Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Great Royal Reveal

I'll be the first to admit that I don't really like surprises. I have an unerring ability, through no real effort of my own, to find out what my birthday and Christmas gifts will be. I also, quite by accident, found out the sex of my first born. My seeming desire to spoil surprises for myself includes wanting, deliberately this time, to find out the sex of my second child. Yes, I only have to wait a few more weeks, but in the interim I could have been deciding on names, color schemes and buying the right clothes. Unfortunately, I was foiled as the ultrasound technician, who for whatever reason, did not write down the sex.

Anyways, I was very happy when I read that the Crown Prince of Spain would reveal the sex of his second child prior to its birth. Today we've learned that the couple's second child is a girl, thus continuing the possibility that their first daughter, the adorable Infanta Leonor, could become the next Queen of Spain. No longer do we have to wait on tender hooks until May 2007, when this second child is due to arrive, to find out whether the laws might be changed to allow for female succession. Who would want to deny Leonor the right to the throne based on her sex? Many people, as we've seen in Japan with the recent birth of a male heir to the throne to displace the daughter and only child of the Crown Prince and Princess.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to know, in advance, what the sex of each expected royal child? Especially when so much is riding on it? We could have been knitting blue booties and baby blankets to send to Japan months ago. The traditionalists could have kicked back and relaxed. Princess Masako could have prepared herself for the onslaught of unfair comparisons to her sister-in-law for producing a male heir instead of her own. No such surprise awaited the arrival of the first born heirs to the Norwegian, Dutch and Belgian thrones. As they've already changed their laws, we could concentrate on the new arrivals (all girls), being healthy instead of on their sex.

Ultrasound technology for gynecological use has been around since the late 1950's, early 1960's. In 1971 we could have known the sex of Princess Märtha Louise, eldest child of the then, Crown Prince and Princess of Norway, who was displaced in the line of succession by the birth of her younger brother, the present Crown Prince Haakon of Norway. Or in 1977 when the now Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, the first born child of the King and Queen of Sweden was born. Could the laws have been changed way back then? We'll never know. But today we could be looking at Crown Princess Märtha Louise and Victoria could have had her right to the throne acknowledged early on instead of having to displace her younger brother when the law was eventually changed in 1980. Diana, Princess of Wales knew the sex of Prince William, probably one of the most anticipated royal arrivals until the births of Prince Christian of Denmark and the new Prince Hisahito of Japan. Had Diana announced she was expecting a boy in advance, we could have all breathed a sigh of relief at maintaining the status quo or made plans for change.

Regardless of the sex of her siblings, my personal preference would be for Leonor to maintain her right to the throne and to not be displaced because she's a girl. Women have shown they are just as capable of being great leaders as men and no law can change that fact.

© Marilyn Braun 2006

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Royal Profile: Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll

Princess Louise was born on March 18, 1848 at Buckingham Palace, the sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She was named Louise Caroline Alberta by her father. Louise after her father's mother. Caroline, after Prince Albert's step-grandmother, the dowager duchess of Gotha. And Alberta after himself. During her early childhood she was called "Loo-Loo".

Of Queen Victoria's five daughters she was considered the prettiest, the wittiest, and the best-dressed. She was also the most independent-minded and tempermental.

She was educated by governess at Windsor Castle in arithmetic, history, geography, grammar, as well as the art of court etiquette. She did well in French but not in German. She was considered to be the most artistic of the Queen's daughters and her mother, recognizing her undeniable talent, reluctantly allowed her to attend the Kensington National Art Training School in 1868, becoming the first monarch's daughter to be publicly educated. She eventually became an accomplished sculptor, writer and artist, designing a marble sculpture of her mother which stands at Kensington Palace overlooking the Round Pond and a monument in St. Paul's Cathedral to the fallen of the Boer War of 1899-1902.

