Monday, April 30, 2012

Consort Profile: Queen Margherita of Savoy

Margherita of Savoy, the future Queen consort of Italy, was born on November 20, 1851 in Turin to Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Genoa, and Princess Elisabeth of Saxony. She was a granddaughter of the famous King Carlo Alberto of Piedmont-Sardinia who introduced constitutional monarchy to the Italian peninsula and, in many ways, started the effort to ensure that the unification of Italy would have a monarchist (rather than a republican) outcome. She grew to be a refined, well mannered but lively girl, well educated and, like all members of the House of Savoy, very much impressed, from her earliest days, with the history of her dynasty and of her duty toward it. It was thus with no love or eagerness but rather that sense of devotion to duty that prevailed in her marriage to her first cousin Crown Prince Umberto on April 21, 1868. The Prince of Piedmont was no more anxious to marry her. The first bride chosen for him, a Hapsburg in keeping with tradition, had died in a tragic accident, though he had not been enthusiastic about that arrangement either. However, with Umberto and Margherita their devotion to duty came first and though there was never really any great love between them, Margherita determined to be the best royal consort she could be and compensate for those areas in which her husband was at a disadvantage.

One year later, on November 11, 1869 the new Princess of Piedmont did her duty and gave birth to an heir to the throne, the future King Vittorio Emanuele III. It was a case of “mission accomplished” and the two never had anymore children. Still, they complemented each other well. Umberto was the quiet, solid soldier while Margherita was the charming, talkative one who memorized Dante and adored music and entertaining. When Rome became the capital of Italy the aristocracy divided into two mutually hostile camps; the “White Nobility” who embraced the Italian monarchy and the “Black Nobility” which remained loyal to the Pope in refusing to recognize the new state of affairs. For those occasions when there was a reconciliation of one family or another it was largely thanks to the efforts of Princess Margherita. In 1878 her husband succeeded his father as King Umberto II and Margherita officially became Queen of Italy, a position she took extremely seriously, even if it did not always seem so. The Queen, however, understood that appearances matter and she knew how to use the social sphere to its best advantage, winning over the elites and the common people alike through her mastery of good entertaining and the appropriate behavior for any occasion.

No one would deny that Queen Margherita had a winning personality and was almost instantly extremely popular with the Italian people. When she and King Umberto first arrived in Rome to take up residence in the Quirinale Palace, huge crowds stood in the pouring rain to greet them. They roared with delight as Margherita had the canopy removed from the carriage, drenching herself and her husband, but allowing her to stand up and greet the crowds. They had all stood in the rain to see her and she would not see them disappointed because of little dampness. Her soft beauty no doubt added to her popularity but she was the not the sort to abide sycophants. The Queen, unlike most Italians, was fair-haired and blue eyed but she reacted quite angrily to any who tried to flatter her by extolling the racial superiority of north Europeans over the Latins of the south. The Queen was Italian to the core and would display nor tolerate the slightest talk that might divide the newly united country. Even though Italian had not been her first language as a child, she was as ardent a patriot as could be imagined.

When in public the Queen was always a uniting figure, saying all the right things and never saying anything that might be divisive. Yet, privately, all who knew her knew that she had very strong social and political opinions. Compared to her conservative husband she was positively reactionary (which is a good thing of course) but she also knew how to get along with everyone and would even dance with politicians of the far left at court functions. The Queen despised parliament as a troublesome talking shop but was intelligent enough to know that the monarchy would have to get along with it. She was among those who reacted with great anger when Italy allowed France to beat them to the annexation of Tunisia and she generally favored a strong and aggressive foreign policy, being one of many who held that Italy would not be taken seriously by the other more well-established powers of Europe until they won a significant war. She had such a reputation for patriotism that a special pizza was named after her which featured green, white and red toppings.

Queen Margherita was much more well rounded than most would assume of someone who held such strident views. She was intelligent, spoke Latin fluently, well-read and played the piano. She enjoyed the arts, intelligent conservation and the company of well educated people. During her time, she made her salon a center of artistic and intellectual lights and so won many people from diverse walks of life to supporting the monarchy, even some who had previously been adamantly opposed to it. Her grace and charm were legendary, impressing even Queen Victoria whose impeccably high standards made her a woman rather hard to impress. She founded several societies dedicated to the study of Italian literature, was patron of numerous charities and was most highly involved in the Italian Red Cross. The Queen was also brave enough to do a little mountain climbing, there being few experiences she was not open to. She was a very religious woman, zealously devoted to her royal house and, though she never had nor sought much political influence, advocated the pursuit of Italian greatness and the glory of the Savoy monarchy. It was, for this reason, that she was an ally of Prime Minister Francesco Crispi who pursued a policy of development and expansion.

When King Umberto I was assassinated Queen Margherita was extremely distraught but quickly took charge of things. She composed a special liturgical prayer for her husband in the form of a rosary extolling the sufferings and goodness of her late husband. She requested that it be recited in all the churches of Italy but, though the Bishop of Cremona endorsed it, the Pope overruled him as the Holy See was still officially ignoring the Kingdom of Italy. Nonetheless, it became popular and spread amongst the people, touched by the words of a devoted wife and thus Queen Margherita cemented in the public mind the image of her husband as “King Umberto the Good”. The dazzling, cultured Queen consort from then on became the mournful, but still strong, widowed Queen Mother. Her ardent patriotism was still very much on display during the First World War and she deplored the chaos that followed. Her sympathy for Mussolini and the Fascist Party has been greatly overstated in more recent years. The Queen mother knew little about him but appreciated a strong, dynamic force in politics that would bring stability and strength to Italy. For someone so committed to the House of Savoy, if she had known more about the republican past of Mussolini she would certainly have been horrified. Still, the Fascists had made an effort to ingratiate themselves to the nationalists and monarchists and the “quadrumvirs” made a show of coming to call on the admired Queen mother before setting out for their March on Rome in 1922.

Queen Margherita did not live long enough to see much of fascist governing first-hand. She would not see the Kingdom of Italy reach its apex of expansion but she was also spared the downward spiral and eventual fall of the monarchy she so dearly loved. Queen Margherita of Savoy died in Bordighera on January 4, 1926 at the age of 74.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Remembering a Departed Friend

If I may be allowed a personal moment today, yesterday I learned of the loss of a very dear and great man, Reverend Father John Van Lare CM who died on Tuesday April 17, 2012 at a nursing home in Panningen, The Netherlands. He was a man of God, a servant to the least of these his brethren all around the world and a loyal subject to three Queens during his lifetime. I came to know him as he served the parish in a dusty little nearby town in south Texas and surrounding areas from 1952 to 1964 and from 1979 until his recent retirement on August 26, 2004, a total of 37 years of faithful service at almost 85 years old and with failing eyesight. He was on good terms with all the local religious leaders, though he was not comfortable meeting alone with the Methodist pastors once the first woman pastor came to town. He had quite an impact on the community and was quite a unique individual. He is the only Catholic priest I have ever met who objected to the use of the term “Roman Catholic”. He felt it ignored the non-Roman rites as well as the fact that the Orthodox were “Roman” as well. He also thought the phrase “Merry Christmas” implied something sinful and insisted on saying “Happy Christmas” instead. He would often say a mass in English, give the homily in Spanish and always said blessings in Latin. He was, as I say, a unique individual.

