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“MONARCHIES IN EUROPE“
Prinz Eduard von Anhalt
- ur fast-moving times are increasingly marked by social changes.
- On the other hand, there is just as often a desire of many citizens for more historical awareness on the part of their politicians.
- The constitutional monarchies in Europe and Asia are an exception.
The fact that European dynasties can be modern despite their splendour and continuous history makes them all the more interesting. A brief look at the past shows that 47 countries in Europe were all under the rule of their own monarch until the end of the First World War (except Switzerland). Of these, 10 nations remain today, and all have a popularly elected parliament as their central power: Belgium, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Spain. In these ten states, the citizens are represented by their historical dynasties and at the same time they live in extremely consolidated democracies. The combination with their unmissable, ubiquitous history, has worked against the often rampant zeitgeist and mitigated the saturated, ignorant behaviour of certain segments of the population. As mentioned earlier, monarchies are important incentives for profitable tourism, even in countries where the monarchy has been abolished. What would our cities be without the architectural legacies and the castles in the countryside from the time of the monarchies. People are drawn from the soulless cities and suburbs to the homely atmosphere of the old town to walk through historic palace gardens and parks. On weekends in Germany, more people go to see a castle than football fans go to the stadiums.
Let‘s take a closer look at some of the European dynasties:
Of all the European monarchies, the British is probably the most important, if only because of the language it has brought to the world. Even die-hard democrats cannot think of a viable alternative at the head of state in England, to their tried and tested Queen Elizabeth II. The members of the House of Windsor, which is the family name they adopted during the First World War in order to shed their German origins, now see themselves as a public relations company and are more present in the domestic and international media than any other family. Sceptics once calculated what a royal family, which costs the state tens of millions annually, really brings to its economy and tourism in terms of investment. The result of the comparison of price and performance was clearly in favour of the expensive monarchies. The same picture can be seen in the other European states.
The monarchies live on the acceptance of the majority of the population, and this goes through all generations.
„Could you imagine the grey British Isles without the Windsors‘ blaze of colour?“ a young banker in the City of London once asked me, shaking his head at the thought: „A horrible idea!“
Elizabeth II is considered exceptionally dutiful as well as discreet and she expects these qualities from the rest of the Windsors. The British royal family has survived all scandals so far. In the process, it is becoming more modern, as both William and Harry have married middle-class women. In their father‘s generation, that was unthinkable. And there have been some reforms. For example, the succession to the throne has changed. Now women are also allowed to ascend the throne. The eldest child, whether girl or boy, becomes queen or king. Also, the rule that the spouses of the Windsors must be Anglican no longer applies.
The fact that interest in the English royal family is still huge is not only evident from the reports in countless magazines: the television series „The Crown“ also captivated hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide a few years ago and was awarded numerous prizes.
Since 1814, the Netherlands has been a constitutional monarchy. This means that the position of the king is laid down in a ‚constitution‘. The king forms the government together with the ministers. In a parliamentary monarchy, the head of state is subject to ministerial responsibility. According to the Constitution, the King is the Chairman of the Council of State. However, this is a symbolic office. The Vice-President is responsible for the conduct of official business. The Dutch royal house of Orange-Nassau goes back to William of Orange (1533-1584). Also known as „the Silent One“, this nobleman was the most important leader in the War of Independence against the Spanish king. He had inherited the principality of Orange in southern France from his uncle René de Chalon in 1544 and with it the title Prince of Orange for the eldest son of the king, which is still in use today. The other part of the dynasty, named after Nassau Castle in Hesse, has roots going back to Walram of Laurenburg in the 12th century. The connection to Dutch territory came about in 1403, when Engelbert I, Count of Nassau, Dietz and Vianden married the wealthy Dutchwoman Johanna von Polanen, heiress of Breda in the Duchy of Brabant. After 120 years in which the Netherlands was ruled exclusively by queens, since 2013 it has been the turn of a man again: King Willem-Alexander Head of State of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. He too married a commoner, the Argentinian Maxima, and is affectionately called „Konig Pils-che“ by his citizens because of his fondness for beer.
The Swedish royalty is one of the oldest monarchies in the world and also has the newest dynasty of all royal houses, the House of Bernadotte. Jean Bernadotte was a marshal in Napoleon‘s army and was adopted by the childless King Charles XIII in 1810 and crowned King of Sweden and Charles III of Norway in 1818 as Charles XIV. In 1980, the Bernadottes became the first monarchy to introduce gender-neutral succession to the throne.
