The Royal Families of Europeby Geoffrey Hindley
As fascinating as it is informative, this chronicle of Europe's most enduring system of government—monarchy—explores the many colorful and often controversial facets of an institution that has survived revolution, warfare, regicides, national strife, and the occasional sheer incompetence of the head beneath the crown. While it considers monarchical… See more details below
As fascinating as it is informative, this chronicle of Europe's most enduring system of government—monarchy—explores the many colorful and often controversial facets of an institution that has survived revolution, warfare, regicides, national strife, and the occasional sheer incompetence of the head beneath the crown. While it considers monarchical history as well as the tales, intrigues, scandals, and historical gossip that have attached themselves to both the British and continental monarchies, this always engaging volume also speculates upon the future of European monarchy as a vital and viable form of government after the year 2000. The speculation is not idle, for monarchy continues to command the world's attention and to wield significant influence throughout Europe. Of the fifteen members of the European Union, seven are monarchies—among them Spain, whose king saved the country's democracy from a military coup in the 1980s, and Belgium, where the monarchy has proven to be a crucial factor in the survival of a fractured nation. In England four generations of Windsors survive and thrive, and the Dutch royal house, too, enjoys immense popularity. Meanwhile, former monarchs like Constantine II of Greece, Michael II of Romania, and Simeon of Bulgaria retain their titles and loyal followers who refuse to forfeit the hope of their kings' restoration to power. Surveying the sweep of monarchy in Britain and across the regal face of the European continent, The Royal Families of Europe adeptly illuminates an institution that flourishes with possibilities and prospects beyond ceremony, ermine robes, crowns, and scepters.
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From Russia in the East to Portugal in the West there are twelve European republics in which monarchists can point to candidates for the long-vacant thrones. The 1990s saw a resurgence in many of these countries of interest in monarchy as a serious political option. Even in Germany, where few imagine the former royal and imperial family of Hohenzollern will return to their thrones, either as kings of Prussia or as emperors of Germany, there is a strong interest in the traditions of monarchy and in the representatives of the many minor royal families which once ruled in the territories of the Federal Republic. In the first part of this book I want to look at the personalities involved, the claimants and their Families, something of the history of the monarchies they represent, how they came to be established, the sometimes adventurous, often controversial careers of their predecessors, and to estimate as far as possible the strength of feeling for or against the institution they represent.
The fact that, at the turn of the millennium, Vittorio Emanuele of Italy's royal House of Savoy was still barred from entering his country by a provision of the Republic's constitution was, perhaps, evidence for fervent monarchists of republican nervousness. This was surely at odds with the human rights of a member of the European Union. In the summer of 1999 it was reported that the sixty-two-year-old prince was to ask the European Court of Human Rights to rule on the prohibition. For decades, the hostility of the Greekauthorities to ex-King Constantine II and his family, amounting, it sometimes seemed, almost to a vendetta, could be thought to indicate apprehension about the continuing appeal of the former royals to a possibly significant body of public opinion. Late in 1999 Queen Sofia of Spain, born a princess of Greece, was permitted to return on a private visit to the scenes of her childhood at the Tatoï palace outside Athens, a sign perhaps of an easing of the tensions. And yet in Greece, as in Italy, the situation remained complicated.
In the countries of the northern Balkans by contrast, monarchy gained a more positive image during the 1990s. Both Simeon II of Bulgaria, where he is known as `Tsar', and Michael of Romania reigned briefly in their countries in the mid-1940s (Simeon was a boy king with a regency council) before being ousted by communist manipulation, and thus they were the only surviving heads of state from the Second World War period. Both succeeded in returning to their countries in the last decade of the century, though both had some initial difficulties with the authorities. In the case of Michael these were considerable but as early as May 1991 Marie Louise of Bulgaria, King Simeon's sister, was welcomed on her appearance at a football match in Sofia with cheers and cries of `Bring back the Tsar'. In Yugoslavia Alexander, heir to the royal house, let it bc known that he was interested in helping his troubled country if he could be of service, hiring a public relations expert to promote his image. A cousin of Queen Sofia of Spain and connected with many of Europe's Royals, he was born in London in 1945 and numbered the then Princess Elizabeth, now the Queen, among his godparents. Educated, like his good friend Charles Prince of Wales, at Gordonstoun, the elite Scottish public school, before going on to Sandhurst, Britain's military academy, he developed an international business career in oil and shipping, and from his base in London's Park Lane was active in trying to find solutions to his country's problems.