He was born Johan Van Lare in 1919 in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, during the reign of Queen Wilhelmina, whom he always spoke of with the utmost respect. After enough years in south Texas he did though begin to refer to Queen Juliana using the Spanish rather than Dutch pronunciation of her name. He told me once that he never felt he had any control over what he would become, God had chosen him to be a priest and that was that. During World War II, when the Germans attacked Holland he was wounded by a German bomb, causing him to lose a kidney. He was in the hospital when the Nazi planes attacked again. Most patients were moved to the basement, but Father John's case was too critical, so he was left above ground with debris flying and glass raining down around him. Miraculously, he survived. He was studying for the priesthood during the war. Jews were hidden in his seminary, disguised as priests, his brother vanished while serving in the Dutch under-ground and during time in Nazi captivity he met the future saints Fr. Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein. Later in life he would meet Mother Theresa as well, sitting on the floor at an airport. He was ordained in 1947 as a priest of the Congregation of the Mission, founded by St Vincent de Paul during the Counter-Reformation.

Although his friendly and joking manner was most obvious, Father Van Lare was foremost a Biblical scholar. He wrote over 30 books and pamphlets on the Church, the Bible and religious subjects and he could speak Dutch, English, French, German, Spanish, Latin, ancient Greek, Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese. He spent many years in China as a missionary during the Civil War and Communist takeover. After only five years in the country he was kept under armed guard constantly and was repeatedly being hauled into jail for interrogation. Unlike many, Father Van Lare survived, but he had to learn to be more clever than the police and always made it a point to act as if he was the sole ambassador of Christianity. One Communist official who had been harassing him was left speechless when Father Van said he would pray for her after learning that her family had been killed by troops of the Kuomintang. He ministered to the Chinese for many years and even baptized two Communist army captains in secret. After years of treatment as an enemy prisoner, Father Van was finally moved to the safety of Hong Kong.

It was here that the Apostolic Delegate decided that the United States would be Father John's next destination and sent him to south Texas for the first time in 1953. He did tremendous work, building a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe and the first (Catholic) stone church in the area dedicated to the Sacred Heart. In those early days every house was encouraged to have a Sacred Heart “enthronement” ceremony and most did. He left south Texas in 1964 to go to Taiwan where he worked for the next fifteen years. But the man from the damp, cold Low Country had grown attached to hot and dry south Texas and was able to return in 1979 where he would continue to serve for 25 more years. He was always very friendly and ready to tell or hear a joke. He was one of the most animated and interesting preachers I have ever heard, having a wealth of personal experience to draw from, he had a keen sense of what was really important and what was not. He could see to the heart of a matter.

I can say from my many long talks with the man, his focus was always on Jesus Christ and the apostles. He knew the Good Book from cover to cover (but never stopped studying) and although recognizing the full range of the Christian religion, he always emphasized Christ above all and how salvation was a lifelong struggle with no shortcuts, but that simply required tireless effort to do the will of God. He was also a very humble man who appreciated humility in others, and recognized many saints in the poor faithful of his own community. He was always quick to point out that saints can be anywhere, and that people can be turned toward God by someone else, without them ever being aware of it. He had plenty of health problems (none of which were related to the fact that he smoked like a chimney almost his entire life, oddly enough) but was always on call, 24/7, never locked his doors and, for such a small, frail, little old man was absolutely fearless. Probably a result of being thrown in prison by all the worst regimes of his time. He finally had to retire when he found himself growing blind and returned to The Netherlands to be near his family.

Monarchists here may be glad to know that, no matter where he went in the world, in civil terms he always considered himself first and foremost a subject of the Queen of The Netherlands (whichever one happened to be reigning at that point in his life). He was of the mind that they work for God, politicians work for themselves. I know some here will not be so glad to know that he considered the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy and the loss of the Papal States as one of the greatest blessings in disguise the Catholic Church ever received. However, he was not the sort to ever pay much attention to politics. Administering the sacraments was his job and he did it all over the world and never cared much what sort of government existed so long as it did not prevent him from fulfilling his calling. Still, he was his Queen’s loyal subject, but God’s first of course. The world will be the worse off for his absence but though I was sad the night he left to go back home, I am keeping it together tonight. I have no doubt that I know where he is now and that, for the first time in nearly ten years, he can see again. If God sees fit to bend the rules enough for me to get into Heaven one of these days, I will head for the celestial smoking section where I will be sure to find Father Van and we can continue our talks on Christian history, Europe and the Far East, and then without interruption.

Heaven has gained a good one. I will miss him, as I have, though I must say, he doesn’t seem as far away to me now as he did when he was in Holland. Rest In Peace Father John. You’ve earned it.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Royal News Roundup

The big news came from a little country this week. TRH Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa went on a 3-day state visit to the Federal Republic of Germany, but, of course, the big news was the announced engagement of HRH Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume to Belgian Countess Stephanie de Lannoy. The Luxembourg royals never make a fuss and compared to other houses they usually receive less media attention so, it should not be such a surprise that no one knew this was coming. The Hereditary Grand Duke only let it be known last November that he was keeping steady company and then, when the engagement was announced, we find that he and the countess had been an item for about the last two years. So, there is another royal wedding to look forward to, sometime next year we expect and the heir-to-the-throne and his beautiful bride-to-be have been busy making the rounds as the young lady meets those destined to play a large role in her future such as the president of the Chamber of Deputies, the State Council, the Archbishop of Luxembourg, the Papal Nuncio, the Mayor of Luxembourg and the ambassadors of neighboring countries.

Moving down to Spain, there is, perhaps, some sign that the people may be recovering their senses somewhat. The newspapers were awash in polls about the King, the monarchy, their popularity and their future (and I cannot tell you how I despise monarchy being subject to popularity polls but, such is the world we live in). The good news is that just over 70% of respondents said they forgive the King for his little attempt at a vacation with nearly 23% saying they do not (republicans no doubt). In a case of how fickle and inconsistent “the people” usually are, 52% said they believed it was good that the King apologized but almost 53% also said it did him no good. 62% now say the King should never accept gifts of any kind from anyone -period. If the King issued a royal decree that none of his people could accept gifts from others, I wonder what the response would be? Why does everyone still say that someone acting autocratic is behaving “like a King” when kings and queens today have less power and less personal freedom than anyone? Anyway, back to the subject at hand, 73% said that the reign of HM King Juan Carlos I has been good or very good. That’s positive news. Another paper found that only 50% believe the monarchy is fundamental to Spain. That’s not good. And, of course, I saw nowhere in which they asked about or even mentioned that the poor old fellow broke his hip.

