing at all, particularly not compared to what other insiders have already written in their books. And he shows repeatedly that diplomacy and dialogue were not really his cups of tea. After January 2002 he never again spoke to Yassir Arafat before his death in November 2004, having concluded “that peace would not be possible with Arafat in power”; he would not talk to Ahmadinejad because doing so “would legitimize him and his views and dispirit Iran’s freedom movement”; and in general “[b]ilateral negotiations with a tyrant rarely turn out well for a democracy”.
Bush can be funny at times, as when he writes about the lawyer Jim Towey, among whose clients was Mother Teresa: “I used to tell Towey that we sure had a litigious society if Mother Teresa needed a lawyer”. But the most humorous parts of the books are the unintended ironies which occur when Bush does not have self-insight enough to understand how badly what he writes reflect on him. One delightful example is his telling us that his “favorite Bible verse for politicians is Matthew 7:3 – ‘Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?’.”
One example of this could be Bush writing that the fact that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran “used a United Nations speech to predict that the hidden imam would reappear to save the world” was one of the reasons why Bush started to think that “[t]his guy could be nuts”. He is certainly not alone in suspecting that, but still it seems a bit rich coming from a former world leader who has just filled more than 400 pages with references to “God”, “the Almighty” and “the Good Lord”, stressed the importance of talking to other leaders about their faith and given religion a place in politics, which is a very dangerous thing to do.
Bush’s account of the Middle East is so one-sided that one sees why even his mother (!) called him “the first Jewish president”, although Barbara Bush obviously made the classic mistake of treating the terms “Jewish” and “Israeli” as synonyms. He wrings his hand over the possibility that certain states such as Syria or Libya might acquire nuclear weapons but makes no mention of Israel’s illegal possession of such weapons, but this is of course entirely in keeping with US foreign policy.
Ariel Sharon was “a leader who understood what it meant to fight terror”. It might be added that the old general also knew quite a lot about carrying it out. The war in Gaza launched by Israel in January 2009 is casually described as “an offensive in Gaza in response to Hamas rocket attacks”. Indeed it was in response to such attacks, but still it will go down in history as one of the most disproportional responses ever carried out. Again, Bush misses out on the parallel when he writes that he told Dmitry Medvedev during the war against Georgia in August 2008 that “[t]he disproportionality of your actions is going to turn the world against you. We’re going to be with them”.
This again confirms that in Bush’s worldview there are different rules for different countries. The Bush doctrine is of course the very “personification” of these ideas. “If the United States had the right to defend itself and prevent future attacks, other democracies had those rights, too”, he writes when referring to Israel. Israel’s 2007 bombing of Syria is admiringly described as Ehud Olmert having “done what he believed was necessary to protect Israel”. But does this mean that any democracy has the right to attack any country by which it feels threatened (even on shaky grounds?). If so, it would mean the end of international law and world order.
The fondness for telling only the suitable parts of the story appears again in Bush’s account of the war against Iraq and its background. “Saddam Hussein didn’t just threaten his neighbors. He had invaded two of them, Iran in the 1980s and Kuwait in the 1990s”, Bush writes. The support given to Saddam Hussein in the war against Iran by the USA led by Bush’s fellow-Republican Ronald Reagan and assisted by among others the man who had gone on to become Bush’s own Secretary of Defense, does of course go entirely unmentioned. (“How can Donald Rumsfeld be so sure that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction? He’s got the receipts”, went one of the great jokes of 2003).
Bush is not beyond hinting about hidden motives behind other countries’ opposition to the war. In his eyes Vladimir Putin “didn’t want to jeopardize Russia’s lucrative oil contracts”, while “France also had significant economic interests in Iraq”. It could be added that the very same suspicions have been directed at Bush and Cheney.
Bush confirms that the idea of attacking Iraq was brought up by members of his administration immediately after 9/11. However, it was decided not to go ahead with that idea at the time and rather concentrate on Afghanistan first – and to do so with force. “Our response [to 9/11] would not be a pinprick cruise missile strike. [...] When America responded to these attacks, it would be deliberate, forceful, and effective”. It seems strength was more important than precision, which goes a long way in explaining the failure of the mission.
At first Bush followed in his father’s footstep by rallying an international coalition. “The coalition of the willing in the war against terror was forming, and – for the time being – everyone wanted to join”. What the interjection hints at is really one of the great failures of his presidency. After 9/11 almost the entire world showed its sympathy and solidarity with the USA – here in Oslo the pavement opposite the US Embassy was covered in flowers – but by his aggressive “lone ranger attitude” Bush quickly threw away most of this goodwill and alienate several allies.
As we know, the USA and a handful of other countries (primarily Britain) decided to launch a war on Iraq without a UN resolution. As Bush sees it this was obviously not a problem. “Dick [Cheney] and Don[ald Rumsfeld] argued we didn’t need one for Iraq [...]. After all, we already had sixteen”. This is a flagrant distortion of truth – there were indeed several UN resolutions dealing with Iraq, but none of them authorised an attack on the country.
They did succeed in having Saddam Hussein removed from power and eventually captured and killed, but they did also come very close to tearing Iraq apart and even seven years much remains to be fixed, to put it mildly. As many have suggested, some of the chaos might have been avoided if the attackers had had a clearer idea of what to do after the actual military campaign was over.
Bush indirectly admits that this was indeed true and that they did realise this even before they went in. “The military strike would be the easy part”, Secretary of State Colin Powell said, while Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that “Iraq could fracture after liberation”. That they were aware of this yet still did not prepare properly for it speaks of great irresponsibility.
Bush admits that “we made two errors”: “the intelligence failure on Iraq’s WMD” and that they “did not respond more quickly or aggressively when the security situation started to deteriorate after Saddam’s regime fell”. “Cutting troop levels too quickly was the most important failure of execution in war”, he adds.
The surge is later portrayed as one of the great successes of Bush’s presidency, although extremely costly in human lives – perhaps it would not have been necessary if one had thought the whole strategy and consequences thing more thoroughly through in the first place? And why it took so long for him to realise that another strategy was needed is another of those questions left unanswered in this book.
The illegal invasion of Iraq was as we know based on the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Yet these supposed weapons were never found and it is now clear that Iraq had complied with the UN resolutions and got rid of them. Like Tony Blair and other warmongers, Bush now has to admit that they invaded Iraq on a false pretext, which he somehow regrets. “In retrospect, of course, we should have pushed harder on the intelligence and revisited our assumptions. But at the time, the evidence and the logic pointed in the other direction”, he writes.
He stresses that he was not alone in believing that Saddam Hussein had WMD. “If Saddam didn’t have the WMD, why wouldn’t he just prove it to the inspectors? [...] If he cared so much about staying in power, why would he gamble his regime by pretending to have WMD?” Explanations which seemed possible to some of us already then were simply madness or that the dictator’s pride meant that he would not admit to having had to get rid of them. After his capture Saddam Hussein himself told the FBI “that he was more worried about looking weak to Iran than being removed by the coalition. He never thought the United States would follow through on our promises to disarm him by force”.
But if Bush regrets that the premises were wrong, he has no regrets about what they did and goes to considerable lengths to argue his case for why invading Iraq was the right thing to do, first and foremost because “the world was undoubtedly safer with Saddam gone”. But is that really the case?
Except extremists no-one disputes the fact that Saddam Hussein was one of the greatest bastards to walk upon earth, but at the time of the US-led invasion he was no longer in a position to pose much of a threat to the outside world. On the other hand the falling-apart of Iraq made the country a hotbed for terrorism and has helped the spread of terrorism, in other words the exact opposite of what Bush wanted.
