Sunday, 28 September 2014

My latest article(s): Tuxen and Swedish princesses

The October issue of Majesty (Vol. 35, No. 10) went on sale on Thursday and includes two articles by me. The first one tells the story of the Danish artist Laurits Tuxen and his work for the royal courts of Denmark, Britain, Russia and Greece. Tuxen has been called "the last court painter" and brought an unusual sense of colour and vibrancy to the often rather stale art of portraying royals and ceremonial, but his many royal commissions also came to influence his career and reputation in an unfortunate manner.
The second article deals with the four sisters of King Carl Gustaf - Margaretha, Birgitta, Désirée and Christina - who were the epitome of royal glamour fifty years ago. The article is published on the occasion of Princess Margaretha's eightieth birthday at the end of October and chronicles how the lives of the four sisters have taken very different directions.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Walburga Habsburg Douglas loses Parliament seat

A week after the Swedish general election all the votes have now been counted and the distribution of Parliament seats between parties and candidates finalised. Some of my readers may be interested in knowing that Walburga Habsburg Douglas, the former Archduchess of Austria-Hungary and daughter of that country's last crown prince, Otto von Habsburg, was not re-elected to the Swedish Parliament.
Walburga Habsburg Douglas was first elected to Parliament for the Conservative party in 2006 and was re-elected in 2010. In this year's election she was demoted to the eighth position on her party's list for the county of Södermanland, meaning that she would need a lot of personal votes to supersede those ahead of her on the list. However, as the Conservatives won three seats from Södermanland and Walburga Habsburg Douglas received only 117 votes she will be neither an MP nor a substitute (i.e. one of those who step in if an MP is absent or renounces his or her seat). Her parliamentary career thus seems to have come to an end.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

My latest article: When Christian Frederik met Carl Johan

History is full of great adversaries who never met face to face - Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots, Napoléon I and Wellington, Churchill and Hitler, to mention a few examples - and it is a little-known fact that Christian Frederik and Carl Johan, the two great rivals in the struggle about Norway 200 years ago, actually met on three occasions. This is the topic of a short article I have written in connection with this year's independence bicentenary. The article appears in Historie, no 2 - 2014, which went on sale last week.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

At the road's end: Prince Nicholas Romanov (1922-2014), head of the Romanov Family Assocation

It has been reported that Prince Nicholas Romanov, the head of the Romanov Family Assocation, died on Monday, shortly before his 92nd birthday. A great-great-grandson of Emperor Nikolay I of Russia, Nicholas Romanov was the eldest son of Prince Roman Petrovich of Russia and Countess Praskovia Sheremeteva.
Born on 26 September 1922, he grew up in France and Italy, where he actively opposed the Fascist regime during the Second World War. He eventually acquired Italian citizenship and married an Italian, Countess Sveva della Gherardesca, in 1951. The couple had three daughters.
Nicholas Romanov worked as a businessman and farmer, eventually settling in Switzerland. He paid his first visit to Russia in 1992, the year after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In 1979 he was co-founder of the Romanov Family Assocation, which organises male-line descendants of the House of Romanov. Nicholas Romanov was vice president from its founding until he succeeded Prince Vasili Alexandrovich in 1989.
Under the rules in force when Russia was a monarchy Nicholas Romanov, being born of an unequal marriage, would have had no succession rights. However, the Romanov Family Assocation has, if I understand it correctly, claimed that these rules have been so to speak suspended since the execution of the last Emperor in 1918, claiming that the rights of the princes who contracted unequal marriages were not renounced as there was no emperor to demand their renuncations.
Nicholas Romanov's claim to head the Romanovs was disputed by Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, who assumed the headship of the imperial family upon the death of her father Vladimir Kirillovich in 1992, claiming that there were no male dynasts left.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Social Democrats win power in Sweden

