Tuesday, 26 June 2012

British Parliament’s Clock Tower to be renamed in honour of Queen Elizabeth II

During a meeting of the House of Commons Committee yesterday it was decided that the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster, which houses the British Houses of Parliament, will be renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honour of the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
Perhaps one should not be surprised that parts of the media report that “Big Ben is to renamed”, but this is wrong; Big Ben is the name only of the clock, not of the tower, whose name is now quite simply the Clock Tower.
The other tower of the Palace of Westminster was originally known as the King’s Tower, but was later renamed the Victoria Tower in honour of Queen Victoria. To me it seems quite fitting for the two towers of the Parliament building to bear the names of the two longest-reigning monarchs in British history.
It has not yet been decided when or in what manner the actual renaming will happen.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

New heads of Swedish Royal Collections and Royal Armoury

The Swedish royal court has announced that Margareta Nisser Dalman will be the new Director of the Royal Collections with the Bernadotte Library. 54-year-old Dalman is an economist who also holds a doctorate in the history of art and has for some years been in charge of public activities at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. She will succeed Carin Bergström, who, at the age of seventy, will retire.
Today it was also announced that the Royal Armoury will have a new boss from 20 August, when Malin Grundberg will take over as head of that museum. 39-year-old Grundberg now works at the Historical Museum, but has earlier been employed by the Royal Armoury and holds a doctorate in history. Her doctoral dissertation on royal ceremonial in the age of the Vasas has also been published as a book with the title Ceremoniernas makt - Maktoverföring och genus i Vasatidens kungliga ceremonier.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Saudi King appoints brother Salman Crown Prince

On Sunday night King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia attended the funeral in Mecca of his half brother, Crown Prince Nayef, who died on Saturday, and yesterday the King, as expected, appointed another half borther, 76-year-old Prince Salman, as the new Crown Prince.
Crown Prince Salman will continue in his position as Defence Minister and has also been appointed Deputy Prime Minister. He relinquishes the post of Interior Minister, which is taken up by his younger brother Prince Ahmed, who has until now been Deputy Interior Minister for decades.
Today the traditional condolence ceremony for the late Crown Prince is held in Jeddah. Crown Prince Frederik will represent the Danish royal family, while Prince Carl Philip will be there on behalf of Sweden. The Norwegian royal family will not be represented, as both the King and Crown Prince have engagements today and females are generally not welcomed at such events.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Thousands cheer Aung San Suu Kyi in Oslo

It took her 21 years, but today Aung San Suu Kyi received one of the longest standing ovations I have heard as she finally was able to give her Nobel Peace Prize lecture in Oslo’s City Hall. Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on 14 October 1991, while held under house arrest by the Burmese military junta, and it was therefore her sons Kim and Alexander who received the Peace Prize on her behalf in the City Hall on 10 December 1991.
In the following years she was unable to leave Burma, as she was quite certain that once out of the country, the junta would not allow her back in. But she has always said that once it was possible to leave Burma without fear of being denied re-entry, her first foreign journey would take her to Norway to hold the Nobel Peace Prize lecture she was unable to deliver in 1991.
And yesterday afternoon, having attended an ILO meeting in Geneva on her way, Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Oslo, where she has a crowded schedule. Yesterday she met the Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, and held a joint press conference with him, before attending a banquet at Akershus Castle in the evening.
Today she was received in audience by the King and Queen and the Crown Prince, followed by the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in the City Hall at 1 p.m. You may read her acceptance speech in its entirety at the Nobel Prize website (external link).
Later in the day Aung San Suu Kyi visited the Nobel Peace Centre and thereafter attended the public celebrations in the City Hall Square, which saw some 12,000 people - and eventually also the sun - turn out to cheer her. Here there were speeches by, among others, former Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland (sixth photo), now Chairman of the Nobel Committee, former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik (seventh photo), who has earlier visited Suu Kyi in Rangoon, Harald Bøckmann (eighth photo), leader of the Norwegian Burma Committee, and John Peder Egenæs (ninth photo), Secretary General of Amnesty, who also called for China to release the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Liu Xiaobo. There were also musical performances by, among others, Bigbang (tenth photo) and Guro von Germeten and the Schwindelfrei Orchestra (eleventh photo).
However, the loudest applause was obviously for Aung San Suu Kyi, who lit the peace flame together with two children, and gave a warm speech thanking the Norwegian people for their support for democracy, human rights and refugees in general and the Burmese people in particular.
Tonight there is a banquet at Grand Hotel, where Suu Kyi is staying, and tomorrow Suu Kyi will make a day trip to Bergen to formally accept the Rafto Prize, which she was awarded in 1990, but was also unable to collect in person. On Monday she will visit Parliament before continuing to Ireland. Her European tour will also take in Britain, where she will be accorded the fairly rare honour of addressing a joint session of both Houses of Parliament on Thursday, and finally France before she will return to Burma.

