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The End of the Bourbons?

When King Juan Carlos of Spain took his throne in 1975, he must have been aware of simmering tensions within the country that threatened the stability of the restored Spanish monarchy. Spain’s monarchy had been abolished in 1931 when Juan Carlos’ grandfather King Alfonso XIII was toppled by Civil War. Franco made it quite clear that he had no intention of restoring Alfonso to his throne and the exiled Spanish monarch fled to Italy where he died in 1941. The years passed and Alfonso’s son Juan, the Count of Barcelona married Princess Maria Mercedes of Bourbon Two Sicilies and had four children; Pilar, Margarita, Juan Carlos and Alfonso. Tragically, in 1956, Alfonso and Juan Carlos were cleaning a revolver when the gun misfired and killed Alfonso at the age of just 14. The family lived a comfortable but difficult exile in Italy with little hope of returning to Spain. The Count constantly badgered Franco to restore the monarchy and whilst Franco believed constitutional monarchy to be the ideal system of government, he had no time for the Count and decided that whilst he would make arrangements for the Spanish monarchy to be restored after his death, the crown would go to Juan Carlos – not to his father, the Count of Barcelona.

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King Juan Carlos takes the Spanish throne in 1975.

In 1975, Franco died and Juan Carlos was proclaimed King. In 1962, he had a found a perfect match in Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark (daughter of King Paul of Greece and Princess Frederike of Hanover). She had converted to Roman Catholicism in order to be closer to the people and had given Juan Carlos three children; Felipe, Cristina and Elena. In 1981, an attempted coup against the government offered King Juan Carlos the opportunity to remain as King if the coup was recognised. Gun shots were fired in the Cortes but the King quickly took to public television denouncing the coup – democracy had come to Spain to stay and he would protect it. It all seemed to be going so well but in recent years, the Spanish Royal Family have faced constant scandal. It began with rumours concerning the King’s fidelity to his ever popular wife Queen Sofia and there were thinly veiled allegations that he had spent the majority of the 1980s chasing Diana who reciprocated. The Queen rose above the claims but many knew that the King had long had various mistresses. Suddenly, warmth for Queen Sofia turned to pity. As their children began to form their own marriages and have families of their own, the Bourbons appeared to be a little more united but last year, all that fell apart.

It began with the explosive news that the King had been hunting elephants in Botswana despite being President of the Spanish World Wildlife Fund. Embarrassing yes but the King apologised and hoped the whole sorry business would pass – that is until we discovered that his companion had been Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein who suddenly became extremely lapse in her discretion. She told El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper that she had been “close friends” with the King for 9 years and that he had trusted her with secret missions on behalf of the Spanish government. It may have been the fantasies of a woman who has not particularly endeared herself to the people of Spain but it came at the same time as a damaging book; “The Solitude of the Queen”. In the book, written by Pilar Eyre, the author paints a sad picture of a lonely Queen abandoned by her 75 year old husband who has spent the majority of his time with Corinna who was embroiled in yet another scandal – that created by the King’s son in law, Inaki Urdangarín. The Duke of Palma de Mallorca, the husband of Infanta Cristina, was first charged with corruption and money laundering in 2011 and he faced a court trial which the King referred to in his 2011 Christmas address. “Justice is the same for everyone”, he said. The Duke and Duchess separated and it seems likely that the Duke will go to prison, however now we learn that the King’s daughter will also face trial.

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All eyes are now on the King’s son and heir Felipe.

She will appear in court on March 8th, amid growing frustrations with the Royal Family and a plunge in public support for the King. Spain also faces continued calls for a referendum on independence for Catalonia which could lead to a referendum on the monarchy as a remodeled Spain tries to find a new system of government. In a poll last week, we learned that 62% of Spaniards want King Juan Carlos to abdicate with only 41% of people feeling they could continue to support him. Less than half now support the monarchy, meaning that even if the King’s son Felipe became King, he would face an uphill struggle to regain the support the Bourbon dynasty once enjoyed. Certainly the Prince of Asturias has his supporters and despite reservations surrounding his marriage to Letizia Ortiz in 2004, he has managed to avoid scandal. It seems that if the King wishes to avoid a return to exile, he must abdicate and he must abdicate sooner rather than later. For his Queen, it must all be too reminiscent of her Greek heritage and it has taken over 40 years for the Greeks to allow their exiled King Constantine II (Sofia’s brother) to return to the country as a private resident. Could Juan Carlos be the last King of Spain or will King Felipe rise to the challenge and reverse the fortunes of a beleaguered dynasty?

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Majesteit: A Review

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Carina Crutzen as Queen Beatrix in “Majesteit”.

When Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated in 2013, many royal watchers felt genuine sadness. Most of her European counterparts have their own unique following and I’m sure there were those who didn’t want to see King Albert step down from the Belgian throne either but many people felt a special connection with Beatrix, perhaps because of the sorrows she has faced in recent years and her dedication to simply getting on with her job. But for many of us who do not live in the Netherlands, we know little about Beatrix other than what we can glean from a handful of interviews, documentaries and photographs. In 2010, Ger Beukenkamp released his biopic of the former Dutch Queen entitled “Majesteit”. It portrays a depressed and frustrated monarch trying to come to terms with the death of her husband Prince Claus and the demands being made of her by her then Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende. Through flashbacks, we see Beatrix in her formative years, her blossoming romance with Prince Claus, her intense opposition to her eldest son’s marriage and ultimately, her fears for the future of the monarchy. Beatrix is played by Carine Crutzen with an exceptional eye for detail but for those who know little of Queen Beatrix’s lifestyle, there are some surprises. This is not the smiling, jolly Queen we knew and loved. This is an argumentative, authoritative and extremely harsh character who clashes with everyone she meets. Whilst the people adore her, she frequently lectures her family on duty and the ridiculous nature of their position. She berates Willem Alexander (played by Gijs Naber) for trying to be popular rather than a statesman whilst he holds his mother responsible for making the monarchy a theatrical institution. She dislikes his choice of bride yet he reminds of her a time when her own choice of spouse caused outcry in the Netherlands. These are imagined exchanges of course and I doubt their sincerity.

We see the Queen constantly goad Maxima, her new daughter in law, yet we know that Beatrix and Maxima have enjoyed a particularly close relationship. Maxima (Hadewych Minis) fares worst in the film, her lines are banal and seem to suggest that the script writers aren’t too fond of her. There’s a barbed attack on her love of clothes – “I love all this glitter” and she’s generally portrayed as a bit dim. An unfair representation of a woman who worked as an investment banker before her marriage and who, as a Princess and now as Queen consort, has chaired all kinds of international aid organisations. This Maxima is a blonde bimbo with little to contribute whilst Willem-Alexander is a sulky teenager who seems to do nothing but watch television and argue with his mother. In flashbacks, we see a brief glimpse of Queen Wilhelmina and Queen Juliana with a young Beatrix seemingly upset with their approaches to the monarchy. It is true that Beatrix’s reign was markedly different to her mothers. Whilst Juliana preferred informality and asked that she be addressed as “Madam”, Beatrix decided that a monarch should be referred to as “Majesty” (hence the title of the film) after her accession in 1980. There’s little detail of her relationship with her parents or her time spent in Canada growing up during the occupation of the Netherlands. Her sisters make no appearance, we are led to believe that her three sons have all defied her and that she is totally out of touch with modern life. Once scene in particular is hard to believe when she gives several hundred pounds to an takeaway delivery guy. She may be wealthy but I’m sure she isn’t that far removed from we commoners. 

This film could have been a fascinating insight into the working life of one of the world’s best loved and most recognised monarchs but instead, it’s a rather depressing wander through the Orange family soap opera. There are nods to her artistic prowess and we are in no doubt that her style has always been grander than that of her predecessor but there is little to commend the movie other than an interesting portrayal by Crutzen which at times can be more Margaret Thatcher than Queen Beatrix. The plot hinges on Beatrix’s refusal to deliver a modified throne speech on Prinsjesdag. The Prime Minister wants a last minute revision but Beatrix, inspired by Wilhelmina’s dislike of government, refuses. As she makes her way to deliver her speech to the States-General, we are kept in suspense as to whether she will or she won’t deliver the new text. The final scene sees the Queen deliver a totally different speech in which she bemoans her lot in life, in which she makes a passionate plea for the monarchy to be allowed to take back it’s political power and finally, she abdicates and wanders out into the Hague. Of course, it’s a dream sequence of sorts and she looks back to see herself giving the speech as written. It couldn’t have gone any other way of course, as monarch, Beatrix never deviated from her duties. 

When you look back at the major events of Beatrix’s 33 year reign, there is so much to be explored. She married the German diplomat Claus von Amsberg amid huge protests. The golden coach carrying them to the Nieuwe Kirke was even targeted with smoke bombs. When she became Queen, many raised doubts about her abilities and the subsequent scandals involving Prince Bernhard’s business dealings and Queen Juliana’s reliance on faith healers must have caused her enormous stress. The death of Prince Claus must have been incredibly hard to bear and this film does make that a central theme but what of the loss of both of her parents in 2004? We are led to believe that she loathed the idea of Maxima Zorreguita marrying into her family because of her links with the brutal Videla regime in Argentina and yet she doesn’t flinch when she meets Mabel Wisse-Smit in Prince Friso’s bedroom, half naked and grinning from ear to ear. ‘Majesteit’ is a parody of a family rather than a faithful representation. It’s been called an anti-monarchy movie and I don’t believe it to be but it does veer wildly from the Dutch Royal Family we have seen evolve over the years. Indeed, watching Beatrix’s tenderness to her son and daughter on law on the day of her abdication, there’s little to suggest that the allegations of a rift are true. Neither can the relationship between Beatrix and Princess Mabel be denied, the evidence of which was brought painfully to the public during Prince Friso’s illness and subsequent death. Majesteit is a must for any royal collector, simply to say that one has seen it, but if it’s a well written, well performed representation of one of the Netherlands’ most popular sovereigns you want….look elsewhere. 

