My new article in the Historica Canada Canadian Encyclopedia is about Princess Anne (HRH The Princess Royal) with a focus on her Canadian charitable work and patronages, official and working visits to Canada and her participation in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
In a recent interview with The Canadian Press, I discussed Prince William’s 1998 visit to British Columbia with his father, Prince Charles and younger brother, Prince Harry. The tour attracted both teenage fans of the young princes and older people who had mourned the passing of Diana, Princess of Wales, the previous year and wanted to see her sons.
As you watch the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi today, it is worth reflecting on the troubled history of the Caucasus region. My article in today’s edition of Smithsonian Magazine looks at Czar Alexander II’s decision to expel the Circassian people from Sochi and the surrounding region in 1864. This rapid expulsion resulted in the deaths of more than 600,000 people. Today, Alexander II is famous for abolishing serfdom in 1861 and his treatment of the Circassian people is comparatively little known. The expulsion of the Circassians and the abolition of serfdom both reflected the Czar’s preoccupation with the stability of the Russian Empire. Alexander II spent his entire reign attempting to stabilize Russia before falling victim to a terrorist bomb in 1881.
I also wrote about the history of Sochi in the Ottawa Citizen. Click here to read “Sochi’s Bloody History.”
Interested in learning more about Czar Alexander II and the expulsion of the Circassian people from Sochi? Here are some of the books I consulted while researching my articles on Sochi:
Orlando Figes, The Crimean War: A History, (2010).
Amjad Jaimoukha, The Circassians: A Handbook (Caucasus World: Peoples of the Caucasus), (2001).
W. Bruce Lincoln, The Romanovs: Autocrats of All the Russians (1983).
Edvard Radzinsky, Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar (2006).
Walter Richmond, The Circassian Genocide (Genocide, Political Violence, Human Rights), (2013).
My latest column in the Ottawa Citizen discusses the expulsion of the Circassian people from Sochi and the surrounding region in 1864, which resulted in the deaths of at least 600,000 people from massacre, starvation and the elements. Although the Olympic Games in Sochi will take place on the 150th anniversary of these events, which the government of neighbouring Georgia has deemed a genocide, Russia has downplayed the bloody history of the region. Russian recognition of the death and displacement of the Circassian people in 1864 would transform the controversial Winter Games into the beginning of a process of reconciliation.
Pippa and James Middleton, joined Prince and Princess Michael of Kent in the royal box today for the first day of The Championships, Wimbledon. The Middletons and the Kents are all tennis enthusiasts.The Queen’s cousin, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent is the President of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and his brother and sister-in-law, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent are often present in the royal box for the Wimbledon Championships.
The Duchess of Cambridge and her younger siblings, James and Philippa (Pippa) have played and watched tennis since childhood. In her recent column for Vanity Fair, Pippa Middleton reminisced about lining up for Wimbledon tickets with Kate. She wrote, “One of my favourite Wimbledon experiences was queuing from 5am on People’s Sunday in 2004 with my sister for three hours and getting £35 tickets on Centre Court – my first time ever.”
When William and Kate briefly broke up in 2007, the press photographed Kate picking up her tennis racquet from her London flat, which was viewed as a sign that she was carrying with her life without the Prince. The Middleton siblings and William currently play at The Queen’s Club in London. In January 2013, the Duchess of Cambridge was made an honorary member of the All England Club and there are reports that she will begin presenting the tournament trophies in 2014, succeeding the seventy-seven year old Duke of Kent.
Tennis has always been a popular sport with royalty. The first indoor real tennis court – a predecessor of lawn tennis similar to squash – was commissioned by King Louis X “the Quarreler” of France, who reigned from 1305 to 1314. Monarchs across Europe emulated the enclosed real tennis courts established by the King of France. Unfortunately, Louis X’s enthusiasm for tennis contributed to his downfall and that of the Capet dynasty. The King spent so much time on the tennis court that his neglected first wife, Margaret of Burgundy allegedly had an affair with one of her household knights, casting doubt on the paternity of her child, who was ultimately excluded from the succession.
Louis X remarried but he died suddenly in 1314 after drinking an excessive amount of chilled wine following a particularly vigorous tennis match. He wouldn’t be the last French monarch to lose his life in tennis related circumstances. In 1498, King Charles VIII “the Affable” struck his head on a door lintel while on his way to watch a real tennis match in Amboise. Upon his return from the game, the King fell into a sudden coma and died. Despite these incidents, tennis remained a popular game for French royalty until the Revolution of 1789 when members of the Third Estate convened on a Versailles tennis court to swear and oath that they would not disperse until a new constitution was written.
