Monday, 31 March 2014

My latest article: Scotland, Norway and unions

Yesterday I had a short article in the Scottish newspaper Sunday Herald (external link) in reply to a claim made in the same newspaper last Sunday (external link) by seventeen mainly Norwegian authors (Jon Fosse, Jostein Gaarder et al) that the dissolution of the Swedish-Norwegian union in 1905 is an argument for why Scotland should vote for independence from Britain in the referedum on 18 September.
Unfortunately the editor has distorted the first paragraph so that it does not make sense, but the point is that the events of 1905 are a poor argument for a yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum, as the arrangement the Scottish government proposes after the referendum is similar to the one between Norway and Sweden before 1905, i.e. a union of crowns between two independent states. However, there may be other lessons to be learned by the Scots from the Norwegian experience which such a loose union.
The Swedish-Norwegian union of crowns will by the way also be the topic of my article in the May issue of Majesty, occasioned both by the bicentenary of Norway's independence as well as the upcoming Scottish referendum.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Saudi king appoints deputy crown prince

I have never heard of a deputy crown prince before, but that was the title given to Prince Muqrin of Saudi Arabia on Friday, thus making him second in line to the throne after his older half-brother, Crown Prince Salman.
There is no fixed succession in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but the King appoints a crown prince with the agreement of a council of princes, called the Allegiance Council. Since the death of King Abdul-Aziz (better known as Ibn Saud), the founder of Saudi Arabia, in 1953, the crown has passed among his many sons. Prince Muqrin is the 35th and youngest surviving son of King Abdul-Aziz, which seems to imply that the shift to the next generation - the many grandsons of King Abdul-Aziz, will occur after his future reign.
The current King, Abdullah, who is believed to turn ninety this year, succeeded his elder brother Fahd in 2005. He has already outlived two crown princes: Sultan, who died in 2011, and Nayef, who died in 2012. His third crown prince, Salman, appointed in 2012, is believed to be 78.
Born on 15 September 1945, Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin is considered to be a close ally of King Abdullah, who appointed him director general of the intelligence agency after his accession in 2005. He stepped down from that post in 2012, but was appointed Second Deputy Prime Minister on 1 February 2013 (the King is Prime Minister, the Crown Prince First Deputy Prime Minister).

Monday, 24 March 2014

At the road’s end: Adolfo Suárez (1932-2014), Spain’s first democratically elected PM

“My grief is great. My gratitude is ever-lasting”, said King Juan Carlos I of Spain in a televised speech last night after the death at the age of 81 of Adolfo Suárez, the country’s first democractically elected Prime Minister, who partnered the King in the transition of Spain into a democracy following the end of the Franco dicatorship.
Born on 25 September 1932, Adolfo Suárez González studied law and came to hold several high posts in the Francoist government and the Francoist party, the National Movement. He came to know Prince Juan Carlos while he worked in the state broadcasting company TVE, whose general director he became in 1969, the same year as the Prince was appointed Franco’s successor.
Following Franco’s death and Juan Carlos’s accession to the throne in November 1975, the King made the bold move of appointing Suárez Prime Minister in July 1976. The appointment of a moderate member of the Francoist party caused anger both to the left and the right of the political spectre, but Suárez managed to find a way that made room for reforms without provoking a military reaction from Francoist hardliners.
A democratic general election in June 1977 was won by his centrist alliance, the Union of the Democratic Centre. The transition continued with the introduction of a democractic Constitution, passed by both houses of parliament in October 1978 and in a referendum the following December.
Suárez won another general election in March 1979, but in the ordinary circumstances that now reigned Suárez distanced himself from everyday politics and rarely appeared in Parliament.
He was, however, present in Parliament on 23 February 1981, a month after his resignation as Prime Minister, when the chamber was stormed by armed soldiers in a military coup that failed, and drew admiration as one of only three MPs who refused to obey the putschists’ order to lie down on the floor and remained in his seat.
The year after his resignation, Suárez formed a new parti, the Democractic and Social Centre, but won only two seats in Parliament in the next election. He retired from politics in 1991. During the past decade he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and was, according to his son, unable to remember that he had been Prime Minister.
King Juan Carlos showered honours over the man who led Spain’s transition to a democracy. He received the Grand Cross of the Order of Carlos III in 1978 and was created Duke of Suárez and a Grandee of Spain upon his resignation in 1981. In 2007 he was made a Knight of the ancient Order of the Golden Fleece and was posthumously awareded the Grand Cross Collar of the Order of Carlos III when King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofía and Princess Elena paid their respects at his lying-in-state in the Parliament building in Madrid earlier today.