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The Elizabethan Regency?

Over the weekend, we were inundated with stories that the press offices of the Queen and the Prince of Wales are to be merged. “Senior royal sources” (for which we usually read, “journalists who need to fill out a rumour”) have suggested that this has been ordered by Her Majesty who’s visit to Normandy this year will be her last official visit abroad. Some newspapers ran with the dead horse of royal stories – a possible abdication – but none touched on the most likely outcome – a regency. The Queen will celebrate her 88th birthday this year with the Duke of Edinburgh turning 93 in June. Anyone expecting an octogenarian monarch and her nonagenarian spouse to continue their impressive workload would not only be making unfair demands on them but would also overlook the practicalities. The Duke of Edinburgh hasn’t been in the best of health in recent years and perhaps it is more for his well being that Her Majesty has chosen not to undertake certain staples of the royal calendar over the last twelve months. Last year she asked the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall to represent her at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka. Maybe she felt up to attending, maybe she didn’t. Maybe she knew that the Duke would insist on accompanying her and had concerns that it would be too much for him. Or maybe she’s proving just what a skilled monarch she really is. 

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Queen Elizabeth II with the Prince of Wales in Diamond Jubilee year.

The Queen has taken an institution that followed the strict protocols of King George V’s court and has managed to retain the traditions whilst bringing in an element of modernity. She knows that the monarchy will only survive if it proves it’s worth. It isn’t enough to hope for the best or to pin it’s success on personality. Monarchy isn’t about personality, it’s about an established force for good that carefully oversees, supports and encourages. It retains it’s gilded cage image whilst reaching out. Of course there have been problems over the years and the transition wasn’t all that smooth during the early 1990s but Her Majesty has learned from experience. She isn’t deaf to the doubts over the Prince of Wales’ abilities and she wants to ensure that when the time comes, she leaves him a crown that is secure. In this regard, she proves just how terrible a monarch Queen Victoria was and what a sensible sovereign she is. The Prince of Wales is the longest serving heir apparent in British history, surpassing his great-great grandfather King Edward VII who had to wait until he was 59 to take the throne. Queen Victoria held onto power as if she were the last British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II has decided to share it to ensure that she isn’t. 

Queen Victoria had always had a difficult relationship with her eldest son. She considered him lazy, arrogant and boorish, a constant worry and a terrible disappointment. During his childhood, he had been prevented from playing with boys of his own age and was put through a strict, intense syllabus created by Prince Albert’s chief adviser, Baron von Stockmar. It gave him little time to play or to grow and though Bertie was determined to go into the army, his parents absolutely refused. He was expected to follow the strict Lutheran ideals of his German father, to become more like Albert and to reign with a firm hand as Queen Victoria wished to. Bertie simply wasn’t made that way and what his parents regarded as stupidity, the people recognised as charm and warmth. They adored their Prince of Wales, something his parents could never quite understand. Starved of affection, the lonely young Prince was finally set free and allowed to join the army in 1858. Naturally, he was led into a world he had been carefully protected from. He began the first of many love affairs, this time with an actress, Nellie Cliveden. Unfortunately for Bertie, he was discovered and a distraught Prince Albert raced to visit the Prince of Wales to offer a scolding. In the pouring rain, Albert told his son that he must put duty first, above everything else. His personal happiness meant nothing, only his service to the crown.

This paranoia was shared by the Queen but the incident passed quickly as the Prince Consort fell ill. He died suddenly at the age of 42. Nobody could have known that he had been suffering from severe nervous exhaustion for months due to overwork. Combined with typhoid fever, his death was too much for Victoria to bear and she blamed the Prince of Wales for forcing Albert to undergo stress and a trip in the rain. Bertie was now forced to marry Princess Alexandra of Denmark and whilst the marriage was a happy one, it didn’t take long for the Prince to take up with a new mistress. He became keen on illegal gambling, he drank to excess, he attended the opera and hosted lavish dinner parties at which he ate far too much. As his antics were reported, Victoria became more and more convinced of his failings. Bertie argued that he had nothing to do and had to fill his time with something. Victoria replied that he wasn’t fit to serve. So began a battle of almost 50 years. Successive Prime Ministers begged the Queen to give Bertie a permanent job, a role he could make his own. She declined them all. He wasn’t even allowed to see state papers and she refused to concede that her continued withdrawal from public life was damaging the crown. The Prince of Wales was enormously popular with the people but the monarchy itself was tottering. When he finally succeeded his mother in 1901, his reign was brief but memorable. The Edwardian Era cast off the strictures of Victorian life and became regarded as an age not of industrial strength but one of excess and enjoyment. And yet it saved the monarchy. The King made sure that his family was seen by the people, that they spoke to them and connected with them. The man who Victoria dreaded taking the throne actually saved it. 

