Thursday, 30 August 2012

On this date: Princess Lilian’s 97th birthday

Today is the birthday of one of Europe’s most charming royals, Princess Lilian of Sweden, who turns 97. Born into poor working-class conditions in Wales, Lilian was at the centre of one of the great love stories of the twentieth century, waiting 33 years for Prince Bertil of Sweden to be able to marry her. Although she only became a princess at the age of 61, Princess Lilian turned out to be one of the greatest assets of the Swedish royal family.
However, this much-loved princess has not been seen in public since 30 April 2008, when she fainted while taking part in the celebrations of King Carl Gustaf’s 63rd birthday. Princess Lilian has since suffered a series of health problems and receives around the clock care in her home Villa Solbacken at Djurgården in Stockholm. The royal court has confirmed that she is suffering from senile dementia and in a recent interview her niece, Princess Birgitta, said that Princess Lilian is no longer able to recognise family members.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Princess Christina’s eldest son engaged to model

Svensk Damtidning reports that Gustaf Magnuson, the 37-year-old eldest son of Princess Christina of Sweden and Tord Magnuson, was engaged to Vicky Andrén on 22 July. Vicky Elisabeth Andrén was born on 25 January 1983 and has worked as a rather successful model since her early teens. While still in her teens she started dating the American nightclub owner Mark Baker, twenty years her senior, whom she married on 31 July 2005. They separated in January 2007 and were subsequently divorced.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Mother of Luxembourgian bride-to-be dies

The grand ducal court of Luxembourg has announced that Countess Alix de Lannoy, whose daughter Stéphanie is engaged to Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume, died from a stroke yesterday. She was 71.
A Belgian citizen, Alix Marie Isabelle Louise Ghislaine della Faille de Leverghem was born in Louvain on 20 September 1941. In 1965 she married Count Philippe de Lannoy, who celebrated his ninetieth birtday on 14 August this year. The couple had eight children: Jehan (1966), Christian (1968), Nathalie (1969), Gaëlle (1970), Amaury (1971), Olivier (1974), Isabelle (1976) and Stéphanie (1984).
On 26 April this year, Stéphanie became engaged to Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume of Luxembourg. The couple will marry on 19 October, followed by a religious blessing the next day.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Marius Borg Høiby to be confirmed on 2 September

The royal court has announced that Marius Borg Høiby, the son of the Crown Princess and her ex-boyfriend Morten Borg, will be confirmed in Asker Church on 2 September. The King and Queen will be in attendance.
Asker Church lies close to the crown princely residence Skaugum in Asker. Princess Märtha Louise was also confirmed in this church in 1986 and it was also the venue for the weddings of Princess Astrid and Johan Martin Ferner in 1961 and of Princess Ragnhild and Erling S. Lorentzen in 1953.

