Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Magic and the Daylight: Royalty in the 21st Century

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
"Its [The British monarchy's] mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic", Walter Bagehot once famously said. The perceived magic surrounding monarchies is what seperates the royals and us, and sets them apart. After all what is the point of having a person just like us, by accident of birth, have a position that sets them above everyone else?

Lately, Prince Harry has gotten in a bit of hot water over comments he made in an interview with Newsweek. The fifth in line to the British throne said, "We are involved in modernizing the British monarchy. We are not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people…. Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time."

Naturally most headline writers simply took the line "No one wants to be king or queen" and ran with it. If you read the whole interview, you will see that the line was taken out of context. Yes, I did think that the part about "the greater good of the people" did sound patronising, but on the whole the matter was blown way out of proportion. Royal reluctance is nothing new. There are several reported instances of current heirs to the throne (or those who recently became head of state) needing to promise their younger siblings that they would never give up their position. In addition, I also recall an interview many, many years ago with the late Prince Claus of the Netherlands including a question on how Germans admire royalty and a possible restoration of the monarchy in Germany, to which he simply replied something along the lines of, "No one in their right mind would want to take that job."

It is no secret that both Prince Harry and Prince William have struggled with their role - as did many other royals in their teens and twenties. Born into a life of enormous privilege and duty probably isn't as rosy as it may sound. Harry and William are also in a special position with the British Royal Family being the most famous of them all. Their personal struggles, their mother's early death, every foot that they ever put wrong has played out in front of not just their nation's but the world's eyes.

However, the British Royal Family - like all the other European royal families - has seen plenty of daylight. All these struggles, divorces and disagreements being in the very public eye has already rubbed off parts of the magic of royalty. So is it wise to speak about the matters publicly? As the saying goes: He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind. Prince Harry himself says in the same interview, "It’s a tricky balancing act. We don’t want to dilute the magic… The British public and the whole world need institutions like it."

Again, while I think that the last part sounds slightly patronising - cause, really, couldn't Britain and the whole world go round without monarchy - the real question is whether Harry is damaging the institution with interviews like this (even when the quote was blown out of propertion). From a personal point of view I understand where he is coming from, but I don't feel like he is doing his family any favours. Monarchy and royals in the 21st century are always treading a fine line. You cannot seem removed from the people, yet being too normal can also be risky in the long run. While most people living in a European monarchy will probably want to stick to the status quo for the forseeable future, calls for a republic will always be there.

Very public remarks by royals about even just possibly being reluctant about their role will fuel these calls. If nobody wants to be king or queen, why should there be a king or queen? Don't get me wrong, Harry's interview will not bring about the end of the monarchy. In fact, it will likely be pushed out of our minds in a few weeks time and replaced by another story. Yet if he and more members of the royal family continue with statements like these, it can slowly start to undermine the institution. An institution that, for better or worse, is grander than one person and relies on its perceived magic to gather support with the people.

Openly reluctant royals are very bad PR for the brand. Even though I still think Harry's comments were blown way out of proportion, he and his people should have known that they were a bad idea to begin with. We all know that any comment can be taken out of context to stand alone and send a stronger or even different message than we planned to. Hence it's better not to give comments that can be blown up so much. Harry could have easily talked about his personal struggles without speaking about the monarchy as an institution greater than himself. Most people will - despite understanding a sole person's personal troubles - fail to feel sorry for someone born into such great privilege and honour yet seeing it all as a burden. While humanising the monarchy is the way forward in the 21st century, don't let it become human. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