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L-R: Edward VII as Prince of Wales, George V as Duke of York. Queen Victoria is seated with the future Edward VIII, later Duke of Windsor.

Queen Elizabeth II hasn’t been quite so authoritarian. She has allowed the Prince of Wales to decide what he should be. His predecessor, the late Duke of Windsor, cared little for duty and his reign was brief, ending in tragedy when he abdicated in 1936 to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson. Until Prince Charles took on his mantle as Prince of Wales, the heir apparent wasn’t expect to do much. They cut ribbons, they did a stint in the army, they shook hands and opened hospitals but that was about it. For the Prince of Wales, he has found a way to make the role an important one. He doesn’t attempt to rival his mother or to take on any of her constitutional duties but he has given the task of Prince of Wales a much needed job description. The Prince’s Trust does an enormous amount of good work, the Duchy of Cornwall is now more productive than it’s ever been and brings in a small fortune to the Treasury. He represents good causes, he protects woodlands and fights to preserve our historical buildings. His remit is wide ranging and sometimes he sails a little too close to the wind politically – but consider what a Prince of Wales used to do and you’ll soon see just how lucky Britain is to have such a man as their future King. The Queen sees that. She also sees the controversy still attracted by his first wife, the excitement of the new in the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and she realises that if the monarchy becomes a popularity contest between it’s members, the entire thing is lost forever. 

The Prince of Wales must become King. The Duke of Cambridge has said this. The Queen is now reinforcing it in her own way. The monarchy isn’t an X Factor style competition, the public do not vote for their favourite. If we did, we’d be a republic with all the disappointment that brings though I suspect Princess Anne may have a stab at the top job for a term or two. There are certain questions hovering over the accession of the Prince of Wales and none of them are “Will he?”. Of course he will. But what will his coronation be like? Will he take over as Head of the Commonwealth? What will his titles and styles include? Will he continue to serve as Governor of the Church of England? What will his wife be styled as? And what about the dynasty itself? We have some indication of course but now that the Queen is slowly reducing her role (rather than abdicating it completely as her cousins Beatrix and Albert did last year in the Netherlands and Belgium respectively) she’ll want some indication of what the next era will look like and most importantly, do the people want that? What we’re now seeing is an unofficial regency. It’s the final years of the Second Elizabethan Era. She was crowned as the Empire faded, she has reigned for over 60 years and her record is impeccable. But now we must look towards the next chapter. Will we see the House of Mountbatten? Will the Duchess of Cornwall be Queen consort? (Of course she will, let’s not be silly). Will the new King be Charles III or George VII? Will he be Defender of the Faith or Defender of All Faiths? Head of the Commonwealth? All these things will take time to settle and isn’t it far better to have them overseen by Britain’s greatest monarch since……well, that’s arguable. What isn’t is that this is exactly the right move for the British monarchy. 

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Albert Stopford: The Diamond Pimpernel

In 1917, the elite of Imperial Russian society fled their grand houses in St Petersburg for their country palaces in the Crimea. The country was facing a political catastrophe and revolution was once again in the air. Most believed that this could be quashed, that a solution could be found just as it had been in 1905 when Tsar Nicholas II had been forced to defer to calls for a new constitution that would set restrictions on the powers the Romanov dynasty had enjoyed for over 300 years. The constitution had promised an elected duma, a parliament by which the people could make their views known to their rulers but as the Tsar’s sister Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna later recalled “I did not understand anything about politics. I just felt everything was going wrong with the country and all of us. The October Constitution did not seem to satisfy anyone”. She travelled to the first Duma with her mother, the Dowager Empress Marie and noted “I remember the large group of deputies from among peasants and factory people. The peasants looked sullen. But the workmen were worse: they looked as though they hated us”. Certainly there was increasing discontent with Imperial system but by 1917, it wasn’t just the politically minded middle classes or the ordinary Russian peasants who were leading calls for another revolution. This time, members of the Imperial Family were openly campaigning against the Tsar and his wife. With the situation growing ever more intense, most chose to withdraw to the Crimea. Within a few months, the crisis could be averted and they could all return to St Petersburg, perhaps with a new Tsar in place who would finally give the people a constitutional monarchy and save the dynasty. 

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Marie wearing the Vladimir Tiara.