But, beleaguered monarchs can at least sympathize with each other. At the 63rd World Scout Foundation meeting in Madrid, attended by TM King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, the visiting King was asked what he thought about his suffering Spanish counterpart. The King of Sweden is also a hunter and has also been in a good deal of trouble recently over his associations and extracurricular activities so it is perhaps not surprising that he took a more moderate and compassionate attitude. “We all make mistakes and sometimes, the word forgiveness is very difficult to pronounce,” King Carl said, “Can you imagine if your kids, or if the Scouts have not ever made a nonsense! But when it comes to parents and family there is always the word forgiveness.” I would hope the Spanish public take the Swedish monarch’s words to heart. In other Scandinavian news, HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway (who is thankfully very popular at home) was in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan this week at a ceremony presided over by Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein which declared the country officially land-mine free. The Kingdom of Norway has provided a great deal of assistance to Jordan in this area and Crown Prince Haakon spoke about the importance of mine clean-up in all countries around the world.

Meanwhile, for the loyal Greeks, the hits just keep coming. It was recently announced that the monarchist party “National Hope” will be banned from participating in the upcoming elections next month. Parties advocating monarchy are not allowed in Greek elections. There are plenty of republicans in the monarchies of the world (unfortunately) and many even get elected to office, but in republics it seems a monarchist, unlike the devil, will not be heard. There are of course numerous Marxist revolutionary parties that are allowed to participate but anyone recommending the return of the King is beyond the pale. Once again we see how free and democratic republics are. The people are free to vote for whoever they wish, so long as the government approves of them. HM King Constantine II also received a snub from the British government as he will not be invited to attend the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for fear of offending the Greek government, which is apparently quite sensitive. Everyone is keeping pretty tight-lipped about it but it seems to confirm that the government, rather than HM the Queen, is in control of the party plans since, in the past, such as at the wedding of the Prince of Wales and the late Diana, the Queen not only invited the Greek King but treated him with the seniority of a sovereign head-of-state. The King is a relative of Prince Philip, godfather of Prince William and longtime friend of the family. I cannot believe that it is the Palace making these decisions, otherwise the King would be invited and no one would give a toss what the republican beggar government in Athens likes or dislikes.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Monarchist Profile: Sir Isaac Brock

Amongst the great names of the military history of the British Empire many will remember Montgomery, Wellington or Marlborough but few will think of the name of Brock. That is, of course unless one asks students of history in Canada. Although the name of Sir Isaac Brock may be all but forgotten in his native Britain, he is a revered historical hero in Canada. Such admiration is, in this case, entirely justified. Not only did he save Canada from republicanism, ensuring that the subsequent history of the country would be as an independent constitutional monarchy rather than the northern frontier of the United States but he was also a brilliant military commander. In the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and overwhelming odds it was Sir Isaac Brock who inflicted the first major defeats ever suffered by the United States since independence. He had almost every quality people traditionally looked for in their national heroes.

Isaac Brock was born in St Peter Port on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel on October 6, 1769 into a fairly typical middle class family. As a boy he did very well in school and was exceptionally athletic, excelling at swimming and boxing. He spent a year in Rotterdam in the Netherlands learning French and went to school in Southampton when he was 10. Perhaps because of his modest beginning, he attached great importance to education throughout his life and adhered to the principle that a person should never stop learning. He spent most of his spare time reading books on science, history, military tactics, political philosophy and, like any good Englishman, the works of Shakespeare. As he grew up he earned a reputation as a disciplined, upright and moral man. Eventually he entered the British army and earned a steady spring of promotion which was unusual in the peacetime army and particularly for a man of humble origins with no political connections.

His brother was already in the army when Brock, at the age of only 15, joined the 8th King’s Regiment of Foot on March 8, 1785 with a purchased commission as an ensign. He later purchased a lieutenant’s commission and after raising his own company was promoted to captain before being transferred 49th Regiment of Foot in 1791. He was posted to the Caribbean where he nearly died of fever but was sent home and later recovered. After a period of time devoted mostly to recruitment he was made commander of his regiment with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1798. He first saw combat under the famous General Sir Ralph Abercromby in an expedition against the Batavian Republic (the Netherlands) in 1799. His immediate commander was Major General John Moore, himself set to become one of great generals of British military history. In some particularly intense fighting he was wounded in the neck but never left the field and was back on his feet, in command, in less than 30 minutes. Everyone who knew him was impressed by his abilities and deportment. He witnessed Lord Nelson’s great victory at Copenhagen before being posted to Canada in 1802 with the 49th Foot.

Brock had to deal with desertions, mutineers and an increasingly threatening United States almost as soon as he arrived. He dealt with all of these problems and tried to keep up good relations between the French and English-speaking Canadians as well as the First Nations. In 1805 he was able to go home to visit England and was promoted to full colonel and effectively made commander of all Crown forces in Canada. As the United States began to increase the rhetoric of a possible invasion and conquest of Canada, Colonel Brock had to work quickly and with great creativity to prepare in spite of having very little to work with due to British attention being focused on Napoleon in Europe. He built up the fortifications around Quebec and on the Great Lakes but all the while would have preferred (and sought) a transfer to Europe where it seemed that the fate of the British Empire was being decided in the conflict with Napoleonic France. In 1807 he was promoted to brigadier general and in 1811 was promoted to major general because of the fantastic work he had done in Canada. However, when the transfer to Europe he had asked for over so many years was finally offered to him, he turned it down. He believed that an American invasion was imminent and after spending so much time in Canada was determined to stay and defend the country.

A year later, in 1812, his prediction came true and the United States declared war on Great Britain with the goal of what they expected to be a quick and easy conquest of Canada. To defend the vast country, General Brock had only a handful of British regulars, the untried Canadian militia and the First Nations warriors he had persuaded to ally with the Crown. The chances of success seemed hopeless, yet Brock showed nothing but determination. He also had no doubt about exactly what he was fighting for; not only to repel invaders from His Majesty’s Canadian territory but also for the cause of monarchy against republican domination. Brock told his men, “We may teach the enemy this lesson: A country defended by free men devoted to the cause of their king and constitution can never be conquered…” To accomplish this with the meager forces at hand, Brock decided to take bold action. His strategy was an aggressive one, to catch the enemy off guard by doing the unexpected, attacking at every available opportunity to keep them off-balance. This led to an early success with the capture of Ft Mackinac whose American garrison was taken completely by surprise, a victory which also helped persuade the neighboring First Nations to side with the Crown.

Throughout his service in the war, Brock was often at odds with his commander, Governor-General George Prevost, an American born loyalist from New Jersey who favored a more cautious, defensive strategy. He constantly held back valuable forces to protect Quebec in the event that the Americans were able to break through the border areas and devastate the interior. To General Brock this seemed like the wrong strategy and he argued that by staying put and adopting such a defensive posture the Americans would be sure to ultimately win due to their massive superiority in numbers and the close proximity of their base of operations. He constantly argued that all available forces (few though they were) should be used on the front lines, staying as mobile as possible, to fight the Americans at every opportunity. If they didn’t act, Brock argued, the Americans surely would and that they did with an invasion into Ontario from Detroit, Michigan. The American commander, lacking in nerve, abandoned the enterprise at the first setback but this allowed Brock to depart from the defensive and rush his available forces to Detroit. He was joined in his operations against the fort by Chief Tecumseh and despite his enemy having him outnumbered and with the advantage of prepared fortifications, Brock was able to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Americans, capturing the fort and the entire garrison through little more than sheer bluff with practically no loss of life.

