Tag Archives: Prince William



Photos are not allowed inside Sandringham House, but mere tourists like me are allowed to take pictures outside and in the nearby museum. This is the very grand entry, used by tourists and guests invited for grand occasions. I just learned that the Queen was recently in residence, possibly while I was there. But I’m sure there is a very private entrance for her and her personal guests. (I think there’s a separate ballroom entrance, which is an exit for tourists).

Yesterday Prince William and his newly-expanded family left London for Anmer Hall, their newly-expanded mansion on the Sandringham estate. I thought I’d post a few photos from my recent visit there.

Sandringham is only open to tourists for a few months a year. At other times, it is the strictly private property of the Royal Family, bought during Victorian times as a retreat. The gardens have been open to the public since 1908.  King George V created and opened the Museum in 1930, with an admission charge of 3 pence. In 1977, the present Queen Elizabeth decided to open some rooms of the house to tourists for a few months a year–very good PR, I think.  The place certainly won me over.


The museum, in the old stable block, is as interesting as the house. It contains, as the British would say, a lot of “bits and bobs” about the Royal Family. 


The family follows traditional pastimes at their country home. This old photo shows royal children looking very serious in 1905. Princes Edward, Albert and Henry and Princess Mary are taking instruction in marching from the Piper, Forsyth. 


Among many fascinating retired vehicles, there’s a picnic wagon which was in use until fairly recently, when it was replaced with a new one. The picnic wagon has a place for everything, including wine bottles and fine china. It’s housed in a large building with murals that show the Royal Family and their friends enjoying the great outdoors in their beautiful grounds. I’m sure family picnics will continue for the newest great-grandchildren of the Queen.


Who knew that the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, is a painter? He’s pretty good. Who can resist this little informal portrait of the Queen reading the morning paper?


The room guides in the house are the Queen’s regular trusted servants. They’re friendly and happy to chat. In the grand formal dining room, I asked whether the Corgis have the run of the house. Of course they do! The Queen feeds them personally in the Gun Room, and they mill around under the dining room table, probably cadging scraps like any other dogs. Right now there are seven Corgis. An elderly dog, the Queen’s beloved Monty, died recently.

This year, Queen Elizabeth will become the longest-reigning British monarch in history.  She has had to overcome her share of family troubles and occasional anti-monarchy sentiment.  But as far as I can see, the Brits really love their Queen.  And right now it seems most British folks also love the very appealing young family of William, Kate, George and Charlotte.

The new little Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge will no doubt be delighted by the Queens’s Corgis. I’m sure the Queen will be a doting great-grandmother!


Top 10 Reasons Americans Can’t Get Enough of the British Royal Family

The American press took up a lot of the pavement space in front of the hospital where the new Prince of Cambridge was born this week.  Why our fascination with British royalty?  Following is my own very personal and opinionated list of reasons.

1. We’re safe from a monarchy ourselves, having gained our independence 237 years ago.  We get to enjoy the spectacle without paying the bills.

2. Nowhere in the world is the tension between the antique and the modern more visible than in the traditions of the British Royal Family. Prince William in the velvet and ostrich feathers of the ancient Order of the Garter? Irresistible, at least to many of us. To read about the 2013 Garter Ceremony, go to http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2343223/Beaming-Queen-flanked-Charles-William-Order-Garter-today-Duke-Edinburgh-recovers-home.html.

3. We won’t admit we’re a little envious.  But we’re both dreading and secretly anticipating the day the royals trip themselves up and create another riveting story like the Charles and Diana Show of the 1990s.

4. We have a new appreciation for Princess Diana, who, in spite of all her colorful personal failings, gave the British Monarchy a well-deserved kick in the pants.

5. We’re embarrassed about the media “royalty” we create for ourselves:  overpaid sports heroes shown to cheat by taking banned substances, dysfunctional families like the Kardashians who cynically exploit their fame, reality “stars” who waste our time with their lame antics.  Is this the best we can do, 237 years after getting British royalty out of our lives?