One figure with such hopes was the Grand Duchess Vladimir. She was born Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1854, the daughter of the reigning Grand Duke Frederick Francis II of the German grand duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Her mother, Princess Augusta, died when she just 8 years old and she raised by her father and a succession of step-mothers until she became engaged to Georg Albert, Prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. He wasn’t particularly interesting to Marie and it didn’t take long before she found someone far more exciting and called off her engagement immediately. Her chosen beau was Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia, the third son of Tsar Alexander II but there were complications. In order to marry the Grand Duke, Marie would be required to convert to the Russian Orthodox Faith which as a strict Lutheran, she opposed. For three years, Vladimir and Marie continued their relationship and finally accepting the strong will of his future daughter in law, the Tsar overlooked the requirement for Marie’s conversion and the couple married on the 28th August 1874 in St Petersburg. Duchess Marie became the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna with a new style – Her Imperial Highness. Almost immediately, Marie (or Grand Duchess Vladimir as she was also known) began to make waves in Russian society. She was incredibly grand, her extravagance knew no bounds and in her palace in Petersburg she boasted four cabinets of jewels – one red for her rubies, one white for her diamonds, one green for her emeralds and one blue for her sapphires. Precious stones of rare and brilliant sizes were fashioned into all kinds of adornments for the Grand Duchess by Cartier or Chaumet and her collection was the envy of many a Russian courtier’s wife. 

But by 1917, she had set herself apart from the Imperial Family. She loathed the Tsar’s wife, Empress Alexandra, whom she felt had plunged the Empire into chaos. It was the Grand Duchess Vladimir who met with various Russian politicians in those last days of Imperial splendour to suggest that Nicholas II might be….passed over….for her son Kyrill. It was also the Grand Duchess Vladimir who had been quoted as saying that the Empress should be “annihilated”. The Grand Duchess had formed a rival court where lavish parties and grand balls gave her the chance to network with the great and good of Russia whilst the Empress sat alone in her wheelchair in the Winter Palace, plagued by rheumatism and an increasingly dangerous religious fanaticism which had made her so dependent on Grigori Rasputin. She feared her only son, the Tsarevich, would die just as her own brother Frittie had, the two boys both cursed with hemophilia through Queen Victoria’s maternal line.  With the Tsar away at the front line trying to prop up the lumbering and archaic Russian military against German advances, the Empress saw nobody, would listen to nobody and sadly, reached out to nobody. The murder of her closest ally Rasputin in December 1916 sent her into a deep depression from which nobody could rouse her. She clung to Rasputin’s prophecy that if he was killed at the hands of members of the Imperial Family, the entire dynasty would fall. Rasputin’s murderer had been none other than Prince Felix Yusupov, one of Russia’s wealthiest men and the husband of the Tsar’s niece Irina. The Empress now waited for the end.

Grand Duchess Vladimir would not be so easy to shake. She refused her son’s petitions to leave Russia and instead, sailed by fishing boat to Anapa on the Black Sea where she had a palace and could make herself comfortable. Before she left St Petersburg, she made a secret visit to the Swedish legation, returning to the harbour without a word to any of her fellow travellers. She left behind her staggeringly beautiful palace on the banks of the Neva with it’s sandstone griffins and 360 rooms decorated in every style from the Gothic Revival to the Byzantine, locking her vast assembly of jewelry away in a safe behind a painting. When the revolution had been successfully brought to a close and her son Kyrill proclaimed Tsar in Nicholas II’s place, the Grand Duchess would return as Dowager Empress of All the Russias and retrieve her collection. Shortly after the news arrived that the Tsar had abdicated, Grand Duke Kyrill rode to the Tauride Palace where the Duma was now in session. He proclaimed his loyalty to the Russian provisional government and wore a red arm band around his upper arm. Had he been successful, his reputation might well have fared better but as he was turned away, the surviving Romanovs saw him as a traitor, especially the Dowager Empress Marie who never quite accepted the loss of her son, her daughter in law and her grandchildren. 

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Albert Stopford

The Grand Duchess Vladimir had a key ally who now became her lifeline. His name was Albert Stopford. Little is known of Stopford except that he was a British diplomat and a close friend of Prince Felix Yusupov who introduced him to the Russian Court. Stopford dined often at the Vladimir Palace but it was his nationality and not his diplomatic skills that made him so valuable to Grand Duchess Vladimir in 1917. The British had been enormously welcoming to the Bolshevik regime. Much to his shame, George V had changed his mind at the eleventh hour and barred his cousin Nicholas from seeking exile in London. The David Lloyd-George government had made friendly overtones to the new Russian government to ensure that they remained in the war and helped to defeat Kaiser Wilhelm II and whilst this was a disaster for the Tsar, it was extremely useful to Albert Stopford. He had diplomatic immunity and could go wherever he pleased in Russia. He had taken up the case for Grand Duchess Vladimir, writing to the British government that she would never leave Russia unless deported by force. His ability to move freely throughout Russia now made him an invaluable servant to Grand Duchess Vladimir and she charged him with a special mission. 