The capture of Ft Detroit was an astounding victory for the Crown forces and Brock was awarded the Order of the Bath for this incredible achievement. In their first effort to invade Canada the Americans had been defeated, a general who was a Revolutionary War veteran was utterly humiliated and U.S. confidence in a swift and easy conquest was destroyed. However, Brock had no time to rest on his laurels as the second prong of the American invasion was moving north from New York. With his customary boldness and daring, Brock immediately rushed all available forces to the area and quickly decided to attack the American army as soon as it crossed into Canada before they could grow stronger. It was a brilliant move but a dangerous one. Again, Brock was at every disadvantage yet he knew that if he gave battle immediately, before the American army had moved all of their forces across the river and set up all of their artillery his forces would have their best chance of stopping the invasion before it could really begin.

The result was the dramatic battle of Queenston Heights. Brock was still rushing his forces into place when the Americans began landing on the Canadian side of the river. U.S. forces charged a battery of Royal Artillery on the heights, which had been rushed into action without support to shell the American barges ferrying troops across the river. The Americans seized the position and Brock ordered all available forces to launch a counter-attack, fearing that if the Americans held the heights the battle would be lost and all of Canada would be at the mercy of the United States. Brock had told his men he would never order them to go where he would not lead them and true to his brave and gallant nature, he drew his sword and personally led his troops in the attack. Brock was a conspicuous target in his braided, red uniform as well as the fact that, especially by the standards of that time, he was an exceptionally tall, robust man. Still, he led his men forward into a hail of American bullets. Brock was wounded in the hand but kept going. Then, he was hit by an American sharpshooter and cut down, fatally wounded, shot in the heart. Still, he was committed to his duty and to victory to the very end, encouraging his soldiers to continue the attack with his dying breath, gathering his last remaining ounce of strength to call out, “Push on, brave York volunteers!” before passing from this life to the next.

Brock was dead but his sacrifice had not been in vain. The Crown forces determined to avenge his death and ultimately won the battle at Queenston Heights, thwarting the American invasion and saving Canada from becoming a territory of the United States. Both sides admired Brock for his skill and daring and when he was buried at Ft George the American garrison across the border at Ft Niagara fired their guns in salute to the man who had vanquished them. Today Brock is buried in a monument on his last battlefield, a tribute to the man known even then as “the Hero of Upper Canada”. It is no exaggeration to say that without General Brock, Canada as we know it today might not exist at all. Had he not been killed, the War of 1812 likewise might have ended very differently. He deserves to be ranked among the great commanders of British and Canadian military history, despite serving for such a limited period of time. He was bold, took calculated risks, understood how to exploit the weaknesses of his enemies and defeated forces far superior to his own. Every loyal Canadian particularly should salute him for his role in saving their country from republican domination.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sorry Girls, He's Off the Market

It was announced officially today that HRH Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume of Luxembourg is engaged to 27-year old Countess Stephanie de Lannoy. The countess is a granddaughter of Princess Beatrice of Ligne and comes from one of the most old and esteemed noble families of Belgium. The couple have been dating for about a year or two and have known each other for about the last five years. So, now we have another royal wedding to look forward to. Our congratulations goes out to the happy couple and our condolences to all the young ladies around the world whose hearts are breaking today. The countess is fluent in French, Dutch, German and Russian, having studied Russian literature in Moscow. She is a classic movie fan and loves the violin and piano. The couple seem very happy together and, for a change, we will actually be seeing a marriage between two people that would not have been out of place in the days when noble and royal rank were considered important. Good for them!

Royal Profile: Prince Pu-Chieh of China

His Imperial Highness Prince Aisin-Gioro Pu-Chieh was born on April 16, 1907 to Prince Chun (Zaifeng) and the Lady Youlan. He is mot well known for being the younger brother of the last Emperor of China. As a child he was taken to the Forbidden City to be a playmate of his brother who had never met another child in his life before that time. Prince Pu-Chieh was taught to treat his brother with extreme deference and was quite happy and relieved to see that he was, in fact, a “normal” child. In his memoir the Emperor relates playing hide-and-seek with his brother and a sister only to become outraged when he noticed Prince Pu-Chieh was wearing a yellow gown -a color reserved for the Emperor alone. Most people know of this incident due to its inclusion in the famous film about “The Last Emperor” but too much can be made of it. The two brothers developed a very close bond and remained devoted to each other for the rest of their lives with very few problems ever arising between them.

Both boys lived very sheltered lives within the Forbidden City and were allowed to do nothing for themselves. Both dreamed of escaping and going abroad to see the world. As they grew older they began to plan for this eventuality. Since he had more freedom to come and go than his brother, Prince Pu-Chieh was tasked with smuggling valuable items out of the Forbidden City to save up for the day when they could effect their getaway. Of course, nothing came of the plan and Prince Pu-Chieh was still with his brother when a republican general evicted them from the Forbidden City, forcing them to relocate, ultimately to the Japanese concession in Tientsin. An informal alliance was already being formed between those around the Emperor and the Japanese who were the only ones willing to help and who were about the only Asian power that was an independent monarchy and still considered monarchy of paramount importance. To some extent it was only natural that the two would come together.

Anything involving the Emperor was delicate but Prince Pu-Chieh was someone who was free to move about, had yet to really establish a role for himself and so was a better candidate for solidifying ties between the Japanese and the Qing Dynasty. Prince Pu-Chieh learned Japanese from a well-connected tutor the Emperor selected for him and he began to enquire about going to Japan to study, perhaps even to attend the Imperial Japanese Army Academy. He was told this would not be possible right away but that another school could certainly be found to give Pu-Chieh the proper educational preparation. The only potential complication was that in 1924 the Prince had married the Manchu Princess Tung Shih-hsia. However, as the two had no children it was not considered a totally “solidified” marriage as most would understand it and so would not prevent him from going off on his own.

So, in 1929, Prince Pu-Chieh was, with the permission of his brother, sent to Japan to be educated. He attended Gakushuin Peers’ School, an institution for educating the sons of Japanese nobles and he was talented enough to be admitted to the Imperial Japanese Army Academy from which he graduated as an officer in July of 1935. By that time the Japanese had already helped establish the Empire of Manchukuo over which the last Qing Emperor was reigning as Emperor Kang Teh. After his graduation from the Japanese military academy, Prince Pu-Chieh joined his brother in Manchukuo and the Japanese authorities began discussing with the Emperor the marriage of his brother to a Japanese lady of appropriate rank to further strengthen the ties between them. The Emperor agreed and the Kwantung Army (the Japanese military presence in Manchuria) provided a selection of appropriate brides for Prince Pu-Chieh to choose from. Like his brother before him, he had to choose his wife simply from looking over a collection of photographs. His choice was a distant relative of the Japanese Imperial Family, Lady Hiro Saga. As it turned out, he had made a very fine choice.

