Queen Margrethe of Denmark: Doyenne of Monarchs.

Princess Margrethe Alexandrine Þórhildur Ingrid was born on 16 April, 1940, at Frederik VIII’s Palace in Copenhagen, the eldest child of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark (elder son of the reigning King Christian X) and his Swedish-born wife Ingrid, the only daughter of the Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden (later King Gustaf VI Adolf). In addition to the Danish and Swedish royal houses, Margrethe also had strong links to the British Royal Family (her late maternal grandmother, after whom she was named, was Princess Margaret of Connaught, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.) Margrethe was born at a time of great national crisis in her Danish homeland as, only a week earlier, troops of the German Third Reich had occupied Denmark. The princess’s birth would later be referred to as ‘a touch of sunshine.’ in an otherwise bleak landscape. Nevertheless, the new-born did not even feature in the line of succession, despite the fact that Crown Prince Frederik was the current heir, as it was not possible for a woman to ascend the Danish throne.

Margrethe was christened on 14 May at the Holmens Kirke in central Copenhagen by Provost Dr Michael Neiendam. Given the circumstances, it was hardly a time for a large celebration. Indeed, the occupation period was a dramatic time for the Danish royal family, who had to walk a difficult path in relation to the German occupying power. King Christian X seemed to catch the mood of the moment when he set out resolutely, most mornings, to ride through the streets of Copenhagen, to be greeted with great enthusiasm by his subjects. He soon became a national icon among the population for this symbol of opposition. Meanwhile, both the Crown Prince and Crown Princess had difficulty accepting Denmark’s ‘cooperation’ with Germany but soldiered on with their life. Some would argue that it was more a process of ‘negotiation’ for, whereas in other occupied countries an independent German administration was established, in Denmark, it was still the Danish authorities that had the formal responsibility for governing. However, matters changed in late August 1943, when extensive sabotage activity (for instance the Danish navy sunk many of its own ships at Holmen) and unrest (including strikes and protests) in several Danish major cities led to the imposition of martial law by the Germans. The King was placed under house arrest for around six weeks and the Danish parliament ceased to function. The birth of another daughter, Benedikte, in April 1944, provided a welcome addition to the royal family, not to mention a playmate for Margrethe who was now often pictured with her parents. Meanwhile, opposition to the German occupiers continued apace with further strikes in Copenhagen and other towns in Zealand, Lolland-Falster and South Jutland. Then, in September 1944, several thousand Danish police were sent to concentration camps by the increasingly embattled occupiers.

Denmark was finally liberated on 5 May 5, 1945, at 08:00, by British forces led by Field Marshal Montgomery. An exception, however, was Bornholm, which was liberated by Soviet forces. In August 1946, Ingrid gave birth to a third daughter who was named Anne-Marie. She was seen by many Danes as a symbol of a liberated Denmark. The three sisters would form a tight bond which survived marriage and many decades later would provide comfort in widowhood. Ingrid was a relatively strict mother who liked order and routine. For instance, the children had their meals earlier than their parents and went to bed at a reasonable hour. What has recently been revealed, and briefly discussed by Margrethe herself, was the future king had a problem with alcohol. However, his wife was an invaluable support to him in the battle to fight this addiction which he eventually overcame. Margrethe would later reflect that ‘there was something or other’ but it certainly did not seem to impact greatly on the equilibrium of a happy childhood home. One occurrence which did make an impression was a car crash in the summer of 1948, when Margrethe’s mother was at the wheel of her Ford Mercury and hit a tree near Graasten Palace. Anne-Marie and her eldest sister were in the front seat next to their mother. Margrethe recalled, ‘Suddenly there was a loud bang. The next thing I know, I woke up in a hospital bed at Sønderborg Hospital with a bandage around my head.’ This may account for the present-day Queen of Denmark’s preference to be driven rather than to drive herself.

On 20 April, 1947 Margrethe’s grandfather, King Christian X died and her father was proclaimed King Frederik IX. Although the heir to the throne was now Frederik’s younger brother, Hereditary Prince Knud, Margrethe would recall that when she was aged twelve, she was aware of discussions taking place to change the rules of succession in her favour. Interestingly, this period coincided with the ascension of her kinswoman, 26-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, to the throne of the United Kingdom (and numerous other realms), following the death of her father King George VI in February 1952. In later years, Margrethe would also remember how, some five years earlier, the then Princess Elizabeth had made a speech to the people of the British Empire from Cape Town, on her 21st birthday, dedicating her ‘whole life whether it be long or short’ to ‘your service.’ This broadcast made ‘an enormous impression’ on the young princess. In Denmark, changes were eventually enacted via The Succession to the Throne Act of 27 March 1953 which introduced conditional female succession in Denmark as of 5 June. This meant that a female descendant of the current reigning sovereign could now inherit the throne, providing that there was no male heir, which, of course, in King Frederik IX’s case, there was not as all his children were daughters. The princess was now referred to as Crown Princess Margrethe. Interestingly, in 2009, this Act was amended such that the eldest child, regardless of gender, will inherit the throne.

Margrethe received a good education but it was not that of a typical Danish girl of the period. From 1946-1949, she was tutored privately, along with six other girls, at the Amalienborg. She then spent a spell at the well-known N Zahle’s School for Girls. She found it hard to concentrate at school and admitted to being shy. Subsequently, during the 1955-1956 school year, the (by now) Crown Princess was a pupil at the North Foreland Lodge, a reputable girls-only boarding school in Hampshire, England. She returned to Copenhagen to complete her schooling, again at the Amalienborg, where teachers from several local high schools gave her instruction in their particular subjects. By the age of 17, the Crown Princess had started to smoke cigarettes, after having been offered one by her parents, who were both avid smokers (the King preferred a pipe, while Queen Ingrid used a tortoiseshell cigarette holder) although it has been said that they perhaps hoped that having tried some, she would not care to pursue the habit. When Margrethe graduated in 1959 with excellent grades, the press photographed her wearing the traditional matriculation cap which is worn in Denmark, accompanied by her (only) classmate Birgitte Juel. But even at this time the future queen had led a relatively sheltered life. For instance, at the age of 14, Queen Ingrid arranged for her daughter to participate in dancing classes which were held in private homes. The group was specially selected and composed of twelve girls and twelve boys.

On her 18th birthday, 16 April 1958, Margrethe was admitted to the Council of State, a body mainly composed of government ministers of cabinet rank, which meets around fifteen times a year for the coordination of government policy and the granting of royal assent to bills, the purpose of which are explained by the relevant minster. If required, she was now able, as heir to the throne, to chair meetings of the Council, in the King’s absence. Like her male predecessors, it was felt that the future queen should have a military education and so she enrolled for a period of training in the Danish Air Force.

Given her academic talents and future role, it was decided that the Crown Princess should proceed to university. In 1959, Margrethe studied philosophy at the University of Copenhagen before enrolling, in 1960, at Girton College, Cambridge from where, in 1961, she received a Diploma in Prehistoric Archaeology. She later studied political science at Aarhus University (where she lived on campus, often cooking for herself.) and, in 1963, attended the Sorbonne in Paris. She later moved to England in 1965 to complete her studies at the London School of Economics. However, archaeology would remain her enduring interest and she later admitted in a documentary that had circumstances been different, ‘If you had asked me when I was an 18-19 year old, there was no doubt; Then I would have studied archaeology. I would have spent ten years doing that and hopefully obtained a good job.’

While Margrethe was still undergoing her academic studies, her youngest sister, Princess Anne-Marie, became engaged to her third cousin, Crown Prince Constantine of Greece. He was also a Prince of Denmark, his great-great grandfather being King Christian IX of Denmark. The couple married on 18 September 1964 and, as Constantine had by then ascended the throne as King Constantine II of the Hellenes, following the sudden death of his father on 6 March, Anne-Marie was now known as the Queen of the Hellenes. This event caused the Danish press to speculate on who Margrethe might marry (and when!) They would have to wait a further two years for the answer. During her period at the London School of Economics, Margrethe was introduced at a dinner party to a charming French diplomat (then accredited to the French Embassy in London) of aristocratic lineage, Henri Comte de Laborde de Monpezat. They met again at a wedding of a friend in Scotland, in April 1966, when he invited her out to lunch. The Crown Princess had never been out on a ‘date’ with a member of the opposite sex and found that, although she had little appetite for the meal itself, the sparks were certainly flying between the two lunch partners. On September 2, 1966, Ekstra Bladet’s correspondent Sven Peter Sabroe revealed that an engagement was imminent. On 5 October, the engagement was formally announced and the duo appeared together on the balcony of the Amalienborg. The couple were married on the 10 June 1967 at the Holmens Kirke, with a reception for four hundred guests afterwards at Fredensborg Palace. Henri was now styled as His Royal Highness Prince Henrik of Denmark. The newlyweds soon settled into an apartment in the Amalienborg’s Christian IX’s Palace. They were also given the use of Marselisborg Castle, near Aarhus which was renovated using monies received from a ‘folk fund’ raised at the time of their nuptials. Henrik was already a talented linguist (he had lived in French Indochina) and spoke French, English, Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese and now focused on learning Danish, although he and Margrethe invariably spoke French together in private.

The following year, on 26 May, the Crown Princess gave birth to a son, Frederik. His arrival was soon followed by another boy, Joachim, on 7 June 1969. These developments in Margrethe’s life galvanised her for the future, she feeling that ‘the home front was ready and there.’ She was fortunate in that the boys enjoyed a good filial relationship, as she acknowledged in a 2022 interview with Billed Bladet, ‘Since the boys were very young, they have been aware that there is a difference in their roles. However, this has not posed any problem in the brothers’ upbringing.’ She added, ‘Frederik and Joachim have always been a great support for each other. I remember thinking how incredibly lucky I was to have two boys who got along so well and who didn’t suffer from any jealousy.’

On 31 December 1971 Margrethe’s father made his New Year speech at 6 pm prompt. He looked tired and unwell. Immediately thereafter he took to his bed at the Amalienborg with suspected influenza. The traditional New Year receptions due to take place on 5 and 6 January were cancelled by the Court Marshall’s office. On 3 January King Frederik was admitted to hospital after suffering a heart attack. Margaretha was appointed Regent the following day, although by 5 January her father’s health had improved somewhat and this change for the better would continue over the next few days. Unfortunately, on 12 January, the King’s condition deteriorated and preparations were in hand for the transition. His Majesty died at 7.50pm on 14 January with Queen Ingrid and all his children and sons-in-law at the bedside. Later that evening the flags of the Royal Guard were moved from the late King’s home, the Frederik VIII Palace to Christian IX’s Palace, the new Queen’s residence, a neat way of signifying the new reign of the latest incumbent of one of the oldest royal houses in the world, stretching back some 1000 years to the times of Gorm the Old.

On 15 January, Queen Margrethe appeared on the balcony of Christiansborg Palace alongside Prime Minister, Jens Otto Krag who proclaimed, as tradition dictated, three times, ‘King Frederik the Ninth is dead. Long live Her Majesty Queen Margrethe the Second.’ The Queen was clearly affected as she made a brief speech to her subjects. Her Majesty was then joined on the balcony by her husband who bowed and kissed her hand. Both waved to the crowds before retreating indoors. The uncertainty she had displayed as a child now seemed to disappear as she had a kingdom to run and she admitted, ‘It was as if everything my father had taught me came into its own.’ His memory and example were of tantamount importance to her, for as she admitted in 2012, ‘He was a wonderful father and I loved him very much.’ There was no time for unnecessary self-reflection, ‘You pull yourself together.’ She also believed firmly that, ‘The least one can do is one’s best.’ There was certainly a hill to climb for at time of her accession, the monarchy had an approval rating of around forty-five per cent. However, Margrethe acknowledged that where the monarchy was concerned, ‘nothing can be taken for granted,’ and she was certainly of the view that ‘you give your life to your country.’

From the beginning of her reign, Margrethe’s year has always been planned well in advance. The Amalienborg Palace (more specifically Christian IX’s Palace) is Her Majesty’s official base in Copenhagen and is used mainly in the winter months, although the Queen usually appears on the balcony on her birthday, 16 April. This is also the setting for the Queen’s New Year televised broadcast to her people. However, in spring and in the autumn, the Queen is in residence at Fredensborg Palace, located some 24 miles north of Copenhagen. This palace is often used for State Banquets and other official occasions. Christmas and Easter is usually celebrated at Marselisborg Castle, as are periods in the summer.

From the outset she was accessible to the public. For instance the Queen holds an audience at Christiansborg Palace on a number of Mondays throughout the year for members of the public who register in advance to attend. This is to give the Queen’s subjects the opportunity to personally thank Margrethe, for example, for the award of a royal order or medal, a royal appointment or for the Queen’s participation at an event or a visit. Throughout the conversation, only the person seeking the audience and the Queen are present. This tradition dates back the reign of Christian V. During these public audiences Margrethe wears a brooch bearing the insignia of the Order of the Elephant. This was a gift from her father on her 18th birthday in 1958.

The Queen also reaches out to her subjects when she makes her traditional New Year speech on Danish television. This is usually viewed by 2.5 million of her people. As a general rule, they are based on a draft speech provided by the Prime Minister’s office. Next, the Queen, with the help of her Private Secretary, personalizes the speech. During the filming of a 2010 Danish TV documentary “The Royal Family from Within” she states, ‘I’ll take it up and work on it and maybe add more from my own side. I’m trying to make it a speech that I can really vouch for myself.’ This process can take some time as she thinks it all through. It has to be the correct balance for as her then Private Secretary, Henning Fode noted, ‘Here the Queen has a political space that she uses and where it is fully acceptable and fully accepted that she uses that space in her New Year’s speech to express some opinions on essential societal problems.’ These can include immigration or climate change. Appropriately, in 31 December 2021, she sent thanks to those who had helped in the fight against the coronavirus. Margrethe delivers the speech ‘live’; it is not pre-recorded.

The Queen makes use of the Royal Yacht Dannebrog for expeditions to various Danish towns and cities in order to carry out an extensive range of official engagements (with dates varying from June right through to September.) The Dannebrog is also used as a base for visits further afield, particularly to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the Queen having visited both on 10 occasions using this mode of transport. The Crown Princely couple have also used Dannebrog to travel to these destinations. Yet some engagements are more spontaneous such as her visit to Afghanistan in March 2011 to visit the Danish Battle Group of Task Force Helmand at Camp Price, where she was pictured alongside officers in a green jumpsuit and trainers.

Queen Margrethe regularly speaks to the press. This extends to international news organisations such as Britain’s ITV or CNN in the United States. She can be outspoken, certainly more so than say Britain’s late Queen Elizabeth II. In a recent interview with Weekendavisen, she gave a damning assessment of Vladimir Putin (whom she had met in 2011 and 2014) ‘I remember thinking he was not pleasant. I have never seen such cold eyes in my life.’ Yet, royal historian Lars Hovbakke Sørensen acknowledges that in speaking so frankly, Margrethe is being more political than in past times.

Margrethe receives important overseas guests such as heads of state, heads of government or foreign ministers in private audience which usually take place in Christians IX’s Palace at the Amalienborg. The monarch also receives foreign ambassadors to the Kingdom of Denmark either at Fredensborg Palace or Amalienborg who, before they can perform their duties as an official envoy, must hand over their credentials. They are conveyed to the relevant palace in a covered carriage accompanied by a court chamberlain. Often other members of the embassy staff, such as the military attache are included. The Queen also receives outgoing ambassadors in audience before they leave Denmark.

As a constitutional monarch, the Queen’s role is particularly limited. She certainly does not wield political power-at least not overtly-although she doubtless has influence. There is certainly an ample opportunity for dialogue between Margrethe and her Prime Minister (and Foreign Minister) when these politicians meet with Her Majesty to report on the latest political developments. Nevertheless, Margrethe openly admits that she was ‘brought up to be outside [day-to-day] politics.’ Ultimately, she has observed that ‘I should be able to be completely impartial.’ As head of state, she participates in the process to form a government, taking soundings from representatives of the various political parties. According to the website of the Danish Royal House, ‘the monarch [then] calls on the party leader with the most seats in parliament to form a government’. Furthermore, although the monarch signs acts of parliament, such legislation only becomes law when it is countersigned by the government minister of the relevant department responsible for the law.

The Queen, although more than content to undertake her public role to the full, has been keen to emphasise the need for a private life free from media intrusion, especially in these times when there is ‘more pressure’ from the press and social media: ‘We do need to have a home base which is unassailed where we can be at peace and where we can recuperate.’ She has been at pains to emphasise that this had nothing to do with maintaining the mystique of the monarchy; rather it is a case of ‘You can’t work if you aren’t able to relax.’

Prince Henrik, meanwhile, had to establish a role for himself at the Danish Court as he was the first male consort in Denmark’s history. Not an easy matter when there are no established boundaries, no dedicated funds initially with which to run an office and you are also being criticised for speaking indifferent Danish with a foreign accent! Nevertheless, he soon became involved with many organisations including, in 1972, assuming the role of President of the World Wildlife Fund in Denmark. He was also Patron of the Danish Red Cross and Honorary President of the Royal Danish Yacht Club. Furthermore, in 1974, the Queen and the Prince bought the Château de Cayx, located in the Cahors district of France. Although this would become a much-loved holiday home for the family, it had also been acquired for a commercial purpose as the Prince went on to successfully produce and sell wine for a period of more than 40 years. And of course it maintained the Prince’s links with his homeland and could act as a bolt hole if required. Certainly, there were many rumblings over the years about Henrik’s dissatisfaction over his role and place in the royal hierarchy. It certainly did not help that when the Queen was unable to attend the traditional New Year reception in 2002 for ambassadors and diplomats, it was Crown Prince Frederik who was called upon to deputise for his mother rather than Prince Henrik. Perhaps in attempt to make his role more defined, in 2005 he was given the title of Prince Consort. Press reports indicated that this still did not meet with his total approval. Some sources stated he would liked to have been known as King on the basis that if a King’s wife is known as Queen, then why should a Queen’s husband not be known as King? In a recent interview with Weekendavisen’s Editor-in-Chief, Martin Krasnik, the Queen blames herself for not paying more attention to Prince Henrik’s challenges in connection with his role and calls her younger self ‘ hilariously naïve’, for not anticipating these hurdles. Perhaps she is being a trifle hard on herself as, after all, while he was learning to play ‘second fiddle’ (as she puts it), Margrethe was herself adjusting to her new role as Sovereign.

