During a recent engagement at the Royal Orthopedic Hospital in London, Princess Eugenie made a revelation to patients. She had suffered from scoliosis as a child, undergoing a major operation to correct her curved spine. In doing so she offered patients someone that they could relate to; a success story. Eugenie also did one other thing. She revealed that royalty, be it a prince, princess, king or queen, is human. Unfortunately this wasn't always readily obvious to people. For several royal generations, anything deviating from the perfect royal image was hidden from view.
Prince John, the youngest son of King George V and Queen Mary was someone who was kept in seclusion and isolated from his family. He suffered from epilepsy and his attacks became more frequent as he grew older. He lived in Wood Farm on the Sandringham Estate with his own household. He would die at Wood Farm at the age of 13 in January 1919.
His older brother, Prince Albert, Duke of York, often suffered from ill health, chronic stomach problems and knock-knees. He was naturally left handed but made to use his right. He also suffered from a stammer, something well documented in the movie The King's Speech. The new King dreaded public speaking and the problem was hidden, as much as possible, from the public. Being such a high profile individual, it might have made a difference to those who stammer - seeing that people from all levels can experience a speech impediment.
Princess Anne obviously isn't the first royal woman to be pregnant, but she was one of the early ones to not let it hamper her lifestyle. Prior to this, royal pregnancies tended to be hidden from view, let alone announced. Usually Buckingham Palace would release a statement that the royal woman would not be undertaking any further engagements after a certain point and people were left to draw their own conclusions. Less than nine-months later a royal baby would be born and then the connection would be obvious. For all of her pregnancies the Queen stayed out of public view. Even missing the State Opening of Parliament in 1959 and 1963 because she was expecting Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. In 1977 Princess Anne changed all of that. Pregnant with her first child, Peter, she appeared in public not trying to hide her stomach from view, nor enveloping it in a large fur coat as her mother had done before her. Other royal ladies would follow suit by not going into hiding when pregnant. Diana in particular being lauded for being so open about her pregnancy, despite Princess Anne having started the trend first.
In 1993, Diana, Princess of Wales revealed that she suffered from the eating disorder bulimia. While not the first woman to be open up about the issue, her high profile example only served to make her more human. In 2005, in an effort to help others, Princess Beatrice of York admitted that she struggled with the learning disorder dyslexia.
Revelations that would be unheard of a generation ago are now making a difference in the lives of other men, women and children. It is only today that there is more openness with these topics because it is no longer held against them. Today it would be unheard of to hide a pregnancy, but with these revelations, Diana, Beatrice and Eugenie have shown courage in revealing the challenges they have faced. Not all princesses lead charmed lives. They're human too.
© Marilyn Braun 2011
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