In England, King Henry V was the first royal tennis enthusiast, inspiring a scene in William Shakespeare’s Henry V where the Dauphin Louis of France sends the King tennis balls instead of tribute. In the play, Henry V responds with an extended tennis metaphor about his planned invasion of France, declaring, “We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us/His present and your pains we thank you for/When we have march’d our rackets to these balls/We will, in France, by God’s grace, play a set/Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard./Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler/That all the courts of France will be disturb’d/With chaces.”
King Henry VIII was another enthusiastic tennis player, eager to show that his skill at the game was superior to his fellow monarch and rival, King Francois I of France. The King of England commissioned a real tennis court for Hampton Court Palace, which is still in use today. The original Tudor tennis court was renovated extensively by Charles II after his Restoration in 1660, adding a new floor and nets as well as velvet cushions for spectators.
The Hampton Court real tennis facilities, however, are not the oldest tennis courts still in use. In 1539, King Henry VIII’s nephew, King James V, the father of Mary, Queen of Scots, commissioned a real tennis court at Falkland Palace. As in France, tennis became a popular sport for royalty despite the death of a monarch in circumstances related to the game. In 1437, King James I of Scotland ordered that an underground tunnel from Blackfriars Monastery in Perth be blocked up because his tennis balls were disappearing down the entrance. The King was murdered in the tunnel later that year, unable to escape from assassins who had broken into the monastery to commit regicide.
Royalty throughout Europe continued to be tennis enthusiasts with the emergence of the modern game of lawn tennis in the nineteenth century. From its first tournament in 1894 until the outbreak of the First World War, the Homberg Cup in Germany attracted royal spectators including the future King Edward VII, Grand Duke Ernst-Ludwig of Hesse, Crown Prince Constantine of Greece and Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich of Russia, brother of Czar Nicholas II.
Major British and European tennis tournaments also attracted the occasional royal contender. In 1926, King George V’s second son, the Duke of York (the future George VI) entered the men’s doubles tournament at Wimbledon when Sir Louis Greig qualified and selected the Duke as his partner. Greig and the Duke were defeated in three sets by their first round opponents Arthur Gore and Herbert Roper Barrett.
The current Queen appears to have little interest in tennis. Despite serving as royal patron of the All England Tennis Club, the Queen has only attended the Wimbledon Championships twice during her reign. The enthusiasm for tennis displayed by both the Kents and the Middletons continued the centuries long relationship between royalty and the game of tennis. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child, due next month, will undoubtedly receive tennis lessons, carrying on the family tradition.
At the age of only twenty-eight, Prince Henry “Harry” of Wales, the younger son of the Prince of Wales and the late Diana, Princess of Wales has experienced a remarkable series of transformations in the popular imagination. At the age of twelve, he was the focus of public sympathy along his elder brother William as the two Princes walked behind their mother’s coffin to her funeral at Westminster Abbey. By the time he reached his gap year between Eton and Sandhurst, however, Harry was chastised in the press for his poor judgement compared to his seemingly more responsible brother. From his experimentation with marijuana to his inappropriate choice of Hallowe’en costume, Harry seemed to be a “party prince” alone without understanding of his responsibilities as a member of the royal family.
Harry’s reputation changed once more in recent years when he completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan and represented the queen on a highly successful trip to Belize, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Brazil. The Prince also served as an Olympic ambassador, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh by promoting youth athletics. As Harry undertook royal duties, charitable work and active military service, even his “party prince” moments, such as his notorious game of strip billiards in Las Vegas, were treated indulgently by the public. In Harry: The People’s Prince, Chris Hutchins, author of Diana’s Nightmare – The Family and Fergie Confidential explains how the military was making of Harry, transforming him from Party Prince to People’s Prince.
The sections of Harry: The People’s Prince concerning Harry’s military service are the strongest chapters of the book. Hutchins combines the Prince’s extensive and occasionally controversial interviews about Afghanistan with quotes from his fellow soldiers and royal observers, giving a sense of Harry’s commitment to his military duties and daily life during his tours of duty. Hutchins also discusses Harry’s relationship with Chelsy Davy in more detail than previous works, revealing the full extent of her influence over key years in Harry’s life. Chelsy even edited Harry’s best man speech at Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton in 2011, removing jokes that might offend the Queen.