Sweden‘s King Carl Gustaf was one of the first monarchs to marry, with the support of parliament, a commoner whom he had met at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich: Sylvia Sommerlath, a woman of German-Brazilian origin. As with all royal families today, the succession to the throne is anchored in the constitution and cannot be changed by the king. It is therefore clear that King Carl Gustaf has two successors in daughter Victoria and granddaughter Princess Estelle.
Like Queen Elizabeth of England, King Carl Gustav has decided that only a limited number of the Swedish royal family should officially represent the Royal House. The offspring of Prince Carl Philip and his sister Princess Madeleine lose their official sovereign status. They are thus no longer members of the Royal House – but remain part of the Royal Family. This concerns Carl Philip‘s two sons Gabriel and Alexander as well as Madeleine‘s children Leonore, Nicolas and Adrienne. They also retain their titles as dukes and duchesses. The Carl Philip and Madeleine siblings welcomed the decision and think it is good that their children will have a greater chance to shape their own lives as individuals in the future.
In the Danish monarchy, it can be seen that the European idea has endured there for centuries. Christian IX, born in 1818, was nicknamed the „father-in-law of Europe“. Through his marriage policy, the Danish royal house gained influence in almost all the ruling houses of Europe: his daughter Alexandra was married to the British King Edward VII, his son George I William was King of Greece and Maria Dagmar, the fourth of his six children, married Tsar Alexander III of Russia. Princess Thyra was married to Ernst August, Crown Prince of Hanover, and his youngest child, Prince Waldemar, married the French Princess Marie of Bourbon Orleans.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the country underwent a remarkable transformation under the reign of Frederik IX: Denmark developed from an agrarian state into a social welfare state. The royal family made a point of presenting itself as a completely normal Danish family. Because Frederik and his wife Ingrid had no son, parliament changed the rules of succession so that Frederik‘s daughter, today‘s Queen Margrethe, could ascend the throne. A woman on the throne was something special in Denmark, since for more than 500 years male rulers had ruled the country. Margrethe is popular, close to the people and educated, and her compatriots like her above all for the way she acts like one of them. In the meantime, she can look back on more than four decades of reign – and that without scandals. She lives out her artistic vein. Under the pseudonym Ingahild Grathmer, she illustrated the cover of the Danish edition of Tolkien‘s bestseller „Lord of the Rings“ in 1977. The Queen also created numerous Danish special stamps. Together with her husband, who has since died, she translated various novels. She also designs church vestments, theatre costumes and stage sets. The monarch also often helps to design her unusual outfits – which can sometimes be a brightly coloured rain jacket made from a wax blanket.
Who doesn‘t immediately think of high society and the Princely Family when they think of Monaco? The principality became the focus of public attention in the 1950s when Prince Rainier married Grace Kelly, a Hollywood actress at the time. She in particular brought glamour to the Cote d ‚Azur. For many years, her only son Prince Albert has been the reigning sovereign of Monaco. He is the official head of state and has legislative, executive and judicial powers. Albert may have more responsibilities than the average monarch, but he is also considered a scion of the pirate dynasty of the Grimaldi, who once took over the steep cliffs on France‘s Mediterranean coast in the Middle Ages. He is a sovereign prince and is addressed as Serene Highness, i.e. he does not bear the title of king. His father was Prince Rainier and his mother, Grace Kelly, was a princess. The reasons for this go back deep into Monaco‘s history. Monaco has always been a tiny nation, and for protection it allied itself with large powerful countries, especially France. If there were no more descendants, the principality would fall to France. Although the monarchy in Monaco and the Grimaldi dynasty have existed longer than many others in Europe, their mini-principality only came to political prominence as a financial centre after the Second World War. Today, Albert is popularly known as the „green prince“, because he brought a breath of fresh air to the principality when he took office in 2005. Thanks to his commitment, the Monegasque government switched to hybrid and electric cars as official cars. That, too, is unusual: Apart from his enthusiasm for the environment, it is above all sport that has shaped Albert over the years. He has already tried out a total of 14 sports, from rowing to fencing to judo. Bobsleighing is his favourite – he has already competed in this discipline four times at the Winter Olympics
With this excursion through a part of Europe‘s dynasties, I wanted to show how multi-layered, changeable and thus modern the parliamentary monarchy actually is as a form of society – despite (or because of) its task of preserving centuries of history in the memory of the people, avoiding past mistakes and cultivating grown tradition. The monarchies listed and all other European monarchies are absolutely contemporary and prove all too well that the future needs the past.