Monday, 20 August 2012

New books: Europe’s female monarchs

When Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of Britain in 1979, it was the first time since Ekaterina II of Russia died and Maria I of Portugal went insane in the 1790s that a European government was led by a woman, states the American historian William Monter in his new book The Rise of Female Kings in Europe, 1300-1800, published by Yale University Press.
Some might perhaps object that there had been several female monarchs in between, but, Monter argues, the advent of constitutional monarchy in the early nineteenth century meant that these queens regnant were not executive heads of state. The women who reigned over European kingdoms during the preceding five centuries were, on the other hand, also heads of government.
There were thirty of them, ranging from the sixteen-year-old Jeanne II, who became Queen of Navarre in 1328, to the forty-two-year-old Maria I of Portugal, whose effective reign came to an end with her mental breakdown in 1792 and the regency of her son from 1799. Except from France, the Holy Roman Empire and the Papal States, female monarchs were found all over Europe, covering the map from Oslo in the north to Palermo in the south, and from Lisbon in the west to Nicosia in the east.
There had, as her numeral alone suggest, been female monarchs even before Jeanne II, and Monter gives an overview of female rule both before 1300 and outside Europe before embarking on his main subject. In Europe, female monarchs before 1300 were mostly found in Latin countries during the twelfth century, and must then be considered anomalies. After 1300, they became a more regular, although still rare occurrence, and, Monter points out, “centered in Christian Europe”, while vanishing from most Asian monarchies. The author identifies two ways through which most female monarchs acceded to their thrones: inheritance from fathers and usurpation by regents.
Monter shows how his list of thirty female monarchs through five centuries might meaningfully be split into two halves to find that most of the fifteen rulers during the first 250 years “were younger women who generally ruled in close association with and often politically subordinated to their husbands”. After 1550, on the other hand, the majority of the female monarchs “governed her kingdom autonomously for at least part of her reign”, while husbands as co-rulers became rarer and were eventually reduced to subordinated positions – if the female monarchs were married at all.
Fernando of Aragón and Isabel of Castile are without doubt the most famous – and arguably the most successful – couple to have served as joint monarchs, but the author highlights the pioneering role of the now mostly forgotten Kingdom of Navarre, which saw unusually many female monarchs, for the concept of joint rule between a queen regnant and her husband (Danish readers might well note that the part of France from which hails the family of Henrik the Prince Consort, who has often voiced the idea that he ought to be King Consort, was subject to the monarchs of Navarre).
When Jeanne II became Queen of Navarre in 1328, she and her husband insisted on a joint coronation, despite official Navarrese opposition, and the reins of power were thereafter left in the hands of the King Consort, Philippe of Evreux. This, which Monter calls “the Navarrese solution to female inheritance”, became the norm throughout Europe for most of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – although there were of course exceptions. But, the author points out, this solution failed everywhere but in Navarre, and in Navarre itself it eventually unravelled following the death in 1441 of Queen Blanche, whose widower clung on to the throne until his death 38 years later, preventing their son from ascending the throne.
Female regents are not included in this book; although rulers, they held power only temporarily and were not monarchs in their own rights. Nevertheless Monter chooses to take a closer look at some female regents which he considers of great importance for the development whereby it was gradually accepted that women ruled on their own even while married. This, Monter considers, was “greatly assisted by various printed, painted, sculpted, and engraved endorsements of women’s capacities for ruling, [...] the most audacious of these [...] sponsored or commissioned not by female monarchs (whose sovereignty was permanent and divinely ordained) but by eight female regents, each of whom governed a major state for at least five years between 1507 and 1633”.
1550 marks the turning point in Monter’s book. The six queens regnant between 1550 and 1700 were married for a total of only 20 % of their reigns (nineteen of eighty-eight years), and two of them (Elizabeth I of England and Christina of Sweden) never married at all. In England, the husband of Mary I, Philip II of Spain, was accorded the title of King, but a prenuptial agreement left him no independent powers, an act which Monter considers “a watershed in the history of marriages of royal heiresses”.
