Sunday, May 8, 2016

Milestone for the Queen

On May 12, 2011, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became the second longest-reigning monarch in British history. Her reign has lasted 59 years and 96 days, overcoming the record previously held by her great-great-great-great-grandfather, King George III. George III reigned from 1760 until his death in 1820. He was king during the American Revolutionary War, and history has given him the nickname "Mad King George", as he spent the last ten years of his reign incapacitated by the blood disease porphyria.

The Queen is presently the longest-lived British monarch, having surpassed her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria who reigned until the age of 81 (Elizabeth II celebrated her eighty-fifth birthday last month). The Queen is due to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee next year, commemorating sixty years on the throne, which will make her only the second monarch in Britain's history to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee. The last one was held for Queen Victoria in 1897. Should Elizabeth II continue to reign past September 11, 2015, she will surpass Victoria as the longest-reigning British monarch in history.

Birthday of Greece's Princess Irene

May 11 marks the birthday of HRH Princess Irene of Greece and Denmark.

The princess' early life began interestingly enough. She was born on May 11, 1942 in South Africa, where the Greek royal family were living in exile during the German occupation of Greece in World War II. She was the t
hird and youngest child of Crown Prince Paul of Greece and the former Princess Frederica of Hanover; her elder sister was Princess Sophia and her brother Prince Constantine. Princess Irene was named for her father's sister, Princess Irene, Duchess of Aosta, and her godfather was the South African prime minister Jan Smuts.Irene returned to her homeland in 1946 after the end of the Nazi occupation. When her brother Constantine ascended the Greek throne in 1964, Irene was heiress presumptive to the crown. She held this status until the birth of her niece, Princess Alexia, in 1965, who in turn was heiress to the throne until the birth of her brother, Pavlos, in 1967.

Princess Irene was an accomplished pianist, and studied under the tutelage of the famous Greek concert pianist Gina Bachauer. As a young woman, she was romantically linked with Prince Michel d'Orleans, and unsubstantiated rumors abounded that a possible engagement was to be arranged between her and Crown Prince Harald (now King Harald V) of Norway. Neither of these romances flourished and Princess Irene has remained unmarried.

In 1967, her brother King Constantine attempted to overthrow a colonels' regime that had seized power in Greece earlier that year. When the counter-coup failed, Irene fled Greece into exile with her mother, Queen Frederica, her brother, his wife and their children. The royal family arrived in Rome and remained there until the early 1970s.

Irene and her mother spent much time abroad in India, where they studied Eastern mysticism. After Queen Frederica's death in 1981, Princess Irene went to live in Madrid with her sister, Sophia, who is now the Queen consort of King Juan Carlos of Spain. Irene continues to reside at the Zarzuela Palace with her sister's family and is reportedly very close to her nieces and nephews in the Spanish and Greek royal families.

Since 1986, Princess Irene has been president of the World In Harmony organization, aimed at providing humanitarian aid. She appears with her brother and
sister at various royal functions. In 1993, she joined King Constantine's family on a sailing trip to Greece, the first time they had visited the country since 1981, when they were permitted to spend just a few hours there to bury their mother, Queen Frederica. Since then, Irene has returned to Greece on occasional visits but retains her principal residence at the palace in Madrid.

Princess Irene (right) with her sister, Queen Sofia of Spain and their first cousin, King Michael of Romania.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

HRH Prince Philippos of Greece Turns 30

His Royal Highness Prince Philippos of Greece and Denmark celebrates his thirtieth birthday today.

The prince was born at St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, London on April 26, 1986, the fifth and youngest child of King Constantine II and Queen Anne-Marie of Greece. He was born nineteen years after his family fled Greece into exile, and twelve years after a referendum officially confirmed the abolition of the Greek monarchy.

His paternal grandparents were King Paul of Greece (1901 - 1964) and Queen Frederica (born Princess Frederica of Hanover, 1917 - 1981). His maternal grandparents were King Frederick IX of Denmark (1899 - 1972) and Queen Ingrid (born Princess Ingrid of Sweden, 1910 - 2000). 

The baptism of Prince Philippos; held by his father, King Constantine, and Diana, Princess of Wales, one of his godmothers.
Prince Philippos was baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church; among his numerous royal godparents were King Juan Carlos of Spain (Philippos's uncle, the husband of his father's sister, Queen Sofia of Spain), Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (Philippos's namesake and a first cousin of his grandfather, King Paul of Greece); and Diana, Princess of Wales (Diana's sons, Princes William and Harry, are Philippos's second cousins).