At the road’s end: Crown Prince Nayef of Saudi Arabia (1934?-2012)

The court of Riyadh has announced the death of the country’s Crown Prince, Nayef bin Abdul Aziz. The Crown Prince, who was also Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, died in Geneva at the age of 78 or 79.
Crown Prince Nayef was one of the sevens sons born to King Abdul Aziz (aka Ibn Saud), the founder of the kingdom, and Hassa bint Ahmad al-Sudairi, who was said to be his favourite wife.
Prince Nayef, as he then was, was appointed Governor of Riyadh in 1953 and served as Interior Minister from 1975. In 2009 he was appointed Second Deputy Prime Minister.
Following the death of his elder (full) brother, Crown Prince Sultan, in October last year, Nayef was appointed Crown Prince by his half brother King Abdullah, who is believed to be 88 years old.
Since the death of King Abdul Aziz in 1953, the succession has passed among his 55 sons. About twenty of these sons are still alive, but most are now fairly elderly. It is expected that the King will nominate Prince Salman, the Minister of Defence, who is believed to be 76 years old, as the new Crown Prince. While Crown Prince Nayef was held to be fairly conservative, Prince Salman is believed to be more in line with King Abdullah’s careful reforms policy.
Crown Prince Nayef will be buried in Mecca after sunset prayers tomorrow.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Princess Christina’s tiara stolen and thrown into the sea

Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet yesterday reported that jewellery worth at least some 855,000 SEK has been stolen from King Carl Gustaf’s sister Princess Christina by a 19-year-old friend. Among the stolen jewels is a tiara which belonged to Queen Sophia and which the thief is reported to have thrown into the deep water on which Stockholm is located.
The thief, who has admitted his crimes, came to Sweden alone as a minor in 2010 and befriended the Princess’s husband Tord Magnuson. At times he was allowed to stay with the couple in their apartment at Slottsbacken 2, a house directly opposite the Royal Palace in Stockholm.
While alone in the apartment one day in April he happened to discover the key to the safe and helped himself to an aquamarine ring which belonged to the Princess’s great-grandmother Helen, Princess of Britain and Duchess of Albany, worth some 25,000 SEK, a diamond ring from Princess Sibylla worth 450,000 SEK, a pair of gold cufflinks inherited from King Gustaf VI Adolf and estimated to be worth 30,000 SEK, and a bracelet of unknown value which was a present to Princess Christina from Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. This jewellery he sold for a total of 9,000 SEK (!) to a couple of drug dealers intending to melt them down for new jewellery. Police has not succeeded in tracing these two men.
During a private party on 18 May, the 19-year-old used the opportunity when the Princess and her husband took the other guests on a guided tour of the Royal Palace across the street to access the safe again and steal Princess Christina’s tiara. According to Aftonbladet the tiara had belonged to Princess Sibylla, but this must be incorrect, as Princess Christina is only known to possess one tiara, namely a small diadem of old diamonds and small pearls which once was the property of Queen Sophia of Sweden and of Norway. The tiara, made by the jeweller Ribbhagen, was left to Princess Christina by her godmother, Queen Sophia’s granddaughter Elsa Cedergren, who died in 1996 at the age of nearly 103. Its value is estimated at 350,000 SEK, but this seems to be only the material value and does not include the value its historical provenance would surely add were it to be sold.
The culprit has explained that on his way from Princess Christina’s and Tord Magnuson’s to Stureplan, where he continued partying, he stopped at Riksbron (the State Bridge) behind the Parliament Building and threw the tiara into the water. Divers have searched for it, but without any results.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

