Friday, October 25, 2013

Photographs With Much History To Tell and a Future To Which To Look Forward

For my commentary on the christening ceremony, click here.
     These are the pictures that many have been waiting for, and which will be remembered for posterity.

 Yesterday brought about the release of the official portraits from the christening of Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, which were taken by professional photographer Jason Bell, who was hired when Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge was impressed by his work at the National Portrait Gallery, an organization of which she is patron.

     The portraits were taken in the Morning Room at Clarence House, the London residence of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, which was formerly the home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother until her death in 2002. Clarence House was also the first home of the Queen and Prince Philip, where they raised Prince Charles and Princess Anne until the Queen's accession to the throne in 1952.

     Back then, royal christening's were still formal events in which men wore morning dress (waistcoat, coattails, stripped trousers) and smiles were hard to come by in the official photographs. Yesterday's photograph's shows a less stuffy, more relaxed and informal royal family in which the men wear simple suits and smiles are all-around. They show them as being more low-key, natural, and dare I say, ordinary. The Windsor's also seem comfortable in the presence of their "commoner" in-laws. Indeed, Kate's brother James appears as though he could be a Windsor himself, bearing a striking resemblance to King George V (see photo below) with his new beard. Prince George himself appeared to be contented, and in at least one photograph, happy. The only missing element is Diana, who likely would have loved the relaxed nature of the christening and the portraits, in comparison the relatively overwhelming events of the christenings of Prince William and Prince Harry. 

     Aside from the informal formalities of the day, the new portraits are are great importance by showing the Queen pictured with the next three kings of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as the 15 overseas Commonwealth realms (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, etc.) Such a photograph has not been taken in 114 years, when the reigning queen's great-great grandmother Victoria was the Sovereign of the world's largest empire.
    However, that particular photograph of 1899 is not the portrait against which we ought to compare the royal gathering of 2013. The present-day photograph of utmost importance is that of the 87 year old Queen with Prince Charles – 64, Prince William – 31, and Prince George – 3 months old, which creates a powerful echo with the a similar photograph from the 1894 christening of Prince Edward of York, the future Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor. It is a portrait of Queen Victoria with her great-grandson Prince Edward (in the original christening gown) in her lap, with her son, the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) and her grandson, the Duke of York (the future George V) standing behind her.
1894: Queen Victoria with Prince Edward of York (Edward VIII) in her lap, and the Duke of York (George V) and the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) standing behind her.
     Not only are these portraits similar in what is plainly seen – the reigning monarch with three generations of heirs, but they are also similar in how they symbolize the monarchy’s basic tenets: continuity, permanence, and stability. The 1894 photograph displays a span of time from 1819, when Queen Victoria was born during the reign of George III, to 1972, when Prince Edward (as Duke of Windsor) passed away – having lived to witness two world wars, his own abdication has king, and astronauts making a giant leap for mankind. Similarly, the 2013 photograph exhibits a long time span, which is still on-going, and may extend into the first decades of the 22nd Century. It begins with the Queen’s birth in 1926 at around the time of the General Strike in Britain. This current time span has witnessed wars and revolution across the world, as well as massive social, economic, and political transformations at home. During this time, the status of the monarchy has been challenged and questioned, but it has survived through it all. 

     Indeed, it has thrived under the astute helmsmanship of the Queen and her father and grandfather, who have adapted the ancient institution to ever-changing circumstances. They have brought it closer to the people and have made it more relevant and meaningful to the nation by engaging with them through mediums ranging from radio to television to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The Queen in particular has stamped her own style of monarchy by creating the walkabout to meet and greet ordinary people, opening up garden parties to wider selections of society, allowing the palaces to become museums, by traveling further than any previous monarch, and reforming the structure and finances of the royal household. In doing these things, she has made the monarchy more popular during her reign and has laid strong foundations for the future, which is not a small achievement. 

     These photographs in short seamlessly combine the past and future. In one photograph, the Queen looks down on Prince George, probably at ease with knowing that the monarchy is in good shape and that the line of succession is secure. It is hoped that the men and baby in that particular "Four Monarchs" photograph, as well as other members of the royal family both present and future will take this strong inheritance and, in their own way, make it better for future generations - not just for their family, but for the peoples they serve.

