Last edited by daas; 15-04-2009 at 02:09 PM.
I thought this was cute.
What Is Royalty In The 21st Century?
by Simon Winchester
1. What Is Royalty In The 21st Century?
2. Do We Still Need Royals?
3. Royalty Quiz
Their Royal Highnesses Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark at the royal castle in Copenhagen. [Photo: Steen Evald]
As I entered the courtyard of Copenhagen's Amalienborg Palace, soldiers in tall, black bearskin hats stood guard. Outside one of the buildings, the Palace of Christian VIII, I pressed a tiny brass button next to a plaque that read "Their Royal Highnesses the Crown Prince and Princess."
I was buzzed in. The palace entrance was gilt, scarlet, and robin's-egg blue. A lady-in-waiting, the light- blue badge of royal office on her left shoulder, stood beside an oil painting at the top of a curving staircase. She showed me into an immense, high-ceilinged receiving room where I would wait to meet Frederik Andre Henrik Christian. Or, as he is officially known, His Royal Highness Prince of Denmark, the Crown Prince, Count of Monpezat--and heir to one of Europe's oldest royal families.
As I sat, soft-footed servants came and went. I heard an occasional cough, the distant clink of bone china. A functionary came in and whispered that there would be a brief delay. It gave me a chance to ponder the question that had brought me here and that had long been troubling me: What is the point of royalty today?
It's not a new question. Sixty years ago, King Farouk of Egypt said that soon there would be only five of his kind left--the King of England and the four kings in a deck of cards. For a time, he was almost right. After a coup saw him fall from grace in 1952, he joined the kings and queens who had toppled like bowling pins since the end of World War I.
However, the thinning has slowed. Royalty remains in places as varied as Japan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and Tonga, but the greatest concentration is in Europe. While the grandest-seeming family is in the United Kingdom, even Queen Elizabeth does not preside over as lengthy and uninterrupted a monarchy as Denmark's, which began in 936 A.D. with the colorfully named Gorm the Old.
Denmark is a nation doubly blessed by circumstance and history. By one recent reckoning, the 5.5 million Danes are the world's happiest people. They also have the good fortune to reside under the genial supervision of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe, the mother of Crown Prince Frederik.
As the prince entered the room with his wife, the tousle-haired 40-year-old looked more like one of the Backstreet Boys than the scion of the venerable family of Gluecksborg. Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary comes from humbler origins. She was born Mary Elizabeth Donaldson in Australia in 1972. They met in a pub in Sydney during the 2000 Olympic Games. She worked in advertising, and although educated and well-groomed, she was not an aristocrat. What ensued was the dream of royal watchers the world over: The handsome prince fell for the beautiful commoner from the back office.
The couple sought and won the approval of the queen and married in Copenhagen Cathedral in 2004. They have two children: one prince (Christian, 3) and one princess (Isabella, almost 2), both adorable. To join the Danish royals, Princess Mary gave up her Australian citizenship, family name, and religion. She became a Lutheran and learned to speak Danish--which she does almost flawlessly. During our talk, she sometimes struggled for words in English, which she now seldom uses. At the breakfast table, she said, the couple speak Danish.
"Honestly?" I asked.
"Honestly," said the prince, with a wink.
The pair had arrived that morning from their current home, the 18th-century Chancellery House at the Fredensborg Palace. They had driven themselves, leaving the children with a nurse. They have a staff of about 25 who, among other tasks, make sure the car's gas tank is full. Not that the prince or princess couldn't stop for fuel--both possess credit cards, which bear their titles rather than family names.
Having a staff and a generous income--the state gives Prince Frederik about $2.5 million annually to cover his duties, employees, and personal expenses--means that "I don't have to make my own bed," as he put it, and that everyday stresses are kept at a distance. "But only somewhat," he added. "We try as hard as we can to be at one with ordinary Danish citizens. We try not to be too elevated. We represent them. We are part of Denmark, and it is important to us that we display that all the time."
The pair said they'll raise their children in a manner different from the prince's own upbringing. "My mum"--what he calls the much-loved queen, who has reigned for 37 years--"had me brought up by nannies and governesses. I didn't have much to do with my parents until I was 21. When I was small, I was presented to them, washed and brushed, before I was put to bed. I still see Nanny--she came to our wedding--but there is no way our two will be brought up like that."
Crown Prince Frederik made one amusing mistake during our chat. When explaining his constitutional role as head of state, he said, "You have to realize that I am the son of the Queen of England." His wife gently chided, "No, you're the son of the Queen of Denmark." He replied, "Oh, yes, so I am" and winked at me. The prince is actually not far removed from Buckingham Palace--because of the web of intermarriage that links much of European royalty, he is distantly related to Queen Victoria.
The role of the crown prince is, putting it bluntly, to wait. "I am just an apprentice," he said. "You can say I am learning the ropes. My mum sees the prime minister once a week to find out what is going on in government. I attend a bigger meeting once a month. I sit on her right-hand side at a table with the ministers, and I watch as she signs bills and so forth. All the time I am learning, watching. And, yes, waiting." There is much for him to do while he waits. He promotes trade, opens hospitals, dedicates parks, and shakes his subjects' hands.
His wife has thrown herself into Danish life with great energy. People I spoke with in Copenhagen were full of praise for her. "She has set up a foundation," a man said, "for victims of the darker side of Danish life. Perhaps it took an Australian to see a dark side to Denmark. We all think it is a wonderfully content place. She reminded us that some of our people need help."
The two-year-old Mary Foundation was started with money collected as wedding gifts. Its goal is to prevent and help social isolation resulting from problems such as domestic violence and bullying. "Nearly 22,000 children and 28,000 women are victims of domestic violence in this country," Princess Mary said. "People don't think of that in Denmark. We are trying to remind people and to help."
The couple are known for their humble ways and good manners. "You see them in the street, walking without security--or at least not visible security," said my Danish friend Naja. "Once in a while someone will go up to them, and they are very nice.
"I sometimes think they are what all Danes would like to be. They are ideal versions of us," Naja continued. "And they remind us of our history, which is very long and something we should be proud of. They go around the world and give a good impression of our country. Those are some of the reasons why they are loved, even though the idea of kings and queens seems to younger people like me to be out-of-date and wrong."
Prince Frederik and Princess Mary are acutely sensitive to this perspective. So I asked him the question that had occupied me: What is the point of monarchy in the 21st century? He answered, "However much society may change in the future--and our family will be bound to change to reflect it--there will surely be a need for strands of continuity. I hope we will provide that."
He added: "My mum speaks to the Danish people every New Year's Eve. Almost everyone sits down with a glass of champagne to listen to her, and she gives reassurance and comfort and hope for the year ahead. My role as king will be much like my mum's as queen, so long as I remain in tune with the people."
With our conversation at a close, we stood and shook hands, and the pair vanished into the ancient palace. The lady-in-waiting escorted me out.
It was time for the changing of the guard. The courtyard, so silent before, was filled with soldiers marching to barked orders. I glanced up at the palace window, and the lady-in-waiting was there, watching me. She smiled and waved. I waved in return, then walked across the cobblestoned courtyard and back into the bustle and noise of the modern world.
The United Kingdom is home to the continent's best-known monarchy, and Queen Elizabeth's clan has a budget estimated at $80 million a year. But Europe has nine other reigning royal families--in Belgium, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden. While these rulers all hold symbolic importance for their citizens, some, like Prince Hans-Adams II of Liechtenstein and Prince Albert of Monaco, also possess official political responsibility. Both these princes are their lands' highest authorities and possess final approval over legislation.
"Ain't nobody got time for that!"
|2005, 2010, denmark, february, january, mary, princess|