On this date: Princess Madeleine’s thirtieth birthday - and Prince Philip turns 91

Today is the thirtieth birthday of Princess Madeleine of Sweden. The third and youngest child of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, the Princess was born at Drottningholm Palace, the family home on the island of Lovön some 10 kilometres west of Stockholm.
Unlike her eighteenth and 25th birthdays, and the thirtieth birthdays of her older siblings, there will be no official celebrations of the anniversary today. This is said to be in accordance with Princess Madeleine’s own wishes. However, the Princess is on a visit to Sweden these days and is reported to be celebrating her anniversary privately.
Princess Madeleine holds a bachelor degree in the history of art from the University of Stockholm and was as such only the second member of the Bernadotte dynasty to gain an academic degree. Since the break-up of her engagement to Jonas Bergström in April 2010, the Princess has been living in the USA, where she works for Childhood, a charity set up by her mother Queen Silvia.

Today is also the 91st birthday of Prince Philip of Britain. The Duke of Edinburgh is also celebrating privately at home, having been released from hospital yesterday. He was admitted to hospital with a bladder infection on 4 June and thus missed the second half of the diamond jubilee of his wife, Queen Elizabeth II.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

New books: A stunning book on the British crown jewels

When Queen Elizabeth II of Britain recently visited Westminster Abbey she was shown the Coronation Chair, which was being restored, and remarked that she had not actually seen it since sitting in it on 2 June 1953. With Elizabeth II in the second half of her eighties, the Coronation Chair being restored is of course a sign of the fact that the next British coronation is approaching. Perhaps this is also the context in which one should see the publication of a two-volume, scholarly work on the British crown jewels in 2008 and now another book on the same topic aiming at a more general public.
The Crown Jewels by historian Anna Keay, who is curatorial director of English Heritage, was published by Thames & Hudson in cooperation with the Royal Collection and Historic Royal Palaces at the end of last year and is a stunningly beautiful book in its design and choice of high-quality illustrations.
They include many paintings showing the splendours of past state occasions, but also other historical illustrations as well as close-up photographs of the items in the crown jewels collection, whole pieces as well as details. A clever touch has been to bring together several items of regalia to be photographed together for comparison, for instance the crowns of Queens Alexandra, Mary and Elizabeth, or the Imperial State Crown from 1937 alongside the now empty frames of the state crowns from 1838 and 1714.
The well-written text takes the reader on a chronological journey through the history of British crown jewels and regalia, starting with the so-called “Mill Hill warrior”, the body of an Iron Age king dating to 200-150 BC who was found by archaeologists in 1988, wearing on his head the earliest known English crown.
Three chapters are dedicated to early English regalia, but it is a sad fact that the 12th century coronation spoon is the only medieval item in the collection. The other older crown jewels were melted down when the country became a republic following the execution of Charles I in 1649.
New regalia thus had to be made when his son Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and Keay points out how one was so keen to link these new regalia to their lost medieval predecessors that one recreated even pieces one did not know what were supposed to be used for.
Several pieces have been added also in the centuries following the restoration and they are all covered by this book. Sadly, several grand pieces are no longer in existence or survive simply as empty frames, such as the dazzling all-diamond crown commissioned by George IV for his coronation in 1821, which was set with hired jewels subsequently returned to the jeweller.
Other pieces have fallen into disuse, such as the crown made for James II’s wife, Mary of Modena, which William IV’s Queen Adelaide thought unsuitable for use. Every queen consort since then has had a new crown made for her, although Queen Mary had intended that the exquisite crown she had made in 1911 should be the permanent crown of queens consort. However, when it became clear that she intended to attend the coronation of her son George VI in 1937 and wear that crown (without its arches), a new crown had to be made for her daughter-in-law Elizabeth.
The book also deals with the items which are not strictly speaking regalia, but are kept with them in the Tower and thus counted as crown jewels, such as the splendid tableware used for the coronation banquets, baptismal fonts and other items intended for the royal chapels, processional swords and maces. Thus the book also serves as some sort of splendid catalogue of the items one will see on a visit to the Tower of London.
“While the Crown Jewels are unquestionably impressive in their own right [...] it is their use at great ceremonial occasions that gives them their real power. The objects in the collection were not designed to be viewed in the solitary splendour of a glass case, but to play in the ensemble orchestra of royal ritual”, the author observes on the penultimate page of the book. My only objection to this book is precisely that it does not say much about the actual use of the crown jewels.
For instance, Keay does note that St Edward’s crown, until then used for the actual crowning but replaced with the state crown before the monarch left the Abbey, ceased to be used by the early eighteenth century, a practice which was only revived by George V in 1911. But otherwise we hear little about the regalia’s use for other occasions than coronations.
My first “personal acquaintance” with the British regalia was seeing the crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother resting on top of her coffin at her lying-in-state in Westminster Hall. But although Keay tells us that St Edward’s crown was placed on the coffin of Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s small diamond crown on hers and a replica of the state crown on Charles II’s the reader is left to wonder if crowns being placed on royal coffins have been a common practice and if so for how long.
Similarly one may wonder how old the tradition of wearing the crown at state openings of parliament is. The current practice dates only to George V and 1913, but was this the invention of a tradition or had crowns been worn to Parliament by earlier monarchs?
A more thorough treatment of the use of the regalia than just a word here and there would have served to bring the regalia to life, so to speak, and also give a fuller picture of their symbolical and ceremonial meaning.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Strong support for Norwegian and British monarchies, less so for the Swedish