Late one night, Stopford dressed as a workman and crept into the Vladimir Palace in St Petersburg via the sewers with two large gladstone bags. He found the painting, as directed by the Grand Duchess, and opened the safe. Working quickly, he stuffed the bags with brooches, earrings, necklaces, orders and decorations and a total of 25 tiaras including some of the most expensive items of jewelry ever to be created . Giving the bags a slight shake to simulate the sound of workman’s tools, he made his way to his lodgings where he quickly changed once more and made his way to the British legation. The Grand Duchess remained in Anapa for fourteen months after the revolution began whilst Stopford returned to London. Finally taking the advice of a White Russian General who told her that the revolution had been successful and that she would no doubt be killed if she remained, Grand Duchess Vladimir left Russia. She had decided to go to Venice where she had a house but though the quickest route was through Constantinople, she declined, well aware that she would have to undergo the indignity of being searched for fleas. Waiting for her in Venice was a letter from Stopford. He had safely delivered his precious cargo to his bank in London with an inventory sent to Cartier in Paris for a valuation. The first item on the list was “A fine brilliant 16 round link tiara with 16 fine pearl drops”

Grand Duchess Vladimir died on the 6th September 1920, exhausted and horrified by the circumstances of her exile. She was 66 years old. We have no record of Stopford after his secret mission in Russia except that he made several trips to Paris to aid in the valuation of the items. We do not know whether the family of the Grand Duchess ever showed their appreciation to him financially but his bravery ensured the survival of Grand Duchess Vladimir’s children in exile. Her daughter, the Grand Duchess Elena, was left the tiara with the round links and pearl drops. In 1902, she had married Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark but in 1921, the Greek Monarchy had been abolished and the family found themselves living in France in exile. With no money for food, she decided to sell her antiques and her jewels. Buyers came forward at auction but one item was sold privately – the tiara with the 16 pearl drops. The wife of King George V, Queen Mary, had a penchant for antiques and fine jewelry. Ironically, had the British supported the Tsar (her first cousin by marriage), she would never have stood a chance of owning the tiara but in 1921 she purchased it along with a suite of diamonds for £28,000 – around £984,000 today. In 1934, Queen Mary’s son George married Princess Nicholas’ daughter Marina. When Queen Mary died in 1953, she left the tiara not to Princess Marina but to her granddaughter – Queen Elizabeth II. It is now worn regularly at state banquets and has become an iconic piece of the Queen’s private jewelery collection yet without Albert Stopford, it would have remained lost in a vault in St Petersburg forever. 

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Queen Elizabeth II in the Vladimir Tiara.

In 2009, the Swedish archives began to process old collections. They unearthed a box containing two pillowcases. Painting on the material with black paint and written in French were the words “S.A.R Grand Duchesse Vladimir”. The pillowcases contained a stunning assortment of Faberge pieces which were sold at auction for £7m. They had been lost for nine decades, placed there by the Grand Duchess Vladimir before she fled her beloved St Petersburg. Most of the silverware, priceless paintings, antiques and ceramics collected by members of the Russian Imperial Family were sold or destroyed. The jewels of Prince Felix Yusupov’s wife were prised from their settings and auctioned off by the Bolsheviks. Some pieces were protected and made their way into museums, others were remodelled and sold at further auctions but others have simply vanished. Occasionally, an item of Faberge will take the world by storm, the constant fascination with the Romanovs fuelling vast sums of money exchanging hands for Imperial eggs or other trinkets but these are almost always sold to anonymous owners. Whenever Queen Elizabeth II attends a state function wearing her Grand Duchess Vladimir tiara, we are reminded of Albert Stopford who once secreted it in a Gladstone bag and smuggled it from under the noses of the Bolshevik regime. 

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Madeleine, former Princess of Sweden?

