Tuesday, 30 April 2013

King Willem-Alexander ascends the Dutch throne

Not only a reign, but a unique historical epoch of three successive female reigns came to an end at 10.07 a.m. today, when Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands signed her instrument of abdication in the Moses Room at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. As she signed the final letter of her name, her eldest son, Willem-Alexander, ascended to the Dutch throne, becoming the first King of the Netherlands in 123 years.
The ceremony in the Moses Room was brief, as Queen Beatrix, unlike her mother upon her abdication in 1980, did not make any speech. In the presence of several witnesses the Director of the Queen’s Office read the instrument of abdication aloud before it was signed by the Queen and the witnesses.
Princess Beatrix, as she had now again become, thereafter led her son and daughter-in-law onto the palace balcony. Looking both moved and relieved, the former Queen presented the new monarch to the people and King Willem-Alexander expressed his gratitude in a short speech. After Princess Beatrix retreated inside, the King and Queen Máxima were joined on the balcony by their three daughters, Princesses Catharina-Amalia, Alexia and Ariane.
The Dutch Constitution requires that the new monarch, as soon as possible after his accession, should swear to uphold the Constitution at a joint session of the States General. This rather magnificent ceremony was held in the New Church, adjacent to the Royal Palace, at 2 p.m. Having delievered his inaugural speech, the King swore the oath before the MPs swore loyalty.
Among the guests at the investiture in the New Church were members of the royal families of the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg, Spain, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Morocco, Japan, Thailand, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
The colour of the day was blue, this being the colour of the dresses worn for the investiture by Queen Máxima, her three daughters and Princess Beatrix as well as of the carpet and the canopy linking the Palace and the church. The new Queen matched this with a magnificent tiara of diamonds and 33 sapphires, apparently created by the French jeweller Mellerio for Queen Emma.
Following the investiture the guests proceeded to the Royal Palace for a reception and the celebrations continue tonight.

Queen Beatrix bows out

It is now 30 April, meaning that the Netherlands has entered the final day of the 33-year-reign of Queen Beatrix, who will sign the instrument of her abdication at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam shortly after 10 a.m. Tonight the outgoing Queen hosted a dinner in the splendid setting of the National Museum in Amsterdam, which has just reopened after years of renovation.
As it is not very often that a monarch has the chance to make a farewell speech, the speech made by the Queen at the dinner is very much worth reading. Touching on the end of 123 years of female kingship, it also says something important about her own philosophy of kingship, the values she finds important to society, her confidence in her successor and her gratitude to the people who will soon no longer be her subjects, and contains a touching tribute to her late husband:

On the eve of my abdication, I would like to take this opportunity to address you all. Unity and freedom have traditionally been the driving forces shaping our country's constitutional order. In years of struggle and revolt against foreign domination, the words of the Wilhelmus were a source of hope and encouragement: "I dedicate undying faith to this land of mine".
Since that time, the unconditional loyalty of the founding father of our country has also been demonstrated by all those who have fought for our freedom. To this day, this loyalty forms the bedrock of our country's history, which is closely connected with the House of Orange.
From 1890 onwards, our national unity was inextricably linked with four female heads of state. After Queen Regent Emma, after my grandmother Wilhelmina - so valiant in wartime - and after my mother Juliana, with her strong sense of duty, the task and privilege of being your Queen fell to me. The unifying power shown by previous generations was my inspiration. In our constitutional monarchy, with the Constitution as our foundation, the monarch stands for unity in the service of a constantly changing society.
At the investiture, in the presence of the States General, the monarch swears to uphold the Constitution and protect the rights and freedoms of all the inhabitants of the Kingdom. The converse of ministerial responsibility for the acts of the monarch is the duty of the monarch - within the government - to coordinate his actions with the ministers. Democratically enacted laws and decrees are ratified by the monarch's signature. In day-to-day life, the monarch can contribute to respect for democracy, to solidarity within society and to integration and personal development for all sections of the population. This calls for full and unconditional dedication to what - sooner or later, to a greater or lesser degree - presents itself as the common interest of our society. Neither power, nor personal will, nor a claim to inherited authority, but solely the determination to serve the community can give substance to today's monarchy.
In fulfilling this task, the monarchy aims to foster a community whose members feel solidarity with one another. Throughout the last thirty-three years I have had the privilege of meeting great numbers of my compatriots who put themselves at the service of other people, demonstrate their commitment and are willing to do their utmost for their country. I have seen what creative effort and perseverance can accomplish, in the most diverse circumstances. Over the years, my appreciation of people's impressive achievements in science, art and culture has grown immensely. Scope for self-expression and exploration of new avenues are of vital importance for us all. The way people of different beliefs or convictions seek to draw closer to one other has touched me deeply, also because it is a sign of openness and tolerance.
In all this, the great trust you placed in me was indispensable. I have shared both joy and national pride with you. And I have shared in your sorrow and anxiety. The population of the Netherlands in Europe and in the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom have strengthened me with their spontaneous warmth and expressions of solidarity. Beyond our borders too, international contacts proved their worth in furthering mutual understanding. The vicissitudes of the world touch our daily lives. Countless ties bind us to people in other continents. This compels us to remain open to other ways of life and other cultures.
A divided Europe long bore the scars of a past marked by war and violence. Today, peaceful cooperation and an awareness of common interests prevail. Decisions made by the European Union determine our daily life where this is necessary or useful. Our own self-interest obliges us to contribute to the common interest and to the wider perspective of a shared responsibility in the world.
In all this, I had the great good fortune to be able to count on the support of Prince Claus. His level-headed insights and nuanced approach were of great value to me. Through his work in the fields of urban planning, the environment, development cooperation and culture, he focused attention on crucial social issues. He taught our sons, when they were still very young, to be alert to developments in society and to suffering and need in the world. In this way, he brought our House closer to modern times. History may indeed conclude that my choice of husband was the best decision I ever made.
Since I announced my intention to relinquish the throne, I have been overwhelmed by expressions of warmth and kindness, accompanied by a profound understanding of my wish to hand over my task to the Prince of Orange. He is well prepared for every aspect of his new role, through his intensive activities at national and international level and his keen interest in the developments taking place in our world today. During the ceremonial investiture in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, King Willem-Alexander will accept the imperative that is essential to the office: to act without regard to personal preference, and to stand above the interest of party or group. In fulfilling his task, he will ask for the support and trust of the Dutch people. We all feel blessed by the fact that his endearing wife Máxima, with her warm heart and clear understanding of human relations, will play a special role.
In laying down my duties as Queen, I am above all filled with a sense of deep gratitude. Without your heart-warming and encouraging expressions of regard, the burdens of office - and they have certainly made themselves felt - would have been very heavy indeed. I would like to let you know, in saying farewell, that your affection has given me the strength I needed. In the future too, your continuing closeness will remain a great support.
When tomorrow my eldest son assumes this rewarding and responsible task, it is my dearest wish that the new Royal couple will also feel supported by your loving trust. I am convinced that Willem-Alexander will devote himself, with loyalty and dedication, to discharging his duties as a good King should.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Dutch abdication and investiture on Norwegian TV

We are now in the last hours of the 33-year-reign of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, which will come to an end with her abdication in favour of her eldest son, Prince Willem-Alexander, shortly after 10 a.m. tomorrow. The abdication, which takes place in the Council Chamber of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, and the investiture of the new King at a joint session of the States General in the adjacent New Church, will both be broadcast by Norwegian public service broadcaster NRK; the abdication from 9.55 a.m. until 11 a.m., the investiture from 2 p.m. till 3.30 p.m. The commentary on the former will be provided by Nina Owing and me, on the latter by Viggo Johansen and me. I believe it should be possible to watch it through the website of NRK (external link).