In widowhood, Queen Ingrid remained a strong presence in her eldest daughter’s life. She certainly knew of the aforementioned difficulties with Prince Henrik, even sending, according to the British diarist Nigel Dempster, for a copy of an article which had appeared in the British press on the subject. Although she became increasingly frail, Ingrid’s mind remained sharp to the end. To Margrethe, her mother was, ‘a constant support and joy for me.’ Her death, on 7 November 2000, at her home, the Chancellery, in the grounds of Fredensborg Palace, was a blow, for Ingrid’s advice and wise counsel (always given quietly but firmly behind the scenes) had been a source of comfort to her daughter. Fortunately, all of the family (including Crown Prince Frederik, who had been in Australia for the Olympic Games but rushed home for he and his grandmother had always been very close) were at her bedside. The funeral took place in Roskilde Cathedral and was attended by the Kings and Queens of Sweden, Norway and Belgium, the Queen of the Netherlands, the Queen of Spain, Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Josephine Charlotte of Luxemburg and Britain’s Prince Charles. Also present were many members of the extended Swedish Royal Family including Ingrid’s brothers Carl Johan and Sigvard Bernadotte. In keeping with tradition, Queen Ingrid was laid to rest next to her husband, King Frederik IX.

However, as in all families, new family members were welcomed into the fold. In May 2004, Crown Prince Frederik married an Australian marketing executive, Mary Donaldson in a ceremony held at the Cathedral Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen. The couple had met at the Olympics in Sydney in September 2000. Frederik’s mother formally gave her consent to the marriage at the a State Council meeting on 8 October 2003. The Queen and her daughter-in-law established a good rapport. Margrethe informed CNN in an interview in 2012 that she thought Mary, with whom she had a ‘warm relationship’, was ‘very competent’ and that she was ‘very confident in her.’ It perhaps helped that the new Crown Princess tactfully often asked her mother-in-law for advice on her public role. The couple have four children: Christian (who is second-in-line to the throne), Isabella and twins Vincent and Josephine.

Prince Joachim had actually been the first of the brothers to marry in 1995. His first wife was Alexandra Manley, a marketing executive, who was born and raised in Hong Kong. The couple had two sons, Nikolai and Felix. However, the marriage foundered (some say she preferred city life; while Joachim preferred living in the country). The duo separated in September 2004 and divorced the following year, with Princess Alexandra taking the title of Countess of Frederiksborg on her remarriage in 2007. Prince Joachim also remarried in the same year. His second wife is a Frenchwoman Marie Cavallier who had worked in advertising and finance. They have two children, Henrik and Athena and currently live in Paris where Prince Joachim, a Brigadier-General, is Military Attaché at the Royal Danish Embassy. The Queen’s face was said to light up when any conversation involved a mention of her two daughters-in-law and, during the 2022 interview with Billed Bladet, Margrethe emphasized that she enjoyed a very close relationship with both Crown Princess Mary and Princess Marie.

It has been said that the Scandinavian royalties had a more informal lifestyle than their British counterparts. This was perhaps true, but only to a point. For instance it is hard to imagine Queen Elizabeth II hanging out of a window at Windsor Castle, her hair somewhat unkempt and wearing night attire, to be serenaded by staff and family. Yet this is exactly what Margrethe and Henrik did at Marselisborg Castle on the 25 anniversary of their marriage. However, Margrethe is also a stickler for good manners, not to mention protocol. “I don’t think we went to school together,” she once rebuked a young journalist, who did not address her correctly. Nevertheless, she still has the ability to laugh at herself, as was proved when the Queen made a surprise appearance at a farewell performance by actor Ulf Pilgaard in 2021. For some forty years he had appeared in Denmark’s famous Circus Revue, often parodying Queen Margrethe with a queenly-style dress, tiara atop his head, dangly earrings and cigarette at a jaunty angle in his mouth. Margrethe gamely came on stage and presented Ulf with a small gift-said in the press to have been an ash tray-as a memento of this occasion.

The Queen has for many years been involved designing sets and costumes for television and theatre productions. This she acknowledged, came for ‘a need to express myself.’ Her natural talent was augmented by help and supervision from those with more experience and expertise. For instance, in 1987 she was in charge of costume design for the Danish television production of the Hans Christian Andersen tale “Hyrdinden og skorstensfejeren” [The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep] and as recently as November 2022, at the age of 82, she was at work on a production of the “The Nutcracker” at the Tivoli Theatre (with which she has a long association stretching back some thirty years-this is her fifth production there). The hope was at that time expressed that Margrethe might be involved in the Tivoli’s 2023 production “The Snow Queen.” As videos of her at work reveal, she is literally very hands on in her approach. The Queen is paid for the work she does and this money is given to her charities. She has found this to be ‘hard work’ but ‘great fun.’ In addition, Margrethe has embroidered copes for the clergy, made a decoupage drinks tray (‘pieces of imagination’) for use in a guest room and fashioned a zany floral raincoat out of a waxcloth tablecloth. This is perhaps not surprising from an individual who once admitted that she dreamed in vivid technicolour. Indeed, her talents seem almost without limit: What other Queen Regnant has translated works by Simone de Beauvoir into their native language? She herself acknowledges that one needs ‘a certain amount of confidence and perhaps, madness!’ It has to be said that it must also be a wonderful diversion from her everyday role as sovereign.

In terms of holidays, later in the summer the Queen will spend time at Graasten Palace, often in the company of her sisters, as this palace is filled with memories of their childhood and time spent privately with their parents (King Frederik and Queen Ingrid had adopted this as the family’s summer home as far back as 1935, when they were still Crown Prince and Crown Princess). The Queen usually takes a holiday, in February, at Gausdal in Norway and, in August, she enjoys a break with family members at the Château de Cayx. Her Majesty can also make use of a hunting lodge at Trend near Bjørnsholm Bay, Limfjorden. This was purchased by her parents in 1935 using monies received as a ‘folk gift’ at the time of their marriage.

During her New Year’s Eve speech in 2015, Margrethe indicated that Prince Henrik was to retire from public life. On 14 April 2016, he renounced the title of Prince Consort and was thereafter to be referred to as Prince Henrik. According to the Danish Royal House’s head of communications, this decision had been made on the basis that this title was better suited to the Prince’s new life in retirement. In the summer of 2017, it was revealed in the press that Prince Henrik did not wish to be buried beside the Queen at Roskilde Cathedral as he had never been treated as an equal in life, so he should not be treated as an equal in death. This view which was greeted with a mixture of incredulity and annoyance. Apparently, Margrethe had known of her husband’s decision for some time. There seems little doubt that by this stage the Prince was stricken by dementia. A close friend of Margrethe throughout her long life, Birgitta Hillingsø, states in a recent book by Thomas Larsen, that the diagnosis of Henrik’s dementia came somewhat late, the implication being that it had affected his reasoning over a longer period of time than was perhaps realised. Birgitta added that, ‘it was really a hard few years for her…but she never complained.’ Indeed, she would later praise him for his ‘love and support.’

2022 was a very special year for both of Europe’s reigning Queens. The senior monarch, Queen Elizabeth was celebrating an amazing seventy years on the throne, while Queen Margrethe was celebrating a reign of fifty years. Although the 96-year-old British Queen appeared very frail and was largely confined to ceremonial duties at Windsor Castle, her Berkshire home, Her Majesty managed to make an appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, on 5 June, during a weekend of celebrations for her Platinum Jubilee (although her actual day of ascension had been 6 February, 1952). Margrethe was in awe of her sister sovereign, telling Britain’s ITV that, ‘the way she has faced her duties, the way she is dedicated-also she does it with a smile.’ The Danish monarch also commented on Elizabeth II’s ‘clear’ voice and ‘marvellous sense of humour.’ Margrethe also opined that, although Elizabeth had only the previous year lost her husband Prince Philip, ‘She is still bearing up beautifully.’ Indeed, at this time there seemed no reason to think that she might live to attain her centenary, as had her mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who lived to be 101. Then suddenly, on the evening of 8 September, a news flash over the BBC and other networks stated that Elizabeth II had died peacefully at her Scottish summer home, Balmoral Castle. Although not many people realised it at the time, this left Margrethe as the sole Queen Regnant in the world. Furthermore, she had also assumed the (admittedly informal) position as the doyenne of the European monarchical scene being the longest-reigning monarch in Europe. In terms of the world-at-large, only the Sultan of Brunei has currently ruled longer.

On 11 September 2022, there was what can only be described as a televised dinner (attended by 1000 guests) with music-some would say ‘a party’ at Christianborg Palace as part of the celebrations for Queen Margrethe’s Golden Jubilee. This was attended by Scandinavian royalties and presidents, as well as distinguished guests from all over Europe. Yet, Margrethe was somewhat pensive when she rose to make her speech to those gathered. She asked that everyone in the Great Hall stand and observe a minutes silence to the memory of her kinswoman, friend, and mentor Queen Elizabeth II whose recent death ‘has made a big impact on us’. However, it was very much Margrethe’s evening and Crown Prince Frederik made an emotional speech concerning ‘generations with the same mission’ taking ‘the helm’ of the Kingdom: ‘I follow you as you followed your father and as Christian will follow me.’ Yet, he also emphasised to his mother that currently, ‘You alone have the helm.’ On 19 September, the Crown Prince accompanied his mother to London to attend Elizabeth II’s funeral at Westminster Abbey. Margrethe was also later part of a select group of royalty who attended Elizabeth’s interment at St George’s Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle, led up the steep steps to the West Door by her nephew, Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece (Crown Prince Frederik had to leave earlier to fulfil prior engagements overseas).

On 28 September, to the bewilderment of the Danish nation (who had only recently given their sovereign an 80% approval rating) and most members of her own family, Queen Margrethe announced her decision to slim down and modernise the Danish monarchy by stripping her youngest son Prince Joachim’s four children, Nikolai, 23, Felix, 20, Henrik, 13, and Athena, 11, of their titles as princes and princess of Denmark which they had held since birth. Furthermore, they would also no longer be referred to as ‘His (or Her) Highness.’ This was to take effect from 1 January 2023. ‘It is a consideration I have had for quite a long time,’ Margrethe told reporters after the decision was announced. ‘I think it will be good for them in their future.’ The four grandchildren are now styled as His (or Her) Excellency the Count (or Countess) of Monpezat. Prince Joachim publicly criticized his mother for her action relating to his ‘sad’ children asking, ‘Why should their identity be removed? Why should they be punished in such a way?’ Apparently eldest grandchild Nikolai, who spoke of his ‘shock’ at the decision, also now wondered what name would be placed on his passport. The Queen subsequently conceded in a further statement that, ‘I have made my decision as Queen, mother and grandmother, but, as a mother and grandmother, I have underestimated the extent to which much my younger son and his family feel affected.’ There has been speculation that the Queen made the decision about the titles to avoid Crown Prince Frederik having to deal with such things when he becomes king, a fact Margrethe recently confirmed in Martin Krasnik’s Weekendavisen interview.

The Queen spent Christmas Eve of 2022 privately in the company of her sister Benedikte and some friends on the Djursland peninsula. Crown Prince Frederik and his family were on a Christmas visit to the Crown Princess’ family in her native Australia; while Prince Joachim and his family (wife Marie and all four children) were also ‘overseas’, doubtless licking their wounds. As usual, on the last evening of the year, 31 December, the Queen was back at the Amalienborg, to make her traditional New Year’s speech at 6pm. Queen Margrethe once again opened up about ongoing drama relating to Prince Joachim’s children losing their royal status, a decision which was due to come into effect in a matter of hours: ‘Difficulties and disagreements can arise in any family, including mine,’ adding ‘That the relationship with Prince Joachim and Princess Marie has run into difficulties causes me hurt.’ Yet, within days she was back at work, attending a diplomatic reception on 3 January.

Nevertheless, regardless of this recent development, both sons joined their rather frail mother and Princess Benedikte in Athens for the funeral, on 16 January 2023, of King Constantine of the Hellenes who had died on 10 January of a stroke (although his health and mobility had been in decline for many years.) At the graveside at the royal burial ground at Tatoi, Margrethe stood stoically behind her mourning sister, Queen Anne-Marie, her hand gently placed on the widow’s arm to provide reassurance, while to the rear, Princess Benedikte kept a careful watch over both her siblings. Margrethe and all of the Danish royal party later lunched with the Greek Royal Family at the Grand Bretagne Hotel. Frederik and Joachim then travelled together out to the airport, where they amicably parted ways-Joachim to fly back to Paris to his job at the Danish Embassy, while Frederik returned to Copenhagen as, the following day, he had official duties to undertake in relation to the UNESCO-UIA World Capital of Architecture 2023 events. Margrethe and Benedikte returned to Denmark next day, giving them a chance to provide comfort to their youngest sister. Yet, the media, Denmark’s TV2, even found a reason to find a link between this sad occasion and the stripping of titles from Prince Joachim’s children with the headline, ‘The Queen has cleaned up the Royal Family, but Constantine’s descendants are still princes and princesses of Denmark.’ TV2 pointed out that, ‘This is despite the fact that they have very little affinity with the country.’ Historically, the link goes back to when a Prince William of Denmark, the younger son of the future King Christian IX of Denmark, was selected in 1863 by the Great Powers to be Greece’s new monarch. He was to be known as King George I of the Hellenes. This decision was ratified by the Greek Parliament at the Danish prince’s insistence. According to historian Emma Paske, the King of Denmark, realising the volatile political situation in Greece, arranged a ‘safety net’ whereby the descendants of George I should bear the titles of princes and princesses of Denmark, so that they always had Denmark to come back to. Whether that will now change remains to be seen but Paske argues that this is a matter for the head of the Greek family, not Queen Margrethe.

On 8 February the Royal House issued a statement indicating that Margrethe was about to undergo surgery on her back (some twenty years ago she had an operation for spinal stenosis.) Then on 16 February, the Queen’s interview with Martin Krasnik received widespread coverage in the Danish press and on social media. Margrethe had been in a reflective mood (perhaps not surprising given that she was about to undergo surgery and had only recently buried her brother-in-law), noting that ‘The crucial thing is that you grow heartily with your country and become deeply connected to it. That has been my ideal.’ She also spoke of Ukraine. While some of her subjects still commented on the royal titles question on Det Danske Kongehuse Instagram page, most praised ‘ our super, cool Queen’ and frequently mentioned her ‘intelligence’ ‘skill’ and ‘wisdom’.

On 22 February Queen Margrethe underwent what was describe as ‘extensive back surgery’ at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen. Her condition was described as ‘good and stable under the circumstances.’ Her Majesty now required a longish period of convalescence and rehabilitation. Crown Prince Frederik (and during his absence abroad in India Princess Benedikte) acted as Regent. By the end of February, Margrethe was already out of bed and walking a little. On 3 March the Danish Royal House website indicated that she had been discharged from hospital and was back in residence at the Christian IX Palace. There are certainly tentative plans afoot for the Queen to embark the Dannebrog, in early June, for yet another summer tour in the Bornholm Municipality and Ertholmene archipelago, followed by visits to Nordsjælland and Halsnæs Municipality.

As Queen Margrethe recently explained in the interview with Weekendavisen, ‘The crucial thing is that you grow deeply with your country and become deeply connected to it. That’s been my ideal.’ There is little doubt that she has achieved this and more. Like Queen Elizabeth II there will be no abdication by Margrethe from her duties as sovereign (as has been the case in the Netherlands and Belgium) although doubtless Crown Prince Frederik will, as he is currently doing, take on an increasing amount of the day-to-day work.

We wish Her Majesty a speedy recovery.

Robert Prentice is the author of the biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times (link below for e-book) Hard Copy also available from Amazon.

Princess Ragnhild of Norway: A Life of Contrasts.

Princess Ragnhild of Norway was born on 9 June 1930 at the Royal Palace in Oslo, where her parents, Crown Prince Olav and his Swedish-born wife, Crown Princess Märtha had decamped some three weeks before, as a fire had almost destroyed their family home at Skaugum, in the village of Asker, west of Oslo. Ragnhild was the first Norwegian Princess born on Norwegian soil in over six hundred years. In her autobiography (published in 1995), Princess Ragnhild relates how her Swedish mother was anxious that her first-born child should come into the world on the 25th anniversary of the dissolution of Norway’s union with Sweden (7 June 1930), so that target was missed by two days! However, despite being the eldest child of the Crown Prince, Ragnhild was not destined to become queen, as at that time there was no right of succession to the throne of Norway for females. Had she been born under the constitutional rules of today, the Princess would eventually have succeeded her father Olav as Queen of Norway.

When a mere two and a half weeks old, Ragnhild was baptized by Bishop Johan Lunde in the Royal Palace Chapel in Oslo. The infant was carried throughout much of the ceremony in the arms of her paternal grandmother, Queen Maud of Norway (a daughter of Britain’s King Edward VII). To commemorate the occasion, 1,400 Norwegians bearing the name of Ragnhild collected sufficient money to provide a baptismal gift of a cross which was embellished with five natural pearls from different geographical areas of Norway.