Bush himself mentions that following 9/11 terrorists have “struck Bali, Jakarta, Riyadh, Istanbul, Madrid, London, Amman, and Mumbai”. Hardly a week goes by without reports of plots uncovered and terror attempts foiled. It might well be argued that the world is less safe today than a decade ago and that Bush bears parts of the blame for this.
“For all the difficulties that followed, America is safer without a homicidal dictator pursuing WMD and supporting terror at the heart of the Middle East. The region is more hopeful with a young democracy setting an example for others to follow”, Bush writes. But not only has the region seen an increase in terrorism, it has also seen the dangerous strengthening of Iran, which happened while the world was preoccupied with Iraq. Much of the same is true about North Korea.
“Imagine what the world would look like today with Saddam Hussein still ruling Iraq. He would still be threatening his neighbors, sponsoring terror, and pilling bodies into mass graves”, says Bush. To a large extent this role has now been taken over by Iran. “The most volatile region in the world lost one of its greatest sources of violence and mayhem”, Bush tells us, without adding that the war he started provided the chance for another such source to replace it.
Later he tells us that Iran’s refusal of European offers of support for a civilian nuclear program made him conclude that “[t]here was only one logical explanation: Iran was enriching uranium to use in a bomb”. The failure of his so-called logical explanations relating to Iraq’s supposed arsenal of WMD does not seem to have weakened his trust in his own judgements.
This was in fact “a major decision point”. Iran could not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons as it will enable them “to dominate the Middle East, blackmail the world, pass nuclear weapons technology to its terrorist proxies, or use the bomb against Israel”.
But is not the fact that Iran has come this far really also a result of the Iraq war, which strengthened Iran while the world looked away to other preoccupations? Rather, Bush was “confident that the success of the surge and the emergence of a free Iraq on Iran’s border would inspire Iranian dissidents and help catalyze change”. That the very opposite has happened must be added to the list of failures caused by Bush’s foreign policy and the war on Iraq.
About that war Bush assures us that “[t]here was one person with the power to avoid war, and he chose not to use it”. He refers to Saddam Hussein, but actually it was Bush himself who was that person. So this, perhaps his most important and ill-fated decision, has suddenly become Saddam Hussein’s decision, although ultimately the responsibility for the war and all the tragedies, hardships and difficulties it created lies at Bush’s own door.
But as the failure of his presidency folds out Bush shows a marked tendency to blame others than himself. “Nobody was lying [about WMD]. We were all wrong”. Not really everyone, but more importantly: Bush, not all of us, was the one to decide.
His 2004 Democratic opponent John Kerry’s “argument that I had misled the country on Iraq didn’t pass the commonsense test. As a member of the Senate in 2002, he had access to the same intelligence I did and decided to cast his voice in support of the war resolution”. But still there is a difference between leaders and fellow-travellers.
When he infamously declared victory in Iraq on 1 May 2003, he “hadn’t noticed the large banner” reading “Mission Accomplished” which had been placed behind him by “my staff”. “It was a big mistake”, he admits, but obviously it was the staff’s mistake.
The press team was to blame for having “ushered photographers into the cabin” when Bush flew over New Orleans looking aloofly down on the devastation caused by hurricane Katrina – perhaps the lowest of the many low points of his presidency. Bush himself “barely noticed them at the time; I couldn’t take my eyes off the devastation below”. NBC News’ Brian Williams is obviously also to blame for having reported predictions that Katrina would not actually hit downtown New Orleans.
Bush himself had absolutely nothing whatsoever at all to do with the reasons for the financial crisis which hit his country and spread to the rest of the world towards the end of his presidency after he had managed to turn the surplus inherited from Bill Clinton (much of it “an illusion”, according to Bush) into a record deficit. The whole crisis was caused by “[a] relatively small group of people – many on Wall Street, some not – [who] had gambled that the housing market would keep booming forever”. The people would wonder why the state was “spending their money to save the firms that created the crisis in the first place”.
When Paul “Jerry” Bremer issued orders banning members of the Baath Party from serving in the new Iraqi government and disbanding the Iraqi army, “I should have insisted on more debate on Jerry’s orders”. So it was really Jerry’s fault, not Bush’s. Bush only approved it too quickly.
Harry Truman famously had a sign reading “The buck stops here” on his desk reminding him that whatever happens on his watch is ultimately the President’s responsibility – he cannot kick the buck further up and blame others. Bush has no such reservations and happily passes the blame on to his staff, the press team, Jerry, Kerry, firms, a relatively small group of people and even random journalists.
He does admit to certain mistakes, but it is frequently how things appeared and reflected on him he regrets rather than the actual events. “Not disclosing the DUI [drink-driving conviction] on my own terms may have been the single costliest political mistake I ever made”. When the photos of prisoners being mistreated in the Abu Ghraib prison were published, “America’s reputation took a severe hit. [...] I was not happy with the way the situation had been handled”. And that is virtually everything he has to say about Abu Ghraib.
“I am frustrated that the military tribunals moved so slowly”. Guantanamo “was necessary”, but “had become a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies”. His “one regret” about the PATRIOT Act is not its contents, but the name, which is short for “the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act” and which he assures us was chosen by Congress, not himself. In hindsight he “should have pushed Congress to change the name of the bill before I signed it” as “there was an implication that people who opposed the law were unpatriotic”.
“The toxic atmosphere in American politics discourages good people from running for office”, he writes. But to what extent is he himself responsible for having created this “toxic atmosphere”? Surprisingly, in a rare bout of self-insight he admits that “[n]o doubt I bear some of the responsibility as well” and adds: “Whatever the cause, the breakdown in bipartisanship was bad for my administration and bad for the country, too”. Indeed. And that this extreme polarising of American politics now threatens to leave the country almost ungovernable is one of the saddest parts of the legacy of the Bush presidency. It is to his credit that he at least presents one constructive idea for what might possibly be done to adjust this.
There is of course also a lot one misses in this book. How did it feel to assume the presidency under the circumstances he did, i.e. based on a 5-4 Supreme Court decision and having received half a million votes less than his opponent? Incidentally, Bush forgets to mention that he lost the popular vote. What is the justification for taking lives, which he frequently authorised while Governor of Texas and as commander-in-chief? He frequently mentions several of the Americans killed or injured in action and carefully gives the number of 4,429 “American service members who gave their lives in Iraq during my presidency”. Did he ever spare a thought for those others killed, for instance the 66,081 innocent civilians killed in Iraq between 2004 and 2009?
Environmental issues and climate change, arguably one of the most important issues of our day, is dealt with in a single sentence describing it as “something that might be a problem fifty years from now”. True leadership is also about laying the foundations for a better future and doing what is in one’s power to prevent future disasters, but in this case it seems lost on a president who declares that he had entered politics with an intention to “confront problems, not pass them on to future generations”.
Bush tells us that it was said about Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that “his brain was moving too fast for his mouth to keep up. That didn’t bother me. People accused me of having the same problem”. Did they really? Is he sure it was not the other way around with him?
As one reads this book one is left with the impression of a man who really does not get the bigger picture. For politicians to twist the truth in autobiographies in order to present themselves in a better light is of course nothing new, but this politician thinks he can leave out those parts of the story that does not really fit in with the picture he intends to give, and at the same time he makes self-contradictions which undermine his narrative and shows that he does not really understand how some of the things he write actually point back at him in a rather bad way.
The best example of the latter is the way he ends the book with an oft-told anecdote about how he took his dog for a walk a few days after he had left the White House. “There I was, the former president of the United States, with a plastic bag on my hand, picking up that which I had been dodging for the past eight years”.
Did he not realise what a great metaphor this is for the mess he had left behind for others to pick up?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