Prince Pu-Chieh returned to Japan to collect his bride-to-be and on February 2, 1937 they held their formal engagement ceremony at the Manchukuo embassy in Tokyo. On April 3 the two were married at the Imperial Army Hall in Kudanzaka, Tokyo. In the fall the newlyweds moved to Hsinking (Changchun) in Manchukuo to be near the Emperor. Part of the reason for the Japanese insistence on this marriage was because the Emperor had no children and so, in Manchukuo at least, Prince Pu-Chieh was heir to the throne. They were determined that by this marriage the future Imperial Family of Manchukuo would be a mixture of Manchu and Japanese royal bloodlines. Because of all of these political considerations it would be easy to dismiss the marriage of Prince Pu-Chieh and Princess Hiro Saga as being merely for show; all form and no substance. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The two were extremely devoted to each other and their commitment remained steadfast throughout the years and all the political turmoil (including a world war) that was soon to come. Prince Pu-Chieh truly loved his wife and she him.

In Manchukuo, Prince Pu-Chieh did his best to assist his brother and promote Manchu-Japanese friendship. Because of his position and military training he was appointed to the (largely ceremonial) post of commander of the Imperial Guard. In 1939 he became a father for the first time when Princess Hiro Saga gave birth to their daughter, HIH Princess Huisheng. A son, it was hoped, would follow, but this was not to be. In 1941 another baby was born, another daughter, HIH Princess Yunsheng. Prince Pu-Chieh was proud of his family and devoted to them, however, he also continued his military training, even after the onset of World War II, returning to Japan for a short time in 1944 to attend the Army Staff College. The worsening war situation necessitated his return to Manchukuo where, in the final days of the war, after the U.S. had already dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, the Soviet Union broke their non-aggression pact and invaded in August 1945. The Imperial Family was split up with the Empress and Princess Hiro Saga and the children trying to reach Japan via Korea and the Emperor and Prince Pu-Chieh trying to reach Japan by airplane, hoping to avoid the communists at all cost and surrender themselves to the Americans who would possibly treat them with more fairness.

Unfortunately, the evacuation was not fast enough and Prince Pu-Chieh was captured along with the Emperor and his entourage before their plane could take off. They spent the next five years in prison in Siberia before, in a new show of Sino-Soviet friendship, they were handed over to the Communist Chinese government in 1950. With his brother he was held at the Fushun War Criminals Prison to undergo “reeducation through labor”. During his years of confinement he learned in a letter from his wife in Japan that his eldest daughter had been murdered. Whether the indoctrination he received worked or if the Prince was putting on an act for the authorities, we will never know, but the official story is that Prince Pu-Chieh was a model prisoner even, toward the end of his term, writing propagandistic plays extolling the “New China” and ridiculing her enemies. After he was released he was reunited with his wife, Princess Hiro Saga, in 1961 who had faithfully waited for him and left her own country to live in China with him. The two resumed their married life as if no time at all had elapsed. Like the rest, Prince Pu-Chieh joined the Chinese Communist Party and was given a number of minor government positions as a show of how the Maoist system could “reform” anyone.

Princess Hiro Saga died in 1987 and the grief of Prince Pu-Chieh was clearly evident in the media coverage of her funeral. Previously that year he had served as an advisor on the famous film “The Last Emperor”, the first time the Chinese government allowed foreign film crews inside the Forbidden City. HIH Prince Aisin-Gioro Pu-Chieh died on February 28, 1994 at the age of 86.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

War of 1812 Wednesday, Part V, 1815, The End of the War

Continued from Part IV

The final stage of the war was to be concerned with actions in two parts of the world: the American south and the city of Ghent in Belgium. It was in Belgium that representatives of the United States and the British Empire met to discuss the terms by which the war could be ended. Both sides were eager for an end, though it was certainly more critical for the Americans. Their grand ideas about conquering Canada had ended in inglorious failure and they were barely holding their own against British counterattacks. Britain, while safe from any outside threat, had just won a very long and costly war with the French Empire and the people at home were tired of death and the heavy war taxes needed to fund military operations.

The two sides began meeting in August of 1814. The terms Britain first presented called for the United States to cede border territories to Canada which the Crown forces now controlled and return the Northwest Territory to the Indians as had long been promised. The Americans balked at these terms but were saved when word of several US victories, especially the defeat of Prevost at Plattsburg, reached Belgium and the British decided to drop their demands. Instead, both nations were to return all territory taken by either side during the conflict with commissions set up to settle any disputes afterwards. Ironically, no mention at all was made about any of the issues over which the United States claimed to have gone to war in 1812 in the first place. With the defeat of Napoleon the aggressive blockade by the Royal Navy had become unnecessary quite apart from anything that happened in America. A treaty was signed on December 24, 1814 that was to go into effect when ratified by the governments involved. However, communications being what they were at the time, the war would enter one more year before hostilities ceased.

Andrew Jackson
The man who was to see the conflict to the end in the United States was Colonel Andrew Jackson, also known as "Old Hickory" who had spent most of the previous year leading his ragtag group of Cherokee Indians, US regulars and Tennessee militia in a war against the Creek Indians for control of Alabama. The conflict had very little, if anything, to do with the war against Britain; but it was a convenient excuse to grab some more territory and eliminate Indians that could prove troublesome later to American settlers. Andrew Jackson was a tough, frontier veteran whose wartime exploits would later win him the Presidency. He once said that, "the only good Indian was a dead Indian" and his opinion of the British was little better. He carried a lifelong grudge against a British officer who had humiliated him as a boy during the Revolutionary War. Having already killed a small horde of Indians, as 1815 opened he now had his change to vent his hatred against the British as well.

The British fleet which had attacked Ft McHenry had regrouped and was now moving with a veteran invasion force toward the vital Mississippi and Gulf port of New Orleans, Louisiana. Jackson set to work with the ruthless efficiency that made him an effective commander. He distrusted the population of New Orleans and put the city under martial law for fear that they would submit to the British to spare themselves. He also put his southern militia to work digging earthworks for his riflemen and artillery. The upcoming fight had every indication of being a desperate battle. There was Jackson with a small force of around 5,000 ragged but tough riflemen and coming to attack him were more than 10,000 crack British troops commanded by Major General Sir Edward Packenham, brother-in-law to the famous Duke of Wellington who had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. The British lines also included some Indian allies and Negro soldiers from the British West Indies. The Americans were also aided by the pirates of Jean Lafitte who had made a career of raiding mostly Spanish shipping while the US looked the other way.

Sir Edward Packenham
Despite the uneven odds though the battle proved to be very one-sided in the Americans favor. Packenham ordered a frontal assault against Jackson with the British troops crowded close together, advancing over open ground. Thanks to a preemptive strike which delayed the British deployment, Jackson had time to set up his artillery in a good position to cover the field. His militia were armed with extremely accurate rifles and his frontiersmen were excellent marksmen. They were also protected by breastworks, some made of tightly packed cotton bales that proved quite effective. The battle commenced on January 8, 1815 and as soon as the British began to advance American artillery and rifle fire began to decimate their ranks. Packenham was mortally wounded early on and passed command to General John Lambert, urging him to press on with the attack. However, nothing seemed to go right for the British. Some troops were confused by the pirates of Lafitte who wore red shirts and the scaling ladders to be used to storm the American earthworks were never brought forward. The British advanced bravely, but could do nothing but stand in the open while the American riflemen picked them off.