Unfortunately, these informative, interesting chapters do not appear until the second half of the book. In the same manner as Penny Junor in her recent biography of Prince William, Hutchins devotes far too much space to the breakdown of the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales. These marital difficulties have been analyzed extensively in other works and Hutchins contributes little to the reader’s understanding of his subject by reexamining them in minute detail in Harry: The People’s Prince.
Hutchins also omits vital historical context that is essential to understanding Harry’s military service and place in the royal family. The author focuses on the Prince’s admiration for military figures that he encountered during his childhood, such as Diana’s lover, James Hewitt (who was certainly not Harry’s father), with only passing mentions of Harry’s interest in “Granny’s soldiers.” The centuries old tradition of military service in the royal family would have as much if not more influence on Harry’s decision to attend Sandhurst than his childhood role models.
British monarchs led troops into battle until the mid eighteenth century and military service has long been accepted avenue for channeling the energies of a “party prince.” Readers of Harry: The People’s Prince should also read a work about royalty at war, such as Charles Carlton’s Royal Warriors: A Military History of the British Monarchy, to get a better sense of Harry’s place in the long tradition of royalty in the military.
The conclusion to Harry: The People’s Prince also displays an absence of historical context. Hutchins argues that the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child in July, 2013 will allow Harry the freedom to move to Africa, devote his energies to his Lesotho charity, Sentebale, and possibly rekindle his relationship with Chelsy Davy. The arrival of a niece or nephew certainly reduces the chances that Harry will one day become King, in the manner of other famous royal second sons such as Henry VIII, Charles I, George V or George VI.
The experiences of other younger royal children in recent decades, however, demonstrates that a lower place in line of succession does not result in freedom from royal duty. Princess Margaret faced pressure to end her relationship with the divorced Peter Townsend even after the births of her nephew and niece, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. All four of Queen Elizabeth II’s children perform extensive royal engagements both within the United Kingdom and throughout the commonwealth.
Harry’s very popularity may preclude a life of comparative obscurity abroad. Queen Elizabeth II, the Prince of Wales and Prince William will need “The People’s Prince” to continue his rapport with the public throughout all sixteen commonwealth realms. Harry: The People’s Prince is an interesting biography of a popular prince that would be improved by greater historical context for his military exploits and future, and less attention to the well known story of the Prince and Princess of Wales’ divorce.
The royalty attending the 2012 Paralympic Games, which will be declared open today by Queen Elizabeth II, include numerous members of International Paralympic Committee Honourary Board. Attendees include Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, Princess Astrid of Belgium and Prince Albert of Monaco, who are all members of this committee, which “strive[s] to maintain the issue of sport for persons with a disability high on the agenda of the global community (Ian Brittain,The Paralympic Games Explained, p. 88-89.)” The IPC Honourary Board, which also includes Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg, and Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of Jordan also assists with awareness and funding initiatives for the Paralympic Games worldwide.
The IPC Honourary Board has a Canadian connection through Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, who spent her early childhood in Ottawa during the Second World War and continues to be a frequent visitor to Canada. The Dutch royal family fled the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940. Margriet’s grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina resided resided in the United Kingdom as Head of the Dutch government in exile while her father Prince Bernhard served in the Royal Air Force then became Commander of the Dutch Forces during the Allied Invasion. For her own safety and that of her daughters, Margriet’s mother, Princess Juliana fled to Canada, where she resided as a guest of the Governor General and his wife, King George VI’s Uncle and Aunt, the Earl and Countess of Athlone.
The upcoming birth of Princess Juliana’s third child in Ottawa was announced in 1942. While in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, Anne Frank recorded in her diary on September 21, “I sometimes listen to the Dutch broadcasts from London. Prince Bernhard recently announced that Princess Juliana is expecting a baby in January, which I think is wonderful. No one here understands why I take such an interest in the royal family (Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, p. 38).”
In Ottawa, the Earl of Athlone gave royal assent to a special law declaring the maternity ward of the Ottawa Civic Hospital to be temporarily extraterritorial, so that the baby would have Dutch citizenship alone. Princess Margriet was born on January 19, 1943 and was named for the daisies worn by members of the Dutch resistance (See Albert VanderMey, When Canada Was Home: The Story of Dutch Princess Margriet). The Ottawa Peace Tower flew the Dutch flag in celebration of the new princess’s arrival. Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King attended the christening in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.