While the first husband of Mary Queen of Scots was given the crown matrimonial, her second husband received the title of king, but without the right to act on his own, and her third husband did not receive the royal title. At the same time, the Navarrese pattern “broke down in Navarre itself”, where Jeanne III d’Albret, despite strong opposition from the estates, insisted on a joint role with her husband and got her way. But the Queen’s conversion to the Reformed church caused the marriage to break down, and Queen Jeanne and King Antoine found themselves on opposing sides in the religious wars (in which the King was killed).
There were two notable exceptions to the general trend at this time. The joint rule of William III and Mary II of England, Scotland and Ireland was in reality William III’s sole rule, and when the Swedish estates refused to agree to a joint rule, Queen Ulrika Eleonora abdicated in favour of her husband, who became King Fredrik I. But, as the author points out, “England after 1688 looks less like the dawn of modern liberalism than the last gasp of the Middle Ages”. And when William III died and Queen Anne came to the throne, her husband received neither title nor powers.
Like Queen Anne, Western Europe’s two other female monarchs of the eighteenth century – Maria Theresia of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia and Maria I of Portugal – “exercised power while finding various ways to keep their husbands in politically useful but subordinate roles”. And none of the four Russian empresses of the eighteenth century was married at any stage of her reign. So within five centuries, Europe moved from a situation where female monarchs were generally dependent on their husbands to a situation where male consorts, if they existed at all, were generally sidelined and the female monarch exercised her powers on her own. Thus it seems quite ironic that, after the 1790s, 180 years would pass before a woman again became the actual rather than merely symbolic head of a European government.
Monter finds that women did not generally rule very differently from men; “for all the talk about female inferiority and frailty, having a woman as divine-right sovereign made very little practical difference in the way governments actually operated”. However, the reigns of female monarchs were much likelier than those of male monarchs to be prematurely or dramatically terminated. The statistics also show that only 40 % of female monarchs, as opposed to 70 % of male monarchs, were succeeded by their direct descendants.
Monter’s analytical powers seem to be at their sharpest in the earlier parts of the book; towards the end it tends to read too much like a collection of short biographies of female monarchs. The book also suffers from its lack of a final and concluding chapter where the author might have summed up his findings; instead he treats the readers to an epilogue about how female monarchs have been represented in twentieth century films, pointing out that while “[s]uccessful women rulers from Hatsheput to Thatcher have been rulers first and women second [...], popular representations of them have always reversed these aspects because romance sells infinitely better than political power in female hands”.
There are some factual mistakes to be found and, when attempting to cover such a vast field, the author cannot possibly have as sure a grasp on all countries and persons involved. There are, obviously, also some language barriers to struggle with. A Norwegian historian like myself might notice that this colours some of what he writes about the Scandinavian female monarchs. And when covering such a vast topic in little more than 200 pages, there will necessarily be some summarising and generalising which causes some nuances to be lost – for instance one might argue that there were certain variances in Navarre which are lost and that the author’s view of “the Navarrese solution” is somewhat too static.
But although one may occasionally disagree with some of the author’s view, the main impression is that this is a significant contribution to the historiography of European monarchies as well as of female rule. There have in recent years been several studies devoted to female monarchs – among them Charles Beem’s The Lioness Roared: The Problems of Female Rule in English History (2006) and Karin Tegenborg Falkdalen’s Kungen är en kvinna – Retorik och praktik kring kvinnliga monarker under tidigmodern tid (2003), both of them excellent – but William Monter’s book is the first study to cover all Europe and such a large time span. This enables him to see individual queens regnant in an international context and to describe general trends which have until now not been clearly identified. That alone makes this book a study of great value which might well inspire many future works on the challenges which arose when women were kings.