69 % support Swedish monarchy

Dagens Nyheter (external link) reports on an opinion poll carried out by the polling institute Demoskop for the newspaper Expressen which shows that 69 % think Sweden should remain a monarchy. Demoskop has asked 1,381 Swedes between 13 and 17 November. When they did the same poll this spring, before the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel, 63 % supported the monarchy.
In other recent opinion polls on the Swedish monarchy 74 % supported it in a poll made by SIFO two days after the royal wedding, while 58 % were in favour when asked by Novus Opinion in April and 56 % supported the monarchy in a poll made by the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg last autumn. In other words it seems the negative trend has been turned by the royal wedding, which was to be expected.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

British royal wedding on 29 April

Clarence House earlier today confirmed the speculations that the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, who became engaged last Tuesday, will take place in Westminster Abbey in the week following Easter, more precisely on Friday 29 April.
This means that their engagement will be shorter than what seems to have become the norm in other European monarchies in recent year – the time span between the engagements and the weddings of the heirs to the thrones of Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden were eight, eleven and sixteen months respectively, with Prince Albert II of Monaco and Charlene Wittstock set to marry thirteen months after their engagement.
It has been reported in the British media that Prince William and Kate Middleton wanted to have the wedding even earlier, in March, but that they had been talked out of this. What surprises me is that the royal wedding will take place the week before the referendum on electoral reform, which means that campaigning will to a large extent be overshadowed, but apparently the political parties have voiced no objections to this.
The last royal wedding to take place in Westminster Abbey was that of the Duke of York and Sarah Ferguson in 1986, while Prince William’s parents married in St Paul’s Cathedral in 1981. In the 20th century Westminster Abbey has also seen the weddings of Princess Patricia and Alexander Ramsay in 1919; Princess Mary and Viscount Lascelles (later Earl of Harewood) in 1922; Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI) and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923; Prince George, Duke of Kent and Princess Marina of Greece in 1934; Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947; Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960; Princess Alexandra and Angus Ogilvy in 1963; and Princess Anne and Mark Phillips in 1973. It has also been the scene of the funerals of Queen Alexandra in 1925, Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 2002.
It has also been reported in the media that Queen Elizabeth II has offered to hold a ball at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle two days before the wedding, but this remains to be confirmed. When Prince Charles and Princess Diana married in 1981 the ball took place at Buckingham Palace.

In other royal news today the Daily Telegraph reports that the Duke of Edinburgh has made known his intention to scale his public duties down somewhat when he turns 90 in June next year. He will therefore relinquish “more than a dozen” of his patronages, including the chancellorships of the universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge.
However, as the Prince is involved with more than 800 organisations it seems giving up a dozen of them will be just a drop in the ocean. And while his mother-in-law, who lived to the age of 101, ceased making major trips abroad at the age of 89, Prince Philip will join the Queen for a state visit to Oman and the United Arab Emirates starting tomorrow.
The Telegraph speculates that some of the patronages relinquished by the Duke of Edinburgh may be taken over by his granddaughter-in-law-to-be, but this remains to be seen. The royal court has however confirmed that she will be a working royal even though she will live in Wales for the next five years while Prince William carries out his duties as a search and rescue pilot with the RAF.
There have also been unconfirmed media reports that the Countess of Wessex, the most experienced of the Queen’s two daughters-in-law, has been asked to be some sort of mentor as Kate Middleton learns the ropes of her future royal role. (The Norwegian tabloid VG today writes that Prince William’s aunt Sophie will share this task with Prince Edward’s wife, the Countess of Wessex – the journalist has obviously not understood that Sophie and the Countess of Wessex happen to be the same person).