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Official guest list for Dutch investiture

The Dutch royal court has just released the official list of the most important guests who will be present at the investiture of King Willem-Alexander in the New Church in Amsterdam on Tuesday afternoon, following the abdication of Queen Beatrix.
The adult members of the Dutch royal family will naturally be present en masse, with the obvious exception of Prince Friso, who remains in a coma following his skiing accident last year. The daughter-in-law of Princess Christina, Eva Guillermo-Prinz Valdez, will also not attend, but otherwise all the children and grandchildren of the late Queen Juliana will be present with their partners. Of the younger members only the three daughters of the new King and Queen will attend.
Reigning monarchs are normally not invited to Dutch investitures (like they are not invited to British coronations), so as not to outrank the incoming monarch, but Sovereign Prince Albert II of Monaco will nevertheless be present (without his wife, Princess Charlène). The wife of the King of Morocco, Princess Salma, and the wife of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikha Mozah, will be the only consorts present.
Most other royal houses will be represented by the heirs: The Duke and Duchess of Brabant representing Belgium, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, the Crown Prince of Brunei and his wife, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Denmark, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Japan (the Crown Princess is rarely seen at royal events, but a trip to the Netherlands will give her the chance to visit her parents, who live in The Hague), the Hereditary Prince and Hereditary Princess of Liechtenstein, the Hereditary Grand Duke and Hereditary Grand Duchess of Luxembourg (who the Dutch royal court has mistakenly upgraded to Grand Duke and Grand Duchess on the guestlist), the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Norway, the Prince and Princess of Asturias representing Spain, the Crown Prince of Thailand and his sister Princess Sirindhorn, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall representing Britain, and Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel representing Sweden.
Other royal guests will be Prince Hassan of Jordan (the former Crown Prince, uncle of the present King) and his wife Sarvath, Haitham bin Tareq al Said representing the Sultan of Oman and Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed al Nahyan representing the United Arab Emirates.
While the family of Princess Máxima will not be present, her native Argentina will be represented by Vice President Amado Boudou and the acting President of the Senate, Senator Beatriz Rojkes de Alperovich. The Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, will attend with his wife Sarah Johnston, and Turkey will be represented by Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan and his wife Zeynep Babacan. There will also be lower-ranking representatives of Germany and South Korea in attendance, along with the Presidents of the European Commission (José Manuel Barroso), the European Parliament (Martin Schulz) and the European Council (Herman Van Rompuy).
Other guests will include the President of the International Olympic Committee, Count Jacques Rogge, the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark (former Prime Minister of New Zealand).

Changes to British succession receives royal assent

This week the bill changing the succession to the British throne, which was introduced by the government in December, passed its final reading in the House of Lords and before the weekend it received royal assent, meaning that it is now law.
The new Succession to the Crown Act means that the succession is now gender neutral, so that the eldest child will inherit the throne regardless of its sex, whereas until now a daughter would be superseded by a younger brother.
Thus, if the child expected to be born to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in July is a girl, she will be the future monarch even if she eventually has a brother.
The change will, however, not be retroactive, except for those born after 28 October 2011, the date the prime ministers of the sixteen realms of which Elizabeth II is queen agreed to reform the succession to the thrones. Thus for instance Princess Anne will still come after her two younger brothers and their offspring in the succession, while Senna Lewis, a granddaughter of the Duke of Gloucester, will apparently overtake her younger brother Tane, who was born after that date.
The Succession to the Crown Act 2013 also means that those in line of succession will no longer lose their rights if they marry non-Protestants, and as this is retroactive it means that for instance Prince Michael, who lost his rights when marrying a Catholic in 1978, is now back in the order of succession.
The Act also repeals the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, which means that it is now only the first six persons in line of succession who are obliged to seek the monarch’s permission to marry.
Of the seven European kingdoms, Spain is now the only country left where sons come ahead of daughters in the order of succession. Gender neutral succession was first introduced in Sweden in 1980, followed by the Netherlands in 1983, Norway in 1990, Belgium in 1991 and Denmark in 2009.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

My latest article: The life of Princess Lilian

In the May issue of the British monthly magazine Majesty (Vol. 34, No. 5), which goes on sale today, I write about the extraordinary life of Princess Lilian of Sweden, who died on 10 March at the age of 97. She was the working-class girl who grew up in poverty in Wales and found herself at the heart of one of the great love stories of the twentieth century. Having been forced by circumstances to wait 33 years to marry her prince, she was transformed into the grand old lady of the Swedish monarchy, much loved by both the royal family and the people.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Luxembourgian royal wedding on 17 September