CastleTravel: A Road Trip to Arundel Castle and Hever Castle

A guest post by Sophie. 
In the South of England, in the county of Sussex, lies Arundel. In the village you find Arundel Castle. And that castle was the main reason of my road trip (aside from the Diana exhibition). My parents used to travel frequently to the UK before I was born, with family, friends or just the two of them. And Arundel Castle was a thing they always got back to, because they found it so beautiful. As a royal history buff and Castleholic I got only more intrigued. So now in 2017, after 35 years my mother last visited it, it was definitely time to cross the Channel and visit. Would it hold up, after all the stories of my parents? Would I enjoy it? Time to find out!
But first a little history (I know, but hang on!). It is one of England's oldest castles, being established by William the Conquerors nephew Robert de Montgomery in 1068. William awarded his nephew for protecting his property in Normandy while he was busy conquering England and Wales. Robert also got the title of Earl of Arundel. Interesting trivia: thanks to his conquering and protecting of his properties in England and Wales a lot of castles and fortifications were erected that still exist today, like Caernafon Castle. 
After Robert died, the castle reverted back to the crown, under King Henry I. At his turn, Henry left the castle in his will to his second wife, Adeliza of Louvain. She married later William d’Aubigny. William restructured the castle and fortified the keep. Till 1243 the castle would be in hands of the d’Aubigny family. That year the last in the male line died, and because of the marriage of Isabel d’Aubigny to John Fitzalan, the castle and titles went to the Fitzalan family. The Fitzalan family got to keep the castle and the titles until 1580, when Mary Fitzalan married Thomas Howard, 4rd Duke of Norfolk. He, however, got executed for conspiring to marry Mary, Queen of Scots. Once again, everything reverted back to the crown. Then in 1660 (!) everything would be returned to the Fitzalan-Howard family, who still own it today. Quite remarkable, because the Catholic family survived the country turning to Protestantism in Tudor times and survived also the struggle between William III/Mary and the Jacobites. More history? There is a great documentary with the great Dan Jones as presenter about Arundel Castle on Netflix, part of the series Secrets of Great British Castles.
The current Duke of Norfolk still lives with his family in the castle. There is a private section in the castle, but they also use the rooms open to visitors. After 5pm (and in November, when the castle is closed) they wander and sit around. You can see the rooms are still used, because photographs of the current Duke’s family and of his late parents are almost in every room. There is also a wedding picture of the current Duke’s son, the Earl of Arundel who got married last year. And lots of pictures of the family meeting the Pope.
There are also a few pictures of the Duke acting in his role as Earl Marshal to the Queen. Yes, that is correct: a Catholic nobleman - who is the premier Duke in England, eg. the Duke of all Dukes - is responsible for organising coronations and state funerals and assisting in the Opening of Parliament. Sadly you aren't allowed to take pictures inside the castle, but it is really pretty and nice!  You get - as is usual in castles - led from room to room. I was very busy admiring it all, my mother had a “Oh yeah!”- moment here and there. She recognized the dining room and the picture gallery, though not the other rooms (albeit she must have walked through them back in the late 70’s and early 80’s). Suffice to say, we all had a blast and were impressed with the castle.
It was great that every room had a member of staff, who were very knowledgeable. If you wanted to know something about a painting or a particular object, they were more than happy to answer questions.  Especially the lady in the library was very pleased that we were so interested in the history of the castle and the family. She also explained about noble families and death duties, why it can be almost ruining families and their collections (selling jewellery *shudders*) and how the Norfolks formed their own trust to prevent this. Quite important, since they have a really nice collection of furniture and objects that really show the evolution of the castle, family and England. Also, their collection is of historic and cultural importance, since they are a Catholic family and they have some first editions of books by Geoffrey Chaucer and Shakespeare. And let’s not forget they owned a manuscript by Leonardo da Vinci till the British Library bought it in 1831 (*drools*).
After admiring the castle we had a lunch and did some shopping at the museum shop and went outside. There we went on our way to visit the Fitzalan Chapel, where members of the family are buried and went to the beautiful gardens afterwards. Nice to know: the Collectors Garden was opened by the Prince of Wales!
Only one conclusion was possible when we were back in our apartment: yes, it was definitely worth a visit! My mother loved it seeing it again, and now knowing more about the history and the family (thanks to me…) it made the visit that much nicer for her. For me, the stories definitely holded up. It is a beautiful castle, with splendid architecture and furniture. It doesn’t feel empty or museum-like while walking through it, which you can sometimes have when visiting a castle (looking at you, Hampton Court). If you are a self-respecting history buff or Castleholic, you should really visit this one! By car is easiest, but there is a 1,5 hour train ride from London to Arundel and back which makes it a good destination for a day trip.  
Next castle on the roadtrip was Hever Castle, once owned by Anne Boleyn's family. It is a small castle in the Greater London area (close to Penshurst Place and Royal Tunbridge Wells). Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary grew up at Hever Castle, after their father Thomas inherited it in 1505. He was born there in 1477 and it passed onto him after the death of his father. After the death of Thomas Boleyn it came in possession of King Henry VIII. He gave it to his fourth wife Anne of Cleves as part of the settlement of their divorce. 
After Anne of Cleves, it was owned by the Waldegrave famiy, the Meade-Waldo family and the Astor family (of Waldorf Astoria hotel-fame). In 1983, the Astor family sold it to Broadland Properties Limited, owned by the Guthrie family. The Guthrie family still owns it today. The estate is used as conference centre, but the castle and gardens are open to the public. It is even possible to marry at Hever Castle!
As tourist attraction they draw on the link with Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Consisting of three floors, you see Anne’s bedroom, a room where ladies did needlework and a few rooms dedicated to the Astor family. On the second floor you get to see Anne’s prayer books, a letter from Henry to her and from her to Henry. Their love story is also a bit acted out with wax dolls in life size. You see Anne receiving a letter and rose from Henry, and Henry standing next to Anne while he rejects Anne’s sister Mary. 
It is a small castle, so you better combine it with something else for the day. Still, it is very nice to visit. Though if you are a complete Tudor geek, Hampton Court is a far better pick. For Castleholics it is a nice castle to visit and put on the list.
About the author
Sophie is since her young years interested in royalty. It all started for her with Princess Diana. Since then royal jewelry, Queen Maxima, history and castles has been added to her list of royal obsessions. You can find Sophie on Twitter and on her own - Dutch - website All Things Royal.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Real Alcázar de Sevilla