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When Princess Madeleine married Christopher O’Neill last year, it seemed to be the beginning of some kind of resignation. She married in June and in September it was announced that the Princess was expecting the couple’s first daughter – but this week, there was an important announcement that has angered many Swedes and it’s not hard to see why. Princess Madeline will give birth to her daughter in New York where she now resides with her husband. She hasn’t undertaken many engagements since her marriage which has been attributed to her difficult pregnancy (it should be remembered of course that the Duchess of Cambridge faced a similar dilemma when she was pregnant with Prince George) but surely the newest member of the Swedish Royal Family should be born in Swedish territory? The Swedish Act of Succession is very clear on marriages and the issue of those marriages. Since 1980, the requirement for equal marriage has been dropped but the act still makes it clear that to succeed to the throne, the child of an approved marriage must be raised in Sweden. It doesn’t say anything about where the child is born but it seems that the Princess wants to remain in America. What constitutes being raised in Sweden? Will she have to spend a designated amount of time in the country to qualify as a potential heir? Though the latest addition to the family will bear the title of “Princess” and will probably be a ‘Royal Highness’, it could be that she has no succession rights. Five members of the Bernadotte dynasty have married in contravention of the act of succession before; Oscar in 1988, Lennart in 1932, Sigvard in 1934, Carl in 1937 and Carl Johan in 1946. All five lost their title as Princes of Sweden but retained other titles. When Crown Princess Victoria gave birth to Princess Estelle in 2012, the baby was created ‘Duchess of Östergötland‘ so one would assume that His Majesty will provide a similar ducal title for his second grandchild. If so, will she eventually forfeit her style of Royal Highness? Royal experts in Sweden say that the decision has no bearing on the succession rights of the baby yet clearly there are issues. In the end, it’s another unpopular decision by the Swedish Royal Family. When the Swedish tax payer forks out several million kroner for a lavish wedding for a Princess who then ups and leaves the country, it must be fairly difficult to justify her continued royal appanage. So is Sweden losing or gaining a Princess? One thing is clear, Princess Madeleine will need to show her commitment to Sweden if she wants to avoid unwelcome questions on her income from the Swedish treasury. Or maybe things are just more relaxed now than they were before. We shall see.

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Victoria's Children

Affie & Marie

Most people are aware that before the very English sounding ‘Windsor‘, the British Royal Family belonged to the dynasty of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. It wasn’t a change of surname, the monarch doesn’t require one and special provision has been made for those members of the family who do but pre-1917, the British monarchy wasn’t the only ruling dynasty to have connections with the German duchy. It had given it’s name to many ruling dynasties of the early 20th century including Great Britain, Belgium, Portugal and Bulgaria with it’s most famous son being Prince Albert, the ill fated spouse of the besotted Queen Victoria. The Duchy was founded in 1826 by the Treaty of Hildburghausen but by 1908, the ruling family was no longer German but British. Duke Ernest II had died childless in 1893 and his successor (Prince Albert) had died from typhoid fever in 1861. With Albert’s eldest son Edward due to succeed his mother Victoria, he forfeited his claim to Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and the throne of the duchy passed to his brother Alfred. Known as ‘Affie’, he had been created Duke of Edinburgh in 1866 which allowed him a stipend of £15,000 from parliament where he sat in the House of Lords. He knew that one day he would inherit Saxe-Coburg and Gotha but he could have been King of Greece. When the Bavarian born King Otto was deposed by the Greeks in 1862, it was to Alfred that the great powers looked. He was by far the most popular choice but Queen Victoria rejected the proposal on his behalf. She was determined that Affie would live upto the example of his father and take his place in Albert’s homeland and so his chance to go to Athens as a reigning monarch was taken from him without his opinion even being sought. In 1868, he was visiting Sydney when he was shot in the back. He survived and the incident didn’t put him off of long trips abroad. A year later, he became the first European prince to visit Japan as a guest of Emperor Meiji.

"Affie"

“Affie”

Affie’s choice of bride was controversial and caused great consternation within the royal family. When Prince Albert died suddenly, Queen Victoria took his indicated preferences for his children’s spouses as sacrosanct. The Prince of Wales was forced to marry Princess Alexandra of Denmark, Princess Alice was wed to Prince Louis of Hesse whilst Princess Helena was promised to Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. The weeping widow of Windsor refused to allow Helena to leave the United Kingdom and Christian and his new bride were housed at Cumberland Lodge where the Queen could have permanent access to her daughter. But Prince Albert had given no indication of whom he wished Affie to marry and so in 1874 he surprised his mother by announcing his intention to marry the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, a daughter of Tsar Alexander II. There were family ties of course. The Grand Duchess’ mother, Marie of Hesse and by Rhine, was the great aunt of Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse who married Affie’s sister Alice).  However, there had never been an Anglo-Russian royal  marriage before and from the start, Queen Victoria raised constant objections. The Russians wanted Marie to retain her rank of Imperial Highness but this would have placed her above the Princess of Wales which the Queen could never accept. Therefore, Marie had to make do with the style ‘Royal and Imperial Highness’ which the Grand Duchess found irritating. To her mind, the Princess of Wales was the daughter of a King but she was the daughter of an Emperor. Her father was extremely generous in her marriage settlement with a dowry of £100,000 plus an annual allowance of £28,000. The British Royal Family were not exactly the wealthiest ruling family in Europe and Affie and Marie’s wealth perhaps grated on the Queen who never made any attempt to make Marie feel very welcome.