New books: British royal portraiture

The British Royal Collection is not only the most masterpiece-studded art collection of any reigning monarch (perhaps only Liechtenstein can rival it), but also at the top of its league when it comes to publishing a wide range of books and catalogues dealing with the collection.
Their latest publication, The Royal Portrait: Image and Impact by Jennifer Scott, assistant curator of paintings, came out in September and is a richly illustrated volume of 200 pages which deals with the traditions of royal portraiture in Britain.
This is naturally a vast topic and after a first chapter on early English royal portraits, going back to the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, the author chooses to focus on some periods of time when the art of royal portraiture was of particular significance or interest – those of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, Charles I and Charles II, George III, Victoria and Elizabeth II.
This means that all reigns and all epochs are not covered as thoroughly and that the book is thus somewhat incomplete. Yet this selection is understandable considering the book’s format.
It also appears to be a good choice of epochs to focus on – Sir Oliver Millar, a former Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures described the era of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as “the last moderately heroic chapter in the history of royal patronage and taste in this country”, while another former Surveyor, Christopher Lloyd, has pointed out that the Royal Collection contains “nothing of true significance after 1900”. However, Queen Elizabeth II has probably sat for more portrait than any other monarch of our times (Queen Margrethe II being a possible exception) and thus justifies being included in this book.
What I miss are some more thoughts on how the arts have been used to legitimise the position of monarchs and a more comparative perspective relating to international tendencies. As it is, the book is almost entirely dedicated to English and British developments with very few glances at how this related to other contemporary courts.
The book’s somewhat disengaged, “official” character sometimes shines through, such as when the author includes a “paparazzo portrayal of Prince William and Prince Harry off-duty, sitting together at a rugby match” as an example of “methods [...] more opportunistic than artistic” but makes no mention of Kate Middleton’s presence next to Prince William, which probably had a lot to say for the media interest in this particular photo, or when the 2006 film The Queen is described as “loosely based on factual events and at times sensitively done”, yet “in fact imaginary”.
Despite these weaknesses the book, which seems to be aimed mostly at the general public, does provide a good overall survey of the history and development of British royal portraiture.

Monday, 22 November 2010

My latest article: Just a regular party

Following the outcome of this autumn’s Swedish general election and the resignation of its party leader Mona Sahlin the Social Democrats find themselves in a deep crisis. Until recently they were the natural party of government and its leader was certain to become prime minister.
Now they find themselves only narrowly the largest party in parliament and with no obvious candidate to take over the leadership. The Social Democrats have become a party a party just like all the others.
In an op-ed in Dagsavisen (external link) today I look at the reasons for the crisis which engulfs the party and the dangers it faces as it attempts to find the way forward.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Title issues: Princess Catherine, Princess William or Duchess?

Since the engagement of Prince William of Britain and Kate Middleton was announced many have asked me what will be her title once married. There appears to be two, maybe three, possibilities.
Whereas her title in most other European monarchies would have been “Princess Catherine”, Britain still follows the more old-fashioned practice whereby a woman who marries into the royal family does not become a princess under her own name, but under that of her husband. Thus Prince Michael of Kent’s wife Marie-Christine is styled Princess Michael of Kent, while the current Duchess of Gloucester was styled Princess Richard of Gloucester before her husband succeeded to the dukedom.
Prince William’s mother was colloquially known as “Princess Diana”, but that was never her title. As the wife of the Prince of Wales she was officially styled the Princess of Wales. If Prince Charles had had no other title than that of Prince of the United Kingdom, his wife would have been styled “Princess Charles”. (Among Prince Charles’s other titles is Duke of Cornwall and his second wife, who is legally the Princess of Wales, has chosen to be known as the Duchess of Cornwall out of respect for her late predecessor).
Within Britain the territorial designation is never used (in the same way as the Norwegian court refers to “the Crown Prince” rather than to “the Crown Prince of Norway”), but princes and unmarried princesses are styled with their father’s dukedom (or principality). Thus the younger son of the previous Duke of Kent is Prince Michael of Kent, the daughters of the Duke of York are Princess Beatrice of York and Princess Eugenie of York, and the sons of the Prince of Wales are styled Prince William of Wales and Prince Henry of Wales.
The answer is thus that, as things now are, Kate Middleton will become Her Royal Highness Princess William of Wales.

However, this might come across as very old-fashioned and sexist in the 21st century and there is therefore a theoretical, but in my opinion not very likely, possibility that Queen Elizabeth II may allow her granddaughter-in-law to be styled as “Princess Catherine of Wales”, although this would actually imply that she was herself the daughter of the Prince of Wales.
Queen Elizabeth II has however shown herself to be rather flexible when it comes to deciding titles for her family. The most recent example are the children of her youngest son, the Earl of Wessex (Prince Edward), who are by virtue of the rules decided by King George V in 1917 HRH Princess Louise of Wessex and HRH Prince James of Wessex, yet are styled Lady Louise Windsor and Viscount Severn.
On two occasions she has also allowed women who were not born British princesses to be styled as Princess with their own name. The first example was Marina, the widow of the Queen’s uncle the Duke of Kent (Prince George). Following his death in 1942 she continued to be known as simply the Duchess of Kent, but when her son married in 1961, his wife became the Duchess of Kent and his mother received the Queen’s permission to be known as Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent rather than as the Dowager Duchess of Kent.
While Princess Marina was born a Princess of Greece and Denmark that title had no relevance to her British style and she would have become “Princess George” if her husband had not been given the title Duke of Kent. When the Queen’s other uncle, the Duke of Gloucester (Prince Henry), died in 1974, she similarly allowed his widow to be styled Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester. (This somewhat irritated the Queen’s great-aunt Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, who was born a British princess and thought that the other Alice should have been known as “Princess Henry”).

