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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

THE BRITISH THRONE

American biographer Kitty Kelly made an impressive research about the lives of the world’s oldest surviving royalty, the British monarchy. In 1994 she started a controversial compilation of “The Royals”, a blow by blow account of the British royal family since the creation of the House of Windsor in 1917. The book was praised in the US (and even managed to become number one in the New York time magazine listing of Best sellers) as a fine masterpiece biography of the world’s most famous family but ridiculed in Britain for being poor in content and inaccurate.

According to Ms. Kelly, royalty has a rather appalling than mesmerizing concept. She was quoted that in Great Britain where there is a strict rule for social status; people solely defined by bloodlines, not character, education, achievement or wealth. Royalty stood at the top of humanity’s ladder, everybody else scrambled below with no hope of ascending. During ancient times, commoners were not allowed to mingle with royalty, and no one dared to defy the rules set by them.

The book exposed the most sensitive aspect of the monarchy and the scandals involving some prominent members including the heir apparent, Prince Charles. The first edition was released in the summer of 1997, so controversial that it was not published in Great Britain and the royal family even treated to file a law suit against the biographer. Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in particular, was reportedly furious about Ms. Kelly’s revelations which lead to rumors and speculations that the saucy tidbits about the former Greek Royal having various mistresses and his escapade outside his marriage bed might true and accurate.

During Queen Victoria of England’s reign, royalty looked up by many as the true model of elegance, modesty and refinement, but as the 20th century approaches, this medieval principle gnarled to merely illusions as royals themselves are the source of scandals and controversies that hugged headlines throughout the world. In Britain, The Queen’s subjects are all disappointed with their future king, Prince Charles’ behavior that the local newspapers thundered: ABC (Anybody But Charles) and chanted “God Save the Queen and save us from her heir”.

Perhaps the most unforgettable scandal that rocked the establishment was the controversial voluntary abdication of King Edward VIII, eldest son of King George V. When the first Windsor monarch died from pneumonia on January 1936, Prince David ascended immediately as Edward VIII, but his first few months on the throne brought out difficulties that threatened an institutional crisis, the sensitive issue on whether he could take Wallis Simpson as his consort without the opposition of his subjects.

Mrs. Simpson, a twice divorce American woman, did not passed the requirements of an ideal Queen Consort, she was even called “Edward’s unholy lover” by the King’s mother, Queen Mary. The Prime Ministers in the British commonwealth of nations reinforced the sentiments of the public by urging the new King to either abandon Wallis or abdicate.

Edward made no hesitation when he chose his lover over duty and tradition. In his unforgettable abdication statement, he said that it’s too impossible for him to continue his kingship without the support of the woman he loved.

The news spread through out the world that, according to at least one account, one reporter in New York City exclaimed “it’s the greatest news to hit the world since the resurrection!”. Edward was created Duke of Windsor and literally banished from the court sending his shy brother, Prince Albert or Bertie to the throne.

The Duke of York, who by then married to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and has 2 daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, was favored before hand by his father to inherit the crown. Amidst his stammering habit which irritated his father at times, he was solidly married and represented the monarchy with dignity in various official engagements unlike his older brother who cavorted to social gatherings with strings of married women.

At the end of his life, George V cursed the primogeniture succession barring his second son Bertie from acquiring the crown, but within eleven months after his death, his favorite son began his rule and reigned for 16 years as George VI and was succeeded by his eldest daughter Elizabeth.

The British monarchy surrounded by mystique and charm, rely mostly on pomp and pageantry, where according to poet Noel Coward “that’s where they do best”. Its ancient symbol the Windsor Castle is the oldest inhabited castle in the world dating back from 11th century, when William the Conqueror choose the site as his official court after his successful invasion from the last Anglo-Saxon King, Harold II. The fortress, composed of cobbled stone and dark archways, is situated south of London above the placid Thames River at Berkshire. 19th century diarist Samuel Pepys dubbed it as the most romantic castle that is in the world.

Today, the monarchy is still alive though haunted with loads of controversies, yet the mystique is still the status symbol of Great Britain. Its current head Queen Elizabeth II reigned for more than 50 years since her accession in 1952 on the death of her father King George VI, continued inspiring her subjects and all its territories and nations with in her realm for whom the citizen affectionately called her, Her Majesty. Scandals and controversies however overshadowed the prestige of the crown. 20th century was probably the most trying times of the monarchy, where all members of the royal family deals with individual’s scandals, but as the old adage goes:" still the show must go on".