The Princess was raised at Skaugum until the age of ten, receiving a private education at home. Joining her in the nursery, in February 1932, was a younger sister, Astrid. In February 1937, Crown Princess Märtha gave birth to a son, Harald. Being a male, he was second-in-line to the throne of Norway from the moment of his birth and the succession was secured for the future. Like all children, the royal trio enjoyed visits from their paternal grandfather, the recently-widowed King Haakon, who liked nothing better than to motor out to Skaugum to play with his grandchildren or watch them bicycling (or in Harald’s case tricycling) through the grounds. Haakon also enjoyed lunching with the family and was invariably full of jokes. Interestingly, Ragnhild was also old enough to remember attending the circus with her English-born paternal grandmother Queen Maud, who died in November 1938 in her native England. The children’s maternal grandparents, Danish-born Princess Ingeborg of Sweden and her husband Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland, also relished entertaining their Norwegian grandchildren at their whitewashed Swedish summer home Fridhem, near Norrkoping. Fridhem was a children’s paradise, with a wonderful parkland to play in and a brick-built Wendy House filled with sturdy furniture and cooking utensils where the children could play ‘house.’ It was also at Fridhem that young Raghild spent time with her cousins who included the children of her mother’s younger sister Queen Astrid of the Belgians, Joséphine-Charlotte, Baudouin and Albert. Also often present were the much older Danish cousins, Georg and Flemming (the offspring of Crown Princess Märtha’s elder sister, Princess Margaretha, and her husband Prince Axel of Denmark).

Ragnhild and her siblings formed a close bond at Skaugum, which was fortunate as the Norwegian Royal family was soon to undergo a period of major change: A month after Nazi Germany flexed its muscles by occupying Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Crown Prince Olav and his wife commenced a ten-week, 15000-mile goodwill tour through thirty-four states of the United States, visiting many places with large Norwegian populations, particularly in the mid-west. They were invariably greeted by members of the fraternal Sons of Norway (Sønner av Norge) organisation. The royal duo returned in July with many gifts for their three children including native Indian outfits for the girls and a cowboy outfit for little Harald. However, as far as the future was concerned, the most important ‘gift’ was mentioned, at the beginning of the visit, during a stay with President Franklin D Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor at their private home, Springwood, close by the town of Hyde Park on the Hudson River. During a one-to-one meeting with the Crown Prince, the President made it clear to Olav that he would offer sanctuary to his three children in the event of any war in Europe reaching Norway. It would not be long before the Crown Prince would ask the President to make good on his promise for, on April 9, 1940, German forces invaded Norway. At Skaugum, the Crown Prince received news of the invasion in the early hours of the morning with deep concern. Almost immediately, the children were awakened from their slumbers, provided with a quick breakfast, and then bundled into a car alongside their parents, with Crown Prince Olav himself taking the wheel and driving at top speed to the Royal Palace in central Oslo.

In order to avoid capture by the occupying power, it was now decided that all the Royal Family, the Government and the Storting (Parliament) should leave Oslo immediately by a special train from Østbanen Station. Fru Ragni Østgaard, the Crown Princess’s Lady-in-Waiting, kept a diary and observed that it was only when the train arrived at Lillestrøm station, just as the nearby Kjeller aerodrome was being bombed, that the seriousness of the situation became apparent to the royal family, particularly where the children were concerned for they were growing anxious as wave after wave of enemy aircraft flew overhead. Although Astrid cried and appeared somewhat distraught, Ragnhild seemed to be a little less affected, asking Fru Østgaard if this was just a rehearsal.

By early evening, the royal group had reached Hamar, with accommodation and dinner hastily arranged at a manor house at the Sælid Estate. However, with the Germans still in hot pursuit, it was decided to travel eastwards to Elverum. At this juncture, the heart-breaking decision was made that while King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav should remain in Norway, the Crown Princess and her children should attempt to cross the border into Sweden, Märtha’s country of birth. Although the royal party had no passports, they managed to enter Sweden at a crossing near Trysil, just prior to 1am on the morning of 10 April. Later, the group found accommodation at the nearby Sälen Høyfjellshotell, a well-known hotel for winter sports enthusiasts. As it was a bright, sunny day, the children borrowed skis from the hotel and spent most of the day outdoors, doubtless recovering from the traumas of the previous day. A few days later, they were delighted to be joined, from Stockholm, by their grandmother, Princess Ingeborg. As the Swedish officials were keen for the Norwegian royals to relocate, as soon as possible, for fear of a German raid over the border to kidnap them, Princess Ingeborg arranged for them to stay with the Swedish King’s grandson, Count Carl Bernadotte of Wisborg, at his home at Rasbo, near Uppsala. The children thought it was exciting to sneak out of the hotel in the dead of night on yet another adventure. Indeed, so quick was the departure of the royal entourage that there had been insufficient time to pack food for the journey, so the royal party had to make do with pastries purchased en route.

A few weeks later Ragnhild and her siblings found themselves on the road again, when King Gustav of Sweden offered his niece the use of Ulriksdal Palace in Stockholm. However, neither King Haakon nor Crown Prince Olav were keen on Märtha and the children remaining there as neither particularly trusted King Gustav, who was thought to have pro-German leanings. Furthermore, this mistrust had been exacerbated by the Swedish King’s recent actions: When, on 11 April, King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav had been in dire danger from occupying forces and requested to cross into Sweden at the Lillo customs crossing, the Swedish Foreign Minister, given the uniqueness of the situation, had contacted King Gustav for his input. Back came the reply, which was imparted to his brother sovereign, ‘Cross the border and you will be detained.’ Olav now become so concerned for the safety of his children and wife that he wrote to President Roosevelt from his then hiding place at Trangen, Langvatnet, on 10 May, reminding him of his offer made at Springwood a year before.

While Ragnhild and her siblings enjoyed themselves swimming and playing in the grounds of Ulriksdal, Crown Princess Märtha was being subjected to considerable political pressure from the Administrative Council in Oslo, who indicated that they wanted her to return (with Prince Harald) and assume the role of Regent until her son reached his majority. This, it was argued, would save the monarchy. However, it would also require King Haakon’s abdication. In a telegram to Hitler, on June 16, the Swedish King openly encouraged the Germans to adopt this ‘Norwegian Regency’ model. The Crown Princess was clearly aware of King Gustav’s ploy and sent a telegram to London warning her husband and father-in-law that her Swedish family (i.e., King Gustav) and Hitler were conspiring to remove King Haakon and set up a regency.

Since there was now a very real danger that the Crown Princess and Prince Harald might be kidnapped and taken to Oslo, on 22 June Crown Prince Olav wrote again to President Roosevelt (this time from Buckingham Palace in London, as he and King Haakon were required to leave Norway on 7 June to set up a government-in-exile and carry on the fight against the Nazi regime from England) asking him to make good on his offer of sanctuary to his children, but this time he also included a request on behalf of his wife. On 12 July, the US Secretary of State sent a message to the US Minister in Stockholm saying that President Roosevelt was arranging for a naval transport vessel to be sent to Finland to evacuate the Crown Princess and her family along with a group of ‘stranded’ US citizens.

On 18 July, Crown Princess Märtha received a telephone call from the Norwegian Minister in Washington, Wilhelm Thorleif von Munthe af Morgenstierne, to inform her that an American warship, the USS American Legion was being sent to Finland to transport her and her children to the United States. On 12 August, Ragnhild and her siblings were once again on the move when, along with their mother and a royal entourage, they travelled by rail to the Finnish port of Petsamo (now Petsjenga, Russia) where, on 15 August, they embarked the American Legion which transported them across the Atlantic to New York. Märtha appeared on the ship’s manifest as ‘Mrs Jones.’ Others in the party included the Crown Princess’ Chief of Staff, Peder Anker Wedel Jarlsberg, her Lady-in-Waiting, Mrs Ragni Østgaard, the latter’s son Einar and the royal children’s nurse, Signe Svendsen.

The Norwegian royal entourage arrived in New York on 28 August, after a stormy journey. They were taken to the Waldorf Astoria hotel where an eight-room apartment on the 32nd floor was put at their disposal. Ragnhild was photographed with a posy of flowers at the hotel entrance. Inside, she found a room full of dolls and toys awaiting her in the family’s luxurious suite. The children later joined their mother in the sitting room where the Crown Princess held a press conference. Märtha emphasised that her family’s presence in America was temporary which must have given some reassurance to Ragnhild.

The families next stop was to the private home of their host, President Roosevelt, at his country home at Hyde Park, which had a wonderful informal retreat, Top Cottage, where Ragnhild and her siblings played happily in the swimming pool; while Märtha took the chance to have a long chat with the President about her current situation. The duo also discussed where she might live. Within days, the Crown Princess and her children were heading to the White House in Washington D.C., from where the President took the Crown Princess for a drive in his official car to view a large twenty-four roomed property, set in 105 acres, at Pook’s Hill, Maryland. This was subsequently leased by the Norwegian government-in-exile for the royal family’s use.

America was a whole new way of life, both for the children and their mother. Although Crown Princess Märtha was already proficient in English (albeit with a strong Scandinavian accent) the three children were soon completely fluent in English. Nevertheless, their mother insisted that only Norwegian was spoken at home. The Crown Princess remained focused on providing her children with a secure upbringing and, in this respect, the US President proved a good friend: Roosevelt would often drive out to Pook’s Hill to take tea with the Norwegian royals; in turn they were often asked for lunch, tea, dinner or for a swim in the heated pool at the White House. Sometimes they joined the President and his family on a sailing trip on board the Presidential Yacht USS Potomac, perhaps on a short trip down the Potomac River to Mount Vernon, the home of the Founding Father of the United States, George Washington. President Roosevelt also helped Märtha to find schools for the children. The Norwegian royals also invariably celebrated Christmas with the Roosevelt family. Otherwise, the children lived a peaceful and normal life, with only occasional glimpses of the war from newsreels and the like.

In September 1941, King Haakon broadcast to the people of the United States thanking them for their unwavering support. Ragnhild and her siblings joined their mother to listen to their grandfather’s words over the radio at Pooks Hill. Yet many Americans remained determined isolationists and did not want to be drawn into any conflict. However, when the Japanese bombed the US naval facility at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in December 1941, the United States entered the war on the Allied side. This change would prove to be fortuitous for Norway.

During the summer of 1942, Ragnhild bid farewell to her mother as she flew to London for King Haakon’s 70th birthday on 3 August. The latter awarded his daughter-in-law with the Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of St Olav for her role in promoting the Norwegian cause in the United States. Then, in September, the Crown Princess was present at Washington’s Navy Yard, when President Roosevelt handed over the gift of a submarine chaser to the Norwegian Navy. This was named the HNoMS King Haakon VII. Indeed, Ragnhild’s mother would now be regarded as a key figure in the Norwegian war effort, particularly in the USA, as she patriotically toured hospitals, churches, and schools with links to Norway. Nor was she averse to enrolling Ragnhild and her younger children to further the cause, as is exampled by the royal family’s regular visits to “Little Norway” the Norwegian Air Force training camp at Muskoka Aerodrome in Ontario. The propaganda value of such a patriotic royal visit was immeasurable, even more so if these pictures somehow found their way into the hands of Norwegians in their occupied homeland. The Crown Princess also invited the press into the family’s Maryland home for charming photographic opportunities, featuring Ragnhild and her sister and brother riding their bicycles or posing with their mother in the drawing room. Furthermore, on Norway’s National Day, 17 May, the royal siblings were photographed parading along with other children, their Norwegian flags held proudly aloft. These images were widely circulated to the US and international press. On other occasions, snaps were taken of the children with President Roosevelt whom they now called ‘Godfather,’ although he was probably more of a grandfather figure to these youngsters. They were on particularly good terms with the President’s photogenic Scottish Terrier, Fala. It all made for good publicity, as did Ragnhild’s mother’s radio broadcasts at Christmas to the people of Norway, in which she stated with emotion, ‘We think of you with sadness in our heart but also with unspeakable pride.’ For Christmas 1942, it was the turn of Ragnhild and her siblings to gather around the radio microphone to send Christmas greetings over the airways to those at ‘home.’

While in the States, the Crown Princess and her children enjoyed visits from Crown Prince Olav. However, they were never quite sure as to when he would arrive, although there was always a warm welcome when he did. Olav tried to spend several months of the year in the US and if it could be arranged to coincide with Christmas, all the better. During one of his visits, in May 1944, he accompanied Ragnhild to Chester in Pennsylvania where she christened a 10,000-ton tanker ship, assigned to the Norwegian Merchant Navy, the Karsten Wang.

Following the capitulation of Nazi forces on 8 May 1945, Ragnhild returned to Oslo on 7 June aboard the British ship HMS Norfolk, having set sail from Rosyth in Scotland, on 5 June, in the company of King Haakon, Crown Princess Märtha and her siblings Astrid and Harald. Wearing ill-fitting duffle coats, the teenage Princess’ and their brother were up on deck as the vessel sailed up the Oslofjord, escorted by happy Norwegians who took to the waters in all manner of flag-bedecked sailing craft, from fishing boats to tugs, to welcome their beloved Sovereign home. Ragnhild’s father, Crown Prince Olav, had returned to Norway on 13 May and he joined his family aboard HMS Norfolk at Moss for what must have been a very emotional reunion. In Oslo, the greeting from the hundreds of thousands of Norwegians who lined the streets by the Honnørbrygga was overwhelming and described by Aftenposten, a respected Norwegian newspaper, as ‘The biggest and most beautiful day in the history of free Norway.’ On one street alone, a large sign the breadth of the road read ‘Velkommen Hjem.’ King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav, Crown Princess Märtha and the three royal children later all appeared together on the balcony of the Royal Palace which was bedecked for the occasion with a large flag of Norway.

Yet, this must have been a difficult period of adjustment for Princess Ragnhild who had become used to the American way of life and education, not to mention the freedom which five years of relative anonymity (and a group of American friends) had brought. Nevertheless, following the family’s return to Skaugum in November (the royal residence had been occupied by the Nazi Reichskommissar Josef Terboven during the war and it had taken time to make it habitable again) she commenced her studies at the Nissen Girls’ School, obtaining her school leaving certificate in 1948. She later spent four semesters, between 1948 and 1949, studying at a finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland. During this immediate post-war period, she met, and over time was to fall in love with, Erling Lorentzen, the son of a wealthy shipping owner and former member of the Norwegian resistance. He was seven years her senior. Post-war he joined King Haakon’s bodyguard with responsibility for his three grandchildren and he later taught Princess Ragnhild and her sister to sail aboard their sailing vessel Ukabrand. When Erling was attending Harvard Business School in the United States, around the same time Ragnhild was in Switzerland, the two continued to maintain a long-distance correspondence. In the meantime, a new batch of photographs was released to celebrate Ragnhild’s 18th birthday in June 1948. The Princess also began to undertake official engagements including a reception for US servicemen at the United States Embassy in Oslo in September 1949; while in May 1952 she attended events in connection with the visit of NATO supremo, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Again, in October, she and Astrid jointly opened an exhibition of items from the recently independent nation of India.

Ragnhild also travelled abroad to undertake duties on behalf of her homeland. In June 1951 she travelled to Paris to open the House of Norway. While in the French capital, she also attended the wedding of Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma to Yolande De Broglie. She was seen off at Fornebu Airport by her father, Crown Prince Olav. Also present was Erling Lorentzen which perhaps might indicate a measure of recognition of the situation that was developing on the part of Ragnhild’s father. There was no sign, however, of Crown Princess Märtha. Crown Prince Olav was also at his eldest child’s side when Ragnhild and Erling attended a cross-country ski event (known as the 50km Holmenkollen) in March 1952, only two weeks after the completion of the VI Winter Olympics in Oslo.

On August 3 1952, Ragnhild was part of large party (including her maternal grandmother Princess Ingeborg of Sweden) who gathered in the Bird Room of the Royal Palace for a group photograph to celebrate King Haakon’s 80th birthday. There was also a balcony appearance at an event at the City Hall. She had earlier been photographed (cigarette in hand) alongside her smiling grandfather in the more relaxed environment at Skaugum. However, behind the smiles both King Haakon and Crown Princess Märtha resisted the prospect of Ragnhild’s marriage with a commoner, a situation they knew might prove controversial with members of the public. At one stage the couple were not allowed to meet for a whole year, presumably as some sort of test as to their commitment to each other (or perhaps in the hope that Princess Ragnhild might change her mind and look for a more ‘suitable’ royal suitor.) Ragnhild was taken aback by her family’s attitude writing to Erling that, ‘If I do say so myself, they have been more than terrible to me in this difficult time of ours.’ In desperation, Crown Princess Märtha now tried to engage the services of the war hero and resistance fighter Gunnar “Kjakan” Sønsteby as an intermediary. He was a close friend of Erling Lorentzen, and the Crown Princess wanted Sønsteby to make use of his influence and persuade Erling to break up with Ragnhild. But Sønsteby refused. It is no wonder that Ragnhild would write that, ‘It is almost the worst thing for me, that they [also] say and act like that towards the one I am so incredibly fond of’. Lorentzen would later recall that, ‘It was undoubtedly a difficult decision for King Haakon… and it was certainly a difficult position for all parties.’ Indeed, after years of angst and little progress on the matter, Erling finally decided to speak to King Haakon directly. He recalled ‘We had an open conversation. He did not give me any blessing. I later understood that he had raised the matter with the Prime Minister and the President of the Storting.’ This was the case and, in January 1953, Crown Prince Olav wrote to his daughter to say that ‘Now Grandfather has received an answer from Torp [The Norwegian Prime Minister] regarding you and Erling, and I am happy to be able to tell you that Grandfather will give his permission for you to get married.’ Olav seemed keen to unburden himself further adding, ‘I know it has been a difficult time for you… but I hope you still understand that this has not been done out of ill will, but because …..above all, that we, your parents, could be completely sure that you fully understood what you were doing..’