The grand ducal court of Luxembourg today announced that the wedding of the Grand Duke’s second son, Prince Félix, and Claire Lademacher will take place on 17 September in the bride’s home country, more specifically in Königstein im Taunus.
Four days later there will be a religious blessing of the marriage in the Basilica of Saint Mary Magdalene in the small French town of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in the department of Var (some forty kilometres east of Aix-de-Provence). The basilica was begun in 1295, but work stopped in 1532 without it having been completed.
Prince Félix and Claire Lademacher, who works on a PhD on the topic of organ donation ethics, became engaged in December last year.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Title issues: Princess Madeleine’s future husband

With the wedding of Princess Madeleine of Sweden and Christopher O’Neill on 8 June approaching, the Swedish media has recently speculated about what title the groom might get. At the time of the engagement, in October last year, the royal court stated that an announcement about his title would be made when the wedding date was announced, but this did not happen. Last week the director of the Information and Press Department, Bertil Ternert, said that the announcement will now be made only at the wedding.
The reason for this seems to be that the royal court is not quite sure how to solve the issue. It is up to the King to make decisions about titles for members of his family, and when Princess Madeleine became engaged to Jonas Bergström in August 2009, an engagement which was later called off, it was announced that Bergström, following the marriage, would be styled Duke of Helsinga and Gastricia (while retaining his surname), these being Princess Madeleine’s dukedoms.
Thus it would seem only natural that the same solution would be chosen for Christopher O’Neill, but last week the King’s lawyer, Axel Calissendorff, said to Aftonbladet as well as Svensk Damtidning that in order to become duke or prince one has to be a Swedish citizen. At the time of the engagement it was stated that O’Neill would not apply for Swedish citizenship, but Calissendorff now suggests that it might be possible for him to hold three passports (i.e. American, British and Swedish).
So the likely answer seems to be that if O’Neill acquires Swedish citizenship he will be able to enjoy the style of Duke of Helsinga and Gastricia (and, less likely in my opinion, Prince of Sweden), but that if he does not, he will remain Mr Christopher O’Neill.
On the other hand we know that Princess Madeleine’s title, as confirmed by the court at the time of the engagement, will remain the same as it has always been: Her Royal Highness Princess Madeleine of Sweden, Duchess of Helsinga and Gastricia. Unlike what was the case with her aunts there will be no “Mrs” added to her title, the difference between Princess Madeleine and her aunts being that the former is (and will remain) in the order of succession.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

At the road’s end: Baroness Elisabeth Palmstierna (1917-2013), Princess Lilian’s Marshal of the Court