     God bless them all.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

An Intimate Christening for Prince George

     Three months following the world’s most anticipated birth, there came the world’s most anticipated christening – the christening of the future king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 

     Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge was baptized yesterday by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, in a private ceremony in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace in London. The ceremony marked the reception of Prince George into the Church of England, the Anglican state church of which he will one day be Supreme Governor. In attendance from the royal family were the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry. The Middleton family was also in attendance, with Kate’s father Michael, her mother Carole, her brother James and sister Philippa (Pippa) all on hand for the occasion. Uncle Harry and Aunt Pippa both read biblical lessons before the actual christening took place under Archbishop Welby.

     The Archbishop of Canterbury is responsible for crowning the British monarch at the coronation service in Westminster Abbey. Welby, the 105th Archbishop - assisted by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres - baptized the baby prince with water from the River Jordan poured from a silver gilt font. From all accounts, George was on his best behavior throughout the ceremony, and appeared unfazed by the water being sprinkled him by Archbishop Welby. As part of his sermon to the parents and Godparents, Welby instructed them to help [George] to grow and flourish into the person God has created and has called him to be. 

     Before the christening, Welby stated that this moment was “hugely important” for George and his family, and remarked that he was joining a world-wide Christian family of over 2 billion people -  about a third of humanity.

     With regard to royal christenings, in recent times, they have usually (though not always) taken place in the Music Room of Buckingham Palace, including those of Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince William himself. Such occasions often had large guest lists that included far-flung royalty and extended family members. They were also sometimes media events, with cameras on hand to record the gathering of the royal family, along with their guests and friends following the actual event. This time, live camera’s recorded the arrival and departure of William and Kate (with George) and their guests, but the couple, already known for not always sticking with royal traditions, opted for a smaller, more intimate and personal affair with 22 guests within the confines of the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace with no live photo session inside.

St. James's Palace is just down the road from
Buckingham Palace. Its Chapel Royal is
graced by the windows to the right.

     St. James’s Palace (including the Chapel Royal within it) was built by Henry VIII of England and Ireland in the 16th Century. To this day, it is the official residence of the British monarch, although no reigning monarch has actually lived there in nearly 200 years when George III of the United Kingdom was the last to use it as a primary residence. Nevertheless, it remains the royal court for the British monarch (the Court of St. James), and it where foreign ambassadors and high commissioners (for Commonwealth countries) are accredited. The Palace houses office space and apartments for royal staff and members of the royal family, and it is where the Accession Council convenes upon the death of a monarch and proclaims the succession of a new monarch, which will one day be Prince George. 

     The Chapel Royal is a place of much significance to the royal family of more recent times, and to the monarchy in centuries past. Technically speaking, a “Chapel Royal” is not a place, but a body of priests and singers who serve the spiritual needs of the reigning monarch, and there are several of them in royal palaces throughout Britain. It was in this particular Chapel Royal that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were married in February 1840 (with their signed marriage certificate still hanging in the vestry of the chapel). In 1988, Princess Beatrice of York, the eldest daughter of Prince Andrew and his former wife Sarah, was the last royal baby to be baptized there until Prince George. Two years ago, the Chapel played host to Kate’s formal confirmation into the Church of England before her wedding to Prince William. But probably most significant is that this was the place where the coffin of William’s mother Diana, Princess of Wales was kept for a couple of days before her funeral in September 1997, and where William and Harry paid their last respects in private before the public gathering at Westminster Abbey. In William’s own way, the choice of this venue may perhaps have been way of allowing his mother to be there for the occasion.

     Much ink has been spilled about the fact that other members of the royal family were not invited to the ceremony. The Daily Mail in particular made it seem as though such members were being snubbed, or somehow demoted.  The reality is that many of them already had long-standing engagements today, including Princess Anne, who was carrying out engagements in Canada, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex (wife of Prince Edward), who was busy in the county of Somerset, England. The Queen herself had two engagements on her schedule on this day aside from the baptism (which is why the ceremony was in the afternoon). But more importantly, for William and Kate, they likely wanted a  this moment was one to be shared only by people of immediate importance to them: immediate family, close friends, and guests such as William's former nanny Jessie Webb, who is now a part-time nanny for Prince George. Like William asking for a review of the wedding guest list two years ago when it contained 700 names of people he did not know, this ceremony showed a determination of the couple to provide a sense of normality and closeness. It also shows a determination to keep a low-profile for Prince George, and to protect him from the pressures of being royal for as long as possible, which is something that Diana would have wanted.