Raised at his parents' home in Hampstead, Philippos did not set foot on Greek soil until he was seven years old. In 1993, the former royal family undertook a private yachting trip of the Greek islands, with landings in places such as Thessaloniki, Greek Macedonia, and Tatoi, the family's country estate outside of Athens. The last time the royal family had been permitted to visit Greece was for the 1981 funeral of Philippos's grandmother, Queen Frederica. Just as the 1981 visit had aroused controversy, the family's 1993 excursion proved to be a contentious one. The Greek government barred King Constantine and his entourage from visiting certain areas, and at one point even sent warplanes to buzz their yacht while sailing in the Aegean. Sky TV in Britain filmed a television special covering the Greek royal pilgrimage. In the below clip, at around the 27:40 mark, we see seven-year-old Philippos joining his mother and sisters in meeting with monks from the monastery of Mount Athos. While Philippos's father and elder brothers went ashore to the monastery, he had to remain on the ship as women and young children are forbidden from setting foot there. After being presented with sacred icons and joining in prayers, Queen Anne-Marie relays to her son a conversation she had with the monks about whether Philippos would like to become one himself. The young prince's response is anything but enthusiastic.

In recent years, Philippos has joined his family for more visits to their homeland, and as of 2013 his parents have returned to live in Greece permanently.

Prince Philippos graduated from Georgetown University and currently works in New York City with hedge funds. He makes appearances at various royal events, such as the 1995 wedding of his eldest brother, Crown Prince Pavlos, in which he was a pageboy; the 2004 wedding of his cousin, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark; the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden in 2010 and that of his second brother, Prince Nikolaos, later that year; and various events and celebrations pertaining to the Danish royal family, which his mother belongs to.
Prince Philippos graduates from Georgetown University and poses with his sisters, Princess Theodora and Princess Alexia, and his parents, King Constantine II and Queen Anne-Marie.
Being a prince of a deposed monarchy, Philippos holds a somewhat ambivalent position. Though the Greek constitution does not recognize his title as a Prince of Greece, he is styled as such out of courtesy by the royal courts of Europe. He is also a prince of Denmark, as all dynastic members of the Greek royal family are princes and princesses of Denmark (the founder of the Greek royal house, King George I of Greece, was originally a Danish prince, the second son of King Christian IX of Denmark. After assuming the Greek throne in 1863, his descendants were allowed to retain their Danish titles in addition to their Greek ones). He does, however, enjoy close family ties to the royal houses of Denmark and Spain. The reigning Queen of Denmark, Margrethe II, is his mother's sister; the reigning King of Spain, Felipe VI, is his first cousin - Felipe's mother, Queen Sofia, is the sister of Philippos's father.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Birthday tribute to Her Majesty The Queen

