Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Prince George at One

     It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since that blessed day.

     In only one year, Prince George has likely had more experiences (and more fun gifts) than most children when they reach the age of five. He has been featured on the covers of newspapers and magazines across the world, has been an apparel trendsetter – with clothing worn by him reportedly selling out within minutes of it being revealed, as parents vie to dress their sons like him. Baby George has been a subject of numerous television reports and documentaries chronicling his movement and his short life thus far. In the world of social media and the web, he has also been a trending topic and a plethora of Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as other sites are dedicated to him and everything that he does. 

     For a one year old child, all of this does appear a bit odd and unusual, but then again, that’s what comes with the territory of being a member of the British Royal Family. Oh, and of course he will be the future king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, The Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda. He will also be Supreme Governor of the Church of England, head of the Armed Forces, and possibly head of the 54-member Commonwealth of Nations.

The Commonwealth of Nations. All member states recognize Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth, but the red countries are the members of the organization that share allegiance to Elizabeth and her heirs and successors as head of state (and are informally known as Commonwealth Realms). The blue countries are the members that either have their own indigenous monarchies, or are republics. Many of them were once independent realms, including India, Pakistan, Kenya, and South Africa.

     The journey to this exalted destiny began on July 22, 2013, when the world awoke to the news that the Duchess of Cambridge had gone into labor and was in St. Mary’s hospital with Prince William. With this, the media and public went into hyper-drive. Throughout the day, crowds were building up along the gates of Buckingham Palace, waiting anxiously for the announcement of the birth to be made. The media, long-suffering after over three weeks of camping outside of the hospital during one of the longest and fiercest heat waves in British history, focused its attention to the hospital doors, waiting for somebody of importance to come out. 

     Finally, just after 7:00 PM BST, the announcement was made that Kate had given birth to a boy - the third in line to the throne - at 4:24 PM with William in attendance, and that both mother and child were doing well. 

     That the announcement came approximately four hours after the actual birth had taken place was an indication that William and Kate wanted to savor the moment and their newly-born son for themselves before sharing him with the world forever. 

The official notice of the birth of "Baby Cambridge" on display outside Buckingham Palace
Image Credit:
David Hart & David Hart via flickr cc

     Tradition was broken by having a press release regarding the birth delivered to the press before the official birth announcement was placed at the gates of Buckingham Palace, where thousands had been gathering. On the web, social media blew up with #RoyalBaby messages, and throughout the world, the birth was commemorated – from Canada with Niagara Falls being lit blue, to a Royal Navy ship using its crew to spell “IT'S A BOY” on the helipad – and celebrations were held throughout Britain.

     The next day, there were gun salutes, the peeling of bells, and bands playing as the United Kingdom and the overseas realms and territories pulled out the traditions of marking a royal birth.

     At the hospital, there were brief visits by the proud grandparents – Kate’s parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, as well as by Prince Charles and Camilla, as the media and world waited for the new family to appear.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with the newest member of the royal family.
Image Credit:
Christopher Neve via Photopin cc

     When they finally did come out of the hospital, the crowds went wild and much of the world focused its attention on the little boy swaddling in a blanket (and raising his arms as he if he was waving). After a briefly chatting with the press, the baby was placed in a car seat and William then stunned virtually everybody by placing it in the car himself and personally driving his family off home to Kensington Palace.

     HM the Queen would meet Baby Cambridge for the first time on the next day – July 24th, and it was on that day that it was announced that his names would be George Alexander Louis, with his full title and style being His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge.

     And with that, Prince George went out of sight, spending time at the comfort and security of his maternal grandparents home in Bucklebury, Berkshire, were his first official picture was taken with his parents and family dog Lupo by grandfather Michael Middleton. 

