Photographs: Queen Elizabeth
Olympics athletes are preparing for the meeting of a lifetime – and so are many royals.
Maeve Hosea and Ruchita Daswani investigate the Games’ link with royal romance.
Royalists will be hanging out the bunting again this summer when Queen Elizabeth celebrates her Diamond Jubilee. She has ruled, albeit in the loosest sense, for 60 years, and with her equestrian pursuits, iconic sense of period style and stiff upperlip, she symbolises something the world regards as quintessentially British.
She bears the name of an earlier English female monarch who beat off the Spanish Armada, but she’s really a very royal mixture of nationalities and genetics.
With relatives in the courts of many of Europe’s royal families, and a genetic heritage from Germany, she’s very much a product of her class.
Down the ages, royal families have guarded and enhanced their power, influence and wealth through marriage with influential figures from other countries. For centuries royals have found spouses through arrangements made by parents and politicians, often seeing each other only once or twice before the wedding day. In Elizabeth II’s case, however, her choice was a dashing young exile from overseas, Philip of Greece and Denmark.
A foreign spouse is no longer the preserve of kings and queens. A labour market in flux and the development of a hyper-connected Internet generation are the primary causes of cross-border marriages.
Arranged marriages are out of fashion and it’s attraction that usually sparks the journey up the aisle or into the register office. Among the glittering office buildings of London’s Square Mile a young Spanish lawyer catches the eye of his British colleague. Across town, a Polish carpenter, having recently broken- up with his girlfriend back home, is chatting to an Australian girl on an Internet dating website.
Jump back 500 years and a powerful father is brokering the marriage between his eldest son and an alluring Spaniard. The marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VII’s son, Arthur, was a tactical move that concluded an alliance between the two kingdoms.
Two months later when Arthur died, his brother, Henry VIII, took the widowed Catherine as his wife to avoid diplomatic complications and maintain the peace with Spain.
Henry VII was also the first European monarch to negotiate a peace treaty between England and Scotland, by marrying off his daughter Margaret to the Scottish king, James IV. Like a good royal female, the Tudor scion did her duty for king and country and took Scotland as her home.
Marrying cousins was another common practice among royals, usually with the intention of keeping families together, socially and economically.
Queen Victoria, who married her first cousin, Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, is a prime example. The influential monarch is regarded as the “grandmother of Europe” because eight of her nine offspring had cross-border marriages.
Her children ruled Britain, Prussia, Greece, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain and Sweden.
Tradition isn’t the sexiest marketing device and cousin-marriage might be losing its allure, but royal cross-border romance remains common.
Juan Carlos of Spain found romance on a cruise ship with Sofia of Greece and Denmark. Rainer III of Monaco fell in love with American actress Grace Kelly and made the queen of the silver screen his Princess Grace. With the world as his romantic oyster, their playboy son, Albert of Monaco, recently took former Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock from South Africa as his bride. The couple strike a knowing balance between antiquity and modernity.
The sixth Olympic ring
The Olympics have won the hearts of princes and princesses in more ways than one.
With participants and spectators rom all over the world, the quadren- nial event counts as an exciting venue for people to meet and later marry.
The reigning King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, and his German Brazilian wife, Silvia Sommerlath, met at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich, where Sommerlath was working as an interpreter.
The Crown Prince of Denmark, Fre- derik, met Australian marketing con- sultant, Mary Elizabeth Donaldson, during the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
They were married in May 2004.
The Olympics are not just a royal spectator sport. Royal participants have included Britain’s Princess Anne and her daughter, Zara Phillips, Juan Carlos of Spain and Felipe, Prince of
Whose turn will it be in 2012? Prince Harry, Princess Beatrice of York and Charlotte Casiraghi of Monaco are among the eligible singles expected to attend the London games in July.
The race is on.
This is a partial family tree of connections between Europe’s royals.