Earlier this week the King and Queen celebrated their 75th birthdays and an opinion poll conducted by InFact Norge AS for VG that day, and published in VG the following day, shows that 74.6 % of the 1,023 respondents support the monarchy.
This weekend and the coming days see the celebrations of the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, an event which has also caused at least two opinion polls relating to the British monarchy.
An opinion poll by Ipsos MORI, reported in the Daily Telegraph, shows 80 % in favour of the monarchy, while 13 % want a republic. This is up 5 % from the same poll last year, which was undertaken shortly before the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
A poll done by IMC Research between 18 and 20 May and published in the Guardian on 25 May shows that 69 % of the 1,002 respondents think Britain would be worse off without the monarchy, while 22 % think it would be better off. The Guardian points out that the margin has not been greater on any of the twelve occasions IMC has asked that question over the past fifteen years. 9 % do not know.
The poll does not ask directly if respondents are in favour of a monarchy or a republic, but only 10 % say that Britain should become a republic and elect a head of state when Queen Elizabeth dies or abdicates. 39 % want the crown to pass to the Prince of Wales, 48 % say that it should pass to the Duke of Cambridge, while 3 % do not know.
At the end of April the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg’s annual survey of public attitudes to a multitude of questions was also published. Of the 4,720 respondents (interviewed over a period stretching from September to January), 56 % want Sweden to remain a monarchy, while 19 % opt for a republic. Interestingly, as many as 25 % claim to have no opinion about it.
As a comparison, the 2010 report from the SOM Institute found 60 % in favour of the monarchy, 19 % in favour of a republic and 21 % without an opinion. In the 2003 report 68 % supported the monarchy, 15 % opted for a republic and 17 % had no opinion.
The SOM Institute’s report also shows that the margin between those who have confidence in the royal family and those who do not is now only 4 %. In 2010 the margin was 21 %; in 1995, the first year this poll was conducted, it was 41 %.