     The world would not see George again until his baptism ceremony into the Church of England in October under the auspices of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. Unlike most previous baptisms, which were large affairs at Buckingham Palace with numerous attendee’s, this one was smaller and more intimate – taking place at the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace with only handful of attendee’s – including the George, his parents, grandparents, aunt, uncles, the Queen and Prince Philip, his seven godparents, his nanny (who used to be William’s nanny), and church officials present. George wore a replica of the christening gown worn by virtually every royal baby since Queen Victoria’s first child, has said to have behaved himself during the ceremony.
     Soon, the pictures from that day were released, showing George with his parents and extended family. All of photos were beautiful – showing a happy boy with his supportive relatives marking a joyous occasion. The most poignant photo was that of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince George, and the historical significance of that moment could not be understated: for the first time in over a century with Queen Victoria, a reigning monarch was photographed with three generations of heirs in direct succession.

     Following this moment, George was in the care and protection of his parents and guardians as he was whisked behind closed doors again. Over the next six months, not much would be seen or heard of from him. He celebrated his first Christmas with the Royal Family during their annual gathering at Sandringham and went on vacation with Kate and the Middleton’s to Mustique earlier this year. All the while, his family – especially William and Kate – was revealing how he was growing up to people during the course of public engagements, where at times, gifts were given for George himself. 

     His next significant public appearance was in April, during the royal tour of New Zealand and Australia, which was arguably the most anticipated royal visit since Prince Charles and Diana traveled Down Under with an eight-month Prince William in 1983. 

     George almost immediately became the star of the entire tour, even though he only seen during two engagements, as well as getting on and off aircraft with his parents. Nonetheless, those appearances – however brief and limited – were enough for many people precisely because they were brief and limited. In recent times (in large part due to 24/7 media and social media), there have been concerns about the Royal Family becoming overexposed and that coverage of them has become supersaturated to the point that they actually become less significant. After all, the most you have of something, the less you value it, and this concern has been chronicled on this blog. 

Prince George being presented with a giant stuffed wombat as a gift from Australia's governor-general, Sir Peter Cosgrove.
Image Credit: Auspic/Commonwealth of Australia via gg.gov.au cc

     So the fact that we saw only so much of Prince George was a good thing, because we appreciated that special time even more. Quite memorably, he played amongst other children his age in New Zealand, who may become his future subjects as king of that country in what was described as the world’s most exclusive play-date.

     Later in Australia, he visited the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, where he enthusiastically met a bilby named after him, and where showed himself to be quite a lively and active child. These events only underscore the fact that he is only a toddler most likely unaware of his position or destiny, and that his parents are determined to give him as normal a life as possible. 

George and the stuffed bilby in Australia.

     Indeed, when the tour came to an end, George was back behind the protective walls of the royal residences and (presumably) the Middleton’s home in Bucklebury. 

     It was hoped that he would make an appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony following the Trooping the Colour ceremony during the Queen’s Official Birthday, but it was not be. However, he was on hand for watching his father and Uncle Harry play polo during a charity match, where he was seen taking his first steps in public and kicking a soccer ball, much to the delight of Kate, who made sure he did not run away too far.

     So Prince George of Cambridge has had an exceptionally good first year. Given that he represents the hopes and expectations for the British monarchy, the British nation, and the Commonwealth, it is expected for most things to go well for him. It is especially hoped that he will avoid the harrowing public chaos that his father experienced as he grew up and his parents’ marriage fell apart. 

     As it stands, things are going well for George, William, Kate, and the House of Windsor in general. The back-to-back events of the 2011 Royal Wedding, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, and George’s birth last year have reinvigorated the ancient institution of the monarchy with a copious amount of goodwill and popularity, when means that the future of the monarchy is virtually secure for a long time to come. After all, the legitimacy of the modern monarchy rests on the blessings of not just almighty God, but of the people, and this is not a novel concept, for the history of monarchy in Britain is one of a dialogue between Crown and people that has shaped society to the present.

     This concept has been reaffirmed several times in documents such as Magna Carta, the Declaration of Arbroath, the Petition of Right, the English Bill of Rights, the Reform Acts, and so on. In the 21st Century, the ideal has taken on a more significant meaning with rise of a new media landscape that makes information known to virtually everybody, and people then become informed and opinionated via such information.