Monday, 13 August 2012

New books: The all too familiar story of the early years of Elizabeth II

One of the best books of 2011 was Philip Eade’s Young Prince Philip, an excellent account of the life of the Duke of Edinburgh up to his wife’s coronation in 1953, which added greatly to the general knowledge and understanding of Prince Philip, his family, his background and the circumstances which shaped his character.
Now the historian Kate Williams has attempted to do the same with the subject of Prince Philip’s wife. Sadly Young Elizabeth: The Making of Our Queen, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in June, is the very opposite of Eade’s study: a book which adds nothing to our understanding of Queen Elizabeth II.
The book is well-written and an easy read (326 pages in a small format), and traces the story from the births of Queen Elizabeth’s parents to how Princess Margaret dealt with the Peter Townsend crisis in the mid-1950s. The starting and ending points themselves say something about one of the book’s weaknesses, namely that the choice of what to include sometimes seems rather random and that the author appears to struggle to see what is relevant and significant and what is not.
The very well-known story of Elizabeth II’s early years is told strictly chronologically and Williams has no new facts or insight to add, nor does she offer any new perspectives. Except for the abdication of Edward VIII we hear very little about who or what influenced the young Elizabeth and shaped her character and attitudes.
Carelessness about facts, which also ruined her contribution to last year’s book about English royal weddings, seems to be characteristic of Kate Williams’s writings.
A list of all the factual mistakes of this book would fill pages. On the first page following the prologue, we learn that George VI was “the second son and third child of King George V”, but we hear no more about who this mystery elder sister might have been. His elder brother, the future Edward VIII, is said to have been born in 1893 rather than in 1894, while the birth of the future George VI in 1895 is said to have taken place on the 35th anniversary of Prince Albert’s death in 1861.
The child born on the anniversary was named Albert and only later took the name George VI, which causes Williams to mix up Albert with his younger brother George. Of the third brother, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who seems to have been dull and has been called dim-witted, but was duty-conscious and hard-working, we learn the startling new fact that he “grew up to be as dishonest and greedy as the sons of George III”.
Queen Victoria’s daughters Louise (died 1939) and Beatrice (died 1944) would certainly have been surprised to learn that, at the time of Princess Elizabeth’s birth in 1926, their brother Arthur was “[the] last surviving child of Queen Victoria”. Perhaps the author has a soft spot for Prince Arthur, for he is also accorded the honour of having been wanted for Greek King in 1863, although it was in fact his brother Alfred the Greeks desired.
There were certainly much more than twenty reigning monarchs in Europe in 1895; Emperor Wilhelm II did not agree to abdicate on 9 November 1918 but was deposed against his will; Prince George did not marry “Princess Marina of Kent”, but Princess Marina of Greece, in 1934; it was Queen Mary’s grandparents, not her parents, who made a morganatic marriage; the Sudetenland and the Sudeten Germans are consistently called “Sudatenland” and “Sudaten”; Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, not 1 May; King Haakon did not attend Prince Charles’s christening; Queen Mary did in fact not leave absolutely nothing in her will to the Queen Mother (who actually inherited several pieces of jewellery); Edward VII was not the grandfather, but the great-grandfather of Princess Margaret; and Queen Elizabeth II did not walk in her father’s funeral procession, which also did not take place on 16, but on 15, February 1952.
Prince Philip was not born second in line to the Greek throne and his grandfather did not come to the Greek throne in 1863 “after a long and bitter war for independence with the Ottoman Empire” (that was Otto of Bavaria three decades before). And when will British writers stop repeating the utter nonsense that Prince Philip, the son of a Greek father and a British mother, “was German”? The practice whereby one acquires the nationality of one’s brothers-in-law seems to be limited to the case of Prince Philip. But then again, Williams also wants us to believe that Queen Mary was indeed a German citizen and “might, theoretically, have qualified for interning [during World War II], had she not been too old”.
To claim that Princess Elizabeth was destined to be the “most powerful woman in Europe” surely grossly overestimates the powers of the constitutional monarch of Britain. On the other hand it is also quite surprising to learn on the penultimate page that the Commonwealth is currently breaking up (it has in fact more members than ever) and that Jamaica “has expressed its desire to depart”. Republican voices have indeed been heard in Jamaica recently, but this is not at all the same as leaving the Commonwealth.
Here we have Louis Mountbatten rather than his father resigning as First Sea Lord in 1914 and it seems the author wants us to believe that Winston Churchill resigned voluntarily at the end of World War II while he was in fact, rather surprisingly, ousted by a general election. When World War II comes to an end (Williams seem to think that it ended on VE Day, forgetting that the war outside Europe went on for several more months) the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret suffers the sudden death the following Christmas of their nanny Clara Knight, who had by that time in fact already been dead for four years. By 1948, Williams has the Duke and Duchess of Windsor living serenely in Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace. And so on and so forth.
To add to this, titles are often wrong. Princess Mary is again and again referred to as “the Princess Royal” at times when the title still belonged to Princess Louise; Queen Mary is referred to as “the Queen” in the reign of George VI; Queen Elizabeth as “the Queen Mother” in the reign of her husband and Elizabeth II herself as “the Queen” on her wedding day, several years before the death of her father made her so. The wife of Edward VII fares worse; she is consistently referred to as “Princess Alexandra” in the reign of her husband.
There are also several contradictions. To name just one example, we learn that the Duke of Windsor was the only European royal not invited to the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, but later hear that Prince Philip’s three surviving sisters were not invited either.
The author is surely the person primarily responsible for these failures, but the publishers also seem to have neglected their duty to ensure the quality of the books they offer for sale. The publishers are probably also the ones to blame for the decision not to include the endnotes in the book itself, but to relegate them to a website. This solution is surely worthless, unless the reader sits in front of his or her computer screen while reading the book. And given that no website lasts forever, this also means that those who may pick up this book in say twenty or two hundred years will most likely not be able to find the endnotes. But perhaps the publishers realised that this book will have a short life.
Of the vast amount of literature about Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, some books, such as Ben Pimlott’s biography The Queen (1996) and Robert Hardman’s Our Queen (2011), stand out because of their original and significant contributions to the understanding of the second longest reigning British monarch. Kate Williams’s Young Elizabeth, on the other hand, will take its place among the many insignificant and easily forgotten books about Elizabeth II.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

What to see: The funerary regalia of Gustaf I, Johan III and their queens, Uppsala

