Books I’ve Read This Week: The Royal Family of Denmark

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 38: The Royal Family of Denmark When I visited the Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen this past summer, I was pleased to see that there is a new series of short biographies in both Danish and English about Denmark’s monarchs and royal residences. In recent weeks, I have read six volumes from the Crown series about 19th and 20th century Danish Kings and Queens as well as Rosenborg Castle and treasury. I also read a scholarly history book from the Palgrave Studies in Modern Monarchy series, which examines the phenomemon of sailor princes in the 19th century, including Prince Waldemar of Denmark and his nephew, Prince George of Greece. Here are this week’s reviews:

#260 of 365¬†The ‘Sailor Prince’ in the Age of Empire: Creating a Monarchical Brand in Nineteenth-Century Europe ¬†by¬†Miriam Magdalena Schneider

Genre: History

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Dates Read: September 17-18, 2018

Format: E-Book, 318 pages

Review: A well researched and insightful analysis of four 19th century Princes who pursued naval careers: Prince Alfred of the United Kingdom (2nd son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert), Prince Heinrich of Germany (younger brother of Kaiser Wilhelm II), Prince Waldemar of Denmark (youngest son of King Christian IX) and Prince George of Greece (nephew of Prince Waldemar). These princes increased the popularity of their respective royal houses in the 19th century, became part of the celebrity culture of the era, cemented relationships between European and Asian royal houses, set precedents for the education of future royalty, and helped to connect global empires and communities. Schneider draws upon a broad range of sources and perspectives, revealing how complicated the lives and public images of these figures could be as they struggled to reconcile their identities as sailors and as princes. An essential book for anyone interested in 19th century European monarchies and their significance in a global context.

#261 of 365¬†Christian IX and Queen Louise: Europe’s Parents-in-Law by¬†Jens Gunni Busck

Genre: History/Biography

Date Read: September 20, 2018

Acquired: Purchased at the Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Format: Hardcover, 60 pages

Review:¬†A beautifully illustrated short biography of King Christian IX and Queen Louise, whose royal descendants include Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Christian came to the throne amidst complicated circumstances that are well explained in the book. A series of constitutional reforms, international treaties and contingencies within the royal families of Denmark, Russia and various German states allowed the fourth son of a minor Danish prince, and the daughter of Danish king’s sister to become King and Queen of Denmark. The transformation of Christian IX from a contested monarch unpopular because of military defeats and German connections in his extended family to the beloved father of the nation and father-in-law of Europe is also well developed.

I would have been interested to learn more about the family gatherings in Denmark when the British, Russian, Danish and Greek royal houses came together for long summer holidays. The author notes that “In fact we know nothing of what was talked about over cigars after dinner and it would have been odd if major European political issues had not been mentioned…” The illustrations are excellent and include photographs, portraits, a floral painting by Queen Louise, and the interiors of royal residences that demonstrate the couple’s personal asthetic and the design trends of the 19th century.

#262 of 365 Frederik VIII and Queen Lovisa: The Overlooked Royal Couple by  Birgitte Louise Peiter Rosenhegn

Genre: History/Biography

Date Read: September 20, 2018

Acquired: Purchased at the Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Format: Hardcover, 60 pages

Review: King Frederik VIII is a rare example of a past reigning monarch who is less well known today than his younger siblings. His sisters Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom (consort of King Edward VII), Empress Marie of Russia (consort of Czar Alexander III) and King George I of Greece (grandfather of Prince Philip) are all more famous as historical figures.

This short biography explains that there was far more to “The Eternal Crown Prince” than his brief time as King between the long reigns of his father Christian IX and son Christian X. Frederik had a key diplomatic role during his father’s reign, striking up an unlikely friendship with Crown Prince Frederick of Germany, and he devoted much of his time to charitable endeavours. His long incognito walks and ability to engage with people from all walks of life was sometimes criticized as “too folksy” for a future King of Denmark.