The couple’s engagement was announced on 14 February 1953 with a press conference being held at the bride-to-be’s home at Skaugum. They married at Asker Church, on 15 May, in the presence of her parents, her grandparents King Haakon and Princess Ingeborg of Sweden, with the King and Queen of Denmark and Britain’s Princess Margaret (sister of Queen Elizabeth II) being among the better known foreign royal guests. Following her marriage, the bride became known as Her Highness Princess Ragnhild, Mrs Lorentzen. She was no longer entitled to be addressed as Her Royal Highness following her marriage to a non-royal personage. Furthermore, her birthday was removed as an official flag day in Norway.

Ragnhild and her husband now moved to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where Erling planned to work for a couple of years in the shipping and gas sectors. These interests would later be extended into wood pulp production and cellulose. But that did not mean that Ragnhild was cut-off from her Norwegian family. She returned to Norway to visit her ailing mother, Crown Princess Märtha, who died of liver failure on 5 April 1954. Sadly, she had become infected with the hepatitis virus during an operation undertaken shortly after the Second World War. The period following this surgical procedure was difficult for the family as the Crown Princess’s health continued to deteriorate, her family having eventually been made all too aware that ‘there was only one way’ this could end. For Ragnhild the anxiety must have been acute, for she was pregnant with her first child throughout the final months of her mother’s life. On 23 August, Ragnhild gave birth to a son, Haakon, at Oslo’s Rikshospitalet. The child was christened at Asker Church the following month in the presence of his great-grandfather, King Haakon, maternal great-grandmother Princess Ingeborg and grandfather Crown Prince Olav. (Ragnhild would also return to Oslo for the birth of her second child, Ingeborg, on 27 February 1957.)

Following Crown Princess Märtha’s death, Princess Astrid took on the role of First Lady of Norway, helping her father and grandfather to entertain foreign dignitaries and accompany them on official duties. However, this did not prevent Ragnhild from also being present in Oslo for official events, such as State Visits. Such was the case when her kinswoman, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II paid a State Visit in June 1955 (the first of four visits by Elizabeth to Norway for the family bonds were close.) A wonderful memento of the visit was when Ragnhild and Astrid posed with ‘cousin’ Elizabeth in summery dresses. Over the years the Princess would also be present, inter alia, during State Visits by President Nyerere of Tanzania (1976), Queen Margrethe of Denmark (1992) and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands (2010).

Only a few weeks following Queen Elizabeth’s visit, while Ragnhild was still on a family vacation in Norway, King Haakon suffered a bad fall in his bathroom at Bygdøy, breaking a thigh bone. Ragnhild and her husband paid him a visit at Oslo’s Rikshospitalet in August. The King would now be confined to a wheel chair and Crown Prince Olav appeared in public on his father’s behalf. When, on 21 September 1957 King Haakon died at the grand old age of 85. Princess Ragnhild travelled from Brazil for the funeral which was held on 1 October. She was also present at her father, King Olav V’s Consecration at Trondheim on 22 June 1958, a date which was particularly historic as this was the 52nd anniversary of the Coronation of King Haakon and Queen Maud on 1906. Ragnhild was prominently seated at the front of the cathedral and had a clear view of her father as he knelt before the high altar, while Trondheim’s Bishop Arne Fjellbu recited the consecration prayer in which he asked for God’s blessing on the King and his royal office. The Princess later appeared on the balcony of the Royal residence in Trondheim, Stiftsgården, alongside her father and her siblings.

On a cold, snow-covered day at Asker, in January 1961, Ragnhild, wrapped up against the cold in a long fur coat, attended the wedding of her beloved sister, Astrid, to Mr Johan Martin Ferner. Mr Ferner, an Olympic Silver medal winner in sailing, was not only a commoner (the son of a prosperous Oslo department store owner) but he was also divorced. The latter fact fanned the flames of controversy and even although Astrid had waited patiently for many years for permission to marry Mr Ferner, when King Olav finally gave his consent (following the inevitable consultations with the Prime Minister and President of the Storting) there was an outcry from many members of the clergy. Since Ragnhild had already been through the matrimonial mill, she was ideally placed to offer an empathetic ear to her younger sister during this difficult period. Having married a commoner, Astrid -like Ragnhild-was no longer entitled to be called Her Royal Highness. Henceforth, she would be addressed as Her Highness, Princess Astrid, Mrs Ferner.

Princess Ragnhild, meanwhile, lived a relatively quiet life in a large apartment in Rio de Janeiro, taking care of her children. She rarely gave interviews but when the veteran journalist Annemor Møst met the Princess in her adopted homeland, he found that the Ragnhild remained ‘absolutely Norwegian’ and continued to maintain Norwegian traditions, particularly at Christmas when she loved to light many candles in Brazilian heat (as it was the height of summer, temperatures there often reached over 40 degrees Celsius). Furthermore, her apartment near the beach at Leblon, became a gathering place for Norwegians to visit, and the Princess’s concern for them, as well as her care for the disadvantaged in Rio, won her many friends. Among other things, she established Princess Ragnhild’s Fund for Children in Brazil and in 1961 the Princess laid the foundation stone for the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Santos, and was, according to one clergyman, a ‘driving force’ in raising funds over many years. She also opened the church’s annual Christmas bazaar. Ragnhild’s friends found her to be caring, faithful and loyal, with an infectious sense of humour. However, in large gatherings, she could appear to be shy and reserved. Jens Stoltenberg, who visited her in Rio, would later describe her as ‘our best ambassador to Brazil.’

In September 1967, Ragnhild was briefly in the limelight in her adopted homeland when King Olav paid a State Visit to Brazil. The Princess accompanied her father to his meeting with President Artur da Cost e Silva at the latter’s office in Rio (Ragnhild, as was the custom, subsequently met with the President’s wife). She and King Olav later attended Brazil’s Independence Day celebrations in Rio, on 7 September, where they joined the President and his wife on the review stand throughout the military parade (which included a fly-past by aircraft of the Brazilian air force). Ragnhild and her father then flew to the nation’s capital, Brasilia, on 8 July, to attend a formal state reception at the Itamaraty Palace. The following day, Ragnhild acted as hostess for the King at a return reception given by the Norwegian delegation at the Hotel Nacional. She then joined King Olav for a two-day visit to São Paulo.

On 8 May 1968 the Princess gave birth to a second daughter, Ragnhild Alexandra, at the Amparo Feminino Hospital in Rio. Although not born in Norway, the infant was baptized at Asker Church the following September. In the meantime, the Princess attended the wedding, on 29 August, in Oslo Cathedral, of her brother Harald to Sonja Haraldsen, a commoner. As with the marriages of his sisters, Harald (who had first met Sonja at a party in the summer of 1959) had been forced to wait (in his case for nine long years) before being permitted to wed. It is said that Harald grew so frustrated with the situation that he informed his father and the Norwegian Prime Minister, Per Borton, that if he could not marry Sonja he would remain unmarried for the rest of his life, thus threatening the future of the monarchy. Finally, the necessary consents were granted and the couple’s engagement was announced by the Royal Palace on 19 March 1968. Over 850 guests attended the wedding, including the King of Sweden and the King and Queen of Denmark. The Princess would later record that her ‘first impression’ of her new sister-in-law ‘was very good. I thought that the couple would probably get along well, because Sonja seemed both sweet and sensible.’ Ragnhild and her brother continued to remain close and, in September 1973, she made sure to be in Oslo for the christening of his son Haakon, the second-in-line to the throne of Norway. She was also present at Harald’s 40th birthday celebrations in February 1977.

In April 1982 Ragnhild attended the wedding of her son Haakon to Martha Carvalho de Freitas. This was followed two months later by the nuptials of her elder daughter Ingeborg to Paulo Ribeiro Filho. Harald’s daughter Princess Märtha Louise was a bridesmaid and Crown Princess Sonja also attended the celebrations. In September, Ragnhild and her husband were in Oslo for the events to celebrate King Olav’s 25 years on the throne.

On 17 January, 1991 King Olav died of a heart attack, aged eighty-seven, at his winter residence Kongsseteren. Ragnhild was present at his bedside, as were her brother and sister. Indeed, since her father had suffered a debilitating stroke in May 1990, the Princess had spent much of her time in Norway, full of daughterly attentions. King Olav’s death must have been a major blow for the Princess for the two were close. Furthermore, where she had previously stayed with her father in his royal residences, following his passing, Ragnhild decided to buy a flat in Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district as a base during her visits to Norway. It was here, now that her family in Brazil was grown up, that she would escape from the summer heat of Rio during the months of January through to March. Her life in Oslo (as in Rio) was mostly spent quietly: solo official engagements were few, although she still served as a Patron of the National Society for the Deaf in Norway. The Lorentzen’s also often vacationed at their cabin, which they named Arnfinnstølen, in the Votndalsåsen area, where Erling enjoyed meeting up with friends from his time in the Norwegian resistance. Back in Brazil, Ragnhild was also glad to make use of a new country house, at Pedra Azul, in the Serrana Region of Espírito Santo, where the temperature was considerably cooler than in Rio de Janeiro. The couple raised horses here, and there was sufficient accommodation for up to six guests with a cook to take the strain from entertaining.

The Princess attended the consecration of her brother King Harald in Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral in June 1991. A few years later, the Ragnhild and her sister Astrid inaugurated an exhibition of their grandmother, Queen Maud of Norway’s wardrobe at the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design. As she was over eight years old at the time of her paternal grandmother’s death, Ragnhild retained happy memories of the elegant Queen Maud gardening at Skaugum (where the two were often photographed together.)

Although a private person, in 1995 Ragnhild decided to write her autobiography (this was penned with the help of author Lars O. Gulbrandsen) published under the title, “Mitt liv som kongsdatter” [My Life as a King’s Daughter]. She wrote lovingly of her brother Harald noting that ‘The big age difference between Harald and me (6.5 years) made us never argue like most siblings. I thought my little brother was sweet, kind, and cheerful-yes, just as he is today.’ Ragnhild also admitted to being glad she was not the monarch noting that, ‘It must be a terrible struggle and responsibility to be a monarch, but Harald is doing a fantastic job.’ She added that,’ I see a lot of my father’s traits in Harald who, with each passing year, becomes more and more like him.’ In 1999, she also talked of her relationship with her homeland, in an interview with VG magazine, ‘We feel at home in both places. Our roots are both here [Brazil] and in Norway but she added ‘Now I couldn’t imagine staying 365 days in Norway.’

As the new millennium dawned, Ragnhild celebrated her 70th birthday. This caused some interest and Norwegian journalist, Tante P, conducted a television interview with the Princess during which she mentioned that she and her father had kept a up a regular(weekly) correspondence throughout her years in Brazil. She also indicated that these letters were currently in a safety deposit box and she had left instructions that they should be burned following her death, given that they were private correspondence of ‘no historical significance.’ However, when it emerged, in August 2001, that she had subsequently burned the correspondence (estimated in the press to be between 1500 and 2000 letters), historians were aghast. Author Knut Olav Åmås of the Norwegian Biographical Society stated bluntly that the Princess was hardly qualified to assess the historical value of this primary source stating, ‘It’s extremely sad to hear. A very important source of the history of the Norwegian monarchy has been lost. It’s shocking. It is a particularly unwise act by Princess Ragnhild…’ Yet, apparently, she was greatly influenced by the wishes of her late father. Indeed, King Olav described the letters as “his little chat with his daughter once a week” and according to his wishes, the letters were not registered in the Royal Court archives, nor did he want the letters to be made available to the public at any time, according to a Royal Palace press release.

Controversy or no controversy, in January 2001, Ragnhild attended her maternal uncle, Prince Carl Bernadotte’s 90th birthday party at the Grand Hotel in Oslo. This gave her an ideal chance to catch up with her royal cousins, her late Aunt Astrid’s daughter Josephine-Charlotte (then Grand Duchess of Luxembourg) as well as her son, Albert (at that time the King of the Belgians). Also present was Count Flemming of Rosenberg, the son of Crown Princess Märtha’s eldest sister, Princess Margaretha of Denmark. In early 2003, Ragnhild helped host an 80th birthday party for her husband Erling at the Grand Hotel. King Harald, Queen Sonja and Queen Silvia of Sweden (who had close family links with Brazil) were among the guests. Then, in July, Princess Ragnhild and her husband attended a football match between Norway and Brazil at Ullevåll Stadium. The result was a rather diplomatic draw. In November, there was the joyous occasion of the wedding of her youngest child, Ragnhild Alexandra to an American, Aaron Matthew Long. Princess Astrid and her husband were guests at the nuptials in Sao Pedro de Alcantara Church. However, the King and Queen did not attend which was not surprising given that they had recently concluded a State Visit to Brazil.

Princess Ragnhild was also known for having strong opinions, or rather what the former Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg referred to as her ‘fresh remarks.’ The Princess let it be known, in an interview with Anne Fredrikstad of Norway’s TV2 channel for their documentary “Princess in Exile”, which was shown in early 2004 (but recorded at her home in Rio in the autumn of 2003) that she did not approve of her brother’s children’s choice of spouses (Crown Prince Haakon wed, in August 2001, Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby, a single mother; while his sister, Princess Martha Louise married author Ari Behn in May 2002). Ragnhild observed that the royal family in Oslo must have had ‘bad advisers,’ adding that King Olav would never have approved of these matches. However, several Norwegian politicians, including Kjell Engebretsen, opined that the Princess should keep quiet about her private perceptions of the royal children, adding ‘I think that she should worry more about the President of Brazil.’ Ouch! Certainly, these remarks must have seemed surprising from the woman who, some fifty years earlier, had cleared the way for a member of the Norwegian royal family to marry a commoner for love. And after all, King Harald and Princess Astrid had both gone down a similar route. Furthermore, Ragnhild had been quite content to attend the nuptials of the couples whom she was now criticising. Meanwhile, Ragnhild and Erling celebrated their Golden Wedding with a trip aboard the car ferry MS Prinsesse Ragnhild which travelled the Oslo to Keil route.

Some commentators have indicated that Ragnhild’s remarks may have been prompted by her annoyance at her treatment by the Norwegian King and Queen during their recent State Visit to Brazil. Whereas in 1967, King Olav had chosen to place Ragnhild at his side throughout his State Visit, during the October 2003 visit King Harald’s sister received no official invitation to participate in any aspect of the visit. Indeed, when Ragnhild attended events, it was as the wife of her businessman husband, not in her role as a Norwegian Princess or the sister of the King. For this reason, she was unable to travel on the royal party’s chartered plane during a visit to Brasilia, the Norwegian Ambassador Jon Gerhard Lassen emphasising that this was because ‘Princess Ragnhild is not part of the official delegation;’ while the press spokesman for the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Karsten Klepsvik, stated somewhat disingenuously that, ‘She would probably have been invited to some events during the state visit if she were not married to a member of the business delegation.’ The only private contact King Harald and Queen Sonja had with the Lorentzen family during their stay in Brazil was a lunch in Búzios on the day they flew into Brazil, but prior to the State Visit officially commencing on 7 October. The King and Queen also saw fit to cancel-at short notice-a family lunch at the end of the tour with Ragnhild and Erling at their Rio de Janeiro home. Nevertheless, in his official speech at a dinner given by the Governor of Rio at the Palace of Laranjeirast, the King did go out of his way to mention his sister and brother-in-law, stating ‘We also feel a special connection to the city since my sister, Princess Ragnhild, and Erling Lorentzen have been living here with their family for fifty years.’ And really this was the point. Indeed, Norwegian commentator Stig Tore Laugen expressed his surprise that Ragnhild (and her husband) should have been treated in this way given that ‘the Lorentzen couple “are” the symbol of Norway in Brazil.’

All seemed to be forgiven and/or forgotten, when in September 2005, Ragnhild joined her siblings and sister-in-law, Sonja, in Washington for the unveiling of a statue at the Norwegian Embassy (their wartime home at Pook’s Hill had long been demolished and the site redeveloped as a housing complex). The statue was a gift presented to the citizens of Norway from the Norwegian American Foundation on behalf of the Norwegian-American community in the United States to mark Norway’s centennial, as well as the Nordic nations one-hundred years of diplomatic relations with the United States. Ragnhild had clearly not forgotten the words of the “Stars and Stripes” and could be seen singing along to the US national anthem. In 2007, on King Harald’s 80th birthday, a replica of the statue was erected on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Oslo, a gift from the Storting, Norway’s Parliament.

On 9 June 2010 the King hosted an 80th birthday dinner for Ragnhild. Among those on the guest list are several long-time girlfriends from her post-war schooldays in Oslo, many of whom she had kept up with over the years. In an interview with the weekly publication Allers, the Princess admitted that even at this age, she did not find it easy to open-up to strangers. She also indicated that she spent a lot of time alone and thrived in her own company. As far as gifts were concerned, Ragnhild indicated that she would prefer it if contributions could be made to her charitable fund for the aid of street children in Brazil. She and Erling had previously attended a Norwegian National Day event in Rio de Janiero on 17 May which was attended by several hundred Norwegians.

