Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Royal Profile: Queen Louise of Sweden

Louise Alexandra Marie Irene was born on July 13, 1889 at the Heiligenberg in Darmstadt. Her parents were Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven, and Prince Louis of Battenberg, son of Princess Battenberg.

She was the second of four children: Alice (mother of the present Duke of Edinburgh), George Milford Haven, and Louis (Earl Mountbatten of Burma). She was born prematurely and in her memoirs, her mother described her as 'a rather miserable little object, and the nickname "shrimp" which Louis then gave her remained attached to her during her childhood.' As a result of her premature birth she would suffer frail health for most of her life. She was christened at the Heiliegenberg on August 9, 1889 and confirmed on May 16, 1905.

Like her sister, Louise became a nurse during the Balkan War in Nevers, France. While there she met a Scottish artist named Alexander Stuart-Hill, who Louise's family nickhamed Shakespeare because of a resemblance. She was briefly engaged to him but the plans came to nothing when it was discovered that he was homosexual. With the end of this engagement, Louise, at twenty-five, resigned herself to a life of spinsterhood.

On July 14, 1917, her parents renounced their German titles and Louise became Lady Louise Mountbatten. In 1923, at the age of thirty-four, Louise became engaged to the widowed Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden who had five children. They were married in the Chapel Royal in London on November 3, 1923. The couple had one child, a stillborn daughter born on May 30th 1925. Despite this tragedy, their marriage was a happy one.

She became Queen of Sweden on October 29 1950. She took to this role with modesty, 'I just can't get over people calling me your majesty.' At the funeral of King George VI, the Queen of Sweden's car was announced and Louise did not recognize it was for her. When she went shopping in London, in case she was run over and nobody knew who she was, she placed a card in her purse announcing: 'I am the Queen of Sweden.'

In December 1964 she suffered a heart attack, recovered but died on March 7th 1965 after an operation to remove a blot clot in the main artery of her heart. She is buried in the Royal graveyard at Haga.

© Marilyn Braun 2006

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Royal Review: Official Royal Websites

Most people may get their royalty news from tabloids, legitimate media or unofficial royal sites, but one of the best sources for information are the official sites. The details may not be juicy but they're a fantastic resource. Nearly all royal families realize the value of having a website for announcements, and general information. Over time, some of the sites have added multi-media features such as virtual tours, music, audio and occassional videos. Although there are many official sites out there, I've decided to review just a few of them. Note, links to these sites are available on the sidebar to the left.

The Official Site of the British Monarchy. One of the best sites out there, comprehensive, it can answer almost any question that you have regarding the family, its traditions, and ceremonies. It has a monthly on-line news magazine, with some of the questions rumoured to be answered by the Duke of York himself. Not to mention access to the Royal Collection with an impressive e-gallery. Has a children's section. Updated frequently it is always up to the minute in terms of the information offered.

The Greek Royal family Site: Greek and English. This site seems to be under construction and some of the information is disappointing. An improvement from its previous incarnation, but it still has a ways to go. For one there is a complete lack of history of the Greek royal family and the site seems to be more of a press release for ex-King Constantine regarding his legal issues.

The Danish Monarchy: English and Danish. Clean and stylish, this site is proof that you don't need multi-media to make a site interesting.The bio's are very informative, but it has limited information regarding the activities of the family. It would be nice if there was more information on previous Danish sovereigns other than a chronological list. Also, some of the information has yet to be updated, such as the bios of the Crown Prince and Princess, which say nothing about the birth of their son Prince Christian.

The Official Site of the Prince's Palace of Monaco: English and French. At one point this site was practically non-existent in terms of information about the current royal family. It has since been redesigned, however it doesn't seem to have much history regarding the Grimaldi family. Information for the Sovereign Prince reads like a resume but otherwise the bio's for the current family are fairly comprehensive. Although the site is bilingual, if you select press releases they will come up in French. I'm not certain whether this is a glitch or not but I've found this frustrating on more than one occassion.

The Dutch Royal House: English and Dutch. This site has been redesigned so it's much easier to use and navigate. One of the few sites to have a children's section, which includes some charming letters and drawings. A photo section allows downloading for personal use. Some of the photos are very casual, a welcome departure from some of the more formal poses released by other royal families. Unlike other royal sites, reading the biographies in the 'Who's Who" section, and especially seeing the photos, one gets a sense of family as opposed to a Royal House. Public engagements, news, photos of current activities and important announcements are only available on the Dutch version of this site. If an important event occurs, such as the birth of the Crown Prince and Princess's younger daughter, the visitor is left to decipher the announcement. Offers 'virtual tours' of the palaces, but some of the tours are slow to load. The history section is not nearly as comprehensive as the British site.