     For the monarchy, this is has its pros and cons. The pro is that the institution has become more open than ever before, which allows more people to understand what it does and why. The con is the increased scrutiny of the personal and public lives of members of the Royal Family, which makes certain actions all the more serious and potentially threatening to the monarchy’s future.

     This is the world into which Prince George is entering as he celebrates his first birthday. In time, he will have to learn to navigate his way through waters that can be calm and troubled. Great opportunities and expectations await him, and he has the benefit of his great-grandmother, grandfather, parents, and many others who are laying the groundwork for his own reign. 

     But for now – and with that reign not expected at until least the middle of this century – he is still a baby who is just learning how to be a human being – much less a member of the most storied royal family in the world and future king. May he enjoy his special day and have many more to come, and may his family do its best to raise him right, so that he may come to faithfully and respectfully represent his realms, territories, and thewider Commonwealth.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Royal Profile: Prince John - The Forgotten Windsor

     Prince John of the United Kingdom was the fifth son and the youngest child of King George V and Queen Mary. Born in 1905 when his parents were the Prince and Princess of Wales, he showed signs of mental retardation or autism by the time of his fourth birthday, and suffered an epileptic seizure that year. He was not attendant at the coronation of his father and mother in 1911, and was sent to live at Sandringham, the Royal family's private estate in Norfolk, where he was cared for by his nanny, Charlotte "Lala" Bill. Members of the family continued to spend time with John whenever possible, and the King and Queen were especially close to him. 

     However, as his condition deteriorated, it was decided to end his formal education, and he was slowly withdrawn from the public eye. With the outbreak of World War I, John saw less of his family since they were either at boarding school, in the military, or conducting other royal duties. In 1917, he was sent to live at Wood Farm, a cottage in a secluded corner of Sandringham, where he was under the sole care of Lala Bill, it was around this time that physicians warned the family that John might not survive to adulthood. Queen Mary brought in local schoolchildren to be playmates for John, and he developed a close companionship with Winifred Thomas, and girl from West Yorkshire who was sent to live with her aunt and uncle (who was in charge of the stables on the estate) in the hopes that the warmer climate would improve her asthma. 

     Nevertheless, John's seizures got worse, and though he was able to be with his family for Christmas in 1918, the epilepsy and possible autism were taking its toll, and he died in the following year. It was only then that news about his epilepsy was released to the public. He was buried at St. Mary Magdalene Church on the Sandringham Estate. 

     To this day, John's treatment and seclusion has been held as an example of heartlessness on the part of Royal family, but the diary entries of Queen Mary and personal accounts from people around John and the family depict them has having concern for John. His seclusion from the public had more to do with his personal safety and to keep him from large public settings due to his condition. The British Epileptic Association has stated that John's treatment was not different from that of epileptics at the time, and that it would take a generation and further studies of epileptics to conclude that such people need not be secluded or locked away.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The International Appeal of the British Monarchy

The extended Royal Family on the Buckingham Palace balcony in 2012.
Image Credit: Carfax2 via Wikimedia Commons cc

     The British monarchy is the most well-known and widely-recognized monarchy in the world. No other such institution can claim to have something even close to what this monarchy has in terms of news coverage, notoriety, and international respect. Queen Elizabeth II herself has become an icon of representing the best of Britain. She and members of her family make headlines across the world, for good reasons and not-so-good reason, and it is almost assured that a large-scale event involving the monarchy will be broadcast to every corner of the globe.

     Certainly, the monarchy has been at first a recurring, and now a constant, presence of my life. From the death of Diana to the birth of Prince George and beyond, the British monarchy has always been there with its ability to be relevant to many people, no matter where they live. This includes many Americans, whose identity is partly bound up by its independence from Britain and the rejection of hereditary monarchy.

     There are several reasons for why the British monarchy still captures the attention of the world. Such typical reasons include the fascination with what members of the Royal Family are wearing at any given time, the pageantry and ceremony, the history going back over a thousand years, the constitutional and legal nature of the institution, as well as its force for uniting the people.