For him, as for Belgrade, there was the added complication of the determinedly independent attitude of the constituent republic of Montenegro, which could look back on a brief episode as an independent monarchy in the early years of the twentieth century and to a living descendant of its royal house. Nikola Petrovic Njegos, a successful architect practising in Paris, is a man with a serious commitment to his ancestral country and his standing with its peoples. Broadcasting on Radio France International in December 1991, he made an appeal for peace and the cessation of the civil conflict in the territories of Yugoslavia, which he considered had been fomented by elements from the former communist order. It was his conviction that after a period of partition the states would inevitably return to federation because the diverse peoples had become so intermixed. What seemed like reason before the era of ethnic cleansing seemed an impossibility after it. For his part the Prince disclaimed any intention of working for an independent Montenegro, though there was a moment when this might have tempted a more ambitious man.
The Kingdom of Montenegro, proclaimed in August 1910 by the then Prince Nicholas, survived de facto for eight years before being annexed by Serbia, and dc jure another four when the annexation was recognized by the international community and Montenegro found itself a province of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In fact the little country, thanks to its mountainous terrain, had been more successful than virtually any other region of the Balkans in retaining its independence from the Turks, and from the 1690s had been ruled by a succession of more or less warlike prince-bishops. Such ecclesiastical standing did not appeal to Prince Danilo I (d.1860), who changed the country's status from prince-bishopric to principality, nor to his nephew Nicholas, who succeeded him aged twenty and who, after forty years as a mere prince, adopted the honorific of `His Royal Highness' in 1900. Finally in 1910 he proclaimed himself as King Nicholas I. A jovial despot, who according to Lady Salisbury in the 1870s looked like an elderly butler in search of a job, he boasted that his numerous daughters married out to neighbouring royals (among them Victor Emmanuel III of Italy) were his impoverished country's principal exports. He survived at least one assassination attempt and was forced to flee Montenegro for Italy in 1915 following defeat by the armies of Austria-Hungary. Three years later the country's assembly, the Skuptchina, declared him deposed under the influence of Serbian troops, Nicholas claimed, though he made no attempt to return. He died at the age of eighty-one during a not unhappy exile on the French Riviera, his kingdom having been effectively integrated into Serbia.
However, the mountain clansmen of the country, undeterred by political realities, sent a deputation to seek out Danilo, his son and heir, in his comfortable Riviera retreat. These stalwarts appear to have been well armed, following local custom, and whether intimidated or merely out of politeness, the Prince agreed to be hailed as King Danilo II. After six days, he resigned his honours in favour of a nephew and Montenegro's brief regal episode faded out of the headlines. But while dynastic claims may cease for a time to be politics, they live on in a family's genes. When in the eventful year 1989 Prince Nikola Petrovic, recognized as the head of the royal house, made a much publicized trip to Montenegro's capital of Cetinje, it was estimated that some 200,000 people, or a third of the little republic's entire population, turned out to welcome him.
For centuries much of the Balkans was under the rule of the Ottoman Turkish empire, its capital of Constantinople (officially renamed Istanbul in 1930) formerly the metropolis of the Christian Byzantine empire. To the north, Ottoman rule faced the Habsburg family, emperors in Austria and kings in Hungary. The First World War spelt the end of both the empires but with the collapse of communism there was a resurgence of interest in the old monarchy in Hungary; and though Dr Otto Habsburg, the doyen of the former imperial family, adopted German nationality and won a seat in the European Parliament, there remained monarchists in Austria and Hungary who still looked to the family as the rightful heirs to government.