But what is perhaps more likely than that Queen Elizabeth II will allow her granddaughter-in-law to be known as “Princess Catherine of Wales” is the possibility that she will bestow a royal dukedom upon Prince William on his wedding day. It has long been a tradition that British princes have been given a dukedom on their wedding day (or earlier), the most recent example being Prince Andrew, who was created Duke of York on his wedding day in 1986.
But in 1999 the Queen broke with that tradition when her youngest son, Prince Edward, was not given a dukedom on his wedding day, but rather created Earl of Wessex, which is two pegs down on the ranking list of titles. However, that came with the promise that the title Duke of Edinburgh will be re-created for Prince Edward when both the current Queen and her husband are dead. (If Prince Philip dies before the Queen the title will be inherited by Prince Charles and as the Sovereign cannot hold a peerage it will merge with the Crown upon his accession and thus be eligible for re-creation – if Prince Philip outlives the Queen the title will automatically merge with the Crown).
The last time the eldest son of the monarch’s eldest son married was in 1893, when Prince George (V) married Princess Victoria Mary of Teck. Although his grandmother Queen Victoria disapproved of royal dukedoms she nevertheless created him Duke of York (his elder brother Albert Victor, who died in 1892, had earlier been made Duke of Clarence and Avondale). If Queen Elizabeth II does the same, Prince William of Wales will cease being styled as such and rather be known as His Royal Highness the Duke of X, his wife becoming Her Royal Highness the Duchess of X.
Options for a ducal title may be Duke of Cambridge, Clarence or Sussex – all three of them previous royal dukedoms which are now “available”. Clarence does however have some unfortunate connotations, while Connaught, another recent royal dukedom, can certainly be ruled out as Connaught is now part of the Republic of Ireland). The Queen may also choose a previously unused name for the dukedom – Queen Victoria is known to have considered Duke of London rather than York for her grandson, while George IV as Prince Regent intended to create his son-in-law Leopold Duke of Kendal (this did however not come about when Leopold’s wife died in childbirth with their son).

Whether he gets a new title or not, Prince William will become Duke of Cornwall the moment Queen Elizabeth II draws her last breath as this title automatically belongs to the eldest son of the monarch – this in contrast to the title of Prince of Wales, which can only be held by the monarch’s eldest son (or the eldest son’s eldest son if the former is deceased, as was the case with the future George III in the reign of his grandfather George II), but which has to be granted by the monarch. Following her accession in 1952 Queen Elizabeth II waited six years before bestowing the title Prince of Wales upon her son, who in the meantime was known as the Duke of Cornwall. This was however a special case, as Prince Charles was still a child at the time.
On the other hand Queen Victoria created her eldest son Albert Edward Prince of Wales upon his birth. When he came to the throne as King Edward VII in January 1901 he had thus been Prince of Wales for nearly sixty years and felt that the title was too closely associated with himself for it to be given to someone else immediately. It was thus only in November of that year that he created his eldest surviving son Prince of Wales. This son had as mentioned been created Duke of York by Queen Victoria upon his marriage and having acquired the title Duke of Cornwall upon his father’s accession he was in the meantime known as the Duke of Cornwall and York.
Thus, if Prince William is given a dukedom, say of Cambridge, he will be known as the Duke of Cornwall and Cambridge in the time between his father’s accession to the throne and his own creation as Prince of Wales.

When Prince William becomes Prince of Wales, his wife will automatically be the Princess of Wales, and when he becomes King, she will become Queen. Unlike princesses queens use their own name and she will therefore be Queen Catherine, but officially she will be referred to as simply Her Majesty the Queen. Her parents had the good sense to give her two queenly names – Catherine Elizabeth – but when George V came to the throne in 1910 it was explained to his wife, who was officially called Victoria Mary (but known privately as May), that a queen could not have two names and as “Queen Victoria” was considered out of the question she chose to be known as Queen Mary.

Another question is what will be the titles of Prince William’s children if born in the reign of their great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth II. The rules laid down by King George V in 1917 restrict the title of prince or princess to the monarch’s children, the children of the monarch’s son and the eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales. Thus, Prince William’s eldest son will be a prince, while any other children born in the lifetime of Queen Elizabeth II will be Lord X Windsor and Lady Y Windsor.
However, the monarch can then issue a so-called Letters Patent to bestow the title of prince or princess upon the younger children as well. King George VI did something similar when his daughter, the current Queen, was expecting her first child in 1948. As she was the daughter, not the son, of the monarch, her children would not be princes, but be styled as the children of their father, who had been given the titles Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich upon his marriage in 1947. Thus a son would have received the courtesy title Earl of Merioneth, while a daughter would have been Lady X Mountbatten (assuming her father’s surname). By virtue of George VI’s Letter Patent the son born before his mother’s accession rather became Prince Charles of Edinburgh, the daughter Princess Anne of Edinburgh.
A peerage, including a royal dukedom such as that of Edinburgh, usually comes with subsidiary titles which are commonly used as so-called courtesy titles by the eldest son (and the eldest son’s eldest son). However, royal princes do not use courtesy titles, so that if Prince William is given a dukedom with a subsidiary earldom and barony his eldest son will be known as Prince X of the dukedom rather than as Earl of Y.
The opposite is the case with the eldest son and grandson of the current Duke of Gloucester (Prince Richard) and the current Duke of Kent (Prince Edward). The Duke of Gloucester is also Earl of Ulster and Baron Culloden, and the Duke of Kent is also Earl of St Andrews and Baron Downpatrick. But as grandsons of a monarch (George V) rather than sons, these two dukes are the last of their lines to be princes. Their sons and grandsons are not princes and therefore use the two dukes’ respective courtesy titles – Earl of Ulster and Baron Culloden for the Duke of Gloucester’s son and grandson; Earl of St Andrews and Baron Downpatrick for the Duke of Kent’s eldest son and eldest son’s son.
As will be seen it has been usual to choose different parts of the United Kingdom for the main title and the courtesy titles. With Ireland now an independent republic, a dukedom for Prince William is thus likely to consist of a dukedom, an earldom and a barony with territorial designations drawn from England, Scotland and Wales. With the Queen’s eldest son being Prince of Wales and her two younger sons having English titles it would in my opinion be nice if the second in line to the throne receives a Scottish dukedom like her husband.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Queen Camilla and reformed succession?