As the only child of King Charles XV of Sweden, Lovisa was a well known public figure in her own right and she became an accomplished amateur artist and intellectual. Both Frederik and Lovisa had a complicated relationship with Frederik’s more famous siblings and spent limited time at royal extended family gatherings instead carving out their own immediate family sphere. The book is beautifully illustrated with royal portraits and photographs as well as examples of Lovisa’s paintings and calligraphy.

#263 of 365 Christian X and Queen Alexandrine: Royal Couple Through the World Wars by Jens Gunni Busck

Genre: History/Biography

Date Read: September 22, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Format: Hardcover, 60 pages

Review:¬†A fascinating and beautifuly illustrated short biography of King Christian X, famous for his daily rides around Copenhagen during the Second World War German occupation of Denmark. The book does an excellent job of describing Christian X’s complicated personality. He was strongly influenced by his grandfather Christian IX and the strict upbringing that he received from his parents King Frederick VIII and Lovisa of Sweden. His military service also shaped his perspective on kingship. I would have been interested to read more about Queen Alexandrine, whose quieter character was overshadowed by that of her husband, as well as Denmark’s experience during the First and Second World Wars. The First World War is summarized especially quickly. The illustrations are lovely, especially a 1940 photograph of the elderly Christian X with his granddaughter, the future Queen Margarete II.

#264 of 365 Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid: The Modern Royal Couple by Jens Gunni Busck

Date Read: September 22, 2018

Genre: History/Biography

Format: Hardcover, 60 pages

Acquired: Purchased from the Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Review:¬†A short biography of Queen Margarete II of Denmark’s parents, King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid and their impact on the Danish monarchy. While previous Danish monarchs experienced some difficulties setting the right tone for their court, the author explains that Frederik and Ingrid mastered “formal informality” creating a balance between royal tradition and accessibility. Royal banquets were renamed parties and live music and buffets were added to previously dull palace occasions. Both Frederick and Ingrid were interesting people in their own right: Frederick was a trained symphony conductor who made recordings for charity and Ingrid was a keen sportswoman and trendsetter throughout her long life, even popularizing mobility devices for the elderly during her last years. In common with the other books in the Crown series, this book is beautifully illustrated, including numerous photographs of the royal couple and their three daughters.

#265 of 365¬†Power, Splendour, and Diamonds: Denmark’s Regalia and Crown Jewels by Peter Kristiansen

Date Read: September 25, 2018

Genre: History

Acquired: Purchased from Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Format: Hardcover, 60 pages

Review:¬†A short history of Danish coronations, and, since the mid-nineteeth century, accession proclamations. The book includes full descriptions of Denmark’s royal regalia and crown jewels. There are colourful illustrations that emphasize the intricate details of these pieces. The Danish royal regalia is on permanent display at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen and is now rarely used at official events except for the state funerals of monarchs. The Crown Jewels are worn by Queen Margarete II on certain official occasions including royal weddings and the annual New Year’s banquet. There is one notable piece not discussed in the book. The collection at Rosenborg Castle includes the world’s oldest surviving Order of the Garter and while this piece is not strictly part of the crown jewels or royal regalia, it would have been an interesting item to photograph and describe for this volume. Power, Splendour, and Diamonds is a valuable overview of the Danish Regalia and Crown Jewels and a great souvenir of Rosenborg Castle.

Rosenborg. Pleasure Palace and Treasure Chamber#266 of 365 Rosenborg. Pleasure Palace and Treasure Chamber by Heidi Laura

Genre: History/Art

Date Read: September 26, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Format: Hardcover, 114 pages

Review:¬†A beautifully illustrated guide to Rosenborg Castle. Visiting the castle can be an overwhelming experience as the royal apartments are filled with portraits and beautiful objects. The book places the rooms and their treasures within the context of Danish history from the reign of Christian IV to the development of Denmark’s constitution. The illustrations include details that visitors to the museum are likely to overlook including hidden speaking tubes in the walls for the royal residents to order food and drink from the palace kitchens. The decorative objects provide examples of changing trends in art patronage and collecting during the centuries that the Rosenborg was a working royal residence.¬† The provenance of key works of art in the Castle and the careers of little known court artists and intellectuals are well explained in the guidebook but I would have liked to have read a little more information about certain royal portraits and sculptures in the rooms. A fascinating and informative read.