Despite her talent, in her mother's eyes, her first duty was to marry. Instead of a foreign princeling, Queen Victoria looked to aristocratic circles. A non-royal match was considered rather novel at the time and had not occurred in the royal family in over 350 years. She married John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, Marquess of Lorne and heir to the Dukedom of Argyll on March 21, 1871 in St. George's Chapel, Windsor. He was known as Ian when he was younger but was called Lorne, after the courtesy title be bore, and he belonged to one of the oldest and most prominent families in the kingdom. The public looked forward to the wedding, Louise being called "The Maiden All for Lorne," and a London perfumer created a scent for the occasion called "Love-Lorne." The couple spent part of their honeymoon at Claremont House near Windsor and then took a tour of the Continent. She became Duchess of Argyll when her husband succeeded to the dukedom in 1900. The couple would have no children.

In 1878 Lorne was offered the governor-generalship of Canada. In addition to their official duties, the couple hosted sledding, sleighing, skating parties at Rideau Hall, and went canoeing and salmon-fishing expeditions. Princess Louise set up her own art studio at Rideau Hall, and encouraged the foundation of the Canadian Academy of Arts in 1880. During her husband's tenure as Governor General of Canada, regiments such as Princess Louise's Dragoon Guards, Quebec's Louise Embankment, Lake Louise in Banff National Park, and the province of Alberta were named after her.

Always interested in women's rights she founded the Ladies' Work Society, where women learned crafts of needlework, embroidery, thus enabling them to earn wages. She also sponsored an "Education Parliament" which became the Girls' Public School Day Company, where middle-class parents were given financial assistance to educate their daughters.

Her husband died in 1914 and she lived at Kensington Palace until her death on December 3, 1939 at the age of ninety-one. She was cremated and her ashes are buried in the Frogmore burial grounds.

© Marilyn Braun 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More interesting royal trivia

Did you know...

  • Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is worshipped as a divine figure by the Iounhanan tribe on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, in the South Pacific. He has never visited the island but upon hearing of his status, he sent a signed picture which is minded by an official guardian. As well, the Duke of Edinburgh Stone is an integral part of the tribe's daily life.

  • The first member of the Royal Family to ride in a motor car was Queen Victoria's son, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII)

  • The longest serving royal consort is Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III, from their marriage on 9 September 1761 until her death at the age of 74 on 17 November 1818, almost 57 years in total. The longest serving husband of a reigning queen is the Duke of Edinburgh.

  • The only monarch to be born and die at Buckingham Palace was King Edward VII. He was born at the palace in 1841 and died there in 1910.

  • The Queen does not own the Royal Palaces, works of art from the Royal Collection or the Crown Jewels. These are held by Her Majesty as Sovereign and must be passed to her successor in due course.

© Marilyn Braun 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

Royal Profile: Cecil Beaton

When Cecil Beaton visited a clairvoyant in 1926, she told him that he would have a lot to do with royalty. At the time he could not have realized just how prophetic that statement would be.

Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton was born in London on January 14, 1904, the grandson of a blacksmith, and the eldest son of a prosperous timber merchant. He had three siblings: Reginald (Reggie) born 1905, Nancy (born 1909) and Barbara (Baba) born 1912. When he was 11, his grandmother bought him his first camera, which he taught himself the basics of photography, using his mother and sisters as his first models. When he became more proficient he sent his photographs off to London society magazines, writing under a pen name but recommending the work of 'Beaton'.

Raised in Hampstead, he attended Heath Mount School, London where he felt like an outsider much of the time. It wasn't until he attended Harrow School that he hit his stride and involved himself in the theatre, designing sets, sewing costumes and performing. Although not academically inclined, to please his parents he attended St. Thomas' College, Cambridge, studying history, art and architecture. He continued to work on his photography in his homemade studio, sending photographs to the major fashion magazines. Through his university contacts he was commissioned to photograph the Duchess of Amalfi. The photograph, bought and printed by Vogue, gave him his first ever published work.