As a look at Europe's celebrity and society magazines will show, the world of royalty is still very much alive. In October 1999, Geneva's Hotel Intercontinental was venue to a glittering banquet in which the celebrities included HRH Emanuele Filiberto, Prince of Venice of the House of Savoy, and Natasha Andress, niece of the American film star Ursula. Whether weekending together on the shores of Lake Geneva or touring on the Prince's Harley Davidson, or motoring in his immaculate Aston Martin, they were trend-setters for Europe's beautiful people. For his part, the Prince was a role model for hopeful young royals. Although barred from entry into Italy, he was frequently on the country's television screens, thanks to a three-year contract as a football commentator on Juventus games, and his book Sognando d'Italia (Dreaming of Italy), had enjoyed some success. Now, at the Hotel Intercontinental, he was to add a new dimension to his career profile, being inaugurated as Grand Chancellor of the chivalric Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, of which his father was Grand Master. It was founded in the 1430s by Duke Amadeus VIII of Savoy who ended life as a cardinal, having been for ten years anti-Pope Felix V after election by the schismatic Council of Basel, now in the third millenium of the Christian era the Order was to rice, promised the Prince, `modernization'. This was a destiny which many a traditional institution, not least monarchy itself, had confronted and weathered over the centuries.
It is when the summer season of marriages comes round that Europe's nobility and royals, actual, ex- or would-be, are most in evidence, as they traverse the Continent to celebrate the weddings of friends and cousins near and distant. It may be a great set piece like a Habsburg ceremony in Budapest, or a minor fixture such as a lesser German princeling's nuptials in the onion-domed church of a Bavarian village. Here, depending on the importance of the event and, of course, the invitations issued, you are like to see the privileged progeny of quondam ruling houses the Hanovers, the Württembergs, the Bourbon-Two Sicilies, whose forebears were the last dynasty to sit on the throne of the kingdom of Naples as well as junior members of monarchies still in place. And in the 1990s it would be unusual not to find the family of Bourbon Orléans, regarded by many as the royal House of France, among those present. Commonly it was represented by the brothers Jean, Duc de Vendôme and Eudes, Duc d'Angoulême, grandsons of Henri, Comte de Paris, then in their late twenties or early thirties. For transport they might share a modest saloon car, just as for accommodation they shared a less than palatial Paris flat. Following the precept of their grandfather, that `the next generation must work' they led the lives of thousands of fellow Parisians, going by Metro to the office in the morning and in the evening perhaps to the theatre or a simple supper party with a few friends. But they seemed to feel a genuine sense, always old-fashioned, of obligation to live up to their hereditary pretensions. Sometimes, perhaps, they wished they had the income to maintain them more easily. For they had rivals.
Even in France, where monarchist regimes ruled for most of the nineteenth century, monarchist parties remained an active, if declining, force in the twentieth century. The standard bearer of the royalist cause was the head of the House of Bourbon Orléans, but in the summer of 1999 both its morale and its material fortunes were plunged into disarray. Following the death of the ninety-year-old Henri, Comte de Paris in June of that year, his will revealed that the family's once fabulous fortune which he inherited, along with the claim to the throne, from his father in 1940 had almost entirely disappeared. The man whom fervent supporters had regarded as `King Henry VI' of France, signed his final testament as `Son Altesse Royale Monseigneur le Prince Henri' and made no mention of his political legacy. It was seriously suggested in some quarters that the Count had deliberately dissipated the family resources so as to deny his heirs the funds to maintain their pretensions to the throne. Their chief rivals were members of the Spanish branch of the Bourbons, so that with the dawn of the millennium the fashionable favourite was Louis Alphonse, Duc d'Anjou, attributed by devotees the title of `King Louis XX'.
As for Portugal, although the last king to reign in Lisbon, King Manuel II, was driven out by revolution in 1910, eighty years later supporters of monarchy might nurse dreams that the royal house represented by Dom Duarte Pio twenty-third Duke of Braganza and his children might one day in some distant future return to the throne. Dom Duarte himself, who remained a bachelor well into his forties, had, exceptionally for a pretender to a throne, been allowed to live in his country his home is a comparatively modest villa.