The Queen's longevity is another factor in the monarchy's popularity, but the King of Thailand has been monarch longer than Elizabeth II by two years.
Abuk SABUK via Wikimedia Commons cc (Mosaic by Helen Marshall)
     However, none of these reasons get to the heart of why the British monarchy has global influence and how it got this influence.

     It is not as though this monarchy is the only one left in the world, for there are still several functioning monarchies from the Netherlands to Saudi Arabia to Japan, and they have their own ceremonies, lengthy histories, and other attributes usually linked to the monarchy in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

     The natural response would be that in Britain, the monarchy is at the center of national life; that is thickly woven into British society; that ceremonial and pomp is done better in Britain than any other country, and that this monarchy still has a role – however reduced – in government.

     Indeed, this is something a bit more unique, but it only justifies the monarchy’s reach within the United Kingdom itself, and still does not explain why hundreds of millions – possibly billions – of people around the world have tuned in to watch Royal weddings and funerals, as well as being on pins and needles for Royal birth announcements, or why when people speak of the “Queen”, they likely mean the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – Elizabeth II, making her arguably the most famous woman in the world.

     This leads me to believe that there is one catch-all reason for this phenomenon: the British Empire, which has been long gone, but whose legacy still casts a long shadow over Britain and her former colonies.

The British Empire at its height in 1921.
     At its height, the British Empire was the largest empire in human history, covering a quarter of the world’s land surface and containing nearly a third of its population. This meant that the British monarch, his or her family, and their actions and movements were front page news for a substantial part of the world’s population by virtue of the position of the Crown in places such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa.

     As time went on and those countries gained self-governance within the Empire, and later outright independence, some of them decided to retain the monarchy as a system of governance. Today, Queen Elizabeth is head of state in 15 independent countries outside of Britain. The Crown in those countries has its own unique character, with Her Majesty simultaneously being Queen of Canada, Queen of Australia, Queen of Jamaica, etc, and several institutional have “Royal” in their name (i.e., Royal Canadian Navy).

The Commonwealth of Nations. All member states recognize Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth, but the red countries are the members of the organization that share allegiance to Elizabeth and her heirs and successors as head of state (and are informally known as Commonwealth Realms). The blue countries are the members that either have their own indigenous monarchies, or are republics. Many of them were once independent realms, including India, Pakistan, Kenya, and South Africa.

     But what about the former colonies that either became republics or have home-grown monarchies?

     Out of the Empire came the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary organization which currently contains the 16 countries with the British monarch as head of state (known as Commonwealth realms), 32 republics (i.e., India, Pakistan, and South Africa), and 5 independent monarchies (i.e., Malaysia and Lesotho). Elizabeth II is recognized as “the symbol of the free association of [the] independent member nations” in her role as Head of the Commonwealth, and she and her family make regular visits to these countries.

     With the Commonwealth and the shared monarchy between 16 countries, the British Royal Family still commands attention and notoriety across a wide swath of the world. One only needs to review the recent tour of Australia and New Zealand by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George, as well as the tour of Canada by Prince Charles and Camilla to see why the monarchy still matters in those countries alone. Therefore, it should not be surprising to see the coverage of the Royal Family on a large scale. 

     But how does one explain America and her love-affair with the British monarchy, especially given the events of 1776?

     Well it’s important to remember that the war for independence had more to do with the actions of the British Parliament rather than George III, but he nevertheless became the face of tyranny and oppression. In spite of this however, many Americans had respect and affection for the King – even if they had issues with his Parliament, which is why several Founding Fathers wanted a status within the Empire like that of Canada and other colonies in the 19th and 20th centuries, in which there was autonomy from Britain, but the British monarch remained head of state.

Britain and America.
     Even after independence, we have not really shed our social links and commonalities with Britain, so the monarchy still retains a special place, and this was evident when George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) became the first reigning British monarchs to visit our shores and the American people turned out to warmly welcome them. The American media – which has come to shape the coverage of world events – has covered Royal events in a wall-to-wall fashion and the people have been tuning in time after time.

     The result is that the British Royal Family in some respects is now the world’s royal family, and this is a testament to the long shadow cast by Britain and the Empire on which the sun never set.