It was announced today that less than a month after the death of Princess Lilian of Sweden, her loyal, long-serving Marshal of the Court, Baroness Elisabeth Palmstierna, passed away on 6 April at the age of nearly 96. Baroness Palmstierna served the Princess until last year and was never far from her side at public functions. She is believed to have been the world’s first female Marshal of the Court.
She was born Eva Margareta Elisabeth Tham on 28 April 1917 and was the second daughter of Wilhelm Tham, who was himself Marshal of the Court, and Countess Margareta Hamilton. Elisabeth Tham worked for the Foreign Ministry between 1940 and 1950 and served at the legations in Helsinki, Warsaw and Rome. She was briefly employed by the companies Bofors and Sveriges Kreditbank before joining the Office of the Marshal of the Court in 1953.
At the Royal Court she encountered Baron Carl-Fredrik Palmstierna, whom she married in Seglora Church in Stockholm on 17 January 1959. They had one child, Margareta, nicknamed “the centennial child” because of the combined ages of her parents at the time of her birth in 1960 (57 and 43 respectively).
A prolific historian, Carl-Fredrik Palmstierna was the son of Baron Erik Palmstierna, who had been the first Social Democrat to hold the office of Foreign Minister of Sweden (and was consequently considered a traitor to his class by many of his peers) and later became his country’s long-time Minister (i.e. Ambassador) to Britain.
Carl-Fredrik Palmstierna’s internationally best-known work was probably My Dearest Louise (London 1958), his edition of the correspondence between Emperor Napoléon I and Empress Marie-Louise, whose letters by a quirk of fate had found their way to the Bernadotte Family Archives. On the other hand his memoirs in three volumes may perhaps be counted his best works.
Carl-Fredrik Palmstierna had been appointed Private Secretary to King Gustaf VI Adolf in 1951 and remained in the position for a couple of years into the reign of his grandson Carl XVI Gustaf. He retired in 1975 and died in 1993, at the age of 90.
In 1962 Elisabeth Palmstierna became secretary to the Duke of Hallandia, Prince Bertil. She thus made up his entire household on her own, something which could occasionally cause problems on the telephone when callers would enquire if there were no gentleman present they might speak to.
The problem was solved by Baroness Palmstierna being granted the title Master of the Household in 1974. In 1979 she was promoted to First Master of the Household and in 1991 she was given the title Marshal of the Court. Thereby she probably became the first woman in the world to hold that rank. Naturally she felt sure her father would have been proud of his daughter also becoming Marshal of the Court.
Having been ill for some years, Prince Bertil passed away shortly before his 85th birthday in 1997. Elisabeth Palmstierna had promised him she would be there for his widow, Princess Lilian, and thus became Marshal of the Court of what was renamed The Duchess of Hallandia’s Court.
Only two years Princess Lilian’s junior, Elisabeth Palmstierna remained at the Princess’s side well into their nineties. The Princess and the Baroness even fell and broke their respective hips on the very same night in 2008. While Princess Lilian never again appeared in public, Elisabeth Palmstierna could soon again be seen tottering around the corridors of the Royal Palace, aided by a walking stick or a walker.
In June 2010 Baroness Palmstierna confirmed to the media that Princess Lilian was suffering from senile dementia and would thus miss the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel. However, the 93-year-old Marshal of the Court herself was present for the nuptials and would continue to come to her office early in the morning every day.
“For Beth there is only one way of retiring”, her colleagues would say. However, she eventually had to relinquish her office in 2012, when it was clear that Princess Lilian would not return to public life and there was hardly any mail to be answered anymore.
At Princess Lilian’s funeral in the Palace Church on 16 March, Elisabeth Palmstierna, now in a wheelchair, was seated with the friends rather than with the courtiers. Her sixty years of royal service were truly over. A month later, on 22 April, Baroness Elisabeth Palmstierna’s funeral will take place in the same church.
It is all a bit reminiscent of the oft-told tale of Magnus Brahe, who was Carl XIV Johan’s Marshal of the Realm and closest confidante, who never left the monarch’s side and who famously followed his master to his grave within half a year of the King’s passing, the difference being that in the case of Elisabeth Palmstierna it took only 27 days for her to follow Princess Lilian.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Princess Madeleine’s wedding to be broadcast

After some initial doubt, it has now been agreed that SVT will broadcast live the wedding of Princess Madeleine of Sweden and Christopher O’Neill in the Palace Church in Stockholm at 4 p.m. on 8 June. However, it seems that the couple will hold no press conference and give no interviews on the occasion of the wedding, as they also did not when the engagement was announced.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Princess Lilian speaking Swedish!

Despite living in Sweden for more than sixty years, the Welsh-born Princess Lilian of Sweden, who died last month at the age of 97, always preferred to speak English in public as well as in private. The fact that she mostly stayed at home during the many years when she was the secret partner of Prince Bertil meant that she had little chance to become integrated in Swedish society and to learn and use the language. Prince Bertil also spoke fluent English (his mother being a British princess), and many Swedes were so eager to show off their English that they responded in English when Lilian addressed them in Swedish. The way Queen Silvia is routinely mocked for her Swedish might perhaps also have seemed off-putting to Princess Lilian.
Thus, all Princess Lilian’s interviews were given in English, with one exception. In the summer of 1996, when she and Prince Bertil, who was ailing and would pass away in January 1997, for the last time spent the summer in their house in Tylösand in Halland (Halland being Prince Bertil’s dukedom), she received a journalist from Sveriges Radio Halland and in this interview the Princess for once spoke Swedish publicly. The interview (external link) is now available online, but it is hard to agree with the fawning journalist when he insists that “the Princess speaks excellent Swedish” - and Princess Lilian herself had enough self-insight to protest that she certainly did not.