On September 11, 2015, Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her Other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Lancaster, Duke of Normandy, Lord of Mann, surpassed her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, to become the longest-reigning British sovereign. It was yet another remarkable milestone in a life already filled with remarkable milestones. To add to her list of records, which include being the longest-reigning female monarch in world history and having the longest-lasting marriage of any British monarch, she again notches another feat today, April 21, 2016 –the only crowned ruler of the British Isles who lived to their ninth decade. If she possesses the impressive longevity of her beloved mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who soldiered on to the ripe old age of 101, the United Kingdom can expect to have Elizabeth II around for at least a few more years. If she lives to the year 2022, when she will be 96, she would celebrate her platinum jubilee to commemorate seventy years on the throne. This would place her second to King Louis XIV of France as the longest-reigning monarch in European history.
On this day ninety years ago, no one expected that the infant princess born at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London would even succeed to the throne. She was the daughter of Prince Albert, Duke of York, the second son of King George V; it was still believed that her uncle, the dashing Edward, Prince of Wales, would find himself a bride in due time and sire heirs that would displace the newborn Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary in the line of succession. It goes without saying that the world in 1926 was far different than the one we know today. Unlike the births of her great-grandchildren in 2013 and 2015, which were met with a barrage of flowery coverage on the news and social media and beaming photographs of the infant royals with their glamorous parents outside the hospital, Princess Elizabeth’s birth was conducted in that old-time, decorous royal manner which we would deem positively archaic. For one, the pregnancy of Elizabeth’s mother, the Duchess of York, was never even formally announced, as public discussions of a royal pregnancy were considered taboo. Instead, the announcement from Buckingham Palace that the Duchess would temporarily step back from public duties was considered sufficient indication of her confinement. Secondly, the princess’s name was not even publicly announced for a number of weeks after the birth. Any information thereafter about Elizabeth was carefully orchestrated and released to the public with the strictest amount of formality. She even appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in the United States in 1929, at the tender age of three. Despite the amount of interest in the young princess, she still only occupied a relatively minor position within the royal family. All that would change in just a few years’ time.
The lives of Princess Elizabeth, her sister, Margaret, and their parents were irrevocably changed in December 1936 with the abdication of Elizabeth’s uncle, King Edward VIII. The bachelor king had been on the throne for less than a year when he gave up his crown for the American divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson in the face of a constitutional crisis over his plans to marry her. In his brother’s place came Elizabeth’s nervous, stammering father, who adopted the regnal name King George VI. Aided by his charming, stalwart wife, Queen Elizabeth, George VI led his nation through the dark days of World War II and emerged a deeply respected leader, but in the end sacrificed his health for the cause. The king’s early death in 1952 thrust his elder daughter onto the throne at the age of twenty-five. While the new queen possessed the dutiful qualities of her father, along with his reserved character and touches of his shyness, she also inherited the stamina and longevity of her enormously popular mother. Unlike her father, she had been prepared for her destiny once it became clear the throne stood directly in her path. Her youth did not betray her commitment to duty, and just as she had pledged aged twenty-one during a broadcast to the Commonwealth, that her “whole life, whether it be long or short” would be devoted to her people, she has served the British nation and the other nations of the Commonwealth, that surviving vestige of the former empire which still declare her their queen, with unfailing devotion. True, unlike her predecessors Elizabeth I or Queen Victoria, it cannot be said of Elizabeth II that her reign will come to define an era –her limited political influence (and her desire to maintain her position’s apolitical nature) coupled with the dramatic social changes of the past sixty years, cannot realistically be regarded as a second Elizabethan Age. The one defining characteristic of Elizabeth II’s tenure as queen, however, should be adaptability. She has adapted herself, her family, and the institution she represents with surprising flexibility. The deference of the early years of her reign gave way to growing indifference in the 1970s and 80s, and she adapted accordingly. Even the Queen’s time of troubles during the 1990s – spurred by a fire at Windsor Castle, the collapse of her children’s marriages, and the short-lived though deeply cutting backlash over the Queen’s response to the Princess of Wales’s shocking death – eroded away into the new millennium, replaced with informal but widespread public admiration. The size of the crowds that turned out for her golden jubilee in 2002 and diamond jubilee in 2012 serve as solid testaments to the respect the monarch commands from her people.
No tribute to the Queen’s life and reign would be complete without a word on her consort, the Duke of Edinburgh. Though largely viewed nowadays as a cantankerous old man with an unfortunate propensity for foot-in-mouth syndrome, Prince Philip’s devotion to his wife has been as dedicated as her devotion to her nation. In so many ways, he is the perfect counterbalance. While she grew up cosseted and nurtured as the heiress to Europe’s most secured dynasty, he grew up penurious and nomadic, as a member of the troubled, unstable Greek royal family. She enjoyed the luxury and comforts of homes such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, while he was bounced unpredictably between royal relatives in France, Germany, and England after his parents proved unable to care for him (his mother was sent to a mental hospital and his father retired to southern France with his mistress). Yet they were most likely drawn to each other precisely because of their differences. Marrying Elizabeth would give Philip the stability and family life he had never known, while she was certainly enamored by his tough, independent streak, so different from anything she had ever known in her privileged upbringing among upper-crust aristocrats. Their marriage has lasted sixty-nine years – in 2017, provided they are both living, they will celebrate their seventieth anniversary. Their progeny includes four children, eight grandchildren, and (at present count) five great-grandchildren. The failures of three of their four children’s marriages yielded a gold mine of tabloid fodder and partially called into question their success as parents. Thankfully, the family troubles have largely been smoothed over. Their eldest son is married to the woman he has loved all along, and whatever their views on the Duchess of Cornwall may be, the Queen and the Duke cannot be displeased that Charles’s married life is at least settled and devoid of scandal these days. Given the unique nature of their positions, one can only assume that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh did as fine a job as they could with their brood.
Having served long past the accepted age of retirement, and with her heir, Prince Charles, already in his late sixties and still waiting for the top job, a growing discussion has emerged over whether the Queen will seriously consider abdication. Indeed, there have recently been plenty of examples to support this notion. In 2013, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and King Albert II of Belgium both stepped down in favor of their middle-aged heirs, followed in 2014 by Elizabeth II’s third cousin, King Juan Carlos of Spain. But any serious discussion of the Queen abdicating should not seriously be entertained. For one, the Queen regards her monarchical role as a sacred one; the oath she swore at her coronation confirms it as such. She believes it is a role to carry on for life, without retirement, without relinquishing. The Dutch, Belgian, and Spanish monarchs might be able to slip the glove on and off, but they do not oversee the most famous royal house on Earth. How seriously could the idea of the Queen stepping down into glorious retirement be taken, to live in the countryside somewhere as Queen Emeritus, with her shadow looming over the House of Windsor and looming over her son’s throne? It is highly unrealistic. As mentioned earlier, the Queen is certainly one to adapt, and she has done so in delegating a wider breadth of duties and representation to the Prince of Wales as well as her grandsons, William and Harry, preparing them for their future roles as the heads of the House of Windsor and ensuring the monarchy retains a bond with younger generations. In any event, the Queen would never agree to retirement. Service and duty are embedded in her veins, and any notion that she will take a full rest is simply unfathomable. The Queen has spent more than half of her ninety years in full devotion to her country, and in the twilight of her life she will certainly never recede from that.
Happy birthday, Ma’am. Send her victorious, happy and glorious.  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