While in Canada, Princess Juliana and her three young daughters resided at Stornoway, now the residence of the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the second largest party in the Canadian House of Commons. They were part of a community of exiled royalty in Canada during the Second World War. The Earl and Countess of Athlone’s guests in and nearby the Governor General’s residence, Rideau Hall, included Crown Princess Olav and Crown Princess Martha of Norway, Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, King Peter of Yugoslavia, King George of Greece and the former Empress Zita of Austria and her daughters.
Princess Margriet returned to Europe with her family at the end of the Second World War, in 1945. In gratitude for Canada’s role in liberating the Netherlands and providing a refuge for the Dutch royal family, Princess Juliana sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa, the first of many gifts of this kind. As Canada’s capital became famous for its flowers, the Ottawa Tulip Festival began in the 1950s. Princess Margriet has made numerous official visits to Canada as an adult, and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Tulip Festival with Canadians in Ottawa in 2002. In 1967, she married Pieter van Vollenhoven and they have four sons and ten grandchildren.
In the Netherlands, Princess Margriet’s charitable patronage focuses on organizations that assist people with disabilities and long term illnesses. As a trained nurse, Margriet joined the local branch of the Netherlands Red Cross as a volunteer in 1966. She was elected vice-president of the National Netherlands Red Cross Society in 1987 and has held that position ever since. Margriet is a member of the Advisory Committee for Summer Camps for Young Cancer Patients and the National Association for the Care of the Terminally Ill as well as Patroness of the Equestrian Foundation for the Disabled among numerous other charitable organizations. Her work with the International Paralympic Committee is part of a lifelong commitment to improving the circumstances of people living with illnesses and disabilities.
Princess Margriet of the Netherlands and her husband, Pieter van Vollenhoven will be attending Paralympic Events in the United Kingdom from August 29 to September 2. For Dutch and Canadian athletes alike, Margriet’s involvement in the Games represents the international success of the Paralympic Games, and the continuing close relationship between Canada and the Netherlands.
At the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, the audience in Olympic Stadium was called to stand for the arrival of Prince Henry of Wales, representing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Harry’s central role in the Closing Ceremonies marked the apogee of an extraordinary year for Queen’s grandson that saw him assume the duties of a senior member of the royal family.
In March, 2012, Harry completed a successful tour of Belize, the Bahamas and Jamaica on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, in honour of the Diamond Jubilee. The Prince infused the well known format of the royal tour and walkabout with his own personal style, joining the dancing during street parties, and racing Olympic champion Usain Bolt. In Jamaica, the Prince diffused what might have been a tense diplomatic situation by embracing Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, who had previously expressed support for the appointment of a Jamaican born Head of State.
Following the Jubilee tour of the Caribbean, Harry visited Brazil as an ambassador for British trade and the London Olympics, promoting youth athletics and discussing the transition from the 2012 to 2016 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro. Once again, Harry succeeded within a complicated diplomatic climate as South American attitudes toward the United Kingdom are coloured by Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands.
In May, Prince Harry traveled to Washington D.C. to receive the 2012 Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership Award from the Atlantic Council, on behalf of himself and his brother, Prince William for their patronage of charities that assist injured members of the British and American armed forces. This award drew worldwide public attention to Harry’s charity work including his patronage of the Walking With The Wounded, and support for The Soldiers’ Charity and Help For Heroes.
The Prince returned to the United Kingdom to celebrate his grandmother’s Diamond Jubilee then threw himself into the role of Olympic Ambassador during the London Games, which culminated in his central role at the Closing Ceremonies. If 2011 was the year of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with their magnificent wedding and successful tour of Canada, 2012 has been the year Prince Harry assumed the profile and duties of a senior member of the royal family.
The public approval that Harry currently enjoys because of his success representing Queen Elizabeth II and philanthropic work contrasts with his past reputation as a “party prince” with poor judgement. Although Harry received widespread public sympathy when his mother, Princess Diana, died when he was only twelve years old, he attracted criticism in his late teens and early twenties.
Harry engaged in charity work in Lesotho during his gap year visit to Africa but the press focused on his altercations with photographers outside nightclubs and his poor choice of fancy dress costume. Carol Sarler, a Daily Express columnist, wrote in 2004 that Prince Harry was a “horrible young man” and a “national disgrace” in column that received a personal rebuttal from the Prince of Wales. Prince Harry’s diplomatic and philanthropic work in 2012 demonstrates that he has learned from his past lapses in judgment and is eager to take his place as a prominent working member of the royal family.