The Belgian Monarchy: English, Dutch, French and German. The only sections that are not available in English are the recent royal births, engagements and archives of individual members. Informative and easy to navigate, the site has some nice sections, the birth Princess Elisabeth is a sweet example, with video of the newborn Princess with her parents.

The Royal House of Norway: Norwegian and English. Some nice biographies of the members of the royal house. A more detailed history of previous monarchs would be nice. Some of the announcements are rather limited and brief, and I've found that some important updates are not in English. Photos are available in the Norwegian section of the site. Has a family tree, showing the relationship between the royal houses of Britain, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. if you click on various people will come up with short biographies of the person. In comparison to some of the other royal sites, this appears a bit basic. I could not locate a site map or any contact information in English.

The Swedish Royal Court: Swedish and English. This site has also been recent redesigned and it's much easier to navigate. Second only to the British site in terms of being comprehensive, it has the option to listen to the site. Unlike the Monagasque site, the language feature is consistent - if you select English, the entire site appears in English. In reviewing, I found a discrepancy in Princess Victoria's birthdate and when I contacted the webmaster I was given an unexpected personalized response.

The Imperial Household Agency Homepage (Japanese Royalty): Japanese and English. Overall I think this is one of the worst sites, aesthetically outdated and difficult to navigate. Has a wealth of information but it's not presented in a very impressive fashion. Unlike other sites, it has some interviews with members of the royal family. Awkwardly laid out, some of the characters in the personal histories don't translate properly. Contact information is limited to an email address.

The Royal Household of His Majesty the King (The Royal House of Spain): Spanish and English. Recently redesigned but still being worked on. It's an improvement on its previous incarnation, which you can see if you click on the link to it. Despite selecting English, some of the sections still come up in Spanish. I didn't find this site particularly easy to navigate. If there is a history of the monarchy I couldn't find it. Has information on the various palaces, including virtual tours.

King Abdullah II of Jordan's website: Arabic and English. One of the few sites to have music! For some reason the King and Queen have separate websites. The Queen's site is actually wonderful, focusing on her initiatives with women and empowerment. Great information about the couple's separate initiatives.

The Princely House of Liechtenstein: German and English. Although I'm not particularly familar with this royalty, should I want to learn more the information is here in this rather sparse site. Has information each reigning Prince since 1608, the history of the Princely House, the Constitution, Titles, Orders and Decorations, and a link to the Princely Collection. Very limited information about the current family aside from names and dates of birth. Also has a link to the LGT group, which provides financial services to the royal family, as well as anyone else who might be interested, which I think is a bit unusual.

Serbian Royalty: Style wise I found this site to be inconsistent and a bit busy, particularly the history page. On the front page, if you mouse over the members of the family it will highlight the person and fade the other members. Has movies , radio interviews, and information about the history, flags, and a nice page about the Royal Palaces.

© Marilyn Braun 2006

Monday, April 10, 2006

Royal Focus: The Poltimore Tiara

It isn't very often that British royal jewellery goes to auction. The 1987 Sotheby's sale of the Duchess of Windsor's collection could be considered to be the last significant auction. However, in June another sale will be taking place when Christie's International auctions off over 800 items of the late Princess Margaret's jewellery and works of art collection. And if you are the lucky bidder, you could own a memorable piece of royal history.

Amongst the beautiful jewels that Princess Margaret wore in her lifetime, the Poltimore tiara was unquestionably the most striking. She wore it many times throughout her life, but it was most famously worn for her wedding in 1960. The Princess made a stunning bride in her silk organza dress. Unlike other royal wedding dresses it was simple in its design and this simplicity was underlined by the Poltimore tiara.

It is interesting to note that this particular tiara did not come from the royal vaults; but it was acquired specifically for Princess Margaret in 1959. Sold at Sotheby's by the fourth Baron Poltimore's daughter, the Hon. Lady Stucley, it is rumoured to have cost ₤5000.

This neo-classical tiara, was made by Garrard in the 1870's for Florence, the wife of the Second Baron Poltimore, treasurer to Queen Victoria's household. The Diadem features scrolls, leaves and flower clusters and is set on a row of small diamond collets.

The versatile Poltimore can also be worn as a small circlet, necklace and it can be taken apart to form two large corsage brooches. Perfect for those of us who don't have many opportunities to wear tiaras.

© Marilyn Braun 2006

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Royal Review: Philip and Elizabeth - Portrait of a Royal Marriage by Gyles Brandreth

I don't normally buy biographies of royal subjects and I rarely read them. Mainly because they tend to have too many sensationalized details already written about in dozens of other books. For the most part it's the same story, different dustjacket. If it does deviate from chronological biography, the books tend to be a forum for the onesided and venemous viewpoints of the author (example: Charles - Victim or Villain by Penny Junor).