The Daily Telegraph (external link) today reports that the Cabinet Office says discussions have been held with the other Commonwealth countries of which the British sovereign is monarch about changing the rules of succession to the throne.
The Liberal Democrat MP Lorely Burt has made a parliamentary motion calling for changes which will end male primogeniture and the ban on Catholics succeeding to the throne. With the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton this has of course become a bit more “urgent” as the current rules mean that if their first child is a girl, she will be surpassed in the succession by a younger brother.
Britain and Spain are now the only European kingdoms left with a male-preferred order of succession. Sweden was the first country to introduce full cognatic succession in 1980, followed by the Netherlands in 1983, Norway in 1990, Belgium in 1991 and Denmark in 2009.

In the Daily Telegraph (external link) one can also read that Prince Charles in an interview with American TV channel NBC said that his wife “could be” queen, which might indicate an interesting development.
Although his wife Camilla is by right the Princess of Wales, she has chosen not to use the title strongly associated with his late ex-wife and rather goes by one of the subsidary titles, Duchess of Cornwall. When he succeeds to the throne, she will, again by right, be queen, but since their engagement in 2005 it has been said that it is “intended” that she will be styled “Her Royal Highness the Princess Consort”.
It has however been interesting to note that the court has always been careful to use the word “intended”, which of course means that one might eventually go for another option and say that it was only an intention, not a decision.
When asked by NBC’s Brian Williams if his wife would become queen, Prince Charles replied: “That’s, well…we’ll see, won’t we? That could be”. But, more interestingly, Clarence House said that “[t]he intention absolutely remains [...]”, but added: “However we have always made it clear that when the day comes, whatever the circumstances are at the time, the Government would have the final say on the title the Duchess uses”.

New books: The complete works of Prince Eugen

The museum Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde in Stockholm has just brought out a 637-page-book which catalogues all Prince Eugen’s paintings and sketches – altogether 3,169 works.
Despite his royal background Prince Eugen, the youngest son of King Oscar II and Queen Sophia of Sweden and Norway, was able to make a name for himself as a landscape painter, but was also a generous collector of other artists’ works, which were displayed together with his own works in the gallery he had built adjacent to his villa at Waldemarsudde in Stockholm. All of it was left to the state at the time of the childless prince’s death in 1947 and opened as a museum the following year.
In 1939 Gustaf Lindgren published a catalogue of Prince Eugen’s art collection, but this did not include the Prince’s own works. In 1998 Hans Henrik Brummer, the then director general of the museum, took the initiative to publish a catalogue of Prince Eugen’s works, a task which has now been completed by a project group consisting of Elsebeth Welander-Berggren, the current director general; Christina G. Wistman, who was until recently in charge of the art collections at Waldemarsudde; and Anna Meister, the museum’s archivist and librarian.
The book, titled Prins Eugen – Målningar och skisser – En beståndskatalog has thus been twelve years in the working, meaning that the illustrations were scanned in black and white at a time when colour reproductions were much more expensive than today. This is an unfortunate result of the long production time, but it is somewhat compensated by some seventy colour plates at the beginning of the book.
There are two introductory essays by Christina G. Wistman and Hans Henrik Brummer, followed by the works themselves arranged partly chronologically and partly topographically.
Seeing Prince Eugen’s entire production together for the first time is interesting from many perspectives. One may see how a work developed from a simple sketch through more detailed sketches and early versions into the finished work. And it struck me for the first time how much architecture he painted, including many of the royal palaces. He is known for having painted mostly landscapes, but here one may also see the handful of portraits he did – among them his mother Queen Sophia and his niece Crown Princess Märtha.
At the end of the book there is a section devoted to the works stolen or lost since his death.
This book will be followed by a second catalogue dealing with the works of applied arts at Waldemarsudde and a third volume on Prince Eugen’s art collection.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Something about Kate