You don't really notice the vibrant beauty of the Royal Alcázar of Seville when you first walk up to it. Thick walls and high towers guard the splendours of this royal palace complex dating back to the days of the Muslim rule over the Iberian peninsula, though most of its beautiful rooms were actually built - by Moorish workmen - for the Christian King, Pedro the Cruel of Castile, in the 1360's. Still, the style of the palace is heavily influenced by the Muslim rule of Spain that lasted from the conquest in 711 until 1492, when Granada was recaptured by Christian forces.
The word Alcázar actually comes from the Arabic word for castle, al-qasr. And that's what it is. An extensive castle complex including some stunning gardens that actually double as the Water Gardens of Dorne in Game of Thrones. The Real Alcázar still houses the official residence of the King of Spain whenever he visits Seville thus making it the oldest royal residence in Europe in use.
While use of the area dates back to the first century, the history of the Alcázar begins in 914 when the Umayyad dynasty began with the construction of a fortification with a quadrangular wall attached to the old Roman wall of the city. Inside there were some simple outbuildings attached to the walls, such as warehouses, stables and barracks.
During the 11th century, the power of the Umayyad dynasty started to decline. The Córdoba Caliphate effectively collapsed during a civil war between 1009 and 1013, although it was not finally abolished until 1031 when al-Andalus broke up into a number of mostly independent mini-states and principalities called taifas. These small principalities were unable to defend themselves against the Christian northern states of the Iberian peninsula and thus invited the Almoravids, Berber Muslims from Morocco, to help them.
The Almoravids, however, soon took control of all the taifas. The Almoravids were followed by another Muslim Berber dynasty, the Almohades. They gained control of Seville in 1181 and soon embarked on a building frenzy constructing a number of baths, towers, a grand mosque and Al-Muwarak (The Blessed), the fortress-like palace today known as the Alcázar.
However in the 13th century, the Spanish Reconquista was in full swing and the area was reclaimed by the Catholic Kings of Spain who claimed the palace as their own. This marked the beginning of a new era for the palace. During the following years, elements of Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque design were combined to the original Islamic structure leading to the unique blend of styles known as Mudéjar.
Of the original Islamic style structure only the Patio de Yeso, the Sala de Justiciathe Patio del Crucero and the Patio de la Casa de Contratación remain. The rest of the buildings were either completely rebuilt or newly added to the original structure during the Middle Ages.
Seville had been reclaimed by Christian forces under Fernando III of Castile in 1248 after 16 months of siege. The Alcázar soon became a favourite with the new Christian rulers of the city. For decades the Kings of Castille continued to use the palaces of their Muslim predecessors. Between 1252 and 1260 King Alfonso X of Castile used the space of the main building to build the Gothic Palace.
During the 14th century, King Pedro of Castile demolished three palaces of the Almohad dynasty in favour of a new palace built in the Mudéjar style. Mudéjar being a style of medieval Iberian architecture and decoration, particularly of Aragon and Castile, strongly influenced by Moorish taste and workmanship with the word Mudéjar actually coming from an Arabic word meaning 'allowed to remain'. The works commissioned by Pedro the Cruel and carried out by workmen from Granada, at the time still under Muslim rule, were finished in 1364.
Many of the Alcázar's most stunning rooms owe their existence to Pedro the Cruel (also occasionally called Pedro the Just), the last ruler of the main branch of the House of Ivrea. Pictures actually don't really do the palace justice as there are so many details that even standing in the palace's rooms, it is hard for your eyes to capture all of them: Arabic scripts, tiles, carvings, and many more from the floor all the way up to the ceiling.
Over the centuries, the Real Alcázar de Sevilla continued to be used as a royal residence. In 1478, Prince Juan, the only son of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon who lived to adulthood, was born there. In 1526, the wedding of Holy Roman Emperor Carlos (Karl) V with his cousin Isabel of Portugal was celebrated in the Alcázar. The palace was also the birthplace of Infanta Maria Antonia of Spain (1729–1785), daughter of Felipe V of Spain and Elisabetta Farnese. The King and Queen visited the city to oversee the signing of the Treaty of Seville which ended the Anglo-Spanish War.
During all those years, parts of the Alcázar were again and again adapted to suit the taste of the times though the Mudéjar-style parts of the castle complex remain the most impressive. Equally stunning are the gardens that are also part of the Real Alcázar. While there are many small courtyards with little pools, fountains and recessed seats, there is also a large 16th century Renaissance-style garden featuring a large labyrinth and a fine pavilion built during the times of Carlos V.
All in all the Real Alcázar de Sevilla is quite a wonderland and it made me fall in love with Moorish and Mudéjar architecture even more than the sights of Portugal last year. There is so much to discover and it actually made me want to hop on on plane and go to the Middle East or Northern Africa to discover more Muslim-influenced architecture. One improvement that could be made though are signpostings. There were moments when I actually felt a little lost but then again she who gets lost, sees more of life - or something along those lines...
Good to know:
The Real Alcázar de Sevilla is open between April and September from 9.30am to 7pm, they close two hours earlier in the winter. The palace is closed on January 1 and 6, Good Friday and December 25. Admission per adult is 9,50 euros. I did not purchase a ticket before visiting and the waiting time wasn't more than ten or 15 minutes. However when I passed the next day, the queue was much longer - so it is probably not a bad idea to buy a ticket online as you can thus jump the queue. For more information, have a look here.