     Part of this determination also extends to the choice of Godparents, who have usually and almost exclusively have been members of the family or other royalty and aristocracy, with almost no practical connection to the child or the child’s parents. For example, William’s six Godparents included the former king of Greece, Constantine II (a cousin of Prince Philip); Princess Alexandra, Lady Ogilvy (a cousin of the Queen); the Duchess of Westminster; and Lady Susan Hussey (Lady-in Waiting to the Queen). William and Kate choice of Godparents reflects a closer band of family and friends who may be called on to help care for Prince George and play a role in his upbringing. The Godparents for selected for Prince George are:

  • Oliver Baker (who attended the University of St. Andrews with the Duke and Duchess)
  • Emilia Jardine-Paterson (who attended Marlborough College* with the Duchess)
  • Hugh Grosvenor, Earl Grosvenor (who is the son of Gerald Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster)
  • Jamie Lowther Pinkterton (who served as Private Secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry from 2005-2012, and remains as a part time secretary and equerry)
  • Julia Samuel (a close friend of Diana, Princess of Wales)
  • Zara Tindall (who is a first cousin of Prince William)
  • William van Custem (who is a childhood friend of Prince William)

     It is a bit surprising that Prince Harry and Kate’s sister Pippa were not selected as Godparents, and ink has already been spilled about another perceived "snub", but nothing can change the fact that Harry and Pippa are George's uncle and aunt, and they will be important in his upbringing. It is therefore more likely that William and Kate wanted to grant a special status to people who are (for the most part) not family members. Such people may have been especially important at critical points in their lives, such as Mr. Lowther-Pinkerton, who as Private Secretary to William and Harry, has been somewhat of a mentor and father figure, as well as Julia Samuel, who was a close friend of Diana and helped William through the period following his mother’s tragic death. Also represented here are friends from school days. The aristocracy was chiefly represented by Earl Grosvenor, whose father is a close friend of Prince Charles and whose mother is a Godparent to Prince William. The extended royal family was represented by Zara Tindall, the only daughter of Princess Anne, who is pregnant with her first child.

     For the ceremony, Prince George wore a replica of the christening gown worn by virtually every royal baby beginning with Queen Victoria’s first child, Victoria. The original christening gown of 1841 was made by Janet Sutherland from Falkirk, Scotland, who received the title “Embroiderer to the Queen”. Made of white Spitalfields silk-satin with Honiton cotton lace overlay, it was used for the christening of over 60 babies, including Charles and William. After its use for the baptism of Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor (daughter of Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie) in 2004, it was deemed too fragile and was retired. The replica was created by the Queen’s dress designer Angela Kelly in time for the baptism of Lady Louise’s brother, James, Viscount Severn in 2008.

     The historical significance of this moment is not to be underplayed. For the first time since 1901, a reigning British
Queen Victoria with her three heirs in 1894.
monarch has lived to see three generations of heirs in direct succession. Back then, Queen Victoria could take comfort in knowing that the monarchy would be secure through her son Albert Edward (the future Edward VII), her grandson George (the future George V), and her great-grandson Edward (the future Edward VIII). Today, Elizabeth II can take similar comfort in the survival of the Windsor dynasty through her son Charles, her grandson William, and her great-grandson George. Following the birth of the future Edward VIII in 1894, a photograph was taken of Queen Victoria and her three heirs at the event of his baptism. A similar – and much anticipated – photograph of Queen Elizabeth II with her three heirs, along with other photographs from the christening, are expected to be released today. 

     Yesterday was indeed a personal and special day for the royal family, like any Christian family. Indeed, it represents the determination to provide normality to Prince George's life ahead of the duties, obligations, and pressures he will face. However, it was also a day of importance to the British nation, as well as the nations of the Commonwealth because it is a rite of passage that has been celebrated by peoples of these countries for generations. It represents the reception of the Prince into the faith a majority of Britons share, even in the face of an increasingly secularist and materialist society, where outward expressions of faith are now seen as fuddy-duddy. But even the non-religious can find something happy about an occasion that brings people together. The monarchy is an institution that brings people together, and creates a sense of common nationhood and solidarity as a result. It also provides continuity and stability, which most partisan politicians cannot do, and it now has a secure succession into the 22nd Century. The christening represents the next chapter of this storied institution and the people it represents.

*In this context, a "college" in the United Kingdom is equivalent to the last two years of high school in the United States.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Malala, the Queen, and the Commonwealth

      Following on from the Duke of Cambridge’s first investiture ceremony, Friday was another red-letter day for Buckingham Palace, where Malala Yousafzai, the young education activist from Pakistan paid a visit to the Palace to meet the Queen, Prince Philip, and other members of the Royal Family at a reception entitled "Youth, Education, and the Commonwealth."