The battle of New Orleans
Finally, disregarding Packenham's last order, General Lambert called off the attack and ordered his men to fall back. The British had suffered 2,036 total casualties compared to only 71 for Jackson and his men. The victory was celebrated across the United States and Jackson instantly became a national war hero because of the battle, even though it was fought after the peace terms had already been agreed upon. It was not until the very day of the battle however that anyone in North America was aware of this, and the treaty did not go into effect until it was ratified. New Orleans, however, was not actually the last battle of the war, though Colonel Jackson would probably have liked it to be. After retreating from Louisiana, General Lambert decided to take his still respectable invasion force and attack Mobile, Alabama. It was guarded by a recently reinforced garrison at Ft Bowyer. Jackson had earlier boasted that "ten thousand men cannot take it". However, General Lambert, with only a little over 1,000 men did exactly that, capturing the fort and the entire garrison of 370 men at a cost of only 25 total casualties. On February 17, 1815 President Madison officially ratified the Treaty of Ghent, officially ending the War of 1812. General Prevost was officially notified at Quebec on March 1.

To be concluded next week with Part VI, The Results of the War

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monarch Profile: King Edward VIII of Great Britain

Of all the British monarchs of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha/Windsor none are probably so controversial, even among ardent monarchists, as King Edward VIII. Some paint him as the most terrible sort of villain possible in the Twentieth Century; a Nazi sympathizer. Others take the more realistic but still hostile view that he was a misunderstood monarch, a good man perhaps but someone not suited to royal status whose abdication was really a blessing for no matter how scandalous it was, his continued reign over the British Empire would have been far worse. Then there are still others, a minority no doubt, who view him as someone representing a great opportunity lost; a “people’s monarch” who would have been a great success if only he had been given a chance who was the victim of an unfair system and a romantic figure who gave up the throne of a King-Emperor for the sake of his true love. As is usually the case, the truth is that he was nowhere near as bad as some claim but neither was he as pure as the wind-driven snow. He was not really a bad man but was, on the whole, too self-centered for the life of duty and service expected of a monarch. Had his reign come just a bit later in history he might be viewed in an entirely different light, but that was not to be.

He was born HRH Prince Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David on June 23, 1894 at White Lodge to TRH the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary), the son and daughter-in-law of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. Throughout his life he was known by his friends and family as David. His early life was normal for someone of his time and place in the world but not without difficulties. He had an abusive nanny who wanted to appear indispensable and so would pinch the baby boy cruelly before handing him over to anyone else so he would be seen to cry and wail whenever anyone else handled him. The vicious woman was discovered though and given her walking papers. His parents were both affectionate and attentive though the future King George V insisted on trying to instill discipline in his children and supposedly once remarked that he had been afraid of his own father and that he intended his children to be afraid of him. However, King Edward VII was likewise very affectionate to his grandchildren who often stayed with him and Queen Alexandra while their parents were engaged in royal duties around the British Empire.

As a youth Prince David was noticeably headstrong and something of a day dreamer. He was intelligent but often refused to apply himself and was never a great student. In public he became known for appearing constantly sullen or annoyed with royal pageantry and the duties that went with his status. In 1911 he was formally invested as Prince of Wales in an elaborate ceremony planned out by the Welsh Prime Minister Lloyd George who made sure the Prince was able to speak a few words to the crowd in the Welsh language. Only a few years later World War I broke out and the Prince of Wales was anxious to do his part, both out of his undoubted patriotism and for a chance to get away from the palace and be just like every other young man of his generation. In June of 1914 he joined the Grenadier Guards and was anxious for frontline service with the British Expeditionary Force but this was blocked by Lord Kitchener (the Secretary of War) for fear of what disasters might occur were he killed or, worse still, captured by the Germans. Deprived of a place at the front, he nonetheless visited the trenches very frequently and no one doubted his courage. He earned the Military Cross in 1916 and qualified as a pilot in 1918. Because of his service he would remain forever popular with his fellow veterans of the Great War.

After the war he traveled frequently around the British Empire representing the King and became a huge celebrity. The handsome young (and single) prince cut a dashing figure and was reputedly the most widely photographed public figure of his day. The media attention that he inspired was not dissimilar to that which Prince William has been subjected to in recent times. However, when not undertaking royal duties, the Prince fell in with a rather bad crowd, the forerunners of the jet-set elite with more money than morals who went from one party to another, one nightclub to another, getting involved in all sorts of dalliances quite out of place with the respectable values King George V and Queen Mary tried always to embody. He became known as a womanizer and for viewing his royal status as a terrible burden rather than a sacred duty he had to make himself worthy of. His parents were often frustrated by his behavior which stood in marked contrast to that of his younger brother Albert who had settled down, married and had two daughters.

Of course, the Prince of Wales was not the first to put off marriage and lead a rather colorful lifestyle but it was the type of people he surrounded himself with and the fact that several of his affairs were with married women that was considered beyond the pale. At times, the Prince would speak of certain new ideas and new approaches he would pursue when he was king but, for the most part, he expressed dislike for having been born into royalty at all and bristled at having to sacrifice his own wants and desires for the sake of duty to the monarchy. His relationship with his family, particularly the King, deteriorated because of all of this, especially after he began a relationship with a married American woman who already had one divorce under her belt named Wallis Simpson (who, it was learned later, was also having an affair with another man at the same time). The attachment of the two only grew over time and began to worry many people in the halls of power even after Mrs. Simpson divorced her husband and began seeing the Prince of Wales exclusively. The Church of England still took a hard line on the subject of marriage and this was still during the era when royals did not marry common people, so a common-born, twice divorced American woman was a combination of everything a British monarch was NOT supposed to look for in a wife.

Yet, the Prince began to think about exactly that. Some have commented that the only way Wallis could have been a worse choice was if she had been Catholic. However, that may have actually been a good thing as it would have left no ambiguity that marriage was out of the question. As it was, the Prince of Wales began to hope that he could, perhaps, keep things as they were and when he was King would be free to marry Simpson regardless of what anyone else thought. His commitment to Wallis Simpson was the most powerful constant in his life without question. In 1936, when his father passed away, Simpson was standing alongside the former Prince of Wales as he was proclaimed King of Great Britain and Ireland, Emperor of India and so on. From the day he inherited the throne, the new King Edward VIII exhibited behavior which served to reinforce both his admirers and his critics. He took an interest in helping the working class but and expressed his desire to be an innovative and more “hands-on” monarch which earned him high praise in some sectors. However, he was also determined to marry Wallis Simpson and his holiday with the woman, widely covered in the continental press but more subdued at home, caused a scandal.

Although not often remembered, there was also a great deal of concern over the political views of King Edward VIII and fear that he may have intended to be a monarch with an opinion and his opinions were ones that many elites in British government, particularly on the left, did not like. His insistence that “something be done” for the coal miners in Wales, his opposition to the sanctions imposed on Italy after the invasion of Ethiopia and his refusal to meet with the former emperor, Haile Selassie, who had fled into exile in England, and the fact that he saw no use for the League of Nations all aroused anger against Edward VIII. At the same time, many on the traditional right were put off by his private life and determination to marry a twice-divorced commoner. About the only place where his proposed marriage was popular was in the United States where the media went wild over the possibility of the British King-Emperor marrying an American.