In December 2011, Se og Hør interviewed the Princess and Erling in Brazil. Ragnhild indicated that after 59 years in Rio, ‘We will probably not move to Norway again.’ This was consistent with what she had stated to VG in 1999. But behind the scenes she and Erling’s commitment to their homeland remained strong and it was revealed that, in 2011 alone, they had donated one million kroner to help children with cancer. These funds enabled individual grants of 50,000 kroner to be made to a family with a child affected by the disease in order that they could go on holiday or realize a dream together. This donation followed hard on the heels of a larger donation (five million kroner) made three years previously to help with the building and maintenance of a holiday cabin, overseen by the Support Association for Children with Cancer. Ragnhild expressed the hope ‘that the researchers will one day manage to crack the cancer riddle.’

In the same interview, the Princess mentioned that she had now passed over the torch to the younger generation where the hosting of the annual family Christmas celebrations was concerned (before this, up to twenty family and friends had been royally entertained at Ragnhild and Erling’s Rio home.) The reason was simple, ‘It is a lot of work…’ Certainly the years were rolling on and the pace of life had to be adjusted accordingly. In February, 2012 the Princess was photographed with her two siblings at a dinner party given at the Royal Palace to celebrate the 80th birthday of Princess Astrid. The image was later released by the Royal House. Ragnhild looked frail and much thinner than in past times, but appeared tanned and beautifully turned out in a tasteful couture silk outfit. However, she was not present at the joint 75th birthdays celebrations for the King and Queen which were held in May as, at Easter, the Princess had fallen and fractured her hip. However, on further investigation, it was discovered that Ragnhild, who had never been one for bothering doctors, was suffering from lung cancer. Erling was told that his wife would have only six months to live. Initially, he did not share this news with the Princess for several months and she managed to make what would be her final visit to Norway in the summer. Thereafter, Ragnhild returned home to Rio de Janeiro where, as her health faded due to the cancer, she was constantly surrounded by her devoted family. She died in her own bed, in her own house at 9.45am local time on Sunday, 16th September.

Following her death, flags were flown at half-mast in Norway, including at the Royal Palace. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the government had offered to pay for Princess Ragnhild’s funeral, but her family had gracefully declined the offer. The mortal remains of Princess Ragnhild arrived in Oslo on 24 September. Both the King and Princess Astrid were at the airport to receive them along with a bearer party of the Royal Guard. Ragnhild’s funeral was held at noon on 28 September in the chapel at the Royal Palace, where she had been baptized in 1930 and confirmed in 1947. This was followed by a reception for family and close friends at the palace. In the afternoon, Princess Ragnhild was laid to rest, as she herself had requested, in the cemetery at Asker Church where, touchingly, she and Erling had married nearly 60 years earlier. The committal was attended by close family only, just as the rather ‘private’ Princess would have wished.

How was Ragnhild remembered? The then Prime Minister Jens Soltenberg described her as ‘a warm-hearted representative of Norway.’ Kjell Arne Totland, former court reporter with Se og Hør, defined Ragnhild as, ‘a royal of the old school.’ He added, ‘She did not seek the limelight and so probably had a lot in common with her grandmother, Queen Maud. Therefore, I think she was happy that she could live a quiet and relatively quiet life in Rio all these years.’ Odd Nelvik, a former editor with the same publication also recalled that she was renowned for her direct speaking but noted too that, ‘She always had a twinkle in her eye.’

Perhaps the last words should go the Princess herself. In 2010, during an interview with Allers magazine, she stated, ‘My motto in life is to keep the wheels turning as long as possible! And when I think back on life, I am filled with gratitude for all the good times I have had. I have always focused on the positive.’

Robert Prentice is the author of the biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times (link below for e-book) Hard Copy also available from Amazon.

La Veillée: La reine Elizabeth II reçoit l’hommage final.

Sa Majesté la reine Elizabeth est décédée jeudi 8 septembre à son domicile des Highlands d’Écosse, au château de Balmoral. Dans le passé, la reine avait parlé avec d’autres, y compris sa fille Anne, la princesse royale, des plans à mettre en place si elle venait à mourir en Écosse (où elle a passé jusqu’à dix semaines de l’année). L’opération a été appelée “Operation Unicorn” (Opération Licorne) car la Licorne est un symbole de pureté pour les Écossais. Aussi, la licorne apparaît également sur les armoiries du souverain comme symbole de fierté et de force.

Dans le cadre de cette opération, à Édimbourg, dans la soirée de lundi jusqu’à trois heures de l’après-midi de mardi, plus de 26 000 personnes sont passées devant la dépouille mortelle de Sa Majesté dans la cathédrale St Giles pour rendre hommage à la souveraine dont on se souvient en Écosse comme “Queen of Scots” (la reine des Écossais). Le cercueil de la reine reposait sur un catafalque en chêne écossais spécialement fabriqué dans un atelier près du palais de Holyroodhouse. Au sommet du cercueil se trouvait la Couronne d’Écosse, qui fait partie des honneurs de l’Écosse (“The Honours of Scotland”), car les joyaux de la Couronne sont désignés en Écosse. Ce sont les plus anciens joyaux de la couronne au Royaume-Uni. Le cercueil était gardé par le garde du corps des souverains en Écosse connu sous le nom de “Royal Company of Archers”. Ils sont facilement reconnaissables à leur uniforme vert foncé distinctif et leur capot à plumes. Les enfants de la reine étaient tous présents à St Giles et, lundi soir, ils ont monté la garde sur le cercueil de leur mère pendant dix minutes alors que les personnes en deuil passaient.

Puis, mardi soir, la dépouille mortelle de Sa Majesté a été transportée d’Édimbourg à Londres par la Royal Air Force pour le début de la période de deuil là-bas. Le cercueil de la reine gisait, pour une nuit seulement, dans la “Bow Room” du palais de Buckingham, ce qui a permis à d’autres membres de la famille royale, qui ne l’avaient pas encore fait, de lui rendre hommage.

Aujourd’hui, 14 Septembre, à Londres, la foule a commencé à faire la queue pour le mensonge dans l’état de Sa Majesté la reine Elizabeth II à Westminster Hall. On s’attend à ce que des centaines de milliers de personnes assistent à ces événements émouvants. Le cercueil a quitté le palais de buckingham peu après 2 heures de l’après-midi et a été suivi par le nouveau roi, Charles III et ses fils, le prince de Galles (William) et le duc de Sussex (Harry). Également dans la procession se trouvaient les autres enfants du défunt souverain: la princesse royale (Anne), the le duc d’York (Andrew) and le comte de Wessex (Edward). Le neveu de la reine, le comte de Snowdon (fils de la défunte princesse Margaret) ainsi que le duc de Gloucester, cousin de la reine, faisaient également partie du groupe royal. Pendant ce temps, marchant devant le cercueil se trouvaient des membres de la maison personnelle de Sa Majesté. Les Grenadier Guards et la King’s Troop assurèrent l’escorte. Mais immédiatement à droite et à gauche du cercueil se trouvaient d’anciens écuyers de Sa Majesté accomplissant un dernier devoir envers leur défunt souverain.

Au-dessus du cercueil de la reine, qui reposait sur un chariot de canon, se trouvaient la couronne impériale d’État et l’étendard royal. On dit que la couronne contient les quatre perles appartenant à Marie reine d’Écosse qui était mariée à François II, roi de France. À l’avant se trouve l’énorme diamant Cullinan II qui pèse 317 carats (63 grammes).

À l’arrivée à Westminster Hall, le cercueil de la reine a été pris du chariot de canon et transporté par un groupe de Grenadier Guards et placé sur un cafalque, drapé de pourpre royal, au centre de ce grand bâtiment. Les chorales des chapelles royales de Londres chantaient des hymnes et l’archevêque de Cantorbéry dirigeait des prières pour Sa Majesté. Après le départ du roi avec d’autres membres de la famille royale élargie, les membres du parlement britannique ont rendu un dernier hommage à la défunte reine. Enfin, à cinq heures cet après-midi, les portes du Westminster Hall ont été ouvertes au grand public. La salle sera ouverte en continu à partir de ce moment jusqu’à 6h30 le matin du 19 septembre (jour des funérailles).

Robert Prentice est biographe (il a récemment terminé une biographie de la princesse Olga Yougoslavie et de Grèce et du Danemark intitulé “Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times) et contribue régulièrement au magazine Majesty au Royaume-Uni.

Robert Prentice is biographer and regular contributor to Majesty magazine in the United Kingdom.

The Queen’s Final Journey.

Around 10.06 am on 11 September, the hearse bearing the mortal remains of Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, passed through the gates of Balmoral Castle to commence a journey of 175 miles to Edinburgh and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Sovereign’s Official residence in Scotland. The oak coffin was covered by the Royal Standard of Scotland atop of which was a single wreath composed of the late Queen’s favourite flowers including phlox, dahlias, sweet peas, white heather and pine fur. Not long before, Her Majesty’s coffin was carried from the ballroom of the Castle, where it had lain since shortly after her death last Thursday, by six estate gamekeepers, to the accompaniment of the Sovereign’s Piper playing the haunting airs ‘Balmoral’ and ‘Glen Gelder’.

In the cortège immediately behind the hearse was Her Majesty’s daughter, the Princess Royal along with her husband, Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence. Also accompanying the seven-car royal motorcade, as it wound its way along the banks of the River Dee, on a bright Sunday morning, via the A93 towards Aberdeen, was the minister of the church near Balmoral, Crathie Kirk, the Reverend Kenneth Mackenzie (known officially as a Domestic Chaplain to the Sovereign).

At Ballater, the first village on the route (where the Queen knew most of the shopkeepers personally) local residents (and the Member of Parliament) lined the main street in sombre silence. However, the mood was subsequently somewhat lightened when a group of Aberdeenshire farmers mounted a salute by tractors in a roadside field, while an aptly equine tribute to this well-known royal horse owner (and accomplished horsewoman) was provided by some local riders on horseback. As the cortège reached the next main town, Banchory, gentle applause could be heard, and a local member of the British Legion dipped his banner in salute to his late Sovereign Lady.

After the procession had passed by Aberdeen’s Duthie Park, it took the A90 road southwards towards Dundee, quickly passing by fertile farmlands. En route, just after the cortège had entered the County of Angus, there was a brief ‘refreshment’ stop at the small cathedral city of Brechin, before recommencing the journey just after 2pm to travel past the county town of Forfar. It was this stage that the motorcade passed within a few miles of Glamis Castle (which lies just to the south), the birthplace of the late Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret and the ancient ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore, from whom Her Majesty was directly descended, as a granddaughter of Claude Bowes-Lyon, the 14th Earl. It was at Glamis that the young Princess Elizabeth of York (as Her Majesty was then known) learned to appreciate the countryside of Highland Scotland during long summer holidays in the company of numerous cousins.

The cortège then gathered pace until it reached the city of Dundee. The long Kingsway (planned in the reign of King Edward VII but not completed until the reign of his son George V) was lined by thousands of Dundonians, many of whom clapped as the hearse went by. Although the Queen had often visited the city on official duties, she probably would have remembered it better from her youth, as she accompanied her grandmother, Cecilia, the Countess of Strathmore, to a local toy shop in Whitehall Crescent or when, accompanied by her mother, Queen Elizabeth, she enjoyed pre-war shopping trips to a local jeweller in the city’s Nethergate to buy gifts.

The small motorcade then journeyed down the Carse of Gowrie, a fruit growing area, famous for its succulent raspberries and strawberries. There were not so many convenient viewing points from the A90 roadside here, but wherever there was a flyover or a hill, determined groups of locals gathered to salute their late Sovereign. This was particularly so as the cortège merely had time to skirt past the eastern extremities of Perth on the M90 motorway, via the Friarton Bridge. Again, many inhabitants of the ‘Fair City’ travelled out by car to roadside lay-bys to pay their respects; others impulsively slowed down or stopped their cars in the neighbouring northward lane.

The M90 is a fast-moving motorway at the best of times, but it seemed even more so on this historic Sunday afternoon. Other than large clusters of people as the motorcade passed the towns of Milnathort and Kinross, the route was devoid of crowds and the pace quickened. Meanwhile, clearly visible over to the left was Loch Leven, where the late Sovereign’s ancestor, Mary, Queen of Scots had been imprisoned for nearly a year, following her surrender to the Protestant nobles at the Battle of Carberry Hill in 1567. Royal history of even earlier times might also be recalled as the cortège passed the turn-off for Dunfermline, a Royal Burgh and the final resting place of King Robert the Bruce in 1329.

As the might Firth of Forth appeared in the horizon, the hearse carrying the late Queen travelled across the Queensferry Crossing, the newest of three neighbouring bridges which traverse the River Forth at this point. The Queen had opened this structure in 2017, as well as the neighbouring Forth Road Bridge in 1964. Then, as the suburbs of Edinburgh beckoned, the pavements grew busier with onlookers, particularly so in Queensferry Road. After crossing the Dean Bridge spanning the Water of Leith, the motorcade turned right into Lothian Road and eventually ascended to the Royal Mile which links Edinburgh Castle (at the top) with the Sovereign’s official residence in Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse (at the bottom). Here the crowds were up to ten deep on either side and as the road grew noticeably narrower, policemen had to ensure the way was kept clear. Again, just prior to reaching the Palace, the cortège passed by the Scottish Parliament which the Queen had opened in 2004. History, on this journey, was indeed all around.

On reaching the Palace of Holyroodhouse, around fifty staff, as well as members of the royal family including Prince Andrew and the Earl and Countess of Wessex and Forfar, were waiting at the palace entrance to receive the Queen’s mortal remains, along with officials including the High Constables of Holyroodhouse. They were soon joined by the Princess Royal and her husband as they exited the State Bentley in which they had travelled for over six hours from Balmoral. The Queen’s daughter subsequently curtsied deeply to the coffin. A bearer party, formed from the ranks of the Royal Regiment from Scotland, of which Queen Elizabeth II was Colonel-in-Chief, carefully carried the coffin from the hearse (provided by the Aberdeen funeral directors, William Purves) and proceeded with it through the central principal entrance, along the colonnaded piazza of the Quadrangle, up the tapestry-lined Great Stair and into the oak-panelled Throne Room. It is here the late Queen will lie at rest till the afternoon of Monday 12 September, to allow palace staff and members of the Royal Household in Scotland to pay their respects.

Then, a procession, led by His Majesty the King on foot, will accompany the coffin to St Giles’ Cathedral. After a short service to receive the late Queen’s mortal remains, it will lie at rest guarded over by members of The Royal Company of Archers, to allow the people of Scotland to pay their respects. The Queen’s coffin will travel from Scotland by Royal Air Force aircraft from Edinburgh Airport, accompanied on the journey to RAF Northolt in London by the Princess Royal, in the early evening of Tuesday, 13 September. As has already been announced Her Majesty’s funeral will take place at 11am on Monday 19th September at Westminster Abbey in London. Queen Elizabeth II will then be laid to rest at St George’s Chapel Windsor in the afternoon.

Robert Prentice is a royal biographer and regular contributor to Majesty magazine.

A Queen Without Equal.

Here in Scotland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom (and beyond), we mourn the death of our late Queen at her highland estate on Royal Deeside. In these parts, she was invariably referred to as the Queen of Scots, for the title of Elizabeth II did not sit well with many in Scotland, as-unlike in England (prior to the Union of the Crowns in 1603)-Scotland has never had a Queen Elizabeth I. This is why in Scotland the distinctive red post (pillar) boxes do not bear the EIIR insignia that is a common sight over the border in England, but instead carry an image of the Crown of Scotland in relief.

Scotland too had a different sort of relationship with the Queen to that of England. There was a little less overt deference; less curtseying and bowing perhaps. Nonetheless, this should not be confused with a lack of respect, for the Queen was highly regarded by Scots, who loved her work ethic and sense of duty. They also appreciated her deep love of Scotland and its people. Holyrood Week was a regular fixture in her diary, in early July, when the Queen and the Court went into residence at the Sovereign’s Official Residence in Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, in order to allow Her Majesty to undertake a busy schedule of engagements, not just in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, but throughout her northern realm. On occasion, Her Majesty worshipped on a Sunday at the Canongate Kirk (church) just a few hundred yards up the Royal Mile (a mile-long street stretching down through the Old Town from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace). A highlight of the week was the annual royal garden party on the lawns of the Palace; while on alternate years there was a service in the Thistle Chapel of St Giles Cathedral for the Order of the Thistle, the great order of chivalry in Scotland, at which Her Majesty presided as Sovereign of the Order. This was usually followed by a lunch for the Knights and Ladies of the Thistle at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

However, the late Queen is probably more identified with Balmoral Castle than Holyroodhouse. This is unsurprising as she spent far more time there (usually from late July until early October). In past years, she was sometimes seen walking on her estate or in the nearby village of Ballater, invariably wearing a headscarf. In the days when she sailed into Aberdeen Harbour aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia (which was decommissioned in 1997), at the end of her traditional cruise up the west coast of Scotland, small clusters of local residents would line the fifty-mile route to Balmoral in order to wave to the Queen, as she passed by in her Rolls Royce car.

Each week when in residence (pre-pandemic), Her Majesty travelled across the little bridge over the River Dee from the Castle (hence the name Royal Deeside) to attend the Sunday morning service at Crathie Church. Interestingly, on the last weekend of her long life, although she was no longer able to attend the service in person, the Queen entertained the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, The Right Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, who was preaching at Crathie, to dine at Balmoral on the Saturday evening and, after an overnight stay, to partake of Sunday lunch at the Castle the following day. Dr Greenshields remembers that ‘It was a fantastic visit. Her memory was absolutely amazing and she was really full of fun’.

