How the younger breed of Royals is moving centre stage
Published 09/08/2014 | 11:00
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge played a highly visible role in this week's Great War commemorations. Are they being groomed as the new face of the Royal family? And where does that leave Prince Charles?
In a solemn ceremony marking the centenary of the Great War, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was chosen to extinguish the last candle at the grave of the unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey at the beginning of this week.
She duly carried out the ritual, quite correctly, but not everyone approved of her presence. A letter to The Times protested that Camilla was "an inappropriate choice to represent our Queen", and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, present at the ceremony, did not look particularly happy.
Camilla and her husband seem to have settled into a contented and dutiful rhythm of life, now widely accepted by the British public – they appear happy together and their controversial days are behind them.
Yet there always remains that faint shadow of Diana and some who will never quite forgive either of them for Diana's tragic life.
Yes, we accept nowadays that marriages break up. Yet it is reported that Prince Charles now regrets being so frank in his sensational interview with Jonathan Dimbleby and admitting his adultery, which the Americans have dubbed "cheating".
Kings have had mistresses over centuries, but kings did not live in the age of instant communication, absolute disclosure and total transparency.
Edward VII, Charles's forefather, who died in 1910, was a notorious womaniser, but never appeared in public with any consort except his sweet-natured, and very deaf Danish wife, Queen Alexandra.
Diana famously predicted that Charles would never be King: but if he outlives his mother, he surely will succeed to the monarchy as the constitution intended. However, at 66, is he already being gently sidelined from the main focus of the monarchy?
Yes, he participated in the Great War ceremonies, in a dignified service in Glasgow, locus of the Commonwealth Games. But William and Kate (along with Harry) represented the Queen, and the United Kingdom, at the more significant – and deeply moving – event at St Symphorien cemetery in Belgium.
Pictures of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, have featured all week, wiping away a tear as she heard the stories of the young men who fell in that terrible conflict. (And we can all imagine just what she was thinking, as a mother: "That could be my son").
Is the younger generation among the royals now moving centre stage in the narrative of the British monarchy? And has the Prince of Wales, of pensionable age even before he succeeds, effectively been overtaken by his son?
It is a nice irony of history that the Great War of 1914-18 toppled an array of monarchies throughout Europe: Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania, Italy, Greece – all were eventually to lose their crowned heads in the wake of the conflict.
Monarchies were swept aside as mediaeval relics, which had no place in a modern democratic world (and dictators quickly stepped into the shoes of the kings in several instances).
And, yet, in the radiance of a Flanders sunset, a younger generation of royalty had come to pay tribute to the dead: themselves almost an emblem of an idea that has resurrected and survived.
For, next to Kate and William were the King and Queen of the Belgians, Philippe and Mathilde. At 54, Philippe is not exactly young – Mathilde is just 41 – although he is fresh to the role of king, having acceded in July 2013.
But they do represent a newer generation now taking the helm of popular monarchies all over Europe: in the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, aged 47, and his pretty Argentine wife, Maxima (43), also came to the Dutch throne in 2013.
In Spain, a restored and sometimes wobbly monarchy – Felipe (46) has recently succeeded, along with his glamorous wife, Letizia – a former television journalist – aged 41.
The Scandinavians, too, have brought the next generation to the fore – Mary of Denmark, the Australian student who married Crown Prince Frederik after meeting him at a sailing regatta, is a particular favourite with the continental media.
If traditional monarchies were disparaged for being "mediaeval", modern monarchies must survive by acting constitutionally – always submitting to the will of parliament, and usually directed by the Prime Minister – and by being popular with the people.
Looking at the cast of the Euro-royals, a rising trend is that the women in royal families must be attractive, elegant, well-educated – and mothers. (All of this current generation of Euro-royals are parents of young children: Mathilde of Belgium and Mary of Denmark both have four: Maxima has three: Letizia two.)
Modern monarchy has found a role in the rituals and symbolism of everyday life: it was the King and Queen of the Netherlands who provided the sense of comfort and presence to the afflicted Dutch families in the Malaysian flight shot down over the Ukraine.
And Kate and William – along with Harry, filling the role of young bachelor uncle – are perfectly in harmony with this trend of restored popular monarchies.
They are particularly well-placed to transmit the message that the British monarchy is keeping up with the times, especially since the British monarchy has the reputation of being the most traditionalist, and the most hidebound by archaic rules.
In other monarchies, kings and queens abdicate when they grow old enough to retire – or, indeed, when they run into a little local trouble, as did Juan Carlos in Spain.
But not in the United Kingdom. Here, the Queen serves until that extraordinarily dramatic moment occurs when it is proclaimed that: "The Queen is dead: long live the King."
When King George V died in 1936, Queen Mary immediately curtseyed to her son David as the succeeding King. (He succeeded as Edward VIII, and then abdicated to marry the divorced Wallis Simpson: an event which nearly rocked the British monarchy and implanted, for the next 60 years, a deep prejudice against, and stigma of, royal divorce).