Books I’ve Read This Week: Nordic History and Culture

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 35: Nordic History and Culture: While traveling in northern Europe in August, I visited Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland and read numerous books about the society and culture of these Nordic nations. I also read a couple of history books about Finland and a Nobel Prize winning work of Icelandic literature. Here are this week’s reviews:

#239 of 365 The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids by  Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Sandahl

Genre: Society and Culture

Format: Paperback, 208 pages

Date Read: August 30, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Politikens Boghal, Copenhagen

Review:¬† A relaxing read, especially in the Rosenborg Castle cafe on a rainy day in Copenhagen. The authors examine Danish culture and its effect on how children in Denmark grow up. The advice they provide is not just applicable to parents but to anyone seeking to live a less stressful life. They observe that Danes practice rational optimism, not necessarily ignoring difficult circumstances but finding a silver lining. The importance of spending plenty of time outside and keeping up social connections is also emphasized. I was interested to read about the role of Denmark’s royal family in the education system. Crown Princess Mary spearheaded an anti-bullying initiative that more than 90% of Danish teachers would recommend to other educators. A quick and interesting read.

#240 of 365 The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth 

Genre: Travel/Society and Culture

Date Read: August 30-31, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Politikens Boghal, Copenhagen

Format: Paperback, 406 pages

Review:¬† An entertaining read that passed the time on the train between Copenhagen and a visit to Hamlet’s Castle Kronborg in Helsingor. Michael Booth is a British journalist married to a Dane who has spent time living in Denmark and traveled to the other Nordic countries. He analyzes how these nations differ from one another in terms of their history and culture. I enjoyed how he explored the individual and collective histories of the region and speculates about how past political upheavals, little discussed today, continue to shape Nordic culture.

As a travelogue, the book is very funny as Booth struggles with visiting a Finnish sauna, joining a Danish choir and finding the right clothes for Norwegian National Day. The book becomes less enjoyable when the author’s personal biases prevent him from providing a balanced perspective on certain aspects of Nordic politics and culture. For example, Booth is strongly anti-monarchy and cannot conceive of why there is so much support for the Norwegian, Swedish and Danish monarchies. As a result, he focuses on the few republicans he meets rather than all the people who have more positive views of their royal family and could speak to their charity work or diplomatic role. There are other instances in the book when the author has real trouble looking beyond his own worldview. An entertaining book but it should be read alongside other perspectives about Northern Europe.

#241 of 365¬†An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland by Jonathan Clements

Genre: Travel/History

Date Read: August 31. 2018

Acquired: Purchased from the Akateeminen Kirjakauppa in Helsinki

Format: Hardcover, 179 pages

Review:¬† I bought this book at the Academic Bookstore in Helsinki last week and greatly enjoyed learning more about Finnish history and culture. The author is a British travel writer married to a Finn who explains the various periods of Finnish history with insight and humour. The Swedish and Russian influences are especially well explained. The book also contains an extensive discussion of Finnish food and drink, (which the author does not consider to be very good), and various points of interest in Finnish cities. There is a useful further reading section and Finnish film suggestions at the end. There are maps but the inclusion of a few phrases of the language would have been useful. A very helpful book for travelers and other readers seeking an introduction to Finland’s history.

#242 of 365 The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking

Genre: Advice

Date Read: August 31, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Politikens Boghal, Copenhagen

Format: Hardcover, 287 pages

Review:¬†A relaxing read, especially for a cozy evening in Copenhagen. This witty and beautifully illustrated book explains the Danish concept of Hygge and provides suggestions for incorporating more quiet moments of happiness into everyday life. I enjoyed the descriptions of Danish traditions including the cakeman at children’s birthday parties and the search for the almond at Christmas dinner. A breezy read, best enjoyed indoors with a hot drink.