The revolution which overthrew the monarchy in Portugal was the outcome of decades of tension. The cosmopolitan and talented King Carlos, father of Manuel, was politically maladroit and extravagant to such an extent that he had to surrender certain palaces and royal yachts as a means of persuading parliament to settle his debts. A bon viveur and a gifted cultural dilettante, he had neither talent nor, it would seem, interest in the arts of government. His friendship with Edward VII of England provoked hostility in high Catholic circles from people who objected to King Edward's masonic connections and believed that he might `infect' their king with Freemasonry. Other critics accused Carlos of financial corruption. Even in dynastic terms, the King's situation was questioned by some.
During the nineteenth century a rift had opened up between two lines of the House of Bragana: the one which occupied the throne and the other descending from King Miguel who was forced into exile in the 1830s and whose successors were barred by law from returning to the country. In the early 1900s a parliamentary bill to lift this prohibition had failed by only four votes. When in May 1907 King Carlos suspended the constitution, opposition intensified. The following February the King and his twenty-one-year-old heir, the Duke of Branganza, were assassinated in the streets of the capital. In 1910 his younger son, Manuel II, was forced to flee the country, finding refuge in England. The new constitution abolished the monarchy and disestablished the Church. Inevitably the republican regime which followed became the target of criticism in its turn, and monarchist parties began to find favour with the electorate. In 1932 the death of ex-King Manuel II without an heir left the claim to the throne with Duarte Nuno of the Miguelist branch. Talk of restoring the monarchy was overridden by the emerging strong man of Portuguese politics, António Oliveira de Salazar, who consolidated his authority as dictator and in 1933 nationalized the properties of the Braganza family. However, family members were able to continue to reside in the country, though, as we have noted, in much reduced circumstances.
The Duke of Braganza has never made any move towards a restoration or countenanced any such move on his behalf by monarchist groups. And yet during the 1990s, perhaps because of his family's central role in the nation's history, perhaps by way of emulating the glamour and prestige with which King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia had imbued the institution of monarchy in neighbouring Spain, the Portuguese state collaborated with Dom Duarte in some remarkable royal celebrations. In May 1995 the marriage of the Prince to Isabel Ines de Castro Curvello de Heredia was celebrated with great pomp and ceremony in Lisbon in the presence of the President of the Republic. In June the following year their first born, Alfonso Prince of Beira, was baptized in the city of Braga. In 1997 his sister Francisca was christened in the cathedral of Vila Vicosa. When it became known that the Duchess was expecting a second son in December 1999, it was decided that the child should be baptized in Oporto, next to Lisbon the country's leading city. The child was to be named Diniz, after one of Portugal's greatest rulers and a poet and patron of culture. The distribution of these various royal events, each in a different city around the country, seemed like a planned exercise in what can only be called royal propaganda; and since the baptism of Prince Diniz was scheduled for early 2000 in the city which had been designated European capital of culture for that year, for Portugal at least the dawn of the new millennium would very definitely have a royal glow.
Of course, the great monarchist event of the 1990s was the return of the Romanovs to St Petersburg and the ceremony of reinterment of the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, murdered by order of the Bolsheviks in 1918. At the beginning of the decade, the Royalty Digest carried a lengthy article on the diverse and burgeoning monarchist movement in the Russian territory of the former Soviet Union. As the decade advanced there was increasing speculation which climaxed in talk of a restoration of the monarchy, and it was said that President Yeltsin considered the possibility. At the end of 1999, the confused state of affairs in Russia made almost any predictions as to the country's future hazardous in the extreme. A year later, despite the disaster of the nuclear submarine Kutsk and the ever parlous condition of the Russian economy the position of President Vladimir Putin seemed secure. The canonification of Tsar Nicholas II and the imperial family in August 2000 by the Russian Orthodox Church looked more like a gesture of nostalgic piety than the augury of a tsarist revival.
Readers interested in further detail on the lives of claimants in exile up to the 1980s are referred to the books by Charles Fenyvesi and Jeremy Potter listed in the bibliography, both of which have provided me with useful material.
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