Jun 25, 2014 | INTERNATIONAL
European Monarchies: The Pains of Being a Royal
It seems it is all the rage lately in the European royal circles for elder sovereigns to make way for a younger generation by abdicating their title. Both Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and King Philippe of Belgium (or Filip, in case you think Wallonia is nothing but a state-subsidized wasteland, sucking the life out of Flanders) abdicated in 2013 and this year it was Spain's King Juan Carlos' turn to hand the crown to heir apparent, Felipe VI.
Maybe it is all part of a continent-wide PR initiative to spruce up the institution of monarchy for the 21st century, bring it closer to the younger generations of Europeans (where applicable) and allay the itch of republicanism that has been spreading, possibly due to the prolonged financial crisis sweeping the Eurozone and its neighbors. In this scenario, a younger monarch has the chance to replace the stilted, dated, outright creepy aura of the geriatric institution of monarchy with a more relatable to the people persona, not unlike those of modern film-stars which are imbued with a quality of both deity and approachability; all that in order to somehow transform the absurdity and anachronism of hereditary sovereignty into contemporary congenital likeability.
So in that sense, the 46 year-old, ruggedly handsome, photogenic Felipe is ideal for this effort and has in his advantage what any PR professional will tell you is crucial for sustained adoration, an equally well-groomed, beguiling wife. And here we come to another strategy of the aforementioned royal-house-extreme-makeover initiative, namely of royals marrying commoners. The new queen of Spain, Letizia Ortiz, a former divorcee no less, and the first ever commoner to join the House of Bourbon, was a journalist anchoring a popular morning show among other things in Spanish TV and therefore her selection as royal consort couldn't be more advantageous for the "cause". Her household persona and her deeply rooted connection with a wide audience through incommensurable airtime was exactly what the strategists, publicists and other hired consultants ordered. What they didn't predict was that people are ususally more willing to espouse the derogatory scenario rather than the rosy one, namely that she is a gold-digging, self-promoting, cutthroat careerist.
Nevertheless, this mix-and-match matrimonial strategy has been mean-tested and proven reasonably successful in the new millennium. The Danish royal family seems quite sold to it. Both Crown Prince Frederik and his younger brother Prince Joachim married commoners (albeit the latter then divorced her), an Australian marketing consultant and a Hong Kong-born sales & marketing deputy chief executive respectively. You cannot get more commoner, un-royal, downright middle-class, than with somebody working in marketing. Not even with a personal trainer, as Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden did, when she wed with her very own. What is more heart-warming and inspiring to the European teenage girls, and pomp & circumstance loving boys, than the possibility, however remote, that they too could marry into royalty? It sure beats hoping to join the EU Commission and honestly, the perks of the Crown are vastly superior to those of the Commission President.
On the other hand, anti-monarchists would claim that these endeavors are nothing but a desperate way to divert attention from the departing regal old-timers either because of their out-of-touch shenanigans or complete disconnect from the prevailing mood. Take Spain's Juan Carlos for example, embroiled in 2012, of all things, in an African safari scandal that had him hunting, shooting and posing over (a by that time dead) Botswanan elephant, part of a luxurious, Saudi-sponsored trip, with his mistress, in the midst of a dire financial crisis in his home country. Throw in a couple of dead buffaloed and obviously people were not amused. Not even when the it was suggested to sculpt Juan Carlos and his wife Sophia's likeness out of the freshly procured ivory and auction them, along with the buffalo-skin rugs, for poverty relief purposed and/or new palace curtains.
Back at the good old times of absolute monarchy, gun-toting, wild-game-shooting monarchs, juggling multiple mistresses and grandly immortalized in numerous painstakingly painted portraits, were the archetype of regal virility and sovereign authority. Times have changed. Yet old habits die hard, especially if they are engraved in centuries of ancestry full of anecdotes, traditions and myths, that one was born into and raised with. Plus it is always fortuitous to have the means to indulge them, principally a vast fortune, an army of minions and royalty-struck billionaires willing to pay their way into your entourage.
Of course, in cases where the royal scandals don't involve the sovereign him/herself but only their offspring (and grandchildren), when the heir-apparent is far from dashing and his haughty consort is frequently likened to a mare, the above revamping strategies may not be applicable. It is therefore advised to just keep popping out babies, express grave indignation about topless photos publicized by the press (but keep posing) and hope for the best.