The political situation was discussed intensely but finally the British government as well as the representatives of the Commonwealth Realms agreed that the King would have to give up Simpson or abdicate. Edward VIII chose to abdicate and, probably feeling more relief than anything else, announced his abdication to the public by radio on December 11, 1936, passing the throne to his younger brother who became King George VI and calling on all Britons to rally to his support, ending his message with “God save the King”. The new monarch bestowed on his brother the title of HRH the Duke of Windsor and he left Britain for the continent. On June 3, 1937 he finally married Wallis Simpson who was thereafter known as the Duchess of Windsor. None of the British Royal Family attended the wedding. The Duke remained just as smitten with her for the rest of his life as he had at the very beginning. However, it was not to be the end of controversy for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, especially after making an ill-advised visit to Germany where they met with Adolf Hitler. Later on this was exaggerated in the press to spread stories that Edward VIII had actually been a Nazi sympathizer and that this had even been a consideration in forcing him to abdicate the throne.

Such stories are, of course, nonsense but do require some explanation. That the Duke met Hitler should not be of any concern. Many world leaders met with him and many people in the world, early on at least, had a high opinion of the man who later become the most reviled villain in history. Edward was, it is true, totally opposed to Britain being involved in another war on the continent of Europe. Like many, he was haunted by the horrors of the last one and saw no benefit for the British Empire in becoming involved in another. He also probably viewed Stalin and the Soviets as a greater menace than Hitler and the Nazis. In an interview long after the war he said that he had preferred that Britain hold back and let the Nazis and the Communists kill each other -which was far from an uncommon view at the time. When World War II did break out there is no doubting the patriotic loyalty of the Duke of Windsor at all. The Nazis actually tried to enlist their support and were firmly refused. Some gloomy remarks by the Duke, when things were indeed going very badly for the British, prompted the government to make him Governor of the Bahamas for the remainder of the conflict, a posting he endured rather than enjoyed but which he carried out with considerable ability.

After the war the Duke and Duchess of Windsor retired to a glamorous private life in France. They had little to do with the rest of the Royal Family who were unwilling to accept the Duchess and because of the lingering view that the Duke had shrugged off his royal duties and obligations onto his unprepared younger brother in order to have his own way. Some believed that King George VI died fairly early because of the stress the Crown and the war placed on him and, in a way, blamed Edward VIII for that. The Duke of Windsor, the former King, died in Paris on May 28, 1972, his funeral and burial being held in Britain with the Royal Family and the Duchess of Windsor who, to the surprise of some, was invited to stay at Buckingham Palace during the difficult time. Opinion about King Edward VIII remains divided even today but he was neither extremely bad or a romantic hero. He was not a villain or a Nazi or an Axis sympathizer in any way. He did not favor Britain getting involved in another world war, plain and simple and, if one looks purely at the British Empire and British interests alone, involvement in World War II was certainly not beneficial, it cost Britain her empire and left the world solely to the United States and Soviet Union. Some will always see Edward VIII as a romantic figure, the man who gave up his throne for the woman he loved (a more popular view today than it was then) but the truth is that he never had truly accepted the fact that the life of royalty is a life of duty, sacrifice and obligation and ultimately he was unwilling to put his duty to the monarchy before his own personal desires.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mad Rant: The News from Spain

In case anyone hasn’t heard, HM the King of Spain broke his hip (actually you may not have heard about that part) while on a hunting trip in Africa. I was horrified when I first heard the news. As regular readers will recall my own father broke his hip last September (due to an altercation with a bull). Especially for people of a certain age, a fractured hip is extremely serious. All too often it is the beginning of the end. However, regular readers are also well aware that, according to numerous medical professionals, I’m not entirely of sound mind. I must be nuts because, silly me, here I was thinking that the elderly monarch breaking his hip would be the focus of all the news coverage and evoke an outpouring of sympathy from his people. No, evidently I missed the real story which was that the King had an accident (gasp) WHILE HUNTING! Saints and angels in Heaven, I have never in my life been more flabbergasted at the outpouring of vitriol toward a man who could possibly have been killed -because he was hunting! Seriously, the next day I read through article after article desperately trying to find something else I had been missing that would explain this over-emotional collective hissy-fit on the part of people, not only in Spain, but including royal watchers around the world.

Aha! Some will be quick to point out that the word is that he was hunting elephants and elephants are endangered and cannot be hunted. In the first place, that has not been confirmed. So far, it is a rumor and nothing more. In the second place (and you might want to sit down for this) -I don’t give a damn if he WAS hunting elephants. The man (forget King, a living, self-aware person with a soul, a family, children and grandchildren) might have died. I’m deranged, I’m a crazy person -I consider a person more valuable than an elephant. Sorry if that offends you. No, actually I can’t say that, I really don’t care if it offends anyone or not. I just cannot believe the outpouring of hatred over something so trivial, I cannot believe that a 74-year old man breaks his hip -and everyone is upset at HIM! And I’m not exaggerating, I wish I were. For the first time ever, the King issued a public apology (you know, after he got out the hospital for emergency surgery) for taking such a vacation at a time when the country is having an economic crisis. “I’m very sorry, I made a mistake. It won’t happen again,” the King said. The leader of the socialist party has actually called for abdication and the Spanish media, traditionally respectful toward the monarchy, has been lambasting the injured King as well.

I could just scream! The socialists are calling for King Juan Carlos to abdicate over a hunting trip. Seriously. The socialists. The socialists who are only able to exist openly and be in politics at all because this same King said that the people should be able to choose any political party they wished to participate in government. The media is attacking King Juan Carlos. Seriously. The media. The same media that was firmly muzzled before this same King Juan Carlos restored freedom of the press along with everything else after the death of Generalissimo Franco. Because he might have shot an elephant. Really…I…the words just escape me. Was it the hunting? Was it that money was being spent during hard times in Spain? I DON’T GET IT! No one really knows what the King was hunting, no one even knows if he actually killed so much as a fly and we DO know that he was a guest and no Spanish public funds were spent on the trip at all. I don’t see how this could possibly make LESS sense to me! Was Spain just overdue for a hyper-emotional freak out and this just happened to be the only available excuse to let it all out?

My heart breaks over this stuff, it really does. Once again I find myself asking, “what on earth has happened to Spain?” I want to go over to Portugal, stand at the border and ask that other country, “Who are you and what have you done with the real Spain?!” Tear down the monarchy over a hunting trip? Campaigns against bullfighting? Giving in to terrorist attacks? My God in Heaven, how can this be the same country that produced the conquistadors? How did the people who forged the first empire upon which it was said, “the sun never set”, whose saints inspired people on every continent, whose tercios made countries tremble somehow produce these over-emotional, hyper-sensitive, bleeding heart crowds I see before me today? How is it that the same country that invented “macho” is freaking out so much over a hunting trip? Has all Spain gone vegetarian and I missed it? I mean, where do they think meat comes from? I can’t help but wonder after seeing so many royal watchers go into hysterics over the idea of someone killing animals. How do you think they get on your plate? Think they commit suicide or roll over and play dead?