Malala Yousafzai
      The 16-year-old’s outspoken beliefs on the right to education – especially for women and girls – made her a target of the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist organization that once provided safe harbor for Osama bin Laden, and which believes in the strict implementation of Sharia law. Yousafzai was shot in the head in October of last year by Taliban fighters while she was on the bus going home from school. She was eventually airlifted to the United Kingdom for treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, which specializes in the treatment of military personnel who receive similar head injuries while in conflict. Yousafzai now lives with her family in the West Midlands region of England while she continues her rehabilitation and goes to school. 

     But on Friday, she admitted that she had to skip school so that she could attend the reception that was being hosted by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, which was attended by over 350 guests from academic institutions from across the world, as well as representatives from across the Commonwealth. Students from St. Winefride's School in Manor Park, East London, were also there, as well as the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra.

     The Queen, who was reported to have been keen on Yousafzai’s progress, appeared to be delighted to meet the girl, who since the attack has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (though the prize eventually went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), met with President Barack Obama, and spoken before the United Nations.

     Accompanied by her father Ziauddin, Malala gave the Queen a copy of her book, I Am Malala, and told her of the importance of every child having access to education, including in the United Kingdom. Prince Philip jokingly interjected that in Britain, people only send their children to school so as to get them out of the house, to which Malala was reduced to a fit of giggles. Malala also talked to the couple about their previous visits to Pakistan, particularly a visit while the Queen was in her 20’s, when she came to the Swat Valley region from which Malala hails.

     After the reception, Malala expressed her appreciation for the events of that day, saying that she felt honored to meet the Queen. Before going to the Palace, she said that she was a bit nervous, in part because she was not sure about the proper etiquette when in the presence of the Queen (such as whether to curtsey and when to speak), but remarked that the Queen put her at ease by talking to her "in a friendly kind of way." She also expressed hope that the Queen and the UK Government could help provide support to her campaign for education

     Other members of the royal family who were in attendance were the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, as well as Princess Beatrice. Upon meeting Malala, the Princess shook her hand, told her that it was "incredible" that she had achieved much in the last year, and that she was honored to meet her. Beatrice also said that her mother, Sarah, Duchess of York had been "completely moved" by what Malala had done, and would like to meet her as well.

     Personally, this author has also been moved by the bravery and courage of Malala Yousafzai. Being outspoken about the right to education for women and girls in a place where such an idea can meet a hostile reception certainly earns much respect, but even after the attack, she has remained defiant in the face of continued threats against her life. In addition, she has shown nothing but poise, distinction, and dignity throughout her time in the spotlight (which unfortunately, is not always exhibited in what passes for female role models these days). On Saturday, she displayed such poise and dignity again upon receiving an honorary Master of Arts degree from the University of Edinburgh.

     It is also a good thing that the Queen and the United Kingdom have welcomed Malala and her family with open arms. In fact, Elizabeth II herself is very familiar with meeting people from various backgrounds and cultures, as Head of the Commonwealth of Nations. In the course of her 61-year reign, the Queen as visit almost every Commonwealth country (including Pakistan), and has gone out of her way to make Commonwealth leaders and peoples feel comfortable in their interactions against her, especially when they come to visit Britain. In Robert Hardman’s book, Her Majesty: Queen Elizabeth II and Her Court, such leaders have remarked that the Queen knows personal details about things within their countries which only could have been gained through all of those visits over the years. As a result, the President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, has remarked that he has not "seen anyone who understands us more." Hardman concludes that the Queen's devotion to the Commonwealth (even when her ministers in Britain are not as enthusiastic) is a reason for why minority communities in Britain are endeared to her and respect her. Indeed, it is her willingness to go halfway around the world to meet and engage with people so different from her (and much of Britain) that has perhaps allowed for "friendly" moments like the meeting between her and Malala.

Photo Credit: Diogenes 013 via Wikimedia Commons cc

Friday, October 18, 2013

Andy Murray, Prince William, and Investitures

     Prince William took another step in his transition to becoming a full-time working member of the Royal Family when he stood in for his grandmother the Queen at an investiture yesterday.