6. We love our dogs.  We have to admire a Queen who is able to keep as many dogs as she wants.  Besides the much-photographed corgis, the Queen reportedly keeps any number of cocker spaniels and dorgis—a corgi-dachshund mix.  (No doubt there are also kennels full of dogs used for hunting, but these days hunting is kept on the down-low because of public disapproval).

7. We’re looking for stories of redemption.  Queen Elizabeth II appeared to be a classic coldhearted mother, especially to Prince Charles, but (if you ask me) she redeemed herself in the moment during Diana’s funeral procession when she briefly bowed her head as the coffin passed.  We’d like to think the Queen has learned her lesson and became a better parent from that day forward. We especially like telling ourselves that a Queen NEEDS to be humbled once in awhile.

8. The current crop of royals shows signs of having more good sense than greed.  I was won over when William and Kate asked for charity donations rather than wedding gifts.

9. We appreciate good PR, especially when it does not seem like PR. When Kate was photographed pushing her own grocery cart a few days after the Wedding of the Century, that was great PR–and we all knew she had been shopping for her own groceries for years.  When Prince William personally placed the new baby’s car seat in the royal Land Rover and drove off with his expanded family, that was great PR. Commenting that the baby had more hair than his prematurely-balding dad was frosting on the cake.

10. We’d like to think that if we were born to untold wealth that we did nothing to deserve, we’d behave humbly and generously.  William and Kate appear to be doing just that. And they’re making it look easy.

If the British Monarchy survives this century, I think people will look back on the personalities and events of the past few years as the reason. Join me next time for more explorations into the history of Europe and the British Isles–even as history is being made before our eyes!

Her Majesty STILL Knows Best

The Duchess of Cambridge just entered the hospital to give birth to her second child.  She’s in the luxurious Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. She and Prince William will have a two-room suite with Wifi, satellite TV, and a chef on call.  Of course none of that matters very much to a mother embarking on what we now call “natural childbirth.” The “natural” process, these days, does get a little help from medical science.  I decided to re-post an article I wrote a couple of years ago, when the new baby’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, changed childbirth for most mothers by insisting on having some anesthesia.

Mothers all over the world owe a debt of gratitude to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria of England.  At the time she was doing her duty for England by giving birth to 9 children, women still suffered through childbirth with no anesthetic of any kind.  In 1850, before she gave birth to her 7th child, her physicians investigated the possible use of anesthetic with Dr. John Snow.

Dr. John Snow, public domain

Dr. John Snow, public domain

Dr. Snow was a pioneer in the use of chloroform and ether to ease the pain of various medical procedures.  It sounds as though Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert was especially interested in alleviating her pain in childbirth. The procedure was unheard-of at the time, though. For whatever the reasons, nothing came of it and Victoria suffered as usual.

Queen Victoria with her eldest daughter, public domain

Queen Victoria with her eldest daughter, public domain

But in 1853, prior to the birth of Victoria’s 8th child, Dr. Snow was finally asked to administer chloroform to Victoria.  He had studied the use of anesthetics for many years.  He knew just when to administer the anesthetic, so as to provide the best pain relief without slowing the natural process of labor. He agreed to attend Victoria.  Was he a little nervous?  Maybe, maybe not.  By all accounts, he knew exactly what he was doing. The chloroform was a resounding success.  Victoria used it again for her 9th child.

The (male) religious leaders of the day treated the news with some consternation–after all, the Bible taught that women were supposed to suffer during childbirth.  But no one was about to argue with the judgment of their beloved Queen. In any case, the Queen was the head of the Church of England. Women all over England, and then women all over the world, began demanding anesthetic during childbirth.

Queen Victoria in her coronation regalia, public domain

Queen Victoria in her coronation regalia, public domain

An article from UCLA,  detailing the history of Dr. John Snow’s medical innovations, is at http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow/victoria.html.

As Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, awaits her turn in history, she can be confident that the birth will be as comfortable as possible.  No doubt Prince William is as anxious about her well-being as Prince Albert was about Victoria’s. I wish Kate a safe and easy delivery of the long-awaited heir!

Queen Victoria WOULD be Amused

Prince William’s ancestor, Queen Victoria, was widely reported to have said icily, “We are not amused,” when confronted with some risque joke or other.  (She was using the royal “we,” of course). But her biographers deny she ever said it.  In fact, she was known to enjoy life and laugh uproariously when the occasion called for it.

Victoria Amused; photo in public domain

Victoria Amused; photo in public domain

Queen Victoria was known as the “Grandmother of Europe” because her sons and daughters married crowned heads all over Europe during her reign, all of the marriages judiciously arranged.  Victoria’s own marriage was semi-arranged; she was presented with various options.  She fell in love with one of the suitors, her first cousin, Albert of the Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld dynasty. (Victoria’s overbearing mother was German; actually, the present-day British royals all have mostly German ancestry).  The young Albert returned her feelings.  She made him wait, though.  He cooled his heels during various visits until she finally proposed to him.

Queen Victoria's family, public domain

Queen Victoria’s family, public domain

In a way, we can think of Queen Victoria as the “grandmother of tabloids,” because she was the first British monarch to hit on the idea of holding up the royal family as an example of virtuous family life.  This involved opening up the family to some public scrutiny, which of course carried some risks in her day, and still does.  But during Victoria’s reign, and with the capable help of her beloved Prince Albert, Britain fully became a constitutional monarchy.  No longer did the monarch have much real power; she could mostly lead only by example.  She retained “the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn.”

I like to think Victoria would applaud Prince WIlliam’s decision to marry for love, to take his time, and even to finally marry the commoner Kate Middleton. I was in Edinburgh a few months before the royal engagement was announced.  I read a long magazine article that disparaged “Waity Katy,” who by that time had dated Prince William on and off for years with no resolution in sight.  I cheered for her when the long-awaited engagement was announced.

We all know the British Royal Family has not been a very good example of family happiness in recent years.  Am I the only one who could see trouble coming for Prince Charles and Lady Diana right from the official engagement press conference, when they were asked whether they were in love?  She answered, “Of course.”  He moodily replied, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.” Be that as it may, the monarchy is getting a new lease on life right now as the world breathlessly awaits the birth of a new heir.

While I’m waiting, I think I’ll watch again the 2009 movie The Young Victoria. It was written by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote Gosford Park and is probably at this moment working on the next season of Downton Abbey. The movie shows a young Victoria who is practically kept under house arrest until she accedes to the throne at age 18.  She had to sleep in her mother’s room, and was never even allowed to walk down a flight of stairs without a trusted person holding her hand.  All that changed, though, as she grew into her role of being the Queen Victoria who ruled England for 63 years.  She was not always a dumpy and grumpy-looking old lady.

The Young Victoria, Amazon

The Young Victoria, Amazon

The lovely Emily Blunt plays Victoria and the very handsome Rupert Friend plays her beloved Albert. The movie is available at Amazon.

Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe and the British Isles, while we all wait for new history to be created!

Be the First on Your Block

One of my favorite catalog stores, The Vermont Country Store, just thoughtfully sent me an opportunity to buy a commemorative plate to celebrate the birth of the soon-to-arrive new prince or princess.  Of course the plate will be pink for a girl and blue for a boy.  Delivery is promised in October.

Commemorative Plates available at The Vermont Country Store

Commemorative Plates available at The Vermont Country Store

Or maybe I would prefer a mug instead.

Commemorative Mug available at The Vermont Country Store

Commemorative Mug available at The Vermont Country Store

I would love to be in England right now, anticipating the royal birth along with everyone else, whether they care to admit it or not.  I understand William, the Duke of Cambridge is even now on duty as a rescue pilot while he awaits the birth.  He gets two weeks off when the baby is born. Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, is no doubt getting a little impatient like all moms everywhere. Even anti-Royalists must wish this new young family well. I can only imagine the cornucopia of commemorative items in British markets right now.  I’ll resist, though.