#243 of 365 No Particular Hurry: British Travellers in Finland 1830‚Äď1917 by Tony Lurcock

Genre: History/Travel

Date Read: September 1-3, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from the Akateeminen Kirjakauppa in Helsinki

Format: Paperback, 258 pages

Review:  I am pleased that I bought this book in Helsinki last month and read it in Iceland because it provides a fascinating portrait of how Finland was perceived by 19th century travelers. Each chapter is devoted to the reminiscences of a single traveler and there are a few famous figures including Lord Dufferin, the future Governor General of Canada. Although Finland was a Grand Duchy ruled by Russian Czars during this time period, the British tourists excerpted in the book describe a society with many similarities to 21st century Finland including gender equality (Finnish women were the first European women to receive the vote), a strong education system, breathtaking scenery, a comparatively egalitarian society and a thriving sauna culture. I was fascinated by the chapters devoted to the Baltic front of the Crimean War as these naval engagements are little known outside the region. An interesting and informative book, filled with the observations of 19th century tourists!

#244 of 365 The Little Book of the Icelanders by Alda Sigmundsdottir

Date Read: September 2, 2018

Genre: Travel/Society

Acquired: Purchased from the Geysir Gift Shop in Iceland

Format: Hardcover, 142 pages

Review:¬†¬†I bought this book at the Geysir gift shop in Iceland for the bus trip back to Reykjavik. The Icelandic born author, who has lived in many places around the world and written a blog about Iceland’s financial crisis, includes many entertaining anecdotes about Icelandic society including “the shower police” at public swimming pools, buses not always arriving on time and everything happening at the last minute. I would have liked a little more historical context and comparisons with other Nordic countries but¬†The Little Book of the Icelanders is a fun read and a good introduction to Icelandic society for travelers.

#245 of 365 Independent People by Halldor Laxness

Genre: Classic Literature

Date Read: September 3, 2018

Acquired: Eymundsson Books, Reykjavik

Format: Paperback, 512 pages

Review:¬†A classic in Icelandic literature and perfect the flight back to Toronto on Icelandair. A stubborn sheep farmer is determined to maintain his independence and property at all costs, even if his goals lead to the breakdown of his family. The novel, which won the Nobel Prize for Literature, captures the atmosphere of rural Iceland with its sheep farms and mountains. It was interesting to read how the First World War was perceived in Iceland. There seems to have been a feeling of being remote from wider European events until “the Blessed War” led to skyrocketing demand for Icelandic wool and mutton, bringing small farmers out of poverty. Aside from the references to the war and the Russian Revolution, there is a timelessness to the narrative and a clear atmosphere of centuries of Icelandic farmers struggling to survive in an often hostile climate. Well worth reading, especially for visitors to Iceland.

Royal Travelogue 2: “400 Years of Legal Piracy” Hamlet’s Castle Kronborg and Denmark’s Sound Dues

Kronborg Castle in Helsing√łr, Denmark

Kronborg Castle in Helsing√łr, Denmark

“But what is your affair in Elsinore?
We‚Äôll teach you to drink deep ere you depart.” –¬†Hamlet, Act 1,Scene 2

When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet around 1600, Kronborg Castle in¬†Helsing√łr (Elsinore), Denmark was the most famous royal residence in Northern Europe. King Frederick II rebuilt Erik of Pomerania’s¬†grim medieval castle¬†of Krogen as a stately Renaissance Palace with an enormous ballroom for lavish court entertainments. When the King proposed a toast, the cannons fired and the trumpets sounded.¬†