The Swedes have a penchant for opening the graves of their monarchs, a practice which is perhaps ethically debatable, but has, on the other hand, provided much of interest for scientist, historians and art historians, including the chance to see the regalia with which past kings and queens were buried.
The largest collection is to be found in the treasury of Uppsala Cathedral, housed in one of the great church’s towers, where one may view the regalia from the graves of King Gustaf I and his three wives as well as King Johan III and his two wives.
Before his death in 1560, King Gustaf I (in recent years popularly but unhistorically known as “Gustaf Vasa”) had chosen the Chapel of Our Lady behind the high altar in Uppsala Cathedral as the place of his burial. His coffin was taken there together with those of his first two wives, Catharina (of Saxe-Lauenburg) and Margareta (Leijonhufvud), who died in 1535 and 1551 respectively and had until then rested in the Cathedral of Stockholm. Atop the coffins were life-size wax effigies, each wearing royal regalia which were buried with the king and queens.
King Gustaf’s crown is of gilt silver and very simple. For his coronation the following year, Gustaf’s eldest son, Erik XIV, ordered a sumptuous new crown (which remains the royal crown of Sweden), which, together with the funerary crowns of his parents and stepmother, marks the introduction of arched crowns in Sweden as opposed to the older open crowns. However, these three crowns, and in particular that of the King, look like the crown ring and the arches do not really belong together. The two queens’ crowns are made by the Stockholm goldsmith Hans Rosenfelt, while the maker of Gustaf I’s crown is unknown. Rosenfelt also made the three identical sceptres of gilt silver for King Gustaf, Queen Catharina and Queen Margareta. The three crowns may be seen in the first photo, while the second shows the sceptres.
Gustaf I’s third wife, Queen Catharina (Stenbock), outlived him by 61 years and it was consequently only in 1621, by which all his sons were dead and Sweden was well into the reign of his grandson Gustaf II Adolf, the last male of the Swedish Vasa dynasty, that she was buried in Uppsala Cathedral. From her grave one has removed a small and unfortunately rather damaged crown of pearls held together by silver thread (third photo), which the long-lived queen may well have worn during her lifetime (one is almost reminded of the small diamond crown made for Queen Victoria of Britain in 1870).
The funerary regalia of Gustaf I’s second son, the art-loving King Johan III, who died in 1592, and his wives are more elaborate than those of the previous generations. King Johan’s funerary crown is of pure gold and set with real emerald and almandines, a sort of garnets, while his sceptre and orb are both of gold set with almandines. The funerary crown of his first wife, Catharina Jagellonica, is also of gold and set with sapphires, pearls and almandines, but, rather economically, undecorated on those parts of the crown which would not be visible when the crown was worn by a dead body lying in a coffin. These two crowns are pictured in the fourth photo, while the fifth shows the sceptres of Johan III and his two wives as well as the King’s orb.
Queen Catherina’s sceptre is one of the most unusual items among the funerary regalia and was probably used by her already during her lifetime. It is made of agate and ebony wood and has a handle of gold set with turquoises and almandines. On its top are a large amethyst and a somewhat smaller sapphire, while an amethyst is also found at the bottom of the sceptre. The regalia of Johan III’s second wife, Queen Gunilla (Bielke), are much simpler, comprising a crown (sixth photo), a sceptre and an orb, all of them of undecorated gilt silver.
There are also two swords among the Vasa regalia, one made in Germany around 1540 which belonged to Gustaf I and has an engraving of Adam and Eve in gilt silver on its scabbard (seventh photo), and a simpler one which belonged to Johan III.
It seems the Vasa graves in Uppsala Cathedral were rarely left in peace, and that visitors were allowed to view not only the tombs, but the coffins and even the remains themselves. The coffins were opened on a number of occasions and in 1856 the funerary regalia of Johan III and his wives were permanently removed to be put on display in the Cathedral. Later the regalia of Gustaf I and his wives have also been removed from the coffins and now form part of the collections to be seen in the Cathedral’s treasury.
Today the funerary regalia of Queen Maria Eleonora, the widow of Gustaf II Adolf, are apparently the only ones left in their grave, while those of other kings and queens may be seen in cathedrals and museums. The tradition of burying Swedish kings and queens with regalia came to an end with King Carl XI and his wife Ulrika Eleonora the Elder, who decreed that no such regalia should be made for them.
The only piece of funerary regalia subsequently made is the crown made for the funeral of Dowager Queen Lovisa Ulrika in 1782, but this was not buried with her and remains in use for the funerals of Swedish kings and queens, most recently the funeral of King Gustaf VI Adolf in 1973.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Crown Princess completes master degree

Dagbladet reports today (external link) that the Crown Princess has finally completed her Executive Master of Management degree at BI Norwegian Business School. Crown Princess Mette-Marit was supposed to complete her degree last year with a dissertation on humanitarian organisations, King Haakon and «servant leadership», but abandonded this project as she did not find it good enough. According to the royal spokeswoman Marianne Hagen, the Crown Princess does not wish to make public what has been the topic for the thesis she has now completed.