Until the 18th century, Great Britain was merely a geographical name. When the last Tudorian Monarch, ELIZABETH I, died without a direct heir, the English throne passed to her distant cousin King James VI of Scotland, this paved the way for the personal union of two kingdoms and in the early 1700 Great Britain was born, hence the Stuart monarch became known as James I of Britain. The last ruler of this house was Queen Anne, she died without issue and was succeeded by his grandfather's great grandchild, George I of Hanover (a tiny princely state in Germany).

The history of British throne largely shaped by controversies spanning from number of decades through different monarchs. George III, the third of the Hanoverian monarchs, suffered severely from insanity that he was partly blamed for giving away some of the American state colonies. At the end of his life, the king, who reportedly seen talking and hugging trees at hide park, was totally blind and neurotic that he was incapable of ruling the kingdom, his eldest son and successor Prince George sat as regent until his father's death nine years later.

The Hanover royal house ended in 1837 when King William IV (George III's 4th son) died without legitimate children. His niece Princess Victoria of Kent succeeded him as Queen Victoria but could not be crowned in Hanover because of the salic law "prohibiting a woman nor a claimant through a woman from acquiring". Instead, she took the name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha from a ducal German territory, where both her mother(Princess Victoria) and husband (Prince Albert, her first cousin) descended. This royal house came to a quick end in 1917 when Victoria's grandson George V decided to change his house name to WINDSOR.  

The first world war brought so much chaos to european royalty that King George secured his kingdom by distancing himself from his royal relatives with German descent. His volatile subjects hated the Huns or the Germans and everything Germanic, so he did nothing when his beloved cousin Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor (whose German wife Alexandra was George V's first cousin also through Queen Victoria) was forced to abdicate and later massacred (with his wife Empress Alexandra and their 5 young children) by the Bolshevics at Ekaterenberg. 


When his cousin Prince Louis of Battenberg (whose wife Princess Victoria of Hesse was George V's cousin also and the elder sister of Empress Alexandra of Russia), was forced to resign his position in the Royal Navy partly because of his German roots and relinquished his princely title, the king offered him the noble title Marquess Milford Haven and admonished to anglicize his name from Battenberg to Mountbatten to well suit with the english people without a German ribbon. 


The conscious king was still worried that he sat with his advisers for the name changing, his private secretary Lord Stamfhordam proposed for the name of Windsor, this satisfied the king and proclaimed on July 1917 that his family and all his descendants would be styled and must bear the name Windsor from now on.

The present monarch of that name is Elizabeth II, said to be the favorite grandchild of George V, she made a formal announcement in 1960 that although she's married to Prince Philip (Prince Louis of Battenberg's grandson and Elizabeth's third cousin through Queen Victoria and himself a Greek Prince, but renounced his royal title and the Greek Orthodox religion in 1946 and adopted his maternal surname Mountbatten), she, unlike other women in the realm would not carry her husband's name instead she emphasized that her descendants who are not direct succeessors to the throne, would carry the surname Mountbatten-Windsor. 


Her only sister, The Princess Margaret (who died in 2002), made headlines in 1953 when she was involved in a romantic relationship with a divorced commoner man Peter Townsend, the relationship created much tension in Britain. As Princess of the blood royal and in line with the succession of the British throne, Margaret is not permitted to marry a divorce person (at that time British establishment frowned a marriage among royals with a divorce partner and was strongly prohibited by the church of England). 


Margaret was forced to retreat and sought another man's affection in the person of Tony Armstrong-Jones, a royal court photographer, they married less than a year and the Queen created Armstrong-Jones, the first Earl of Snowdon so that her sister would have a peer wife status. 18 years later the Princess was the first reigning sovereign's direct family to disband her marriage vows. Two decades later, all of the Queen's three children plunged to what the monarchy's dreaded most-DIVORCE.

The heir apparent, Prince Charles, took his first trip to the altar in 1981 with the pretty Earl of Althorp's daughter, Lady Diana Spencer, their union, speculated by the media and sensationalized by the tabloid to be deemed even at the beginning, produced two sons Prince William and Prince Harry. 


The Princess of Wales who was more popular than her husband, won adulation through out the globe, she dazzled wherever she goes and inspired many with her unique charm, compassion and beauty. She established various charities and had a special magic to connect with people from different walks of life. Her sudden death in 1997, brought controversies even more to the House of Windsor.

No one can ever tell if the present Prince of Wales could really mount the throne as Charles III. In English history, no other divorced monarch ascended the throne since George I, the first of the Hanoverian monarchs. 


As this issue became a rallying point by Charles' detractors against him and given the fact that most of his future subjects were equally disappointed with his behavior when Diana was still alive, it is uncertain whether he could really follow the footsteps of his long line of ancestors occupying the mystical place of the highest throne on earth.

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