Another ‘hardy annual’ in the calendar at Balmoral was the Queen’s attendance (as Patron) at the nearby Braemar Gathering. Although the royal party (which included the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles) usually remained for only an hour, their attendance at these highland games (with a busy mix of a tug o’ war, highland dancing, hill race and caber [log] tossing) helped to attract a turnout of tourists from around the world. The Queen loved the sound of the bagpipes (according to one of her personal Royal Pipers she had a finely tuned ear) as the pipers marched ahead of the royal cars as they processed towards the showground’s Royal Pavilion.

But of course, in addition to relaxation, the Queen was never off duty at Balmoral. The red boxes followed her from London each day, with official documents to be perused and signed. Her Majesty also invited her Prime Minister and his/her spouse each year for a weekend stay. Although there were elements of fun to the visit, such as an informal evening barbecue somewhere on the Balmoral estate, the Prime Minister also had an audience with the Queen. Indeed, given the royal work ethic, it is hardly surprising that the last image of our late Sovereign was of Her Majesty undertaking one of her main constitutional duties: the receiving of the Hon. Liss Truss MP, the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party, to invite her to form a government as Prime Minister.

The new King (Charles III) also has a deep love of Scotland, some of it thanks to the influence of his late grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, a member of the aristocratic Bowes-Lyon family, with deep roots in Glamis and the county of Angus (Forfarshire of old). Previously, His Majesty was known here as the Duke of Rothesay and Lord of the Isles. As such, he has regularly toured the islands and mainland of Scotland, involving himself with many projects, such as a major restoration programme at Dumfries House, which has brought work to many locals. However, the late Queen Elizabeth II has set a very high benchmark: to many (indeed, the vast majority) she was a Queen Regnant without equal.

Robert Prentice is a biographer and regular contributor to ‘Majesty’ magazine in the United Kingdom. His biography, ‘Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times’ is available to purchase in hardback or as an e-book through Amazon.

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Death of an Iconic Princess.

At 11.40am on 27 August 1968, Princess Marina died peacefully in her sleep at her apartment in Kensington Palace, from an inoperable brain tumour. This had only been discovered by doctors, on 18 July, when she entered the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases for ‘various tests’, as Marina had increasingly found it difficult to put weight on her left leg, which kept giving way, causing her to stumble badly. This devastating news, along with the doctors’ prognosis that the Princess had only six or seven months left to live, was known only to her children, Edward, Alexandra and Michael. Even her beloved older sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, was kept in the dark noting, ‘I can’t make it out exactly what is the cause…’ Marina herself thought it was rheumatism. Although, following her discharge from hospital, she needed daily assistance from a nurse, the Princess was still able to pay a visit to her daughter and grandchildren at Alexandra’s home, Thatched House Lodge, in London’s Richmond Park, on 23 August. Furthermore, on 25 August, Alexandra, her husband Angus Ogilvy and their children, James and Marina, lunched with the Princess at Kensington Palace. Marina’s close friend, Zoia Poklewski was also present. At this stage there seemed no immediate cause for alarm. However, in the evening, Marina suffered a brief blackout and, on the morning of 26 August, she said, ‘I feel tired. I think I will go to sleep.’ It was a sleep from which she would never awaken.

Thus, when word was released of her death, people both in Britain and the British Commonwealth (for the Princess had travelled extensively on official duties to Commonwealth countries both in the Far East, as well as-inter alia-to Canada, Australia and Ghana) were shocked by the news, for she was only 61 years of age. Many could still recall Marina’s arrival in Folkstone, in September 1934, as the chic future bride of the handsome and popular Prince George, youngest surviving son of King George V. Others remembered her as an enduring presence (for some 25 years) when, as President of the All England Tennis and Croquet Club (“Wimbledon” in everyday parlance), she presented the trophies to the champions and runners-up at the end of the famous tennis tournament. The Australian Women’s Weekly called her ‘the smartest of the royal women’ in terms of dress sense and, in England, the late Princess even had a colour named after her, Marina Blue.

It was announced on 28 August that the funeral would take place in private at St George’s Chapel Windsor. It was the height of the holiday season and most of the British Royal family travelled down from Balmoral on Royal Deeside for the service. The Princess’ mortal remains were carried into the chapel by eight officers from regiments of which she was Colonel-in-Chief, her personal standard and flowers atop the coffin. The service was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Ramsey, assisted by Archimandrite Gregory Theodorus of the Greek Orthodox Church. The latter’s participation was particularly apt as Marina had been raised in the Greek Orthodox faith and had remained a regular attendee, during Holy Week, at the Orthodox Easter services at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sofia in London’s Moscow Road. The moving service also included the collect hymn of the Holy Orthodox Church, Give Rest, O Christ, to Thy Servant with Thy Saints. Marina was subsequently laid to rest at the Royal Burial Ground at nearby Frogmore. Interestingly, on the previous evening, the mortal remains of her late husband, Prince George, who died on active service in a flying accident in 1942, had been removed from the Royal Crypt at St George’s Chapel and transferred to Frogmore. Now husband and wife were once again reunited.

In addition to Marina’s three children and other royalties, also present was Marina’s sole surviving sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia. The latter had hastened over from her holiday home near Florence, after being told that Marina’s health had suddenly deteriorated, so as to be at her younger sister’s side for the final hours of her life. Olga wore Marina’s own mourning outfit and veil at the funeral for, in the rush, she had no chance to pack her own. The Duke of Windsor also made a rare appearance at Windsor, to salute a royal sister-in-law who was, after all, the widow of his favourite brother, George.

A public memorial service (which was televised to millions) was held in Westminster Abbey on 25 October. Among the two thousand present were representatives of the British, Greek, Danish, Yugoslav and Russian Royal Families. The presence of the latter was particularly prescient as Marina was (through the maternal line) a great-granddaughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. However, in a nod to the Princess’ down-to-earth character, also present were two representatives of a garage in Iver, where she lived for so many years on the Coppins estate. The Dean of Westminster summed up Marina’s salient characteristics succinctly: ‘her grace and beauty, her spirit of spontaneity, her courage in adversity, her unswerving service to this land of her adoption, her faithfulness in friendship…[and] not least do we thank God for the mutual affection which was established between her and our people…’ And that was Marina’s secret-the British people had taken her to their heart almost from the first; yet equally she had reached out to them. In essence, it was a case of ‘mutual admiration’.

As the years have moved on, Marina is still remembered with great affection. This warmth has long been extended towards her children, particularly Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra, the Hon. Lady Ogilvy who, although in their late eighties, continue to carry out a wide range of official engagements, for dedication to duty was at the heart of their late mother’s ethos.

Robert Prentice is a biographer and regular contributor to ‘Majesty’ magazine in the United Kingdom. His biography of the late Princess Marina’s sister, ‘Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times’ is available to purchase in hardback or as an e-book through Amazon.

King’s Brother Dies in Mysterious Wartime Flying Accident.

On 26 August 1942, newspapers in London and throughout the world were reporting the tragic death of Prince George, the Duke of Kent (and younger brother of King George VI) in an air accident over the north of Scotland. The Duke (who held the rank of Air Commodore in the RAF and was attached to the staff of the Inspector-General of Air) had been en route to Iceland, in a Short Sunderland flying boat, W4026, on the afternoon of 25 August, ostensibly to carry out a tour of inspection of bases there. Interestingly , the Prince, who was very keen to take on a role as a liaison officer between the British and American air forces, had also arranged to hold a second meeting at a US air base in Iceland with the US Air Force General Carl ‘Tooey’ Spaatz. This was to finalise matters discussed between the duo at their first meeting, a week earlier, at a London restaurant in Mayfair, the Bon Viveur. Of those on board (some sources say fifteen, others sixteen), only one survived the air accident-the rear gunner, Flight Sergeant Andrew Jack. He was badly burned as he attempted to pull bodies from the wreck. Among those killed were the Duke’s Private Secretary, Lieutenant John Lowther, His Royal Highness’ equerry, Pilot Officer the Hon. Michael Strutt and Prince George’s valet, Leading Aircraftman John Hales.

The aircraft had taken off from Invergordon on the Cromarty Firth shortly after 1pm. It has been noted that there was low cloud along the south coast of Caithness that day. After clearing the Cromarty Firth, the airplane turned north-east to follow the coastline. Around thirty minutes later, just inland from the village of Berriedale, in north-east Caithness, some shepherds, David Morrison and his son Hugh, heard the aircraft approach from the sea, although they could not physically see it owing to the foggy conditions. However, a loud explosion soon followed, as the Sunderland, having cleared the 2000 feet summit of Donald’s Mount, then somehow lost height and, at an altitude of approximately 700 feet, ploughed into a hillside to the east of Eagle’s Rock, eventually sliding down a hill on its back. Hugh Morrison ran to collect his motorbike and sped westwards to the hamlet of Braemore to raise the alarm. The police at nearby Dunbeath were also alerted and soon several search parties, including local crofters, headed for the hills. When the wreckage and bodies of the deceased were found (not an easy task in the dense mist that pervaded the area) the Duke’s body was easily distinguishable from the identity bracelet he was wearing.

King George VI received the news that evening by telephone from Sir Archibald Sinclair, the Secretary of State for Air (and also-by coincidence-a Caithness landowner), just as he and the Queen were enjoying dinner at their Scottish estate at Balmoral on Royal Deeside. It so happened that one of the guests was the King’s younger brother, Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, who was accompanied by his wife Alice. Both of the brothers and their wives were stunned at the news. The King then had to consider how best to inform his sister-in-law, Princess Marina, of her husband’s death. This was a particularly delicate undertaking for the Duchess of Kent was Greek-born and not on particularly close terms with her British in-laws. The task of arranging this was given to Eric Miéville, the King’s Assistant Private Secretary. Miéville telephoned Coppins, the Kent’s residence near Iver, and ascertained from the butler, Booksmith, that the Duchess had just retired for the evening, but was not yet asleep. He also learned that Miss Kate Fox, Marina’s aged, devoted former nurse was also present, as she was helping with the care of the Kent’s seven-week-old son, Michael. Miéville must then have imparted the sad news to the trusted retainer hoping, no doubt, that she would then gently inform the Duchess that her beloved husband had been killed. However, ‘Foxie’ could not bring herself to climb the stairs, doubtless realising the dreadful trauma this information would inflict on Marina. Instead, she telephoned Zoia Poklewski, a close friend of the Duchess, who lived in a cottage nearby on the Coppins estate, and urged her to come over to the main house at once. When Zoia arrived, Miss Fox related the tragic news as quietly as she could. Nevertheless, Marina must have heard something, for she soon shouted from the landing above, “What are you talking about?” Madam Poklewski then braced herself as she ascended the stairs to convey the harrowing message. According to Marina’s biographer, Stella King, the news of her husband’s death ‘produced a reaction in his widow which was dramatic in its intensity’. Unfortunately, all of Marina’s own family-to whom she was devoted and would, in normal times, have turned to for comfort and courage-lived overseas: her mother, Princess Nicholas (Grand Duchess Helen), was living in Athens, which was occupied by the Germans; her eldest sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, was currently a ‘political prisoner’ of the British government in Kenya; while the middle sibling, Princess Elizabeth, was married to a German, Count Toerring, and lived in Bavaria. Nevertheless, both the Queen (Elizabeth) and Queen Mary (Prince Edward’s mother) would later make the journey separately to Coppins to offer Marina their condolences and support.

Meanwhile, in the north of Scotland, the Duke of Kent’s mortal remains were removed from the hillside and transferred to Dunrobin Castle where Eileen, the Duchess of Sutherland (ironically a friend of the late Prince George) arranged for local undertakers to provide a coffin, which was duly sealed and remained-guarded by RAF personnel-in a flower-filled sitting room for nearly two days. It was subsequently transported by rail from the local station, close by the Highland castle, to London’s Euston Station. The Duke’s body was then taken by car to Windsor Castle to lie in the Albert Memorial Chapel. Soon thereafter, Princess Marina, accompanied by a Lady-in-Waiting, Lady Mary Herbert, arrived at the chapel bearing a bunch of red and white roses from the garden at Coppins. She asked to be left alone with her late husband for a private farewell. After some fifteen minutes, Marina emerged and returned home to Iver.

In the interim, the King, through the office of the Lord Chamberlain, commanded that there should be four weeks of court mourning. He had travelled south from Balmoral, arriving by special train in London, on 27 March, accompanied by the Queen and the Gloucesters to prepare for the funeral. The Member of Parliament and socialite, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, who was a good friend and onetime London neighbour of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, noted that everyone was ‘shocked and depressed’ at the news. Channon also observed that the death of Prince George’s ‘tactful and efficient’ private secretary, John Lowther, meant that dealing with administrative matters, including the arrangements for the funeral, was to prove more difficult for the late Duke’s office than would otherwise have been the case. Some of those who were to attend Prince Edward’s funeral received their invitation by telegram.

As the morning of 29 August dawned, Marina prepared herself for husband’s funeral. She was supported throughout the service in St George’s Chapel by the Queen and Prince George’s mother, Queen Mary, the dowager queen. Although the latter was privately distraught, for the Duke of Kent was said to have been her favourite son, the old Queen maintained a stoical stance that day, her face shielded-as was Marina’s-by a thick black veil. Atop the coffin was a simple wreath of flowers from Coppins, together with Prince George’s Air Commodore’s cap. Among those attending were the Dutch Queen (Wilhelmina), the Kings of Norway, Greece and Yugoslavia, as well as the Prince George’s personal detective, Evans, and his chauffeur. Particularly poignant was the presence of Mrs Charlotte ‘Lala’ Bill, the Duke’s childhood nurse, who had travelled down from her home at West Newton on the Sandringham estate. The Duke of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII and the brother to whom the Duke of Kent had been closest in the past) who was currently serving as Governor of the Bahamas, was represented, at the King’s personal direction, by Sir Lionel Halsey, a distinguished seamen and retired Vice-Admiral, who had served in Edward’s household (when Prince of Wales) as Comptroller and Treasurer.

At the end of the service, writes Stella King somewhat melodramatically, ‘it seemed at one moment that [Princess Marina] would have hurled herself into the [royal] vault’ beside her husband’s body’ had it not been for the ‘restraining arms’ of the Queen. The same source provides a clue as to why this was so: it seems the Duchess of Kent had not wanted her late husband’s body placed in the vault of St George’s Chapel at all, preferring a grave in the open air, such as was to be found at the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore. Evidently, the Duke of Kent had hated ‘gloomy royal vaults’. King George VI-who cried openly at the funeral-would later write movingly that, ‘I have attended very many family funerals in the Chapel but none…have moved me in the same way…’ Subsequently, on the afternoon of 13 September, following Sunday lunch with Grand Duchess Xenia (who had temporarily relocated to Scotland during wartime), the King travelled north from Balmoral for an overnight stay at Dunrobin, so as to view the site of the air crash and personally thank the locals who had worked so diligently to recover the bodies of the deceased. His Majesty was particularly struck that a piece of ground some 200 yards in length by 100 yards across was so badly scorched (unsurprising given that the plane had a fuel load of around 2,400 gallons) and noted that ‘the impact must have been terrific.’

To this day, the accident has been a cause of endless speculation in various publications and on-line discussion forums. These include the theory that the Duke had been killed on the orders of British Intelligence due to his alleged pro-German views. Another postulation was that Prince George had been at the controls himself, a view restated through BBC Wales, in December 2003, by Margaret Harris, the niece of the sole survivor, Flight Sergeant Jack (who died in 1976). Mrs Harris was quoted as saying that her uncle had told her late father ‘in confidence’ that he had pulled the Duke ‘out of the pilots position’. Yet, in an article for the Daily Mail in July 2021, the author Christopher Wilson states that he had once spoken to a Leading Aircraftsman Arthur Baker, who informed him that he had been a member of the RAF search-and-rescue team sent to retrieve the bodies from the crash. Baker apparently stated that the Duke of Kent’s body (recognisable from his flying suit) was found some 50 yards from the wreckage on a bed of heather. Prince George, he claimed, had a pack of playing cards (perhaps Lexicon) still in his left hand. So the evidence from these two sources alone is contradictory. However, according to Arthur Baker, he also found the body of a woman at the crash site. When he informed his Sergeant of this, he was evidently told “to cover her [remains] up quick” and remove them from the site. Baker was also told “What you’ve seen here, you speak about to nobody.” Interestingly, according to Margaret Harris, her uncle, Flight Sergeant Jack had also alleged that ‘a mysterious extra [sixteenth] person’ was on board the flight that afternoon. However, in this case, no mention was ostensibly made as to the sex of the person. It certainly seems probable that there were indeed sixteen people on board the flight, for that is the figure written at the time in the personal diary entry for 25 August of Sir Alan ‘Tommy’ Lascelles, Assistant Private Secretary to the King, who was known to be punctilious in such matters. However, to this day, there has been no indication as to who that sixteenth person was.

What is indisputable today, is that many still wonder how an experienced crew captained by an Australian Flight Lieutenant Frank Goyen, with around 1000 flying hours on ocean patrols, could have made such an error as to descend into low cloud, when the normal procedure would have been to try and gain altitude. One commentator, Roy C Nesbit (a former RAF navigator) stated in the January 1990 edition of Aeroplane Monthly that the crash was caused by instrument error, probably the new gyro-magnetic compass. A few years earlier, when the journalist Robin McWhirter investigated ‘Crash of W4026’ for a radio broadcast, he found that all the documentation relating to the Court of Enquiry was no where to be found. However, it has to be noted that just weeks after the crash, on 7 October 1942, Sir Archibald Sinclair, the Air Minister, outlined to the House of Commons, the salient findings of the Enquiry. These are detailed in the official record of the House, Hansard. Sinclair noted that ‘the accident occurred because the aircraft was flown on a track other than that indicated in the flight plan given to the pilot…’. Blame was placed on Flight Lieutenant Goyen with the observation that ‘the weather encountered should have presented no difficulties to an experienced pilot.’ It was further observed that the engines were ‘under power’ when the aircraft hit the ground.