Friday, 21 March 2014

My latest article: Fredensborg

The April issue of Majesty (Vol. 35, No. 4) went on sale yesterday and this month I write about the history and architecture of Fredensborg and the changing fortunes of this baroque palace - Frederik IV's Marly, gathering place for European royalty in the reign of Christian IX and now the favourite residence of the Queen and Prince Consort of Denmark, but at one stage reduced to army barracks and almost sold as an abandoned palace.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Belgian royal wedding in Rome on 3 July

The Belgian TV channel VTM yesterday reported that the wedding of Prince Amedeo and Elisabetta Rosboch von Wolkenstein, who announced their engagement a month ago, will take place in Rome, where the bride was born, on 3 July. However, it was not made clear whether this referred to the actual wedding or the religious blessing of the marriage, or if both will take place at the same time in the same place.
VTM also reported that the groom's grandparents, King Albert and Queen Paola, will go to Rome at the end of next month to represent King Philippe at the canonisation of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII on 27 April. It will be interesting to see if Queen Paola will exercise the privilège du blanc now that she is no longer the wife of a reigning monarch, but as Queen Fabiola has done so in her widowhood I expect Queen Paola to follow suit.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Three deaths in the British royal cousinage

It is quite rare for Queen Elizabeth II of Britain to attend funerals, but on Friday she was present at the funeral of her cousin, Lady Mary Clayton. She was one of three relatives of the British royal family who have died recently.
Lady Mary Cecilia Clayton, who died on 13 February at the age of 96, was the daughter of the late Queen Mother's elder sister, Rose, and her husband William Spencer Leveson-Gower, 4th Earl Granville. She was born on 12 December 1917. In 1956 she married Samuel Clayton, with whom she had a son, Gilbert, and a daughter, Rose. Lady Mary Clayton was one of the trusted relatives who were authorised to give interviews to authors and documentary makers, but had by the time of her death not been seen in several years. Her funeral was held in the Royal Chapel of All Saints in Windsor Great Park, near the Royal Lodge, on Friday 7 March. Among the mourners were Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the Countess of Wessex and Princess Beatrice.
Another first cousin of Queen Elizabeth, Katharine Bowes-Lyon, died on 23 February at the age of 87. Born on 4 July 1926, Katharine Juliet Bowes-Lyon was the fifth and youngest daughter of the Queen Mother's elder brother, Hon John Bowes-Lyon, and his wife Fenella, née Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis. Like her sister Nerissa, who died in 1986, Katharine was mentally disabled and was eventually confined to a mental hospital. In 1963 their mother listed both sisters as dead in Burke's Peerage, which caused some headlines when it was revealed that they were still alive. Their sister, Princess Anne of Denmark, would visit them occasionally, but other relatives seem to have genuinely believed that they were indeed dead.
The concert pianist Marion Thorpe, who died on 6 March at the age of 87, was first married to Queen Elizabeth's first cousin, the late 7th Earl of Harewood, and secondly to Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the Liberal Party. Born Maria Donata Nanetta Paulina Gustava Erwina Wilhelmine Stein on 18 October 1926, she was an Austrian Jew who fled to Britain after the German takeover in 1938. In 1949 she married George Lascelles, Earl of Harewood, the eldest son of Princess Mary of Britain and then eleventh in line to the British throne, with whom she had three sons before divorcing in 1967. Lord and Lady Harewood were both lovers of classical music and the Countess was co-founder of the Leeds International Piano Competition, which was first held in 1963, and co-authored a successful series of piano tutor books. In 1973 she married the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, but rarely appeared in public after the 1979 trial in which Thorpe was charged with, but acquitted of conspiring to murder an alleged lover.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Service of thanksgiving for Princess Leonore

A service of thanksgiving for the birth of Princess Leonore, Duchess of Gotlandia was held in the Palace Church in Stockholm this afternoon. This is an old tradition in connection with Swedish royal births, but usually the service is held the day after the birth. However, because the Princess was born abroad and the grandparents were expected to travel to New York at the time of the birth the service was postponed until today.
There was a fairly small family turnout. King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia were joined by Crown Princess Victoria, Prince Daniel and Prince Carl Philip in the first row, while the second row was occupied by Count Bertil Bernadotte af Wisborg, a grandson of Prince Oscar Bernadotte (the previous Duke of Gotlandia), Queen Silvia's nephew Patrick Sommerlath and his wife Maline Luego, the King's aunt by marriage, Countess Marianne Bernadotte af Wisborg, and Dagmar von Arbin, who will turn 98 next month and is the granddaughter of Prince Oscar Bernadotte.