Tag Archives: Princess Diana

Why I Love England…Especially in Spring

I’ve found that April is really a better month than May in England. It actually rains less in April than in May. It’s cool, but I just wear an extra layer. No one expects to completely avoid rain in England, but sunny days are a big plus.


On a clear spring evening in Windsor, Queen Victoria stands sturdily on her pedestal and gazes majestically over the town. In this land of tradition, royalty begins to make sense even to an American puzzled by the idea of hereditary privilege. Victoria seems like a benign grandmother to one and all. No doubt she would approve of the very traditional name given to the new Princess of Cambridge, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Certainly the phenomenon that was Diana caused turmoil for the Royal Family, but then Victoria had troublesome children of her own. I imagine she took the long view.

Spring flowers are in full bloom. Lilacs are fresh and fragrant.

Stone fences neatly divide fields where every square foot has been lovingly farmed over many centuries.


Public footpaths on private lands crisscross the entire country. The British consider keeping them public to be a sacred right, open to everyone. They’re muddy in rain, but easily walkable in dry weather.


The British love their dogs (and their cats too). The little fellow above was dressed in a stylish fur-lined hoodie for a slightly chilly outing in Cambridge with his doting person.

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I get lonesome for pets left at home. B and Bs in the countryside often provide loaner pets on request, if you ask nicely. My new friend Ruby lives on a pretty farm in rural Suffolk.

Photo by nicogenin, Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike

Photo by nicogenin, Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike

I had never been to the area north and east of London before–it’s off the main tourist trails.  In fact Rick Steves does not even mention the area, except for Cambridge. That may change, with William and Kate settling in Anmer, close to the coast in Norfolk.  And I think I had a Johnny Depp sighting!  Rumor has it that he bought a mansion in Burnham Market, a very posh but rural little village near Anmer. I think I spotted him driving right past me in a nifty Griffith sports car.  If the “east of England” is good enough for the royals and for Johnny Depp, it’s good enough for me.

I really do love England, in any season!

Charles and Diana’s Royal Honeymoon (Gone Wrong)


The royal yacht “Britannia” was in active use from 1954 to 1997. That made it available for the now-notorious honeymoon of Charles, Prince of Wales, and his bride, Diana Spencer, in 1981.

Photo from Daily Mail article cited below Photo from Daily Mail article cited below

From the published photos, all looked blissful.  But as we all know many years later, trouble was already brewing in the royal marriage.

The young couple had the use of the only two-person bed on the yacht, in what was usually used as a guest room for distinguished visitors. I think the matrimonial bed was–dare I say it?–queen-sized.


Crew members made do with narrow triple-stacked bunks far down in the bowels of the ship. Still, serving on the Royal Yacht was a plum position in the British Royal Navy.

Crew members got to rub shoulders with royalty. During her honeymoon, a sometimes-bored Diana hung out belowdecks with sailors, all of them no doubt starstruck by the charming and beautiful 20-year-old princess.

Photo from the Daily Mail article cited below Photo from the Daily Mail article cited below

The fictional spy James Bond is “officially” a commander in the Royal Navy–an indication of the very high status of the British Navy, to this day.  I wonder how he would feel about serving the Princess of Wales with “half a shandy” from the officer’s mess? I can’t imagine it.  Instead, I’m sure he would wangle an invitation to dine with royals in the formal dining room onboard.


After dinner, Mr. Bond might suavely lean on the grand piano in the salon, listening to the young Princess play.


Was she any good? I guess we’ll never know.  I wish she were alive to see how her sons turned out.  Actually, I wish she were alive just for her own sake. The sailors who served the royal couple were given access to a set of photographs of the honeymoon.  Some of them were only recently published.


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

What’s Up with the Garter?

Now that the new heir to the throne of England has arrived and been named George, we will probably hear more about the Order of the Garter.  Why?  The Order has been dedicated to the patron saint of England, St. George, since its founding in 1348. Next to becoming a Peer or receiving the Victoria Cross or the George Cross, the Order of the Garter is the highest honor anyone can achieve in England.  Deciding where to bestow it is one of the very few personal and absolute privileges still left to the King or Queen. It’s a very exclusive club, including only the King or Queen, the current Prince of Wales, and a maximum of 24 handpicked members, who are called Companions.  New members are always announced on April 23, St. George’s Day in England.

Arms of the Most Noble Order of the Garter; image from Wikipedia

Arms of the Most Noble Order of the Garter; image from Wikipedia

I don’t quite understand why the date is so definite, when the origins of the Order are lost in the mists of time.  The most entertaining legend is that a high-ranking lady was dancing at court when her garter fell off–a mildly erotic event which provoked knowing smirks from bystanders.  Supposedly King Edward III picked it up and gallantly said, “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” (“Shamed be the person who thinks evil of it.”) This event took place (if it took place) in France, in the port of Calais, which the English at the time controlled. I have to assume that the King subsequently decided the words would be a good motto for his own particular in-crowd, his trusted friends and advisors who would never snicker at the King.

Another legend, not as much fun, claims that King Richard I, fighting in the Crusades, decided to have his knights wear garters somehow related to St. George the Martyr into battle.  They won. And yet another explanation is that the words actually refer to the ever-problematic claims of the English King to the French throne. Very likely all these explanations are somehow related.

Garter Day occurs in May, at Windsor Castle. The lucky members and inductees wear elaborate outfits, meticulously preserved and recreated from medieval times.  They wear actual garters, of course.

A story about the 2013 Garter Ceremony appears at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2343223/Beaming-Queen-flanked-Charles-William-Order-Garter-today-Duke-Edinburgh-recovers-home.html, along with photos of the occasion.

I read recently that Prince Charles actually has a footman apply toothpaste to his toothbrush every morning.  Some time ago, I read that Prince Philip thinks nothing of having the bathroom repainted in his favorite color each time he visits one of the castles. I also read that Princess Diana insisted on nothing but pure linen sheets, carefully pressed, for her bed.  And the sheets had to be changed even if she only took a short nap. I have no real way of knowing whether these stories are true or not. But reports like these make anti-Royalists call for an end to the monarchy.  I personally hope that the new generation of royals is able to shed the more ridiculous aspects of royal privilege.  I’d like to continue seeing the elegance of truly historic traditions like the Order of the Garter.

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


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!

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.