The ballroom at Kronborg

The ballroom at Kronborg

Frederick’s daughter Anna honeymooned at the Castle with her new husband, King James VI of Scotland (the future James I of England) in 1589-1590. The royal couple had already been married by proxy at Kronborg and married in person at the Old Bishop’s Palace in Oslo but they decided to have a third wedding in the Kronborg ¬†ballroom followed by more celebrations. They stayed in what is now known as “the Scottish suite” before traveling to Copenhagen for the wedding of Anna’s sister Elizabeth to the Duke of Brunswick then¬†sailing to Leith, Scotland. Anna’s brother, King Christian IV, continued the building program at Kronborg, making additions to the chapel including a closed royal box so that he could nap unobserved during church services.

The Kronborg Cannons, overlooking "the Sound" between Denmark and Sweden

The Kronborg Cannons, overlooking “the Sound” between Denmark and Sweden

How did Frederick VI and Christian IV finance their building program and royal festivities? From 1423 to 1857, the monarchs of Denmark charged “sound dues” to any vessel passing through the sound between Denmark and Sweden to enter or leave the Baltic Sea. These tolls were the chief revenue source for generations of Danish Kings, allowing them to maintain the most sumptuous court in Northern Europe.¬†

In 1423, Erik of Pomerania (King Erik VII of Denmark) summoned merchants from the German Hanseatic League and informed them that every ship sailing past¬†Helsing√łr would henceforth have to lower its flag, strike its topsails and drop anchor so that the captain could go ashore to pay a gold coin to pass in or out of the Baltic. Erik’s control over Scandinavia gave him the power to impose these lucrative shipping controls. His great-aunt and predecessor, Margrethe I, united Sweden, Norway and Denmark in the Kalmar Union, which lasted until 1523. Erik built the original castle on the site of Kronborg to ensure that no passing ship attempted to evade the sound dues. If a ship attempted to pass¬†Helsing√łr without paying, the castle cannons would fire a shot across the bow, and the cost of the ammunition would be added to the captain’s dues when he finally came ashore,

Statue of Erik of Pomerania in Helsing√łr

Statue of Erik of Pomerania in Helsing√łr

Attitudes toward the sound dues varied among Europe’s merchants and sea captains. A 1585-1586 German atlas praised the Kings of Denmark for keeping pirates out of the Baltic stating, “Denmark, which owns no gold mines, does however possess something no less valuable in the Sound, whose waters flow with gold, for all ships must pay toll in gold to the King, who in return, by preventing the ungodly assaults of pirates, reserves the use of the sea for the benefit of merchants. (Quoted in David Hohnen,¬†Hamlet’s Castle & Shakespeare’s Elsinore, p. 10) ”¬†The heads of captured and executed pirates were displayed on the Kronborg battlements.

Kronborg Castle Courtyard

Kronborg Castle Courtyard

Other observers quietly grumbled that the King of Denmark was little better than a pirate himself for insisting that passing ships pay a percentage of the value of their cargo in sound dues. Since the King also had the first right to purchase any goods passing through the Sound, Captains were motivated to state a high value for their cargo to prevent the King from purchasing their goods at a loss. One historian described the system as “400 years of legal piracy. (Hohnen, p. 11).”

The era of sound dues finally came to an end in 1857 when an American merchant vessel refused to the pay the toll. The American government declared that Sound Dues dated from “a remote and barbarous age, even before the discovery of America” and that “they apply exclusively to the nations of Europe (Quoted in Hohnen, p. 109).” The United States’s refusal to pay the Sound Dues, however, encouraged European nations to do the same. Denmark received a final payment from all maritime nations that traded in the Baltic Sea but the monarchy¬†permanently lost its¬†most lucrative source of income. The era of lavish entertainments at the Danish court had come to an end.