The prevailing longevity of Queen Elizabeth and her adherence to the throne until the end of her life makes her unique among modern royals.
It has enhanced the affection and respect that is felt for her by the public: and she herself has grown into her late 80s with grace, charm and humour – and intelligence.
Thanks to her current dresser, and, it is said, new best friend, Angela Kelly from Liverpool, the Queen is also wearing brighter colours and jollier hats.
But the longevity of the monarch is sometimes said to have created a problem for Charles, Prince of Wales: that he, too, has grown old waiting to do the job that he was born to do.
Of course, it must be frustrating, and understandably it has led to another issue: Charles's inclination to "interfere", according to his critics, with political matters.
The Prince of Wales has been a prodigious letter-writer during his lifetime, and some of his letters – I've seen those he has written to a friend of mine who has a public role – are indiscreet (though nothing I have seen is scandalous: merely unguarded.)
Over the years, he has written letters to various politicians and government ministers offering his advice, and, again, those hostile to him, or to the monarchy, have considered this "unconstitutional".
A British monarch must be meticulous about not interfering with the political procedure: he or she is entitled "to warn and to advise", but nothing beyond that. In 1920, Queen Mary wrote to Lloyd George to beseech him not to allow the Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, to die (he was on hunger strike).
Shrewdly, she pointed out that MacSwiney's death would redound badly against Britain, notably in America: and she was right. But the Prime Minister responded with a stern reprimand. She was not entitled to offer any opinions about the conduct of the Government.
Politicians themselves differ about the way that Prince Charles has expressed his opinions: he has traditional views about education, for example, so progressives don't like what he says.
Yet Sir John Major has defended Charles, and suggested it was perfectly legitimate for the heir to the throne, in his 60s, to have gathered experience; he had ideas that were worth listening to.
Moreover, many of Charles's views are quite popular with the public. His excoriation of some modern architecture has been much applauded: trendy architects who design concrete blocks for others while living in exquisitely restored Georgian mansions themselves were less pleased.
It would not be exact to say that Charles is being sidelined or overtaken: in the natural order of things, he will inherit the mantle of kingship.
But let's be honest: in an age when visual images are paramount, younger people are more appealing to look at.
Kate and William are a hugely attractive young couple, and they are playing a constructive role, too, in bringing a more contemporary note to royal duties. They have no "baggage" from the past. They fit in harmoniously with the Euro-royals and bring the lustre of youth and beauty to an ancient monarchical tradition.
It is altogether natural that the limelight should fall more brightly on them.
- Mary Kenny is the author of Crown And Shamrock : Love and Hate between Ireland and the British Monarchy
The new class: from decreeing in Denmark to reigning in Spain
Across Western Europe, constitutional monarchies are enjoying a new lease of life thanks to their younger royals:
In Belgium, Mathilde (41), is the Queen of the Belgians, having married King Philippe, who ascended the throne following the abdication of his father, King Albert II, in July 2013.
She is the first Belgian-born Queen consort of the Belgians and the only one with noble ancestry among the current consorts of Europe.
The couple have four children: Princess Elisabeth Therese Marie Helene, Duchess of Brabant (12), Prince Gabriel Baudouin Charles Marie (10), Prince Emmanuel Leopold Guillaume Francois Marie (8), and Princess Eleonore Fabiola Victoria Anne Marie (6).
Queen Maxima of the Netherlands (43), is the wife of King Willem-Alexander. In April 2013, she became the first Dutch queen consort since 1890.
Maxima met Willem-Alexander in April 1999 in Seville, Spain, during the Seville Spring Fair. In an interview, they stated that he introduced himself only as "Alexander", so that she did not know he was a prince.
Through her father, she is a descendant of King Afonso III of Portugal and other noble families of the Iberian Peninsula.
The couple have three daughters: the Princess of Orange (Catharina-Amalia Beatrix Carmen Victoria) aged 10, Princess Alexia Juliana Marcela Laurentien (9), and Princess Ariane Wilhelmina Maxima (7).
Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano (41), is the Queen of Spain as the wife of King Felipe VI, who became king in June this year on the abdication of his father, Juan Carlos I. Before her marriage to Felipe, Letizia was a journalist and news anchor.
Although her mother came from a working-class family, on her paternal grandfather's side she is a descendant of an untitled family descended from mediaeval nobility who served as Constables of Castile.
Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark (42), is the wife of Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark. Frederik is the heir apparent to the throne of Denmark, which means that at the time Frederik inherits the throne, Mary will automatically become Queen consort of Denmark.
The couple met at the Slip Inn, a pub in Sydney, when the prince was visiting Australia during the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Their official engagement in 2003 and their marriage the following year were the subject of extensive attention from Australian and European news media, which portrayed the marriage as a modern "fairytale" romance between a prince and a commoner.