Sunday, May 1, 2011

As English as the Queen

There are so many obvious arguments against monarchies that it is hard to understand people who still support them (except for the royals themselves, of course). A possible explanation of monarchy advocacy was given by the Spanish journalist Rafael Ramos some years ago on the event of Prince Charles and Camilla’s wedding: “European monarchies survive on three traditional pillars: their aura of mystery, their spirituality and their unavoidable institutionalism”. And there is even a fourth reason: they represent national unity, they are the symbol of their country and they stand as a stereotype of the average citizen with all national clichés (positive and negative). And this is true, as many national stereotypes have crossed borders thanks to their kings and queens: for instance, Queen Elizabeth represents British phlegm and most British clichés (as absurd as they may be) for foreigners. She is the most British of all English people, in the same way that King Juan Carlos of Spain is the most Spanish of all Spaniards. However, this is quite shocking if we take a look at their family trees. 
To being with, Queen Elizabeth II belongs to the House of Windsor, which is quite an English name. But this family name is not very old: it was founded by King George V, Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather, just at the time of the First World War, when he changed the family name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the “English” Windsor. Why? Simply because the former sounded too German and the First World War was not the best time to have a German name for the British royals. But why did this family name sound so German? Simply because it is a German dynasty made up by the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and the house of Hannover. Therefore, the British royals are of German origin.
And there is a similar story for the Spanish royals too: the House of Bourbon is a French family (Philip V of Spain was the Sun King’s grandson, that is, Louis XIV of France was his paternal grandfather) who replaced the former Spanish royal family, who were not Spanish either, but from Austria. But let’s take a look at more contemporary generations, as the grandparents of the current King of Spain were not of Spanish origin: King Alfonso XIII (Bourbon), Queen Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg (a German family living in Scotland), Prince Carlos of Bourbon-Two Sicilies (related to the houses of Austria, Bourbon and Saxony, among others) and Princess Louise of Orleans (French).
The king of Sweden belongs to the House of Bernadotte, founded by the Napoleonic Marshal Jean Baptiste Bernadotte (thus French), who succeeded King Charles XIII of Sweden in 1818 when he died without issue.
In the case of Norway, just take a look at King Harald’s grandparents: Maud of Wales, Charles of Sweden, Ingeborg of Denmark and Haakon VII (he is the only one from Norway, but in turn his father was the King of Denmark and his mother was the Princess of Sweden).    
The House of Wettin (a family of German royals from Saxony) reigns in Belgium; 3 of the 4 grandparents of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands are German; look at the full name of Margrethe II of Denmark to check her origins: Margrethe of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and Bernadotte.
And we could go on and on with principalities or other royal families from currently republican countries like France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria… but I think that we made our point.
Surprisingly enough, most European people consider that someone whose grandparents were from Morocco (or Turkey or Senegal), is still Moroccan even if this person or his/her parents have never set foot in Morocco, but on the other hand royals are the true native representatives of our country.


  1. Thank you for your article.
    One small correction regarding Norway: King Haakon was born in Denmark and was 33 years old when he became king in Norway in 1905. His wife was his cusine Maud Charlotte Mary Victoria of Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha. Their son, Olav who became king in 1957, was also born in Denmark - in 1903. The present king is the first in this familiy who is born in Norway. I hope he will be the last king; Harald the Last!

  2. Thank you for the feedback. Let’s drink a toast to Harald the Last and to Juan Carlos the Last… long live the Republic!

  3. The British Royals are somewhat German however the House of Saxe Coburg Gotha was in fact half British. George I was the first monarch of this house and was half British himself, otherwise he would not have inherited the throne.

  4. A Republican of ConvenienceDecember 5, 2011 at 11:46 PM

    ^Bro, George I was the first monarch of the House of *Hanover*. And he was almost full-blooded German, what with his parents being the Electress of Hanover and the Elector of Brunswick-Luneberg. The first British monarch since HM Anne to be less than two-thirds German is the present monarch, who's half Scottish and (almost) half German, by blood.

    Now, why should it matter where the King's great great grandfather comes from? He's a symbol of stability, and he doesn't even cost THAT much more than a non-royal head of state. Let the end justify the means. There are valid reasons to oppose modern monarchies without disparaging their earlier contributions.

    I'm an American, and I agree that the vacuity of the monarchical institution renders it increasingly irrelevant. You Europeans must get tired of the scandals and plebeian indignity plastered over the tabloids. I mean, most modern royals act like the worst sort of petty celebrities, without the redeeming virtue of having actually earned their money. None of the aristocratic poise and talent of bygone days.

    But up until World War II, monarchy did provide an effective excuse for the European aristocracy to hold back the unwashed proletarian tide. Europe can owe a slight delay in the encroachment of its social welfare system to the great Monarchical Bulwark. After all, if you're going to have an aristocracy, may as well make use of its inherent reactionary potential. You get the worst of both worlds if you have an aristocracy and trample on it - just ask the Russians.

    Of course, I much prefer the American system. The bourgeosie and the aristocracy are much stronger united against the proletariat than fighting amongst themselves. Keeps our free market democracy nice and stable. No obnoxious class warfare to muddy the waters.

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