In 1925 he left Cambridge without a degree and his father gave him a job in his office as a clerk. He lasted eight days. Bringing along his camera, he spent his time attending society parties, taking photographs of the elite and London glitterati. These photographs formed his first exhibition in 1927. Shortly afterwards he set up his own studio, establishing himself as London's definative society photographer. As his success grew he set his sights on the glamour of Hollywood, eventually photographing Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Greta Garbo, amongst others.

During the Second World War he worked for the British government and military as official photographer and his images of the devastation were later published in the book Winged Squadrons (1942). In addition to his flourishing photographic career, he wrote several books, worked as an illustrator and set designer for various theatrical productions; winning four Tony awards. For his work in film, he won two Academy Awards for costume design for Gigi in 1958 and My Fair Lady in 1964. His black and white costumes for My Fair Lady were inspired by the 1910 Black Ascot following the death of King Edward VII.

He would photograph the royal family for fifty years, starting in 1930 with Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. In his royal photographs he was greatly inspired by painters Franz Xaver Winterhalter and Thomas Gainsborough and used blow-ups of their paintings as backdrops for some of his most successful and romantic portraits of Queen Elizabeth and the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. These portraits did much to restore the image of the monarchy after the Abdication in 1936, particularly transforming the image of Elizabeth, Duchess of York from minor royal into regal personage when she became Queen. Some of his most notable photographs included the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1937, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, as well as the first official photos of the infants Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Beaton was also influenced by photographers Marcus Adams and Bertram Park and in the 1950's and 1960's his photographs took on a more informal style, inspired by Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.

In 1957 he was became a Commander, Order of the British Empire, in 1960 he was made a Chevalier, Legion of Honor, and he was knighted in 1972. He suffered a stroke in 1974, and although one side of his body would be permanently paralyzed, he taught himself to write and draw with his left hand and had his cameras adapted. However his health would remain damaged and he died in Broadchalke, Wiltshire, 18 January 1980.

© Marilyn Braun 2006

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Diana the hero?

Diana, Princess of Wales has recently been named on Time Europe magazine's issue 60 Years of Heroes. Personally I was quite surprised at her inclusion as I don't think she belongs anywhere on a list like this.

Don't get me wrong, I liked Diana. I collected all of the books and magazines and I grieved in my own way when she died. But to add her (along with Sophia Loren and The Beatles) to a list of heroes which include Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, Margaret Thatcher, Bob Geldof, and Mother Teresa, is obviously going for the popular vote from people who would otherwise not read this list. Ah, names I recognize and can (somewhat) relate to! In Diana's case, if only for the fact that she was female, a mother, unhappily married who found her voice, coming out sadder and wiser in the end by bucking a system that holds the future for her children. But the comparisons to reality end there with a supposed reluctant celebrity who knew how to use her beauty to her advantage when it suited her. But honestly, in her position, would she have really been kept down for very long? What did she really and truly have to lose?

During her marriage she walked a line between fashion plate and trying to find a purpose. She took on the issue of AIDS, shaking the hand of a patient while gloveless. She went public with her eating disorder. Toured slums, touched lepers, took children into her arms and knelt by the wheelchairs of the elderly. All while dressed in designer clothes. Once freed from the binds of her royal marriage, Diana found a new sense of purpose when she took on the anti-landmines campaign, becoming almost a global, humanitarian ambassador; a role no one had conferred upon her. She did not invent anything in her lifetime, did not earn the Nobel Peace Prize, did not climb over any fences, and was not imprisoned. Had she not been beautiful, or died tragically, it's questionable how much we would really remember or revere her today.

For royalty to make a difference, boost morale and bring attention to important issues is not a new concept. Early in her reign, the Queen toured leper colonies too and just look at Princess Anne with her work with Save the Children. Unlike Diana, neither of them are young and beautiful, so we don't look.

Are we just under the spell of hero worship? No more so than when we elevate a celebrity for doing nothing more than donating to charity, giving face time on a telethon or adopting a child?

Maybe my definition of what makes a hero is different, because in this case I tend to think we are.

© Marilyn Braun 2006