Jelly Babies available at The Vermont Country Store

Jelly Babies available at The Vermont Country Store

On the other hand, The Vermont Country Store offers a lot of other hard-to-find British products…like old-fashioned Jelly Babies.  Hmmm…



Coming Soon: A New Prince or Princess

Queen Elizabeth announced (or rather, had her people announce) that the soon-to-be born baby of Prince William will be called His (or Her) Royal Highness the Prince (or Princess)– of what?  Royal watchers think it will be Cambridge, since Prince William was made Duke of Cambridge at his wedding in 2011.  This is a burning question in England.  I seem to remember that one of the lowest blows Princess Diana sustained during her divorce was that she was stripped of the all-important “Her Royal Highness” or “HRH” designation.  The Queen herself was named “Her Royal Highness the Princess of York” when she was born, because her father was the Duke of York.

Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth of York; photo from abcnews.go.com

Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth of York; photo from abcnews.go.com

I find all this just a little annoying.  But mostly I find it endearing.  The British doggedly stick to their traditions.  If we didn’t have real live holders of titles walking among us, we’d have a hard time imagining the nobility of the past.  To me, the titles, though shopworn, are living history.  Titles have their practical uses, too. Crowds turn out to see the royals, especially the more likable ones.  Vast sums are raised for the charities they support. And items like tea towels are manufactured and sold in great quantities, providing jobs.

I once attended a ballet performance in London where Princess Margaret, the late sister of the present Queen, was the honored guest.  I must admit it was a thrill to watch her sweep through the lobby with her entourage. And it was fun to see her sitting in the center of the balcony (no tiara, but plenty of jewels and taffeta).

I won’t be posting much about the new royal baby when he or she arrives–our magazine covers will be doing more than enough of that for all of us.  But I salute Prince WIlliam for marrying  commoner Kate Middleton and bringing a breath of fresh air into the British Royal Family.  May they all keep their feet firmly on the ground.

Peering at the Peerage

The New York Times recently published a story about momentous changes possibly coming to the hallowed British laws governing titles and property.  The article is titled “Son and Heir? In Britain, Daughters Cry No Fair.” Royal heredity laws were recently changed to benefit the baby due soon to Prince William and Duchess Catherine.  Boy or girl, the child will become third in line to the throne. (I’m thinking that fun-loving Prince Harry will not really mind giving up his place).

This raises questions for other families still under the laws of primogeniture:  inheritance by males only.  Only in the British Isles does this still happen.  Most European countries have long since required parents to provide for all of their children, regardless of sex or birth order.  But in the British Isles, titles and lands have been held together and preserved for families precisely because the oldest son almost always inherits, and no one else gets anything.

But the changes in royal inheritance law have emboldened other families to question the age-old way of doing things.

Liza Campbell, daughter of the 25th Thane of Cawdor; photo from NYT

Liza Campbell, daughter of the 25th Thane of Cawdor; photo from NYT

For example, Liza Campbell, pictured above, grew up on her family’s Scottish estate, complete with castle, knowing all the while that her younger brother would inherit it all.  (There is still actually a Thane of Cawdor–he’s not just a character from Shakespeare’s MacBeth). Her father always told her, “Your face is your fortune”–meaning that it was up to her to marry well since there was nothing else coming to her.

Now, laws to allow the oldest child to inherit, whether male or female, are making their way through the British legal system.  This means that both titles and lands could still be held together for a family, but having the all-important son would no longer be a requirement.  In Downton Abbey terms, Lady Mary would just inherit the whole kit and kaboodle, and she could marry whomever she pleased.

The ultimate source on titles in Britain, Burke’s Peerage, still publishes the guide found on many a British bookshelf.  Naturally, it’s now an interactive website, too.  Founded in 1826, Burke’s Peerage also lists the genealogical history of all the royal families of Europe and the presidential families of the United States.