Next: Leith, Scotland: The Last Harbour of the Royal Yacht Britannia

Royal Travelogue 1: Castles of Copenhagen

The Changing of the Guard outside the Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen

The Changing of the Guard outside the Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen

Denmark is¬†Europe’s oldest monarchy and the seaside capital, Copenhagen is steeped in royal history. Here are Copenhagen’s three most famous¬†past and present royal residences:

1)¬†Amalienborg¬†was once home to four of Copenhagen’s noble families but after the Christiansborg Palace burned down in 1794, the royal family moved in. Today, Amalienborg is Queen¬†Margrethe II’s official winter residence and a museum devoted to Denmark’s Kings and Queens of the House of Glucksborg from Christian IX and his consort Queen Louise, who became known as the in-laws of Europe because of the illustrious marriages of their children in the 19th century, to the present day.¬†

Amalienborg Palace

Amalienborg Palace

The museum reveals the daily lives of Denmark’s recent Kings and Queens,¬†reconstructing their rooms¬†such as Queen Louise’s drawing room and her son Frederick VIII’s study with personal objects. There are photographs from the family gatherings hosted by Christian IX and Queen Louise that brought the Russian, British, Greek, Danish and Norwegian royal families together in the late nineteenth century. Portraits, costumes and royal jewels are also on display. Photography is not permitted without a special permit but richly illustrated exhibition guides are sold in the gift shop, which also stocks royal history books that are difficult to find elsewhere.

The Christiansborg Palace

The Christiansborg Palace

2) The current¬†Christiansborg¬†palace was built between 1907 and 1928 after Thorvald J√łrgensen’s design won an architecture contest held to determined the future of the site. Today,¬†Christiansborg¬†is the seat of the Danish parliament and contains the Prime Minister’s Office and Supreme Court in addition to royal reception rooms, the palace chapel and stables.¬†Christiansborg is the only building¬†in the world that houses all three branches of a nation’s government. The royal reception rooms and stables are open to the public and there are guided tours of parliament. The balcony of the castle tower provides a scenic overview of Copenhagen. Since 1924, the ruins of previous palaces that once stood on this site have also been open to the public. The ruins date back to 1167, when¬†Bishop¬†Absalon¬†of¬†Roskilde built his residence on the site. Equestrian statues of Christian IX and his¬†predecessor¬†Frederick VII stand outside¬†Christiansborg.



3) Rosenborg Castle was originally¬†a royal summer residence, built in 1606 as part of Christian IV’s extensive building program for the city. Rosenborg remained a royal residence until 1710. After the reign of Frederick IV, Rosenborg only housed royalty in times of crisis such as the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen when Horatio Nelson destroyed much of the Danish and Norwegian fleets. Today, Rosenborg houses Denmark’s Crown Jewels, which date from the eighteenth century, and other regalia. The¬†museum collections are devoted to Denmark’s monarchy between the 16th and 19th centuries. The castle has been open to the public since 1838.

Next: Following in the footsteps of Shakespeare’s Hamlet¬†at the Kronborg in¬†Helsing√łr,¬†Denmark.


Royal Marriage at the Time of “A Royal Affair”

The 2012 Danish film, “En Kongelig Affaere,” released in English speaking countries with subtitles as “A Royal Affair” is inspired by the life of Dr. Johann Struensee, who became personal physician to King Christian VII of Denmark and lover to his wife, Queen Caroline Mathilde, youngest sister of King George III of Great Britain. The film contains excellent performances and production values and has been nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the 2013. At the centre of the story is Caroline Mathilde, who risks her position and access to her children by becoming involved with the royal physician and contributing to his political influence over the King.

Caroline Mathilde’s bold decision to take control over her personal and political destiny may appear unusual for a Princess raised to expect a dynastic marriage but the Queen of Denmark’s affair was part of broader pattern of royalty questioning the value of politically motivated unions in the eighteenth century. As romantic marriage became an increasingly popular ideal during the Enlightenment, Princes and Princesses critiqued their own arranged marriages and searched for opportunities to engage with the new ideals of personal fulfillment and autonomy.