News Round-up - March 2016

The first week of March 2016 has certainly been eventful for royalty news, though unfortunately not all of it has been good.

First, the sad news -

His Majesty King Michael of Romania issued a statement announcing that he is withdrawing altogether from public life. Though the king is no longer a reigning monarch, he has been active in performing various duties on a semi-official basis, such as handing out decorations or meeting with dignitaries. The announcement revealed that the 95-year-old king is suffering from leukemia and epidermoid carcinoma. His eldest daughter, Princess Margareta, whom he deemed as "custodian of the Romanian crown" in 2007, will be taking on his duties.

Statement signed in King Michael's own hand as Mihai R. Courtesy of


His Serene Highness Prince Johann Georg of Hohenzollern died on March 2 at the age of 83. He was the son of Frederick, Prince of Hohenzollern (and, as head of the dynasty from which King Michael descends, put himself forth at one time as a claimant to the Romanian throne) and Princess Margarete of Saxony, the daughter of the last Saxon king, Frederick Augustus III. Johann Georg had been married to HRH Princess Birgitta of Sweden, sister of HM King Carl XVI Gustaf, since 1961, though they have lived separately since 1990. The Swedish royal court announced Prince Johann Georg's death, with a personal statement from King Carl XVI Gustaf stating that "our thoughts are with Princess Birgitta and her family". Prince Johann Georg is survived by his wife, their three children, and three grandchildren.

HRH Princess Birgitta of Sweden and HSH Prince Johann Georg of Hohenzollern on their wedding day, May 1961.

Finally, the good news -

Just as the Swedish court mourns for Princess Birgitta's husband, they also celebrate the arrival of a new royal. Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria and His Royal Highness Prince Daniel welcomed their second child, a son, on March 2. The boy is third in line to the Swedish throne behind his mother and his elder sister, Princess Estelle. His name and title were announced the following day - His Royal Highness Prince Oscar Carl Olof of Sweden, Duke of Skane.

It has been a busy year for the Swedish royal family in terms of births. In just about a month or so, Crown Princess Victoria's brother, Prince Carl Philip, and his wife, Princess Sofia, will welcome their first child, while last June their younger sister Princess Madeleine gave birth to a son, Prince Nicolas. 2016 will bring the total of royal grandchildren for the Swedish king and queen to five - Princess Estelle, Prince Oscar (Princess Victoria's children), Princess Leonore, Prince Nicolas (Princess Madeleine's children), and Prince Carl Philip's unborn child.
The Council of State where King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden confirmed the name and title of his newborn grandson, Prince Oscar. Seated next to the King is his son, Prince Carl Philip, whose wife is expecting their first child in April.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Romania Lays to Rest Queen Marie's Heart

The heart of Her Majesty Queen Marie of Romania, the British-born wife of King Ferdinand I, was laid to rest for the final time on November 3 in a ceremony that evoked memories of the deposed monarchy's pageantry and pomp.
A casket containing the heart of Queen Marie of Romania is borne through the streets of Bucharest by soldiers. Courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Prior to Queen Marie's death in 1938, she stipulated that her heart should be interred in the chapel of the Pelisor Castle, her favorite residence. However, the queen's wishes could not be fulfilled after Pelisor and its surrounding regions were annexed to Bulgaria in 1940. Her heart was then kept at another of her homes, Bran Castle (which today is popularly advertised to tourists as "Dracula's Castle"), until the communist regime which took over in 1947 seized Bran and moved the heart to the National History Museum in Bucharest.

Queen Marie's grandson, King Michael of Romania, who was deposed in 1947 but has since returned to live part-time in Romania and is the head of the deposed royal house, announced his intentions to fulfill his grandmother's wishes by returning her heart to its final resting place at Pelisor.