No doubt the conjecture and theories will continue, but for the British royal family, and more particularly for Princess Marina and her children, the Duke’s death was a loss that was and, no doubt, continues to be felt keenly to this day.

Robert Prentice is a biographer and regular contributor to ‘Majesty’ magazine in the United Kingdom. His biography of the late Duke of Kent’s sister-in-law, ‘Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times’ is available to purchase in hardback or as an e-book through Amazon.

Prince Michael of Kent-An 80th Birthday Celebration.

HRH Prince Michael of Kent was born on 4 July 1942 at Coppins, the Buckinghamshire home of his parents, Prince George, the Duke of Kent (the youngest surviving child of the late King George V and Queen Mary) and Princess Marina, born a Princess of Greece and Denmark, but also with strong links to the exiled Russian Imperial family (her great-grandfather was the late Tsar Alexander II). The Prince’s birth was a rare moment for celebration, as the United Kingdom was currently at war with the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan, with food, fuel and clothing subject to strict rationing.

The baby boy was christened Michael George Charles Franklin (the latter a nod to one of the child’s godparents, the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt with whom Prince George had struck up a friendship during an official visit to the United States the previous year), in a ceremony at Windsor, on 4 August, attended by a large gathering of royalty which included the Kings of Britain, Greece and Norway, as well as Prince George’s cousin, Crown Prince Olav of Norway and his Swedish wife Crown Princess Martha. Michael’s paternal grandmother, Queen Mary, made a rare journey up to Windsor from her wartime bolthole at Badminton in Gloucestershire. The Queen and the Princess Royal were also in attendance. It was a joyous occasion but tragedy was just around the corner…

On 25 August, Prince George, who at the time was an Air Commodore in the Welfare Section of the Royal Air Force Inspector General’s Staff ( a post which included making official visits to RAF bases to help boost morale) took off on a grey overcast day from the Royal Air Force base at Invergordon in a Sunderland flying boat bound for Iceland, where the Duke was due to carry out an inspection tour of air bases. However, some 30 minutes later the aircraft crashed into a hill side, known as Eagle’s Rock, near Dunbeath, in Caithness. All on board died-with the exception of the rear-gunner who was thrown clear by the impact.

Marina learned of her husband’s death at Coppins from her beloved childhood nurse, Miss Fox, who had earlier answered the telephone to be informed of the tragic news. The Princess became so distraught that King George VI made the decision to send for Marina’s eldest sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, who was then living in Kenya as a political prisoner, following her husband, Paul’s removal from power as Prince Regent of Yugoslavia, the previous year in a British-backed coup. This was an astute move on the part of the King, for Marina had few close friends in Britain and by the time of Princess Olga’s return to Kenya at the end of the year, she had resumed her busy official life. But it was more than sisterly love which helped to bring the widowed Duchess of Kent back from the brink of such a terrible ordeal: As Olga astutely noted, little Michael was the ‘greatest blessing of all…that depends on her [Marina] so much and for whom she must live…’

Prince Michael enjoyed a happy childhood. He and his older siblings Edward (now the Duke of Kent) and Alexandra formed a strong family bond which was fostered by their ‘cosy’ mother, who continued to remain close to her sisters Olga and Elisabeth and their Russian-born widowed mother Grand Duchess Helen. It is not surprising therefore, that in his youth, the young Prince would often join his mother on post-war trips to Athens to see his maternal grandmother, who lived in a large, airy house in the upmarket suburb of Psychiko, surrounded by faithful servants and a menagerie of cats and dogs. It was also during this period that Michael paid visits with his mother and older siblings to his Aunt Olga and Uncle Paul, who had by now settled in Paris with their children Alexander, Nicholas and Elizabeth. Similarly, the Kent family also regularly travelled to Bavaria to stay with Aunt Woolly (as Marina’s middle sister Elisabeth was referred to en famille) and her husband Count Karl Theodor Toerring (‘Uncle Toto’). The Toerrings had two children, a son Hans Veit and a daughter Helen, so there was no danger of ever becoming bored. On occasion, a selection of these cousins would arrive at Coppins (described in later years by cousin Helen as ‘the meeting place’) for a summer or Easter reunion. There were also “bucket and spade” holidays for the extended family in Jersey or Norfolk.

The Prince’s pre-school education was supervised by a Scotch governess, Miss Catherine Peebles, who later moved on to look after Queen Elizabeth II’s children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. In 1951, Michael attended Sunningdale Preparatory School before going on to Eton four years later. Like his mother, Princess Marina, and brother Edward, Michael already displayed an aptitude for foreign languages (French and German) and spent a brief period at the Institut de Torraine in Tours to study French language and culture.

In January 1961, the Prince joined the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where officers in the British army are trained to take on the responsibility of leading their soldiers. He was commissioned into the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) in 1963. Michael proved an enthusiastic sportsman, enjoying bobsleighing (he would later compete for Great Britain) and he also continued to expand his linguistic skills, this time studying Russian (the native language of Grand Duchess Helen). His level of fluency was such that he subsequently qualified as a military interpreter in that language. By 1968 the Prince was attached to the Ministry of Defence, liaising with Foreign Defence Attaches based in London. He subsequently saw service in Germany, Hong Kong and Cyprus (where his squadron formed part of the UN peacekeeping force in 1971). On his return to England, he worked in the Defence Intelligence Service at the Ministry of Defence. But it was not all work: Prince Michael loved cars and competed in a number of motor rallies including the 1970 World Cup Rally from London to Mexico, co-driving an Austin Maxi. He also took up competitive carriage driving and later, in the 1980’s, Michael qualified as a pilot and passed the Institute of Advanced Motorists tough motor-cycle test on a Honda CX50 (he had passed the Institute’s equally demanding test for motorists some twenty years earlier).

The death of Princess Marina in August 1968 was a severe blow to Michael. She had recently been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, a fact which was kept from Marina. The Prince was the only one of her children to remain unmarried and, when not on military duties, he continued to lead a bachelor life from a small flat in Chelsea. As was usual for a man of his age and background, there were no shortage of girlfriends with whom to socialise. In early 1972, while staying with his cousin Prince William of Gloucester at the latter’s home, Barnwell Manor, near Oundle, Prince Michael had an interesting encounter with a Karlsbad-born, Roman Catholic aristocrat of mid-European descent (but who had been raised in Australia), Baroness Marie-Christine von Reibnitz. She had arrived in London in 1968 to be apprenticed as an interior designer and was married to a merchant banker friend of Prince William, Tom Troubridge. Michael and Marie Christine (who would go on to establish her own successful interior-design business, Szapar Designs, named after her mother Countess Marianna’s Hungarian family) soon discovered that they shared a keen interest in the history of modern art and had a long discussion together on the subject. However, following this brief meeting, the duo were not to meet again for some time, as Marie-Christine moved to Bahrain where her husband had been posted by his bank. The Baroness, who liked to keep busy, was soon bored with the ex-pat life and returned to London to continue her work in interior design. After having been separated for several years, the Troubridges’ divorced in 1977. Marie-Christine was granted an annulment by the Pope in April of the following year.

In the meantime, Michael and Marie-Christine had established a close friendship and in mid-December 1975, the Prince and the Baroness paid a visit to Princess Olga of Yugoslavia and her husband Paul at their Parisian home in Rue Scheffer. Michael’s Aunt Olga warmed to Marie- Christine, feeling that she displayed ‘just the right influence’ over her nephew. In April 1977, the couple paid a return visit to Paris, following a holiday to the South of France, and over lunch at the Relais restaurant informed Olga they would like to marry. Michael and Marie-Christine celebrated a civil marriage at the Rathaus (Town Hall) Vienna on 30 June 1978 where guests included the bride’s parents and Prince Michael’s siblings. Also present was Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who had been a wise counsellor to the couple. The ceremony was followed by an evening banquet at the Schwarzenberg Palace. Although the newlyweds had hoped for a church wedding, for complex Canon Law and religious procedural considerations, this had not proved possible. Furthermore, the fact that Marie-Christine was a Roman Catholic meant that under the Act of Settlement of 1701, which was still in force at the time, Prince Michael was required to forfeit his place in the royal line of succession. However, on 27 July 1983, it was announced that Pope John Paul II had given his approval of the marriage; a blessing ceremony then took place in Cardinal Hume’s private chapel at Westminster Cathedral on 30 July. The couple’s marriage was now established in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. Furthermore, the 1701 Act of Settlement was eventually repealed by the Succession to the Crown Act of 2013 and Prince Michael was later reinstated in the line of succession.

On their return to London the Kents’ were given the use of a grace-and-favour residence, Apartment 10, in Kensington Palace which was free of rent, although domestic rates were payable. Marie-Christine was now known by the royal title, Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent (or more frequently as simply ‘Princess Michael’). Children soon followed: a boy, Lord Frederick Windsor, was born on 6 April 1979 in the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital. In the spring of 1981 Princess Michael gave birth to a girl, Lady Gabriella Windsor. Despite their royal lineage, both siblings keep a reasonably low profile: Frederick attended Oxford University and is an executive director with J P Morgan Private Bank; while Gabriella is a freelance writer with a Master of Philosophy Degree in Social Anthropology from Oxford University. Both are married and Frederick has two daughters, Maud and Isabella, born in 2013 and 2016 respectively.

In 1981, Prince Michael retired from the army in the rank of Major. As the younger son, he was not expected to undertake royal duties and therefore received no payment from the Civil List. With the maintenance of the apartment at Kensington Palace, not to mention the upkeep of a new country home, the neo-classical Nether Lypiatt Manor near Stroud in Gloucestershire, for which it was said the couple paid around £300,000, the Prince had to earn a living. He decided to work in the City, initially serving on the board of several companies including Aitken Hume, Walbrook Investments and Standard Telegraph and Cables. Michael also later set up his own consultancy business, working in sectors which included property, education, medicine, aviation and the automotive industry. As Founder Patron of the Genesis Initiative, the Prince has also been involved in promoting the growth of small businesses, particularly in relation to developing export initiatives.

However, despite not being on the regular royal rota, on occasion the Queen has asked him to represent her on the international stage: In 1981, Prince Michael attended the Independence Day celebrations of Belize (formerly known as British Honduras) in Belmopan and he and Princess Michael also attended the coronation of King Mswati III of Swaziland in 1986 ( the Prince had previously attended the funeral of Mswati’s father and predecessor, King Sobhuza II, in 1982).

Prince Michael has maintained close links with the military: He is-inter alia-an Honorary Air Marshal of the Royal Air Force; a Royal Honorary Colonel of the Honourable Artillery Company and is Senior Colonel of the King’s Royal Hussars. The Prince has also been heavily involved over the years in charity work. The list is eclectic and long and includes the Presidency of both SSAFA-The Armed Forces Charity and the famous Battersea animal shelter. Given his love of motoring his role as President (since 1979) of the Royal Automobile Club seems particularly apt. Given his links to Russia, charitable links were also to be found there and included a role as Patron of the Children’s Fire & Burn Trust.

Prince Michael of Kent is a first cousin, twice removed, of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II on both the maternal and paternal side of his family. He bears a strong resemblance to the late Tsar (as did his grandfather King George V). During his visits to Athens with Princess Marina, his grandmother Grand Duchess Helen would often talk of Russia and the Romanovs to her young grandson. Marina’s sister Olga was also most concerned with her imperial lineage, so it is safe to assume that she never missed a chance to impart her first-hand knowledge of life at the Imperial Court in St Petersburg and Tsarskoe Selo with her nephew during her long stays at Coppins and Kensington Palace. It thus seemed apt that Prince Michael, who had since developed a keen interest in Russian history, should travel to St Petersburg to join over fifty members of the Romanov family and their close relatives for the interment, on 17 July 1998, at the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, of the earthly remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his immediate family, exactly eighty years to the day after their murder in the cellar of the Ipatiev House at Ekaterinburg. In September 2006, the Prince returned to St Petersburg to attend the reburial of his Great-Great Aunt (and mother of Tsar Nicholas II), the Danish-born Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia. Over the years, Prince Michael continued to maintain close links with Russia. However, following Russia’s recent incursion into Ukraine, he resigned his position as a patron of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, which has been active in the promotion of trade between Russia and the United Kingdom. He has also relinquished an Order of Friendship award, one of Russia’s highest honours, that he received from former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009 for his work to promote Anglo-Russo relations.

In 2005, Prince and Princess Michael placed Nether Lypiatt Manor on the market. It sold the following year, allegedly for £5.75m. The Princess was quoted in the Sunday Times as stating that it had proved ‘very expensive’ to run. This sale was perhaps fortuitous as it was announced in 2008 that from 2010 the royal couple would pay a market rent of £120,000 per annum for the use of Apartment 10.

In mid-June 2022, there was speculation that the Prince and his wife would ‘retire from public life’ and that Michael’s retirement would ‘coincide’ with his 80th birthday on July 4. This has been reiterated in press articles (e.g. the Daily Express) on his actual birthday. However, with his dedication to charity work and eclectic range of interests, it is hard to imagine the Prince withdrawing totally from public life, although inevitably there might be a slowing of pace.

Happy 80th birthday Prince Michael.

Robert Prentice is the author of Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which is published by Grosvenor House Publishing and is available to purchase on Amazon and other outlets both as a hardback and an e-book.

Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: Trooping the Colour.

The start of a busy four days of Platinum Jubilee events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Accession to the throne commenced on 2 June with the Trooping of the Colour in London’s Horse Guards Parade, an imposing ceremonial parade ground overlooked by the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, as well as the offices of the Privy Council. The ‘Trooping’ is an annual event (with rare exceptions such as during wartime or a train strike), now customarily held on a Saturday (often the second) in June, to celebrate the Official Birthday of the Sovereign (as opposed to Her Majesty’s actual birthday on 21 April). Thus the Trooping is also often referred to as the Queen’s Birthday Parade. However, given Her Majesty’s ongoing mobility issues, and in deference to her great age, this year Prince Charles deputised for his mother to take the salute, just as when, in 1951, the present Queen-then The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh-presided over proceedings on behalf of her ailing father, King George VI; with the slight difference that, on 2 June, Her Majesty was able to be present on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, to inspect the troops of the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards (whose turn it was to have the new colour trooped) as they marched past, after having progressed just over half-a-mile up the Mall, from Horse Guards, at the conclusion of the Trooping ceremony.

The event has its origins in the 18th century, when the guards and sentries of the royal palaces and (other important buildings) were mounted daily at the Horse Guards (a Palladian building constructed around 1750, replacing an earlier guard house belonging to the Palace of Whitehall). As part of the ‘mounting’ of the guard, the Regimental Colour (or flag) of the battalion, bearing the battle honours of the battalion (and used historically as rallying points in battle) was carried (‘Trooped’) down the ranks, so as to be seen and memorised by the troops. Queen Victoria twice took the salute at the Trooping at Windsor during her reign, with the future King Edward VII (then still Prince of Wales) taking the salute in London in 1896.

The nucleus of the current form of the Trooping was developed thanks to the intervention of Edward VII’s son, King George V in 1913. Until then, the traditional ceremony involved the customary exercise of several elements carried out in slow and quick march time, with the Escort for the Colour advancing to the centre of the parade ground to receive the new regimental colour from the Colour Party. This was then carried down the ranks, followed by a march past of Foot Guards (and sometimes the Household Cavalry) after which the Monarch or their representative departed with minimum ceremony. However, George V was keen to offer a more impressive public display for his official Birthday Parade, and at the close of the ceremony, George V placed himself at the head of his Guards and rode down the Mall to Buckingham Palace, proceeded by the mass bands. There, the troops who were to provide the new King’s Guard at the Palace (and the nearby St James’ Palace) marched into the forecourt of Buckingham Palace to prepare for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. The Monarch, meanwhile, positioned himself in the central gateway of Buckingham Palace, where he was saluted by the remainder of the troops on parade, as they returned to barracks. The King then moved into the palace between the Old and New Guards, who offered him a salute. Thereafter, the Changing of the Guard continued apace in the Palace forecourt.

King George VI also introduced a further innovation: following the completion of the salute at the gates of the Palace, the Monarch joined other members of the royal family (many of whom had, as was customary, earlier travelled both to and from Horse Guards in a carriage procession) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to witness a fly-past by the Royal Air Force. It is also worth noting here that the present Queen first appeared on parade in the first post-war Birthday Parade on 12 June 1947 in her role as Colonel-in-Chief of the Grenadier Guards.

During Elizabeth II’s reign, the Queen rode on horseback down the Mall, preceded by the Sovereign’s Escort . However, from 1987, she instead travelled in Queen Victoria’s 1842 ivory-mounted phaeton. In 2020 and 2021, as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, a modified Trooping event took place in the presence of the Queen in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle, but without the attendance of the customary dignitaries, diplomats and members of the public. Normally 1400 to 1500 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians (led by the Massed Bands of the Household Division) take part in the Queen’s Birthday Parade. And, once again in 2022, the crowds returned in force to line the Mall with Union flags and celebrate Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. Instead of the customary 41-gun salute in Green Park provided by the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, on this special Jubilee year, all witnessed an impressive 82-gun Royal Gun Salute from Hyde Park, as well as a well-executed fly-past of 71 aircraft.

Robert Prentice is the author of the recently-published Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which is available to buy through Amazon and other on-line and local bookshops.

Prince Philip: The Early Years.

Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born on 10 June 1921 in the dining room of Mon Repos, the Corfu summer home of his parents, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark (the second youngest son of King George I of the Hellenes) and his English-born wife, Alice, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and eldest daughter of the first Marquess of Milford Haven, a former First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy and, until the ‘Anglicisation’ of royal titles by King George V in 1917, styled as Prince Louis of Battenberg. Philip was the couple’s only son and by far the youngest of their five children, the oldest of whom, Margarita, was sixteen years the new-born’s senior. Prince Andrew must have been glad of a son but he had little time to reflect on this latest addition to his family, for Greece was in the midst of yet another war with the Turks (officially referred to in the textbooks as the ‘Greco-Turkish War 1919-1922’) and he was about to assume command of the 2nd Army Corps with the rank of Lieutenant-General. It would be many months before he would even set eyes on his son.

Meanwhile, Prince Philip settled into a familiar nursery routine at Mon Repos under the watchful ‘Nana’ Emily Roose. However, when his maternal grandfather,the Marquess of Milford Haven died in early September, Alice decided to take her young son with her to England (for she was still nursing him) to visit her widowed mother, Victoria, at Kensington Palace. This would be the first of many such visits by this Greek Prince.

Prince Andrew had, meanwhile, grown increasingly dissatisfied with his time in the military, feeling that he was surrounded in the current campaign in Asia Minor by ‘riff-raff’ and that ‘all military prudence had vanished.’ Nor was he a fan of his Commander-in-Chief, General Papoulas, and seems to have disagreed with an order to make ‘an immediate violent attack’ to the north, deeming this manoeuvre to be ‘impossible’. Andrew thought it would instead be more expedient to use his men to bolster the manpower of another corps. Papoulas was ‘astonished’ at this plan and ordered the Prince to desist. He also relieved Andrew’s Chief of Staff of his position, prompting the aggrieved Prince to demand that Papoulas also ‘order my immediate relief.’ The General refused. However, eventually, on 30 September 1921, Andrew was granted three months leave. Nevertheless, as readers will later learn, this altercation with his superior officer would have serious repercussions.

Thereafter, Alice and Philip returned to Corfu from their English visit and Prince Andrew was at last able to meet his son. However, with Greece still at war, Andrew returned to his military duties; he was transferred to the command of the 5th Army Corps Epirus and the Ionian Islands, at that time stationed in Janina [Ioannina]. However, the military situation for the Greeks was now increasingly perilous for, as 1922 progressed, the Hellenic forces continued to extend their lines of communication and supply in Anatolia to the utter limit. In the meantime, young Philip accompanied his mother and sisters to London for the wedding, in July, of Alice’s younger brother, Louis (‘Dickie’) Mountbatten to the wealthy socialite Edwina Ashley at St Margaret’s, Westminster. Philip’s four sisters were bridesmaids, although their small brother remained in the care of his nurse at his maternal grandmother’s Kensington Palace home. As summer drew to a close, the Turks, under the command of the legendary Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), were diligently driving Greek forces back to towards the sea, with predominantly Christian towns such as Smyrna being overrun by the enemy with great loss of life. Furthermore, those Greeks who survived this advance were forced to abandon lands on which they had lived peaceably for centuries to resettle in Athens and other areas of Greece. Estimates put the number of these refugees at around 1.5 million.

In addition to the returning refugees, there was a large group of returning Greek soldiers who were still smarting at their recent humiliation. Thus, on 11 September, a Revolutionary Committee was established in Athens led by Colonel Nikolas Plastiras (who had previously served under Prince Andrew) bent on exacting revenge for the defeats in Asia Minor. The Committee demanded that the royalist government resign and also insisted that (an already ailing) King Constantine abdicate the throne. This he did on 27 October. ‘Tino’ was succeeded by his eldest son, who took the title of King George II of the Hellenes. However, the new monarch had neither real power nor influence and lived mostly in isolation at his country estate at Tatoi. In addition, these avenging revolutionaries rounded up a group of politicians and soldiers (including General Hadjianestis, who had succeeded Papoulas as Greece’s Commander-in-Chief) to face trial before a ‘Court’ largely composed of headstrong junior officers.

During this unsettled period Prince Andrew sojourned at Mon Repos, where the new powers-that-be were initially content for him to remain providing that he resigned his commission. Then, in late October, Andrew was interviewed by a member of the revolutionary committee in Corfu and summoned as a witness in the trial of the aforementioned individuals. However, on his arrival in Athens, the Prince found himself placed under house arrest and charged with offences, including disobeying orders and abandoning his post in the face of the enemy. The pretext for the trial was the acrimonious disagreement with General Papoulas the previous year. While her husband languished in a prison cell, a despairing Princess Alice (who had returned from London with Philip and her daughters in late September and was now under police surveillance at Mon Repos) contacted her brother Louis in London. Dickie subsequently lobbied Andrew’s cousin, King George V and the new Prime Minister, Bonar Law, on his sister’s behalf. Eventually, a Commander Gerald Talbot (who had previously served as the British Naval Attaché in Athens) was sent to Greece by the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, to try and negotiate Andrew’s release or, at the very least, attempt to save his life.

In November, the trials of five Greek politicians (three of whom had served as Prime Minister) and General Hadjianestis commenced. They were tried for high treason, found guilty and sentenced to death. On 28 November, they were taken to a piece of exposed ground outside Athens and executed by firing squad. That same day, the the British Legation in Athens telegraphed the Foreign Office in London to say that Prince Andrew’s situation had now grown ‘more dangerous’ and his trial was now scheduled for 30 November.

Meanwhile, Princess Alice had now arrived in Athens and a British battleship, HMS Calypso, was dispatched by the British government to lie off coast of the Greek capital to await further developments. Commander Talbot eventually obtained a promise from General Panagalos (the newly appointed Greek Minister for Military Affairs) and the aforementioned Colonel Plastiras, that Prince Andrew would stand trial and be sentenced. Plastiras would subsequently pardon the Prince who would then be handed over into Commander Talbot’s care for immediate transportation by sea to Brindisi and onwards to England.

On 3 December, Prince Andrew’s trial took place in the Chamber of Deputies and he was unanimously found guilty of the charges against him by a jury of officers. His sentence was that he was ‘degraded and condemned to perpetual banishment’ from Greece. As previously agreed, the Prince was subsequently taken down to Phaleron Bay where he boarded HMS Calypso (under the command of a Captain Buchanan-Wollaston) accompanied by Commander Talbot. Princess Alice was already aboard to greet her husband and the vessel immediately set sail for Corfu-which was reached the next day-to pick up the couple’s children and pack up such belongings as was possible. 18-month-old Prince Philip was taken aboard the Calypso in an orange box which acted as his cot.

On reaching Brindisi on 5 December, the Greek royals were far from out of the woods. Lacking financial means, they were advanced funds by the British Ambassador in Rome before travelling onwards to Paris. They reached London on 17 December and checked-in to the Stafford Hotel in Mayfair. Interestingly, there had already been questions on the British House of Commons regarding the cost (£1200) of sending HMS Calypso to Greece. During this brief English interlude, Prince Andrew had a meeting with his cousin King George V. However, at this interval, it seemed that Philip and his family’s best option-given their state of relative poverty-was to return to Paris and the benevolent care of the wealthy Marie Bonaparte (the wife of Prince George of Greece and Denmark [‘Big George’]) at St Cloud. She would subsequently place a small house adjacent to her own larger mansion at the disposal of these exiled relations.

Paris would be the home of Prince Philip for the next seven years and provided a safe haven in a time of continuing turmoil in Greece. 1923 brought mixed fortunes: In January, Prince Andrew and his wife made a visit to the United States to holiday with Prince Christopher and his wealthy wife, the former Mrs Nancy Leeds, leaving Philip in the care of ‘Roosie’. However, they had no sooner started out on their journey aboard the liner RMS Olympic, than they received word that ex-King Constantine had died of heart failure on 11 January in Italy, where he had been living in exile. Subsequently, in Athens, following a failed royalist coup in October, King George II was effectively hounded into exile by Plastiras and his Revolutionary Committee cronies; in March 1924, the Greeks would vote to ditch the monarchy in favour of a republic. Another blow to the family was the death of Philip’s grandmother, Queen Olga, in Rome, in June 1926, at the age of 74. Olga had been by far the most respected member of the Greek royal family and with a following that transcended across all political boundaries.

Philip, meanwhile, was now a of school age. He attended school at the wonderfully titled MacJannet Country Day and Boarding School (habitually referred to as ‘the Elms’ after the name of the house in which it was located). This catered mainly for the children of American clients and diplomats and was near enough for Philip, who was always full of energy and boisterous enthusiasm, to cycle to. The youngster also liked nothing better than going for motor drives through the Bois de Boulogne in his father’s car or partaking of a generous Sunday lunch at his Aunt and Uncle’s neighbouring home. Also in Paris, were Philip’s Uncle Nicholas and his charming (but intimidating) Russian wife Grand Duchess Helen, along with their daughters, Elizabeth and Marina (their eldest child, Olga, Philip’s godmother-by-proxy, was already married to Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and lived in Belgrade). These cousins were-like his sisters-much older than Philip but, as was true of most members of that generation of the Greek royal family, they were full of fun and possessed of a decidedly unique sense of humour which appealed to the youngster.

The young Prince enjoyed holidays too with his older cousin Crown Princess (later Queen Mother) Helen and her son Michael at their home in Romania. France was an obvious destination with Berck Plage, near Le Touquet, a decided favourite. Another welcome French summer retreat was the holiday home, in Marseilles, of Madame Anna Foufounis, the widow of a wealthy Greek royalist. When visiting England, Philip also enjoyed vacationing with his sisters Sophie (‘Tiny’) and Cecile (Blakeney in Norfolk being a particular favourite). Apparently, Prince Andrew was keen that his son should also be educated in England and, in 1929, it was decided to send him to Cheam, a preparatory (or ‘prep’) school in Surrey, whose purpose was-as the name suggests-to prepare boys for passing the Common Entrance examination which was required (along with payment of the large fees) for entry to exclusive public schools such as Eton or Harrow. Discipline was tight at Cheam and it is fair to say that he did not excel academically other than in French for which he won a prize. The headmaster, the Reverend Taylor would later remember Philip’s strong personality and leadership skills.

The months between December 1930 and August 1931 saw the marriage of all of Philip’s sisters to members of the German aristocracy. The Prince’s time at Cheam also saw him draw closer to his maternal grandmother, Victoria, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven (born a Princess of Hesse and by Rhine and the eldest sister of the late Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia) and various other Mountbatten relatives in England, particularly his maternal uncle, George, the 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven and his Romanov wife Nadejda (‘Nada’), the younger daughter of Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia. Conveniently, they lived at Lynden Manor on the upper reaches of the Thames. It was the Marquess who paid Philip’s school fees during this period and some have referred to George as a ‘surrogate father’ to the young Prince, while the couples’ son David-who also attended Cheam-assumed a sort of quasi-brother role in his Greek kinsman’s life. This affinity to his British-based relations coincided with a deterioration in the mental health of Philip’s mother Princess Alice, who had entered a clinic in Tegel, Germany in February 1930, for a period of rest and psychoanalysis. She was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia and was moved to a psychiatric sanatorium in Kreuzlingen. Until her recovery in 1937, Philip would only see his mother intermittently. His father Andrew too was not much on the scene, spending much of his time on the French Riviera, where he had many rich friends and a mistress, Madame Andrée de la Bigne.

In the 1930’s, Prince Philip spent periods at Wolfsgarten, the home of his sister Cecile (now married to Georg Donatus [‘Don’], Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse) as well as with his sister Theodora (‘Dolla’), who lived at Schloss Salem with her husband Berthold, the Margrave of Baden. Dolla seemed keen to take an interest in her brother’s education during this period and Philip was soon enrolled at the Schloss’ school founded, in 1920, by Prince Max of Baden (Dolla’s father-in-law) and Kurt Hahn, a German Jew who had served as Private Secretary to Prince Max. Hahn was an outspoken critic of Hitler and the anti-Semitic Nazi regime and this led to his arrest in March 1933. Kurt was eventually released (thanks to the intervention of influential British friends including Ramsay MacDonald, the former Prime Minister) and subsequently moved to Scotland where he founded a new school, Gordonstoun, situated near Hopeman on the Moray coast. After only a couple of terms at Schule Schloss Salem (by which time Hahn had already departed for Britain and Berthold had assumed the role of headmaster) Philip-who was also far from respectful of the Third Reich’s foibles (he detested the ‘heel clicking’ style and thought the Nazi salute quite ridiculous as it reminded him of having to put up his hand in class at Cheam to ask to use the lavatory)-relocated to Scotland, thanks to the assistance again of George Milford Haven, to commence his studies at Gordonstoun.

Gordonstoun was an ideal school for this energetic boy with no surname, who was usually known simply as ‘Philip’, or occasionally more formally as ‘Philip of Greece’. As at Salem, the day started with cold showers and a brisk run. Meditation was also encouraged. Sailing was on the curriculum, as was amateur dramatics (a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is frequently mentioned by past biographers). The Prince also played cricket and hockey (eventually captaining both teams). Philip seemed keen to fit in and according to one contemporary never ‘swanked about his relatives.’ Like other pupils he undertook work to help out the local community. Kurt Hahn recalled that, ‘He was often naughty, never nasty.’ During the long summer holidays, he would continue to spend time in Germany with his sisters and their families. Wolfsgarten remained a particular favourite and Philip’s father, Prince Andrew, was sometimes present too and this made for brief, but welcome, reunions.

In November 1935 the Greek monarchy was restored following a plebiscite and, on 22 November of the following year, Philip paid a visit to Athens to join other members of the Greek royal family for the reburial, at Tatoi, of the three senior members of the Hellenic royal house who had died in exile, namely King Constantine I, Queen Olga and Queen Sophie. Their bodies had earlier been exhumed from the vaults of the Russian Orthodox Church in Florence. All of the extended royal family stayed at the Grande Bretagne Hotel which seems to have been commandeered for the occasion. This provided the young Prince with ample opportunities to discuss the history of the family with his aunts, uncles and cousins. He would also return, in January 1938, for the wedding of his cousin Crown Prince Paul (‘Palo’) to Princess Frederika of Hanover.

However, there was one disaster during this early period of the Prince’s life which was to have lasting consequences: On 16 November 1937, a Belgian Sabena aeroplane carrying his sister Cecile (pregnant with her fourth child), her husband Don, their sons Ludwig and Alexander and Cecile’s mother-in-law, Eleanore, hit a chimney in thick fog as it approached Ostend’s Steene Aerodrome. All of the passengers (who had been en route to London to attend the nuptials of Don’s younger brother, Ludwig [‘Lu’] to Margaret ‘Peg’ Geddes) were killed. Philip was informed of the tragedy by Kurt Hahn and, although in deep shock, he travelled south from Gordonstoun to rendezvous with his father in London and travel on to the funeral, which was held on 23 November in Darmstadt. Philip’s mother Princess Alice-who was now much improved health wise-was also in attendance.

In April 1938, more tragedy followed when Philip’s mentor, George Milford-Haven, died of bone cancer at the age of only forty-six. Aged sixteen, the Prince was at an impressionable age. Meanwhile, his father’s continued absence in the South of France and his mother’s recent decision to return to Greece to live in a small flat in Athens, left the way open for George’s younger brother, Louis Mountbatten, to exert considerable influence over his nephew, especially when Philip commenced his naval career, in the spring of 1939, as a cadet at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. By going to sea, the young Prince thus followed in the footsteps of both his maternal and paternal grandfathers. Philip often spent the weekend at Mountbatten’s London home in Chester Street, where he invariably slept on a camp bed in the sitting room.

Yet Philip’s maternal grandmother, Victoria, also remained an influential presence in his life and he sometimes spent time at her grace-and-favour apartment at Kensington Palace. Indeed, during the summer of 1939, as the storm crowds of war gathered on the horizon, Philip stayed there for a month along with his mother, Princess Alice. The duo then travelled via Paris to Italy from where they sailed to Athens. They arrived in Greece just prior to war being declared between Britain and Germany on 3 September. Philip returned to England, in late September, to resume his nautical training at the instruction of his cousin, King George II of the Hellenes. He then graduated as best all-round cadet of the term at Dartmouth, an accolade which won him the King’s Dirk. Philip would go on to serve in the Royal Navy for the duration of World War II and beyond, until 1951.

However, there was already a far greater prize on the horizon. Just prior to Philip’s summer holiday with his mother, he had enjoyed a reunion with his distant cousin, Princess Elizabeth, and her sister, Princess Margaret Rose, at Dartmouth, during a tour of inspection of the Royal Naval College by their parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). Captain Louis Mountbatten was also ‘in attendance’ in his role as the King’s Aide-de-Camp. There happened to be an outbreak of mumps at the College so, rather than attend a morning church service as previously planned, the Princess’ were placed in the care of Philip. The trio played games (both croquet and tennis are frequently cited) together on a lawn, during which the Prince was observed jumping enthusiastically over a tennis net. Later, as the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert sailed out of the Dart Estuary, a plucky Prince Philip jumped into a small boat and determinedly continued to follow the yacht long after his fellow cadets had given up the effort. Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth (or ‘Lilibet’ to her family) was captivated by her older kinsman’s exploits that day and somehow this Greek princeling found a niche in her young heart which would only grow fonder with the years.

Robert Prentice is the author of the latest biography on a member of the Greek Royal Family, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times. Available, at time of posting from the bookdepository.com with FREE Worldwide Postage. Click on link below:

Princess Olga of Yugoslavia : Robert Prentice : 9781839754425 (bookdepository.com)