Fredrik Reinfeldt has announced his resignation as Prime Minister of Sweden and leader of the Conservative party after having taken a severe beating in Sunday's general election, whose only real winner is the right-wing extremist party the Sweden Democrats. The Speaker of Parliament will ask the leader of the Social Democrats, Stefan Löfven, to form a new government.
Given the election results, Löfven's task will not be an easy one. His party won 31.2 %, a gain of only 0.4 % from its result in the 2010 election, which was its worst since 1911. His prospetive coalition partner, the Green Party, won 6.8 % of the votes, back 0.4 % from 2010, while the third party of the left, the Left Party, gained 0.1 % and achieved 5.7 %. Thus the left wing's total gain was a mere 0.1 %.
Yet the left wins power as all of the four parties which have governed Sweden since 2006 lost support. The Conservative party backed no less than 6.7 %, winning only 23.2 % of the votes. The Liberal People's Party received 5.4 % (-1.7), the Christian Democrats 4.6 % (-1 %) and the Centre Party 6.1 % (-0.4 %).
What is lost by the four governing parties is won by the Sweden Democrats, who achieved 12.9 %, a gain of 7.2 %. The Sweden Democrats thus hold the parliamentary balance, but all the other parties have made it clear that they will under no circumstances co-operate with the extremists, whose roots lie in Nazism.
This creates a very difficult parliamentary situation, as the new government, which is widely expected to consist of the Social Democrats and the Green Party, will not be able to form a majority with neither the Left Party nor the Centre Party nor the Liberal People's Party. Indeed the support of either the Left Party and the Centre Party or the Left Party and the Liberal People's Party or the Centre Party and the Liberal People's Party will be needed, but the Centre Party and the Liberal People's Party have made it clear that they will not support a Social Democratic government. However, if the "established" parties are to continue to isolate the Sweden Democrats, some sort of co-operation across the line that divides the two blocks will be necessary.
If Stefan Löfven, a former trade union boss who has until now never been an MP or a minister, succeeds in forming a coalition with the Green Party it will be the first time that party enters government and the first time since the 1950s that the Social Democrats govern with another party. Another option is that the Social Democrats form a government alone, but dependent of support from some of the smaller parties.
There is also a theoretical possibility that an impossible parliamentary situation may lead to Parliament being dissolved and an extra election called before 2018, but this has not happened after the introduction of the new Constitution in 1974.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Elizabeth, Queen of independent Scotland?

In a week from today, the Scots will vote over whether Scotland should become an independent country. While the no campaign has had a clear lead for months, the opinion polls are now so close that the dissolution of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a real possibility. If a majority of the Scots votes yes, Scotland will become independent on 24 March 2016. If they vote no, we have now been told that Scotland will immediately be offered greater autonomy within the United Kingdom.
A yes vote will obviously have great consequences, so it is rather surprising that many crucial issues remain unclear, most significantly the financial issue. While the Scottish government insists that Scotland will maintain the pound as its currency, the leaders of the three main British parties have insisted Scotland will not be allowed to do so, and should they change their mind a currency union between Scotland and Britain would clearly involve some sovereignty being ceded. It is also quite surprising that the British government insist they have no plans for what will happen if Scotland votes yes.
The question of what will happen to the monarchy has on the other hand been settled, although it includes unanswered questions. The referendum is about the dissolution of the parliamentary union of 1707, not the union of crowns of 1603. Therefore a vote in favour of independence means that Scotland and the remainder of Britain will revert to the previous arrangement, i.e. a personal union between two independent states. This is roughly the same arrangement as the union between Britain and Hanover between 1714 and 1837 and the union between Norway and Sweden between 1814 and 1905.
This means that Elizabeth II will become Queen of Scotland or of Scots, the latter (and, I believe, older) title apparently being favoured by the Scots. She will obviously drop the numeral in Scotland, as she is the first Scottish monarch of that name. This will put Scotland in the same position as Australia, Canada and numerous other kingdoms of which Elizabeth II is queen, i.e. of having a monarch resident abroad, although I can imagine the Scots will expect her to come to Scotland more frequently. As Queen of an independent Scotland Queen Elizabeth would be bound to take constitutional advice from the Scottish government, which may mean that she could at some stage receive conflicting advice from the Scottish and British governments in her roles as head of state of both countries (the union kings of Norway and of Sweden would have had much to say about such a scenario). One possibility is that her functions as Queen of Scotland is delegated to a governor general or a similar office when she is not in residence in Scotland, as is the case in her other kingdoms, but this has not been officially discussed.
There is also the issue of how long such a personal union would last. A YouGov poll conducted on 2-5 September found 54 % to be in favour of keeping the British monarch as head of state in the event of independence, while 31 % favoured an elected head of state and 15 % were undecided.
The same opinion poll found, for the first time, a majority to be in favour of independence, which has unleashed what seems like panic in London and some rather desperate calls for Queen Elizabeth to intervene and speak out in favour of the union. At the time of her silver jubilee in 1977, when a referendum on devolution of powers within the United Kingdom was coming up, the Queen for once indicated her personal opinion in an address to the Houses of Parliament, saying: "I number Kings and Queens of England and of Scotland, and Princes of Wales among my ancestors and so I can readily understand these aspirations. But I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Perhaps this Jubilee is a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings, on the inhabitants of all parts of this United Kingdom".
On Tuesday the conservative Daily Telegraph used its editorial to call on Queen Elizabeth to speak out in favour of the union. This was rejected outright by a spokesperson who insisted: "The sovereign's constitutional impartiality is an established principle of our democracy and one which the Queen has demonstrated throughout her reign. As such the monarch is above politics and those in political office have a duty to ensure that this remains the case. Any suggestion that the Queen would wish to influence the outcome of the current referendum campaign is categorically wrong. Her Majesty is firmly of the view that this is a matter for the people of Scotland". It would in my opinion have been unwise if she had indeed intervened. It would have jeopardised the monarchy's political neutrality, and might also have alienated it from roughly half the Scottish people. It would also have undermined the Queen's standing, as it would have made a yes vote a personal defeat for Elizabeth II.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Royal jewels: Princess Astrid’s aigrette(s)