I’m really at a loss to explain it. How almost a whole country can change so drastically in such a short period of time. And I’ll say something else. I would be willing to bet that back in the days when the Spanish Inquisition was still going strong, conquistadors roamed the frontiers of the world and there was a bullring in every Spanish town, there were probably more Spaniards doing more actual good for more needy people around the world than today. All they do today is gripe on the internet, send angry emails to TV stations and sign on-line petitions. Yeah, that’ll save all the precious animals from the horrors of humanity and the food chain. How about next you fly down to that same part of Botswana and find a poor farmer who just had his entire crop for the year trampled to nothing by elephants that you signed an on-line petition to save the precious animals that might be the cause for his children dropping dead from malnutrition. Because animals are more important than people after all. Right? Is that the normal mentality these days? I don’t know if the King learned anything from this bewildering episode (bewildering to me anyway, I can only imagine what His Majesty thinks of it all) but the only lesson I see is that no good deed goes unpunished and that some people just feel compelled to bite the hand that freed them. If the King made one mistake in his life it was when he decided that the Spanish people should make their own decisions.

This…really, I just can’t put it into words. I’d eat an elephant burger right now if I could. So there. My thoughts and prayers are with His Majesty the King and his family, I hope he recovers well and quickly. I hope he makes it through this emotional outburst by his people unscathed. Oh, and any world leaders contemplating giving their people freedom and democracy might want to consider how they might one day be rewarded for such a gift. That’s all, I am The Mad MonarchistViva el Rey!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Royal Profile: Princess Michael of Kent

HRH Princess Michael of Kent is surely one of the more controversial members of the modern British Royal Family, and one of my favorites for all of that. Whereas most of the “controversial” members of the family attain that distinction for behavior which, for lack of a better word, might be considered too “common”; the Princess of Kent won the distinction for behavior which is a bit too “royal” for these egalitarian times. She was born Baroness Marie Christine Anna Agnes Hedwig Ida von Reibnitz on January 15, 1945 in Karlsbad, Czechoslovakia (today the Czech Republic) to Baron Gunther Hubertus von Reibnitz (a German) and Countess (take a deep breath) Maria Anna Carolina Franziska Walpurga Bernadette Szapáry von Muraszombath, Szèchysziget und Szapár (a Hungarian). After World War II the couple divorced and her father moved to Portuguese East Africa while her mother took the children and moved to Australia where she opened a beauty salon. As she grew up Baroness Marie Christine was often back in Europe and very cognizant of the fact that through the long ancestries of her parents she is related to virtually every royal house in Christendom.

While in Germany, hunting wild boar, she met an English banker named Thomas Troubridge; no one too special (when your claim to ‘fame’ is that your older brother is a baronet -you’re no one too special). In 1971 the two were married in London and in 1973 they separated. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. It was not until 1977 that the two formally divorced and (for reasons not made public) the following year the Baroness was granted an annulment by the Roman Catholic Church. There was a perfectly good reason for the Baroness to finally want to get around to a formal divorce and annulment: she had met and fallen in love with her soul mate, and someone considerably more important than the kid-brother of a baronet. The lucky man in question was, of course, HRH Prince Michael of Kent, first cousin to HM Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and etc. The very tall Austro-Hungarian aristocrat and the dashing British sailor made quite a handsome couple and they were married, the first time, in a civil ceremony in Vienna, Austria on June 30, 1978. The Baroness then became known to one and all as HRH Princess Michael of Kent, being a royal princess by marriage rather than by birth. On June 29, 1983, with the special permission of the Roman Pontiff, the two had a religious wedding ceremony in London. Because of his marriage to a Roman Catholic, according to the 1701 Act of Settlement, Prince Michael of Kent lost his place in the line of succession to the British throne (not that he was very high on the list anyway).

By that time the Prince and Princess of Kent already had a family. In 1979 the Princess gave birth to their first child, Lord Frederick Windsor, and in 1981 to their daughter Lady Gabriella Windsor. Aside from the usual raised eyebrows about her religion, Princess Michael soon began attracting controversy or at least reported controversy by those in the media business who stand to gain from controversy. Some of it was over their income and their residence and the sort of stuff typical on a slow news day in the tabloids. However, more was to be made of the character and attitude of Princess Michael. It was, for instance, reported (and I stress “reported”) that HM the Queen said Princess Michael was “a bit too grand” as part of a trend the media began to follow portraying the princess as arrogant and elitist. In the first place there is no proof the Queen ever said such a thing and, in the second place, there must be more people besides myself who want royals to be a bit “grand”. I would rather that they behave “a bit too grand” than to behave common. However, this was the line of attack the media would use against Princess Michael for a long time.

It did not help that she (reportedly again) did not get along well with the much beloved Diana, Princess of Wales. One report, in an effort to make her appear arrogant again, said that Princess Michael had stated that she had “more royal blood in her veins than any person to marry into the Royal Family since Prince Philip”. Again, there’s no proof she ever said such a thing but, that aside, when you look at the spouses of the Princess Royal, the Duke of York, the Prince of Wales and so on -it seems a perfectly factual statement. However, it seems that the root of the objections so many have about Princess Michael is that she is too “royalist” a royal for the modern tastes of many. She has been unashamed in her attachment to monarchy and her Roman Catholic faith, taking part in Catholic functions and authoring a number of books about royal figures. She has made no secret about her belief in the importance of ancestry and bloodlines and that “hereditary rank” is natural and beneficial. The Princess has also never shied away from controversial subjects or speaking her mind. When a media firestorm erupted after photos of Prince Harry were passed to the tabloids at a costume party wearing a Nazi uniform Halloween costume, Princess Michael said the liberal media would not have cared in the least if he had instead worn a communist uniform with a sickle and hammer.

When increased pressure over their finances made things difficult for the Prince and Princess of Kent, the Princess returned to her previous occupation as an interior decorator to augment her work as an author, historian and lecturer. She is also President of the London gallery Partridge Fine Art and has worked as an art consultant. The Princess, along with her husband, have at times represented HM the Queen abroad at engagements she was unable to attend although they do not undertake “official” royal duties nor do they or have they ever received any money from Parliament or the Privy Purse. The Princess, like many members of the Royal Family, loves animals and is especially known for her love of horses, dogs, Siamese and Burmese cats. She is Patron of a number of charities devoted to wildlife preservation in Africa. She is also an avid gardener. Her work has earned her a good deal of recognition over the years, she was given the Order of the Starry Cross by HIH Archduchess Regina of Austria, she is a Grand Dame of the Order of Malta and in 2010 was given the Order of Mercy for her decades of unpaid charitable work.

Although she is considered a “controversial” figure, Princess Michael of Kent is one of my favorite royals in the world today. She makes no apologies for who she is, she is a royal who is staunchly royalist and interested in monarchy as well as the faith and the principles behind monarchy. I admire her for refusing to play the media game according to their own rules and for refusing to be intimidated into silence. At a time when many royals seem to want to be common or at least appear to, Princess Michael is proudly and unabashedly royal. The unfair criticism she has received at the hands of the media is something she has endured with dignity while maintaining her refreshingly honest attitude. She carries on, doing her duty when called upon and pursuing her own interests regardless of the opinion of the chattering classes. She’s one of a kind and good for her. Personally, I’d be happy with more like her.
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