Princess Caroline Mathilde of Great Britain, Queen of Denmark

One of the most articulate critiques of dynastic marriage in the late eighteenth century, was provided by Caroline Mathilde’s brother-in-law, Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick. The Duke explained to the German writer Massenbach, “Only private persons can live happily married, because they can choose their mates, Royalty must make marriages of convenience, which seldom result in happiness, Love does not prompt these alliances, and these marriages not only embitter the lives of the parties to them, but all too frequently have a disastrous effect upon children, who often are unhealthy in mind and body (Reprinted in Flora Fraser, The Unruly Queen: Life of Queen Caroline, p. 15).

The Duke of Brunswick spoke from personal experience. He was indifferent to his wife, Princess Augusta of Great Britain, three of their four sons were declared unfit for military service, and their daughter, Caroline of Brunswick became renowned for her eccentricity as consort of the future George IV of Great Britain. The Duke and Duchess of Brunswick were Caroline Mathilde’s most supportive relatives when her affair with Dr. Struensee was discovered, visiting her in Celle after her expulsion from the Danish court.

King George III at his Coronation

King George III was not nearly so sympathetic to his sister’s plight. The King put aside his own romantic feelings for Lady Sarah Lennox to make a suitable dynastic marriage to Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. “I am born for the happiness or misery of a great nation,” the King wrote, “and consequently must often act contrary to my passions (Stanley Ayling, George the Third, p. 54).George III’s acknowledgement of his “passions” demonstrated that even the most traditionally minded monarch of the late eighteenth century had been influenced by Enlightenment ideals of personal fulfillment.

King George was appalled that his siblings did not share his interest in self sacrifice for the good of crown and country. When his brothers married commoners against his wishes, the King enacted the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, decreeing that all male line descendants of King George II must have the monarch’s permission to make a legal marriage. The Act affected the legality of centuries of royal marriages and is currently in the process of being abolished as part of the 2012-2013 Royal Succession reform bills in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. For more information about George III’s siblings and their marriages, see A Royal Affair: George III and his Troublesome Siblings.

Empress Maria Theresa of the Hapsburg Empire

British Princes and Princesses were not the only royal personages seeking personal fulfilment in the time of the Enlightenment. Empress Maria Theresa of the Hapsburg Empire allowed her favourite daughter, Archduchess Maria Christina to marry the man she loved, Prince Albert of Saxony, Duke of Teschen but expected her other daughters to make dynastic marriages to Europe’s Roman Catholic rulers.

The Empress’s younger daughters found their political marriages difficult to accept. Archduchess Maria Amalia became estranged from her mother after she was forced to put aside her feelings for a minor Bavarian Prince to marry Ferdinand, Duke of Parma in 1769. Although Maria Theresa’s youngest daughter, Maria Antonia (Marie Antoinette) eventually managed to create a harmonious marriage with her husband, King Louis XVI of France, she developed a strong romantic attachment to the Swedish courtier Axel von Fersen and allowed him to influence her politically after the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.

The future Empress Catherine the Great around the time of her wedding to Peter III

Perhaps the most successful example of an Enlightenment Princess taking control of her political and personal destiny was Princess Sophia of Analt-Zerbst who became the Russian Empress Catherine II “the Great” in 1762. Her husband, Emperor Peter III, had much in common with Caroline Mathilde’s husband, King Christian VII of Denmark. Like Christian, Peter had been abused by his Governor as a child and retreated into an inner fantasy world. Both Peter and Christian neglected their wives and exhibited symptoms of mental instability but were capable of initiating unprecedented political reforms.

Catherine had better political instincts than Caroline Mathilde and waited until Peter III had alienated the military and the Russian Orthodox Church before staging a coup with the assistance of her lover, Gregory Orlov. As an Empress dependent on the support of the nobility, military and church, Catherine was unable to implement the full range of her Enlightenment ideals in the political realm but achieved autonomy over her personal life that was unknown to the other princesses of the late eighteenth century.