Harry’s evolution from Party Prince to the Queen’s representative is important to the future of the royal family because he is currently a direct heir to the throne. The intense speculation about when (not if) the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will have children ignores the numerous historical precedents for second sons and their children ultimately becoming monarchs. King Henry VIII, King Charles I, King George V and King George VI were all originally second sons of reigning monarchs or their heirs.
The eight years of childlessness experienced by Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako of Japan before the 2001 birth of their only child, Princess Aiko, demonstrates that even in the 21st century, royal succession can be unpredictable. Aiko is not eligible to become Empress under the current Japanese law of succession, which is restricted to male dynasts. While the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are childless, Prince Harry should be viewed as a potential successor to the thrones of the United Kingdom and the other fifteen commonwealth nations.
In the event that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have children of their own, Prince Harry’s abilities as a diplomat and philanthropist will still be essential to the success of the monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II’s cousins, the Duke of Kent and Gloucester and Princess Alexandra perform an extensive program of royal duties but it is unlikely that the younger generation of the royal extended family will have the same public profile. In a smaller working royal family, Harry will be expected to assume a wide range of royal tours and charitable patronages.
Prince Harry’s successes in 2012 as the Queen’s representative and a respected philanthropist will be of lasting benefit to the monarchy. In the event that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge do not have children of their own, Harry’s increased profile as a working member of the royalty will reassure the public that he will be a successful future monarch. If the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge continue the direct royal line, Harry’s activities will support subsequent monarchs within a streamlined working royal family.
As the 2012 London Summer Olympics come to a close today, it is worth having a look at the experiences of royal and princely athletes who competed at the Olympic level in sports considered unconventional for Princes and Princesses. As I have discussed in previous posts, the vast majority of royal participants in the Modern Olympic games have competed in equestrian and sailing events or contributed to the governance of the games as members of the International Olympic Committee. Nevertheless, there are royal athletes who have chosen in compete in a wide variety of sports, raising the profile of events from bobsledding to skeet shooting.
The most famous couple among Olympic athletes from royal or princely houses are Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene of Monaco. Albert competed as a member of Monaco’s bobsled team in five successive Winter Olympic Games: Calgary in 1988, Albertville in 1992, Lillehammer in 1994, Nagano in 1998 and Salt Lake City in 2002. In contrast to the royalty who participated in equestrian and sailing events at the Summer Olympics, Albert’s participation in Olympic bobsledding attracted mixed reactions both within his native Monaco and around the world.
Albert explained to Nikki Stone, an American athlete who won gold in inverted aerial skiing in at the Nagano Games, “I think my bobsledding surprised many people – or “troubled many people” may be a more appropriate phase. I know most everyone envisioned me sitting on a royal throne rather than in the driver’s seat of an Olympic bobsled. Quite frankly, those closest to me were likely more comfortable with that “royal” picture as well (Stone, When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How To Stick Their Necks Out).”
During all five Winter Games, Albert insisted on staying in the Olympic village with his fellow athletes, explaining to ESPN journalist Jim Caple in Salt Lake City, “I think it’s a must. It’s part of the Olympic experience. Those who aren’t staying there are missing an important part of the experience.” Albert met his wife, Charlene Wittstock, through his involvement in the Olympics as a member of the IOC. Charlene finished in 5th-place as part of the South African 400 medley relay team in swimming at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. The couple made their first public appearance at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin and were married in 2011.
The Prince and Princess of Monaco are part of a long tradition of members of royal and princely houses and their future consorts participating in a broad range of Olympic events. During the 1900 Paris Olympics there were two participants in the golf tournaments with existing or future royal connections. Daria Pratt, who received the bronze medal for the United States in the women’s golf tournament, married her third husband, Prince Alexis Karageorgevich of Serbia in 1913. Pratt’s daughter from her first marriage, Harriet Wright, married, Count Alexander Mercati, a childhood friend of King Constantine I of Greece and participant in the 1900 men’s golf tournament. Golf was removed from the schedule of Olympic sports after 1904 but will be reinstated for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Since professional golfers will be permitted to participate in 2016, it is unlikely that modern royal recreational golfers such as Andrew, Duke of York, will compete.