     An investiture is a ceremony in which a person is invested with an award, honor, or membership in an order of chivalry for individual achievements and/or services to society in the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, and the world at large, which is similar to what the President of the United States does in awarding 
Grand Cross Star for the Order of the British Empire.
This order the youngest and largest of the orders of chivalry.
distinctions such as the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom. In Britain, most honors are given to people who are selected by the Prime Minister's office, while a few honors (such as membership in the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle) remain the personal gift of the monarch. The Queen, as the Fount of Honor, presides over most of these ceremonies since the honors are given in her name, though Prince Charles and Princess Anne have also preformed the ceremony under a dispensation warrant when the Queen is unable to do so. There are around 25 investitures per year, and they are usually held at Buckingham Palace, but also take place at Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Investitures may also be held overseas during a State visit by the Queen or any foreign visit by a member of the Royal Family. Recipients of honors are named in either the New Years Honors List (released on New Year’s Day) or the Birthday Honors List (released on the Queen’s official birthday in June).

     Among the honoree’s yesterday was tennis player Andy Murray, who was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to tennis. The 26 year old Scotsman won the 
Andy Murray
Wimbledon tennis championship back in June, becoming the first British man to do so since Fred Perry in 1936 when Edward VIII was king, as well as the first Scot since Harold Mahony in 1896 during Queen Victoria’s reign. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are fans of Murray, and have attended some of his matches. So when Murray went up to have his OBE pinned on him by Prince William, the two men chatted for over a minute – discussing Murray’s recent back surgery, as well as the encouraging letters Murray received from the Duke and Duchess, with Murray joking about Kate’s handwriting being better than William’s. This light conversation took longer than the 30 seconds usually permitted during these ceremonies (so as to keep the investiture moving along and ensure that it runs for an hour). As it was, the ceremony ran over by 25 minutes due to “excessive” chatting between William and other honoree’s, but regardless, it went well without a hitch. 

     The Duke of Cambridge also bestowed knighthoods to two individuals, using the ceremonial sword that once belonged to his great-grandfather, George VI. One of them, Sir Kenneth Gibson, is a school headmaster from northeast England whose knighthood was awarded for services to education after a 35 year career in several executive positions in the education profession. The other one went to Professor Nicola Cullum, who was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) for services to nursing research and wound care. Another honoree was Welsh singer and broadcaster Aled Jones, who is one of the hosts of the BBC’s Songs of Praise and was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) who services to music, broadcasting, and charity. Joining him were Vicar of Dibly producer Jon Plowman – who received an OBE for services to television, conservationist Helen Butler (MBE) for services to conservation, and Cornish restaurant entrepreneur Jill Stein (OBE) for services to the restaurant industry as the co-owner of The Seafood Restaurant with television chef Rick Stein.

     Men who receive knighthoods are allowed to use Sir before their names, whilst women – depending on the type of honor – may use either Lady or Dame. People who receive any honor (including knighthoods) are allowed to use post-nominal’s following their name. For example, Andy Murray can now sign his name as “Andrew/Andy Murray, OBE” and Professor Nicola Cullum may sign her name as “Nicola Cullum, DBE”. It is also possible for a person to receive more than one honor in his or her lifetime.

     The investiture ceremony marks the highest-profile royal role in which Prince William taken part. Since leaving the military as an RAF search-and-rescue pilot, William is now in what aides describe as a “transitional year” in which he will settle with his family in their new apartment at Kensington Palace. He will also be deciding on a personal public service role, such as devoting time to charities and causes that are important to him, while also be stepping up his royal duties in preparation for his eventual kingship. 

     Performing investitures are a taste of what William will be expected to do on a regular basis as king in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms. According to the Guardian, the Queen: 
“has personally conducted more than 610 [investitures] since her first, on 27 February 1952, when among other honours she bestowed the Victoria Cross on Private William Speakman, from Altringham and of The King's Own Scottish Borderers, for his ‘utter contempt at personal danger beyond praise’ during the Korean war.” 
The newspaper also added that the 87-year-old Queen now “suffers from bouts of sciatica [a form of lower back pain] and knee problems” and so having William standing in will be helpful going forward. 

The Queen is gradually handing off more of her ceremonial duties to other members of her family.

     However, it is not as though the Queen was taking the day off entirely. In fact, she was in Buckingham Palace having a meeting with the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan, Vaughn Solomon-Schofield, who presented the Queen with a brooch with a pearl and 300 small diamonds as a gift from the people of the Canadian province. So Elizabeth II is merely allowing other members of her family to represent her from time to time in certain situations so that she can lighten up her workload. As she, Prince Philip, and other older members of the Royal Family continue to advance in age, we will be seeing more of Prince Charles, Prince William, and the younger generation increasing their profile in important duties as the monarchy gradually enters a new chapter in its 1,000 year long existence.