In recent years it seems Princess Astrid, who is now 82, has more or less given up wearing her larger tiaras, i.e. the Vasa diadem of her mother and the diamond and turquoise coronet of her great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra of Britain. These days she mostly chooses lighter pieces, primarily the gold bandeau of her great-grandmother Queen Sophie and an aigrette that is one of the most versatile and peculiar pieces of royal jewellery.
The latter is really two different pieces of jewellery; in other words the base is the same, but there are two different ornaments that can be attached to it.
The version most frequently worn – most recently for the state banquet during the Israeli state visit in May – has a pair of diamond Mercury wings that tremble as the wearer moves. The other version – seen at the state banquet for the President of Estonia last week – has a ruby set in diamonds in the shape of a flower from which two long-stemmed flowers of diamonds and rubies emerge.
When I wrote my biography of her, which was published seven years ago, Princess Astrid told me she is always teased when she wears the aigrette in is latter setting, “people say they suppose one [flower] receives London and the other Moscow”.
The Victorian and Edwardian eras were the heyday of aigrettes, which could be worn as a head ornament with ostrich feathers (Princess Astrid says she has not contemplated that look). Princess Astrid’s aigrette originally belonged to her grandmother, Queen Maud, whose jewels were divided between her three grandchildren in the autumn of 1968. Unlike the Vasa tiara and the turquoise coronet it will not pass to the King upon Princess Astrid’s death, but be inherited by her children.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Duchess of Cambridge pregnant with second child

The British royal court has announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Prince William of Britain and his wife Catherine, are expecting their second child. The announcement seems to come because the Duchess, as last time, suffers from severe morning sickness and therefore had to bow out from a visit to Oxford today. The announcement does not say when the child is expected.
The child will be fourth in line to the British throne and will hold the style of title of Royal Highness and Prince(ss) of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (styled "HRH Prince(ss) _____ of Cambridge" within Britain). This follows from Queen Elizabeth II's decision of 31 December 2012 to alter the previous rules under which the royal title was restricted to the eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales .

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Princess Ragnhild’s granddaughter marries – in a tiara

This is a bit of old news by now, but on 9 August the late Princess Ragnhild’s granddaughter, Victoria Ribeiro, married Felipe Falcão, to whom she became engaged in November last year. The only member of the royal family present seems to have been the bride’s grandfather, Erling S. Lorentzen.
25-year-old Victoria Ribeiro, who has taken her husband’s surname, is the only child of Princess Ragnhild’s and Erling Lorentzen’s eldest daughter, Ingeborg, and her husband, Paulo Ribeiro. She is a graphic designer and runs her own company, called Vi Ragna.
I have only seen a couple of photos from the wedding, but it was interesting to note that the bride wore a tiara, which is a first for the non-royal descendants of the royal family. As the family are very well-off there is no reason to believe that the tiara is a fake, but it was not one of the two owned by Princess Ragnhild.
On the other hand it has some resemblance with the diamond tiara (convertible to a bracelet) which was a wedding present to Crown Princess Märtha from her uncle and aunt, King Gustaf V and Queen Victoria of Sweden. But this now belongs to Princess Astrid, who wore it for the first and so far only time for the state banquet during the Latvian state visit in 2011, and although Princess Astrid could have lent it to her goddaughter for her wedding it seems somewhat unlikely that it should have been sent all the way across the Atlantic to Brazil.
Victoria Ragna Lorentzen Ribeiro was born in Rio de Janeiro on 19 December 1988 and christened in the Palace Chapel in Oslo the following summer in the presence of her great-grandfather, King Olav V. Given the geographical and genealogical distance she plays no public role and rarely attends royal family events. Except for her grandmother’s funeral in the Palace Chapel in Oslo two years ago I believe her last such appearance was at the big family gathering held in Trondheim in 2006 for the centenary of King Haakon VII’s and Queen Maud’s coronation. However, she and her cousins Sophia Anne Lorentzen and Alexandra Lorentzen Long cut the ribbon when the new Norwegian seamen’s church in Rio de Janeiro, named Princess Ragnhild’s Church in honour of their grandmother, was opened on 3 May this year.

UPDATE (1 November): Having seen a better picture I can now say that it is indeed not Princess Astrid's tiara, but a previously unseen one.