Yesterday was a busy day for me with countless interview requests from the media, but today I shall finally get to write something more about the engagement of Prince William of Britain and Kate Middleton.
We now know that the actual proposal took place three weeks ago in Kenya, where Prince William had been carrying his late mother’s beautiful sapphire and diamonds engagement ring around in his rucksack, dreading the thought of losing it. Apparently the announcement was delayed because of the death of Kate’s paternal grandfather, Peter Middleton, whose funeral in West Berkshire Crematorium she and Prince William attended on Friday.
Kate Middleton herself made a good impression at the TV interview which was broadcast yesterday evening, with the unavoidable question about “Diana’s footsteps” being the only one she found it hard to answer.
An interview or a press conference is always a good idea at the time of a royal engagement, I believe, as it affords the general public the chance to see the royal newcomer speak for himself/herself and thus get to know him or her a little bit. The same should in my opinion have been done when Prince Charles became engaged to Camilla Parker Bowles five years ago.
Rather unusually several members of the royal family chose to speak to the media about the engagement yesterday, with the Countess of Wessex opening the ball. Prince Charles looked a bit bothered when asked about it, but professed himself thrilled, while the Duchess of Cornwall came across as charming and confident when she spoke to the press as she left a public engagement. Prince Harry professed himself delighted that his brother had proposed as it “means I get a sister, which I have always wanted”.
Neither the date nor the venue for the wedding has so far been announced, probably because it has not been decided – booking Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral in advance would of course have given the story away. There is speculation that the date might be announced already tomorrow.
It has been officially stated that the venue will be London, so St George’s Chapel in Windsor is ruled out. The Chapel Royal or the Queen’s Chapel at St James’s Palace are both probably too small, which leaves the two major churches of London. Westminster Abbey has been the most frequently used setting for royal weddings since 1919, while Prince William’s parents married in St Paul’s Cathedral in 1981 – it is bigger and makes the processional route twice as long, which will benefit the crowds.
However, with Britain in the grip of recession and tough public spending cuts expected to start hitting the country in early 2011, some may argue that a lavish wedding in such an economic climate might backfire. However, it might also be seen as a happy break from austerity and it should be remembered that the weddings of Prince Charles in 1981 and the current Queen in 1947 both took place during recessions.
As for the date it has been said that it will be in spring or summer. I feel certain that it will not be before the referendum in early May so as not to disturb campaigning. June has often been the month of royal events, but that month will also see the 90th birthday of Prince Philip on 10 June and Trooping the Colour the next day. The first weekend of July will crash with the wedding of Prince Albert II of Monaco and Charlene Wittstock and I guess they will try to avoid the 30th anniversary of Prince William’s parents’ wedding on 29 July.
As for the future princess herself she seems a good choice. Unlike her late mother-in-law she has a university degree (in art history) and is old enough to have gained both some experience of life and enough confidence to know what she is doing, all of which promise well.
Catherine Elizabeth Middleton was born at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading on 9 January 1982 and christened in the local St Andrew’s Church on 20 June, the day before her future husband was born. She is the eldest of the three children of Michael Middleton (born 1949) and Carole Goldsmith (born 1955), who married on 21 June 1980 in the Parish Church of St James the Less in Dorney, Buckinghamshire.
They later became the parents of Philippa “Pippa” on 6 September 1983 and James on 15 April 1987. At the time of her birth both her parents worked in British Airways, but in 1987 they set up the mail order company Party Pieces, in which Kate has been working. They eventually moved to Bucklebury, where Kate grew up.
Kate first attended the local St Peter’s Preschool, but was later sent to the private prep school St Andrew’s School in Pangbourne and then spent two terms at the boarding school Downe House. At the age of fourteen she enrolled with the public school Marlborough College in Marlborough.
From September 2000 she spent twelve weeks taking a course in Italian at the British Institute in Florence and thereafter allegedly went travelling before starting at St Andrew’s University in Fife in 2001, where she met Prince William. She graduated with a degree in art history in 2005 and subsequently worked briefly as an assistant accessories purchaser with the fashion firm Jigsaw before joining her parents’ company.
So there is little in her background which would have suggested that she was one day to become Queen of Britain. But her parents’ choice of name for their firstborn proved excellent. She will eventually, if everything goes according to plan, be the sixth Queen Catherine, following Catherine of Valois, Catherine of Aragon, Katherine Howard, Katherine Parr and Catherine of Braganza. Hopefully she will have better luck than most of these predecessors!

The photo is by Nick Warner and made available through Wikipedia.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Prince William and Kate Middleton engaged

The Prince of Wales has just announced the engagement of Prince William to Catherine “Kate” Elizabeth Middleton. According to Clarence House the wedding will take place in London in the summer of 2011. The couple became engaged during a private holiday in Kenya in October. Following their wedding they will live in North Wales, where Prince William will serve with the RAF.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Crown princessly couple move into Haga Palace

Today Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel have moved into Haga Palace, the royal court has announced. The renovation of the palace was completed this summer, but the crown princessly couple’s cramped schedule has meant that it was only now that they had time to make the move. The royal court has promised that interior photos will be released later.
The small, neoclassical palace in the Haga Park in Solna, just outside Stockholm, was built in 1802-1805 by the architect Carl Christoffer Gjörwell. It is adjacent to the exquisite Gustaf III’s Pavilion and the so-called “ruins” of the huge palace which Gustaf III intended to build, but which was left unfinished when he was assassinated in 1792.
His son, Gustaf IV Adolf, found his father’s pavilion too small to house a family and had a new built to accomodate his children. It was thus first known as “the children’s mansion”, but acquired the name “the Queen’s Pavilion” during the reign of Carl XIII, when Queen Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta stayed there in the summers.
The future Oscar I also spent summers there with his family, but it was only his widowed daughter-in-law, Princess Teresia, the Dowager Duchess of Dalecarlia, who made it a permanent home. After her death in 1914 it was used by Prince Erik, the mentally challenged youngest son of Gustaf V. Following his death in 1918 it was opened up to children who had lost their homes as a result of World War I.
The most famous royal inhabitants were the parents of the current king, Prince Gustaf Adolf and Princess Sibylla, who moved into Haga Palace following their wedding in 1932. Their four daughters became colloquially known as “the Haga princesses” and the future Carl XVI Gustaf was born at Haga on 30 April 1946.
Nine months later Prince Gustaf Adolf was killed in an airplane accident and in 1950 the widowed Princess Sibylla moved to the Royal Palace when Haga was due to undergo repairs. However, she decided to remain at the Royal Palace and in 1966 King Gustaf VI Adolf renounced his royal right of disposal in favour of the government.
The government subsequently used the small palace as a conference centre and guest house. In April last year Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt announced that the government had decided to return the right of disposal to the royal family in order for it to serve as a home for Crown Princess Victoria and her family.