Queen Marie of Romania's heart is removed from the National History Museum in Bucharest to prepare for its final burial at Pelisor Castle. Princess Margareta of Romania, eldest daughter of King Michael and heiress to the deposed royal house of Romania, stands behind the casket with her husband, Prince Radu. Margareta's sister, Princess Maria of Romania, stands behind Prince Radu. Courtesy of the Daily Mail.

The ceremony included a formal removal of the heart from the Natural History Museum by Romanian soldiers in the presence of HRH Princess Margareta of Romania, King Michael's eldest daughter and Queen Marie's great-granddaughter, who was accompanied by her husband, HRH Prince Radu, and her youngest sister, HRH Princess Maria. The casket containing the heart was draped in the Romanian and British flags, and both the national anthems of Romania and the United Kingdom were played. A procession took place through the streets of Bucharest before the heart was loaded into a car and driven to Pelisor Castle, 74 miles to the north.

Queen Marie of Romania. Born Princess Marie of Edinburgh, she was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.
Queen Marie was a granddaughter of the British Queen Victoria. She was born in Kent, England, the daughter of Queen Victoria's second son, Prince Alfred, and Grand Duchess Marie of Russia, daughter of Tsar Alexander II. She married the German-born Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania in 1893, and became queen consort with her husband's accession in 1914. As Queen of Romania, she was an enormously popular and beloved figure. She was a symbol of national unity and strength during World War I, and she arrived at the Paris Peace Conference in 1918 as a representative of Romanian interests. When it was suggested that she go to Paris after the Romanian prime minister failed to obtain concessions for his country, the queen boldly declared "Romania needs a face, and I will be that face." Her great ability to charm the delegates and to stand up for Romania has been credited with the creation of the Greater Romania after World War I, in which Romania gained a significant amount of territory and became a formidable power in southern Europe. Her flamboyant wardrobe and outspoken nature made her an intriguing and exotic figure. A 1926 visit to the United States garnered enormous media attention and attracted thousands of Americans into the streets of New York to catch a glimpse of her. She was also a published author, having written numerous works including two volumes of her autobiography.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

80th Anniversary of King George II’s Restoration to the Greek Throne

November 3 marks the 80th anniversary of a Greek plebiscite in which George II, who had been living in exile for twelve years, was voted by a majority to return as King of the Hellenes.

George II was the eldest son of King Constantine I of Greece and Queen Sophia, the former Princess Sophia of Prussia. He had first come to the Greek throne in September 1922 in the midst of turmoil within his country. King Constantine I had just been restored to the throne two years earlier, but following Greece's humiliating defeat in the Greco-Turkish Wars of 1919-1922 and the devastating massacre at Smyrna, he was forced to step down in favor of George. King George's position was far from secure, as a revolutionary committee had taken control of the government and sought to curtail the role of the monarchy as much as possible. A failed royalist coup aimed at dislodging the committee in October 1923 damaged the monarchy's credibility and led the government to formally ask the King and his wife, Queen Elisabeth, to absent themselves from the country until the mood had settled. The royal couple departed from Greece in December 1923 and the monarchy was abolished three months later.

Initially settling in Romania with Queen Elisabeth's parents, King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, George II gradually spent more time away from his wife, either in London or to visit his mother at her exiled home in Florence. King George and Queen Elisabeth were to have no children and divorced in 1935.

While the Greek royal family settled into a decade of exile, the republican government back home lurched from crisis to crisis. Over twenty-four changes of government, thirteen coups and a dictatorship took place between 1924 and 1935. Finally, in October 1935, General George Kondylis, having lost his patience with the troubled republic, staged a coup d'etat and successfully overthrew the sitting government. In its stead, Kondylis proclaimed his intention to restore the Greek monarchy and to invite the exiled George II back to mount the throne once again. A plebiscite was scheduled for November 3, 1935 to allow the Greek people the chance to vote on restoring the monarchy or maintaining the republic.

It was far from a clean vote, however. While a large number of people were dissatisfied with the unstable republic and many did profess loyalty to the exiled king, there were many cities which reported intimidation at the voting polls against those who intended to vote for the republic. Time Magazine reported in its November 18, 1935 issue that "a voter one could drop into the ballot box a blue vote for George II and please General George Kondylis, or one could cast a red ballot for the Republic and get roughed up."

In the end, an astonishing (and undoubtedly inaccurate) tally showed 98% of the votes were in favor of restoring the monarchy. Despite the methods used to obtain this majority vote, George II accepted the results and return to Greece on November 25. It was not to be the end of his troubles, however. Just six years later, the invasion of Nazi Germany forced George II and other members of the royal family to flee. They would not return to Greece until 1946, and King George II died the following year at his palace in Athens.