Other royalty who competed in unconventional Olympic sports include two Princes who represented Lichtenstein in the downhill alpine skiing. Despite Lichtenstein’s proximity to the Alps, Prince Constantine von Lichtenstein finished 99th in the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland and Prince Max of Hohenlohe-Langenburg placed 46th in the 1958 Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
The shooting events have been popular with members of the ruling family of Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Ahmad bin Mohammad bin Hasher Al Maktoum competed in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Summer Games, winning the gold medal in men’s double trap shooting in Athens in 2004. Sheikh Saeed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum was the flag bearer for the United Arab Emirates in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, participating in the Men’s Skeet Shooting this year as he has done at three previous Summer Olympic Games.
Royal participation in the Olympic Games is not confined to equestrian and sailing events. Members of royal and princely houses and their future consorts have participated in a diverse range of sports including bobsledding, golf, shooting and skiing, raising the profile of a broad range of Olympic sports.
On August 6, former King Constantine II of Greece presented the gold, silver and bronze medals to the winners of the Men’s Laser Single Hand Race in sailing in Weymouth. There have been royal spectators present throughout the sailing events of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Princess Anne and her husband, Vice Admiral Timothy Laurence as well as the Duchess of Cambridge watched the Men’s Laser Single Hand Race. On August 5, King Constantine, Princess Anne, Vice Admiral Laurence and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark attended the Men’s Finn Medal Race in Sailing. Princess Anne and King Constantine presented the medals to the winners.
King Constantine not only presented sailing medals as a longstanding member of the International Olympic Committee but as one of the most successful royal athletes at the modern Olympic Games. As Crown Prince of Greece, he received the gold medal in sailing (Dragon Class) at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome with his elder sister, Princess Sofia, the future Queen of Spain, serving as a reserve for the Greek team. When the former King returned to Greece for the 2004 Athens Olympics, he stated in an interview with Katie Couric, “Getting the gold medal, it was the greatest feeling in my life, other than getting engaged to my wife. And to hear the national anthem of your country, and you know you are not doing it for yourself, you are doing it for your country, is very important.”
When sailing, or yachting as it was termed until 1996 Games, was introduced as an event at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, Europe’s most prominent royal families were known for their personal flotillas. At the 1896 Cowes Regatta on the Isle of Wight, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany’s yacht, Meteor II defeated the future Edward VII’s yacht Britannia, prompting the Prince of Wales to withdraw from yacht racing for a few years. In this environment of intense competition at sea between Europe’s royal families, it is unsurprising that Olympic yachting events attracted titled athletes. Prior to the First World War, European aristocrats involved in Olympic yachting events included members of the Swiss Pourtales family including Helene de Pourtales, the first female Olympic medalist in 1900.
In 1928, Crown Prince Olav of Norway, a nephew of King George V of Great Britain received a gold medal in the six metre class yachting at the Amsterdam Olympics. As King, Olav remained an active sailor into his old age. His son Harald, the current King of Norway, also competed in Olympic yachting events as Crown Prince in 1964, 1968 and 1972. His son, Crown Prince Haakon and his wife, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, who are both sailing enthusiasts, are attending events at the 2012 Olympic Games.
In common with the Norwegian royal house, Olympic sailing is a family affair within the Spanish royal family. The future King Juan Carlos competed in the Dragon Class yachting in the 1972 Olympics, finishing in fifteenth place. Two of King Juan Carlos`s and Queen Sofia`s children have also competed in Olympic level sailing. Infanta Cristina participated in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the first Games to feature separate men’s and women’s events in the yachting competitions. Her brother, Felipe, Prince of the Asturias, is the most successful Spanish royal Olympic sailor, placing sixth in the Soling Class event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Although Queen Sofia attended the Opening Ceremonies in 2012, her children have not been among the numerous members of Europe`s royal houses in the London audience.
The Chakri dynasty of Thailand also boasts an Olympic level sailor. Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh, a grandson of King Mongkut of Siam (best known as the King dramatized in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical The King and I) represented his country in the Olympic Sailing events of 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1972. His best result was 12th place in the Star Class at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, which were opened by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Birabongse was also a Formula One race car driver, making him one of the rare athletes to compete in both the Olympics and the Formula One Championships.
The sailing competitions are the Olympic events that have attracted the greatest number of royal athletes in the past century. The presentation of the 2012 Olympic sailing medals by the former King Constantine of Greece is the latest example of longstanding royal involvement in Olympic yachting and sailing.
For further information about royal athletes at the Modern Olympic Games, see my recent article in the Kingston Whig Standard.