The Snow Queen: Astrid Of Belgium’s Appeal

The birth of Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid Sofia Lovisa Thyra of Sweden in Stockholm on 17th November 1905, was a cause for celebration. As the third daughter of Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland the brother of the popular Swedish King Gustav V, and his glamorous wife, Princess Ingeborg of Denmark, Astrid was born into a life of immense privilege, but with it, also came certain expectations, such as the idea that when she married, it would most probably be for dynastic reasons, like the union of parents, which though happy, as her mother admitted, ‘I married a complete stranger!’

Her childhood at Arvfurstens palats was an idyllic one, and Astrid, along with her siblings Princesses Margaretha and Märtha, as well as Prince Carl, who was born in 1911, was adored by her parents and the household’s staff,  so much so, that the family’s cook created ‘Princess Cake,’ for the youngsters – a cream covered sponge wrapped in green marzipan, which has since become a national favourite.

Considered as a potential bride for the Prince of Wales, it was announced that Astrid was to marry Crown Prince Leopold of Belgium in September 1929, with the Belgian Queen Elisabeth declaring to news reporters who had gathered outside the Royal Palace of Brussels, ‘It is a marriage of love…tell it to our people. Nothing was arranged. Not a single political consideration prevailed in our son’s decision.’ Continue reading

The New Mrs Simpson: Zsuzsi Starkloff And Prince William

On 28th August 1972, at the Goodyear International Air Trophy at Halfpenny Green Airport, in the village of Bobbington, Staffordshire, a crowd of nearly 30,000 people had gathered to watch a dashing pilot put on a skilled display in his Piper Cherokee. Within minutes of take-off, the aircraft began to lose altitude at an alarming rate; clipping a tree, one of its wings was torn off, causing it to crash before it was engulfed by flames.

Horrified spectators raced towards the burning wreckage, but were overcome by the heat, leaving the pilot and his single passenger trapped inside and facing certain death. The passenger was Vyrell Mitchell, an experienced airman and demonstrator pilot who had worked for Piper Aircraft since 1967; the pilot, Prince William of Gloucester, also a highly competent aviator, was ninth in line to the British throne.

Born in Hadley Common, Hertfordshire on 18th December 1941, William was the son of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the third son of King George V, and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, the daughter of John Montagu Douglas Scott, the 7th Duke of Buccleuch. As a member of the Royal Family, he served as a page boy for the wedding of his cousin, The Princess Elizabeth, when she married Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark on 20th November 1947 and also attended her coronation on 2nd June 1953.

Above: Prince William prepares for the Royal Wedding (1947)

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Against The Wind: The Bluster Of James Robertson Justice

A man of many considerable talents, if anyone personified the phrase ‘a life well-lived,’ it would James Robertson Justice. Despite an elaborately concocted tale about how he entered the world in a whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye, Justice was born in Lee, South London on 15th June 1907, to a geologist from Aberdeenshire and his English wife. Throughout his childhood, Justice spent little time with his father, who often worked abroad for months at a time and though Justice senior eschewed his Scottish heritage, his son embraced it as a way to feel closer to his absent parent.

After attending Marlborough College, where he was placed a disappointing 68th out of 89 in his year, Justice briefly read sciences at University College, London before deciding to follow in his father’s footsteps and study geology at Bonn University in Germany. He would later say that he had not only completed his degree at UCL, but had also been awarded a doctorate at Bonn, both of which were untrue. Returning to England, he took a job as a reporter for Reuters and became a colleague of Ian Fleming, but his journalistic career soon fell flat, in small part because he frequently insisted on arriving for work in his pyjamas and dressing gown.

Easily bored and consumed by wanderlust, Justice decided to travel to Canada where he worked as a lumberjack and a gold-miner; yet he was soon eager to return to Britain and paid for his journey home by washing dishes aboard a Dutch cargo ship. Back in London, he embarked upon a new venture as an ice-hockey player for the London Lions; it lasted for one season until he turned his attention to motor-racing. Continue reading

Lily Of The Nile: The Dynasties Of Princess Fawzia

When she died on 2nd July 2013, few could have appreciated the vast and extraordinary changes Princess Fawzia had witnessed during her 91 years. ‘Twice in my life, I lost the crown,’ she acknowledged, recalling her time as an important figure across the Islamic world. Her wealth of experience had taught the Egyptian Princess that the power behind great crowns could be both ephemeral and illusory, and so for her, their loss did not ‘matter.’

The eldest daughter of King Fuad of Egypt, and his second wife Nazli Sabri, Fawzia was born at the Ras el-Tin Palace in Alexandria, on 5th November 1921. Rarely leaving the confines of the palace, and brought up by her English nanny, Fawzia’s childhood was both sheltered and rarefied, leading the Egyptian writer Adel Sabit to comment, that she grew up a ‘supremely naive, over-protected, cellophane-wrapped, gift-packaged little girl.’

In April 1936, following King Fuad’s death, Fawzia’s older brother Farouk ascended to the throne, and the new King’s advisors were eager to strengthen Cairo’s relations with Tehran. With Egypt keen to assert its status in the region, particularly following the signing of the Treaty of Saadabad with Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan in July 1937, a match was suggested between Fawzia, and the son of the Shah of Iran. The prospect of Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s marriage was welcomed by his father, a soldier who had assumed power by overthrowing the Qajar dynasty in 1925. The Shah was minded to cement his own royal legitimacy and a union with the regal and established Muhammad Ali Dynasty of Egypt seemed ideal. Despite the Egyptian Prime Minister’s warning that a marriage between the Sunni Princess and Shia Prince was a ‘recipe for disaster,’ secular diplomacy won out over tradition, and their engagement was officially announced in May 1938. The couple married in March 1939 enjoying the splendour of two royal weddings, a Shi’ite ceremony in Fawzia’s new home of Tehran, following a Sunni union in Cairo with her Prince, the heir to the Peacock Throne.

Above: The Royal Wedding in Cairo (1939)

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