Queen Caroline Mathilde of Denmark’s romance with Dr. Johann Struensee, which was dramatized in the 2012 film, “A Royal Affair,” was in keeping with the impact of Enlightenment ideals on late eighteenth century royalty. Caroline Mathilde and her contemporaries questioned the value of dynastic marriage. While her brother King George III sacrificed his personal feelings to make a traditional royal marriage, a number of other royal personages influenced by Enlightenment ideals sought personal fulfillment and autonomy with varying degree of success.

The Great Survivors: How Monarchy Made It Into the Twenty-First Century by Peter Conradi (Review)

In 1948, King Farouk of Egypt reputedly predicted, “The whole world is in revolt. Soon there will be only five Kings left ‚ÄĒ the King of England, the King of Spades, the King of Clubs, the King of Hearts, and the King of Diamonds.” The First World War had seen in the overthrow of the German, Austrian and Russian Imperial Houses and the Second World War destabilized another series of monarchical governments including that of Egypt. King Farouk’s prediction that only the British monarchy and the Kings pictured in decks of cards would survive this unrest, however, turned out to be untrue.

The number of constitutional monarchies in Europe has been constant since Juan Carlos I became King of Spain in 1975. In addition to Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Norway all have reigning Kings or Queens. The¬† Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the principalities of Lichtenstein and Monaco also have titled leaders. Despite this plethora of royalty in Europe, the English language media focuses its coverage on Queen Elizabeth II and her family with only occasional attention to the wealth, weddings or scandals of the continental royal families. In The Great Survivors: How Monarchy Made It Into the Twenty-First Century. Peter Conradi, the author of The King’s Speech, compares all the surviving royal families of Europe.

Conradi’s masterful work reveals the different paths that the institution of monarchy has taken in the 20th and 21st centuries and the similar challenges faced by all Europe’s crowned heads. Rather than devoting a chapter to each European royal house, Conradi approaches the material thematically, comparing such topics as succession law, a typical day of royal duties for a European monarch, wealth and pageantry, marriage and the education of heirs. This approach reveals the full range of royal customs throughout Europe, challenging popular perceptions in the English speaking world regarding how monarchy works.

For example, the iconic televised coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 created the popular perception that the legitimacy of a King or Queen depends on a ceremony of this kind. In fact, the House of Windsor is the only royal dynasty where the King or Queen experiences a coronation. The other monarchs of Europe are sworn into office. In Spain and Norway, the royal regalia is visible during this investiture but the new monarch is not crowned in manner of the monarch of the United Kingdom.

Conradi’s approach also reveals that numerous events in royal history considered unprecedented when they occurred in the United Kingdom actually had clear antecedents among the continental royal houses. In 2011, Prince William became the first direct heir to the British throne to marry a woman from a middle class background with little controversy but a generation earlier, the future Kings Carl Gustav of Sweden and King Harald of Norway challenged the traditions of their families and their countries to marry middle class brides. For the future Queens Beatrix of the Netherlands and Margrethe of Denmark, there few available princes of their generation and marriage to a commoner was a near certainty.

The Great Survivors contains an enormous amount of material and Conradi generally does an excellent job of organizing all this information. The only place where the book briefly loses it way is the chapter about royal mistresses, children out of wedlock, and complaisant husbands. In this section, Conradi moves away from the current reigning houses to look at some the royal scandals that allegedly took place in eighteenth century Russia. With so much material to cover concerning the royal families that reign to the present day, there is little room for the inclusion of additional dynasties. In contrast to the rest of the book, the discussion of Russia’s eighteenth century Empresses cites unreliable source material and could have been easily omitted from the narrative.

The Great Survivors is an excellent introduction to the full scope of current European royal monarchy. Peter Conradi places all the current reigning houses of Europe in their proper historical context and compares how they have achieved success in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, The book ends with informed predictions about the future of monarchy in Europe, providing convincing arguments that this form of government remains effective to the present day.