New books: In the days of Crown Princess Märtha

The end of September saw the publication of a very interesting, monumental photo book on the Norwegian royal family in the days of Crown Princess Märtha, titled Slik levde de – Et familiealbum – Kongehuset i årene med Märtha (1929-54) and published by Bastion Forlag.
The author, Morten Ole Mørch, has in recent years made such monumental photo books his speciality and this is the third in a row, following books on Frogner, the poshest area of Oslo, and on the architect Arnstein Arneberg.
Many books have been written about the Norwegian royal family through the years, but the same photos tend to appear in all of them. For my own two books we made a real effort to find less well-known photos and discovered that there are literally thousands of them in various archives.
Morten Ole Mørch has also wanted to find the lesser known photos and to present them in a better quality than they are mostly reproduced in. In this huge book of nearly 400 pages, the author has chosen to restrict himself to those 25 years when Märtha was Crown Princess of Norway, but he has also included some photos from her childhood, youth and background in Sweden.
The book takes us chronologically through the years from the engagement and wedding in 1929 to the Crown Princess’s death and funeral in 1954, but there are also more topical chapters dedicated to for instance King Haakon, Queen Maud, royal vehicles or boats. There are some unavoidable “classic” photos which one recognises from earlier publications, but the author has succeeded in finding a vast amount of little-known, telling images from the life of the royal family in those years.
Here are the splendours of the 1929 wedding or of King Haakon’s state visit to London in 1951, but also private moments such as the King’s many visits to his grandchildren. There are staged family groups, but also unguarded moments such as a lunch for 219 American students at Skaugum in August 1947, where the 10-year-old Prince Harald is seen holding the hand of his older sister Princess Astrid.
There are several interior photos from the royal homes and particularly interesting are the group of photos from the interior of the original Skaugum as it was before it burnt down just after the Crown Prince and Crown Princess had moved in in 1930.
Mørch nuances the revelation made by the historian Dag T. Hoelseth last year that Fritz Wedel Jarlsberg, who donated Skaugum to the Crown Prince, later demanded a payment of 120,000 NOK from King Haakon. According to Mørch this money was meant to go towards pensions for the driver and the butler, obligations which Wedel, rightly or wrongly, considered should go with the estate. Mørch writes that the story of the late demand for payment became known to the press already then, but was corrected by the royal court.
This book is not only an album relating the life and times of the Norwegian royal family during those 25 years, but also an image of a long-gone age. Particularly striking are the many photos of the impeccably dressed royals arriving and departing from railway stations.
On page 172 we see Crown Princess Märtha attending a public engagement with her husband and parents-in-law in Oslo on 13 June 1938; on page 173 we see her arriving in Stockholm by train on 14 June 1938, still wearing the same outfit. Thus some of the photos offer the reader the chance to follow the royals literally from day to day, while the collection of photos taken together gives the bigger picture of developments through a quarter of a century.
As these 25 years coincide with Märtha’s time as Crown Princess of Norway it is also somewhat poignant to watch the development – one sees her arriving as a radiant bride, developing into the centre-figure of a happy family, maturing into the mother of her people during the hard days of World War II, and then falling ill and growing old far beyond her actual age before dying at only 53. What remain constant through the book are her elegance and the obvious love between her and her husband.
Each chapter starts with a summarising text. The author quotes from published books, from the newspaper Aftenposten, from the diaries of the author Nini Roll Anker, who became a close friend of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess despite her fervent republicanism, from the diaries of Prince Harald’s nurse Inga Berg (which were published by her nephew last year in a very badly edited version), and from the diaries of Arthur Knagenhjelm, who was a friend of King Haakon and brother of Lord Chamberlain Jakob Roll Knagenhjelm.
Arthur Knagenhjelm’s diaries have never been published or quoted from before and they are among the most interesting news offered by this book. Knagenhjelm obviously had a sharp eye and offers many interesting observations, such as Crown Princess Märtha’s reaction to her sister Queen Astrid’s death and the young King Haakon’s tendency to talk too much and listen too little (something which improved with the years).
It is also fun to read about the correspondence between the Master of the Horses and the Technical Museum when the latter had requested to take over one of King Haakon’s old cars when it was to be scrapped. The letter, dated 31 July 1937, is written on stationary with the printed name “Kristiania”, which had been crossed over and replaced with “Oslo”, thirteen years after the name of the capital was altered – King Haakon’s court was not a court of spendthrifts!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

New books: Berlin united and divided

The ever-changing city of Berlin is today one of the most interesting capitals in Europe and has one of the most dramatic histories. This history is not particularly long – the town that would eventually become Berlin was first mentioned in 1237 – but it continues to fascinate.
The Swedish journalist Folke Schimanski tells the history of this pulsating metropolis in his new book Berlin – En stads historia, published by Historiska Media. Schimanski was himself born in Berlin in 1936, to a Swedish mother and a German father, but escaped to Sweden in February 1945. However, his own story is only mentioned in passing where it seems relevant.
Medieval Berlin is quickly dealt with in this book, while the 17th and 18th centuries are accorded somewhat more space. However, the focus is mostly on the 19th and 20th centuries and Schimanski manages to touch on a multitude of issues – politics, science, literature, film, architecture, art, the press, social conditions, etc.
The picture he paints of “the golden 1920s”, when Berlin overtook Paris as the most dynamic and modern capital in Europe, is particularly fetching. The Berlin of the 1920s had a pulsating nightlife, was a focal point of the art world and had by 1928 one hundred political daily newspapers and altogether 2,633 newspapers and periodicals.
How this was followed by what Schimanski calls “the double destruction of Berlin”, is a prime example of what he sees as characteristic of the history of a city which has been ever-changing, not through organic processes, but by seismic shifts.
Another recurring point is how Berlin has had to fight for its position as capital against non-Berliners questioning its status. Schimanski argues that Berlin was not an obvious choice for capital in 1871 and that Bismarck ten years later suggested moving the capital to Cassel, while Wilhelm I argued the case for Potsdam and others suggested Frankfurt or Leipzig. The decision to return the capital to Berlin after reunification was reached with a narrow majority and even today plans for a reunification memorial in Berlin are met with demands that part of the sum allocated should be set aside for a memorial in Leipzig.
The vastness of Schimanski’s tale means that most stories are told somewhat fragmentary and he gets some of his facts wrong (Pyotr III of Russia was not the son of Empress Elizaveta; Christian Krohg did not spell his surname Krogh and was not Danish, but Norwegian; Helmut Kohl did attend the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall last year; Margaret Thatcher has not, at least not officially, been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s). At the beginning of the book we learn that Charlottenburg Palace was not destroyed during World War II; towards the end of the book we hear that it was.
One or two explanations are perhaps a bit too simple, such as the idea that World War I might never have happened if Friedrich III had lived longer – although this seems to be a pet idea of certain amateur historians, it is almost as far-fetched as suggestions that the Great War would never have happened if Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been shot in Sarajevo.
One might also object that the author might at times have tried to be a bit more objective. In particular he seems to have an unresolved issue with the architecture of the late 19th century, which is consequently referred to in terms such as “ugly”, “uglier” and “tastelessness”. Art historians – and, I think, the general public – have long since come to a more nuanced view and appreciation of the eclecticism of the late 19th century.
Each chapter ends with a box of related sights worth visiting and suggestions for further reading and begins with a black and white illustration of low quality. The limited number and low quality of the illustrations do not do justice to this book, which all in all is a readable and informative account of the many aspects of the history of the fascinating city that is Berlin.