Only in Great Britain, though, do titles mean anything in a legal sense.  Many Europeans use their hereditary titles, but they have no legal standing.  And unless the person in question inherited the lands and estates that used to go along with the title, there is no income either. Of course, the “death tax” wreaks havoc on those lucky enough to actually inherit real estate as well as titles.  Some people joke that royal titles in most of Europe are about as valuable as vanity license plates.  In Britain, though, inheritance among the aristocracy still means something.  So any change will have profound results.  Whether there should even be heredity titles–or a monarchy–are subjects of another whole debate.  Change comes slowly in a land as bound by tradition as Great Britain.

The article from The New York TImes is at


Join me next time for more explorations into the history of Europe and the British Isles!

Thrifty Duchesses

Like every other Anglophile, I’m breathlessly waiting for Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, to give birth to a new royal heir.  In the meantime, I’m admiring her common touch–she is, after all, a commoner.  This week she made fashion news by wearing a maternity dress costing L17.50 (about $27), off the rack at a chain called Asos.  Naturally, thousands have been sold.  As far as I can see, she has not put a foot wrong in all the years she’s been Prince William’s main squeeze.

I admire another duchess from an earlier generation, too:  Deborah Devonshire.  She was born into a family of not-very-rich minor aristocrats, the Mitfords.  There were six girls and one boy, and very little money to support them all.  Only the son was properly educated; the girls were expected to marry well.  They begged to go to school and were put off. They were given London debutante seasons instead. But they were all beautiful, brilliant and creative.  So they made their own way in the world.

To make ends meet, Deborah’s mother sold eggs.  Her father dreamed of striking gold in Canada.  In spite of several trips where he personally dug for gold, it never happened for him.  Deborah was the youngest of the family and was considered a little dim as a child.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.

In my last post I described how Deborah became Duchess of Devonshire when the heir to the Cavendish title and property was killed in action in World War II, and then the sitting Duke died unexpectedly.  The dreaded Death Tax took effect:  the authorities demanded millions of pounds, reportedly about 80% of the total value of the inherited estate.

Deborah personally took charge.  The Cavendish family seat, Chatsworth, had always welcomed tourists.  After all, grand country homes were meant to be seen and admired.  Traditionally, the housekeeper conducted tours–for only the right sort of people, of course–and was allowed to keep the resulting tips.  Many housekeepers saved enough money to eventually open their own shops. (In Downton Abbey terms, think of Mrs. Hughes discreetly pocketing money from well-to-do tourists).  The housekeeper was responsible for vetting the tourists who rang the doorbell.  I’m thinking baseball caps, Bermuda shorts and fanny packs would not make it inside.

Anyway, when Deborah took matters in hand, the only facility to welcome tourists was a water tap outside.  That tap still exists.

Water tap outside Chatsworth

Water tap outside Chatsworth

But Deborah decided that people like to buy things, and they like to eat.  She created a restaurant and extensive gift shop, now so large and full of delights that it’s a destination in itself. She created a Farm Store (think a very exclusive Whole Foods, with everything in it produced on the grounds of the estate). She created a children’s farm, where city kids can learn how their food is produced. She oversaw a huge renovation of the grand house.  She created placards describing the house’s treasures. She began formally charging admission and hiring staff to guide tourists. She created guidebooks and eventually audioguides, with help from historians and art experts. She wrote about a dozen books, about the property and about her colorful life.

Today, a visit to Chatsworth can keep a visitor happy for an entire day.  One of my purchases at the gift shop on my last visit was a wonderful book all about the Mitford sisters, The Sisters by Mary Lovell.  Reading it is a fascinating history lesson.


At age 93, Deborah still presides–pretty much as CEO–over the thriving enterprise she created, starting at a time when all seemed lost for the noble Cavendish family.  Let’s hear it for duchesses with good sense and a common touch!