In 1893, Affie and Marie suddenly went from minor British royalty as the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh to the reigning monarch and consort of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Their children went with them of course. There was Prince Alfred, known as ‘Young Affie’ who was now known as the Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He had been raised in Clarence House but now lived at Schloss Rosenau, the inspiration for Balmoral Castle and the birthplace of Prince Albert. Two years after Young Affie’s arrival in Coburg, he became engaged to Duchess Elsa of Württemberg but the marriage never occurred and she went on to marry Prince Albert of Schaumburg-Lippe instead. Young Affie would never succeed his father. His death at the age of 24 was initially reported as consumption but in reality, the Hereditary Prince shot himself after suffering from severe depression – brought about by an untreated syphilis infection. His attempt on his life didn’t kill him but severely wounded he was sent to Schloss Friedenstein before going on to a sanatorium in the South Tyrol where he died on the 6th February 1899. With Affie dead, the Duchy would be inherited by the Duke of Edinburgh’s nephew Charles Edward. The 2nd Duke of Albany, Charles Edward was the son of Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s hemophiliac son who died in 1884.  He would later bring disgrace on the Duchy, choosing to fight against Britain and stand with the Kaiser during the Great War.

Affie and Marie also had four daughters; Marie, Victoria Melita, Alexandra and Beatrice. Or Missy, Ducky, Sandra and Baby Bee. The family was hardly a happy one and the Duke began to slip into alcoholism. Perhaps Queen Victoria’s misgivings had been true, for Marie became increasingly distant from Affie. She longed to spend more time in Russia, loathed England with a passion and tried to force her daughters towards Russia rather than Britain. The couple were not particular popular in Coburg either, viewed as foreigners who had been imposed on their German subjects from abroad with little to endear them to the people. Young Affie’s death hit his father hard and the Duke began to drink more and more becoming bad tempered and reclusive. On the 30th July 1900, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Ulster and Earl of Kent died at Schloss Rosenau of throat cancer. Queen Victoria had already lost her daughter Alice and her son Leopold as well as several of her grandchildren. Heartbroken at Affie’s death, she wrote “Oh God! My poor darling Affie gone too. It is a horrible year, nothing but sadness and horrors of one kind and another”. She died six months later. The Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was now inherited by Charles Edward but as he was only 16, a regency was put in place with Charles Edward subject to the Hereditary Prince of Hohenlohe-Langeburg who had married Affie and Marie’s daughter Sandra in 1896. Missy was now in Romania where she had married Crown Prince Ferdinand in 1893. Ducky had fared the worst, destined to rush into a hopeless marriage with Ernst Ludwig of Hesse, brother of the tragic Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia. The couple divorced in 1901 plunging the crowned families of Europe into shock and disbelief. Things didn’t get much better when she broke the rules once again and married her first cousin Vladimir – the aftermath was not pretty for either of them though ultimately, all was forgiven. Sandra married Ernst of Hohenlohe-Langeburg. The pair would become early supporters of the Nazi Party. Baby Bee married Don Alfonso of Spain, the 3rd Duke of Galliera. As he was a Roman Catholic, she lost her rights to succeed to the British throne and yet the pair seemed quite happy in Madrid.

Marie

Marie

But for Marie, her marriage had been something of a strange interlude. She didn’t leave Coburg but her visits to Russia were hardly happy ones. In 1894 her brother, Tsar Alexander III, died at the age of just 49 and was succeeded by Marie’s nephew, Tsar Nicholas II. She attended the lavish coronation ceremonies and the wedding of Nicholas to his bride Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt (the daughter of Affie’s sister Alice). With the outbreak of war in 1914, Marie must have known that her Russian relations were facing the overpowering threat of revolution. As the Russian war machine was destroyed piece by piece, the Tsar became increasingly erratic and refused to listen to advice. His wife was hated, his entire court purged of anyone who dared speak out against her and the Romanov dynasty itself began to tear apart as a family rift engulfed them all. Marie never returned to St Petersburg. When the war ended, she suddenly found herself ousted from her palace in Coburg – Charles Edward had fought with the Kaiser and lost. He would go on to become a prominent member of the Nazi Party. In 1953, an elderly man was seen entering a cinema in Bavaria. He sat down to watch the Coronation of his cousin’s granddaughter – Queen Elizabeth II. He died the following year. With the great duchies of Germany now abolished and carved into blocks by the Soviets, Marie withdrew to Zürich. On the 24th October 1920, a telegram was delivered to her. It was addressed to “Frau Coburg”. She died there and then, the horror of losing her position all too much to bear. Her daughter Marie was forbidden from attending her funeral. Now the Queen of Romania, she represented the enemy. Once an Imperial Highness, the Grand Duchess Marie was buried alongside her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, son of Queen Victoria in the Ducal Family’s cemetery outside Coburg. Their daughters would go onto great things of course but it all began with Affie and Marie.

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