Claiming to know his subjects personally and with the promise of no unnamed sources, I decided to read Philip and Elizabeth: Portrait of a Marriage. Ultimately the title 'Portrait of a Marriage' is a bit deceptive, as the book becomes more about Prince Philip than it does on his relationship with the Queen (see list of Prince Philip's Achievements at the end of the book). In this case, it's not much different from Basil Boothroyd's Philip: An Informal Biography. Of course that was 35 years ago, so 'Philip and Elizabeth' continues where Boothroyd left off.

The book begins with the life stories of Prince Philip and the Queen, but none of the information is unique; it can be found in any biography. The story of their romance and courtship comes across as seemingly one-sided. As the Queen does not give interviews, we are left with Philip's unsentimental and pragmatic view of the relationship . Prince Philip is quoted in the book as saying "I suppose one thing led to another, it was sort of fixed up. That's what really happened." Considering that this book is supposed to be a 'Portrait of a Marriage' we are left with little to go on regarding its genesis. We are reminded several times throughout the book that Philip is not inclinded to introspection, nor recollection, which becomes tiresome after a while and makes it frustrating to get an accurate picture.

Any juicy information is prefaced by the author ("Although it's really none of your business..." or "Of course we don't need to know. It's none of our business..."). True but then why write a book in the first place? With only one half co-operating with the author, we are left with friends and relatives of the couple to fill in the blanks. To understand his subject better, the author resorts to some misguided psychoanalysis of Prince Philip, but with no clear insight.

Their relationship with their children has its own chapter, and other than Prince Charles' side of the story in his own book by Johnathan Dimbleby, we are left with the impression that, given the circumstances of their lives, the children had a fairly normal and pleasant upbringing. "We did the best we could" is Prince Philip's reply. Although the media would have us believe that the Queen and Prince Philip are distant and cold parents, they come across as anything but. Understanding and sympathetic, these qualities are particularly evident in their relationship with Diana.

Rumours about their married lives and Philip's affairs are addressed. The author makes a valiant attempt to dispel notions by interviewing friends, relatives, some of the women in question and the Prince himself, with rather unsatisfying results. It's hard to take the conclusions at face value when these women are referred to as Prince Philip's "play-mates".

Despite this, I believe the author has maintained an objective viewpoint of his subject. He does not sensationalize any aspect of their lives. But it is only towards the end of the book that the portrait comes into its own. After almost 60 years of marriage, the Queen and Prince Philip are revealed to be a couple who are different, yet friends. Happy, they respect, understand, and complement each other.

And with their share of ups and downs, following the path towards this conclusion makes this book enjoyable to read.

© Marilyn Braun 2006

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Royal Profile: Marion Crawford

Marion Crawford was the governess of the Queen and Princess Margaret when they were children. But she is more famous for being one of the first insiders to write an intimate account of royal life by publishing The Little Princesses.

She was born on June 5, 1909 in Woodside Cottage near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. The daughter of a mechanical engineer's clerk, her father died when she was a year old. Her mother remarried when she was six and the family then moved to Dundermline in Scotland.

She trained as a teacher at Moray House Training College in Edinburgh, (now part of Edinburgh University) and she had originally intended to become a child psychologist. While on leave from her studies, she worked as a temporary governess to the children of Lord Elgin and tutored the daughter of Lady Rose Leveson Gower; the sister of Elizabeth, Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother). Two weeks after meeting the Duke and Duchess, she was asked to take on the education of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, who were five and two at the time. She joined the royal household in 1933 and stayed for sixteen years. Affectionately named 'Crawfie' by her royal charges, she taught Bible, History Grammar, Arithmetic, Geography, Literature, Poetry, Music, Drawing, Writing and Composition.

She became engaged to George Buthlay, a divorced Major from Aberdeen. Fifteen years her senior, he had served in the Middle East during the war. They were married on September 16, 1947 in Dunfermline Abbey. She retired in 1949 to a grace and favour residence, Nottingham Cottage, at Kensington Palace and was made a Commander of the Victorian Order in January 1949 by King George VI.

At the time royal servants were paid very little and it was thought that serving royalty was its own reward. Convinced by her husband that she was being taken advantage of, she went against Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother's) wishes by writing The Little Princesses. As a result, she was shunned by the royal family and their circle. She went on to publish a life of Queen Mary (The Queen Mother) in 1951. In 1952 and 1953, she sold her name to a series of articles: Queen Elizabeth II, Happy and Glorious and Princess Margaret. She also had her own weekly column 'Crawfie's Column' but her career as a royal columnist ended when, on June 16, 1955, Woman's Own published her personal accounts of the Trooping the Colour and Royal Ascot; events which had been cancelled due to the National Rail Strike.

Her husband died in 1977 and she spent her remaining years in seclusion in Aberdeen, making one suicide attempt in old age. She died at Hawkhill House, an Aberdeen nursing home on February 11, 1988. No member of the royal family attended or sent condolences.

© Marilyn Braun 2006