Monday, August 16, 2010

A Grand Day for Monarchism

It is official: Sweden is in love. At least with its Crown Princess and with the monarchy.

On June 19th, Crown Princess Victoria married her former gym teacher Daniel Westling, a young man of what would long ago have been called humble origins, hailing from the small town of Ockelbo a few hundred miles north of Stockholm.

The Swedish monarchy seems stronger than ever.

Things might have been quite different. In November 1917, the Crown Princess´s grandfather´s grandfather, Gustaf V, was nervously packing his suitcases and planning to leave the country, not only because the Bolsheviks were taking over next door in Saint Petersburg but also because there were hunger riots all over Sweden and plenty of domestic revolutionary talk.

The Swedish wartime prime minister, Hjalmar Hammarskjold (father of the future UN secretary general) was called "Hungerskjold", because he would not stop food exports to warring Germany in spite of desperate scarcity at home. The Swedish Queen, Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm´s cousin, lambasted Swedish politicians who refused to join up with their Germanic brethren in WW I. The monarchy was definitely not popular and the entire situation shaky.

King Gustaf eventually unpacked his suitcases. Even though Social Democratic leader Hjalmar Branting in his heart was a republican (in the European sense of the word) and his party program demanded the abolition of the monarchy, Branting preferred a constitutional revolution extending the vote to all Swedish men and women. Establishing the republic was not a priority.

So Gustaf V settled down in his palace and reigned until his death in 1950. Even then the Social Democrats, in power for nearly two decades, were unwilling to do radical constitutional changes. Gustaf VI Adolf, at 68 already past retirement age, took over and, expiring in 1973 at the age of 92, left the throne to the present monarch, Carl XVI Gustaf, a young man of 27.

The young king, at the age of one, in 1947, had lost his father, Gustaf Adolf, in an air crash at Copenhagen airport. His uncle, Count Folke Bernadotte, in 1948 was murdered in Jerusalem by members of the Jewish terrorist Lehi gang, led by Yitzak Shamir, later on Israel´s prime minister.

Efforts have been made to democratize the Swedish monarchy, in tune with the modern world. The King, according to the Constitution, has no political power and does not even formally appoint governments – which is the task of the Speaker of the Swedish Riksdag. The monarch´s role is purely representative, mostly heading trade delegations to foreign lands. On Christmas Day every year, the King addresses Swedish nationals at home and abroad on radio and television.

Born into an equal opportunity monarchy, Victoria as the first-born will inherit the crown, even though she has a younger male sibling, Carl Philip, who would have become Crown Prince under the old order (the Constitution was changed in the late 1970s, after Victoria was born).

The present royal family are the descendants of Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, a social upstart from southern France, who, thanks to the French Revolution, became one of Napoleon´s generals and finally Marshal of France. When Swedish politicians in 1810 offered Bernadotte the Swedish crown, they hoped that with his military experience he would help Sweden regain lost territory, viz Finland, from Czarist Russia. Bernadotte, transformed into Sweden´s King Karl XIV Johan, was no fool. He clearly recalled Napoleon´s disastrous Russian campaign and initiated a long peaceful reign which would become almost emblematically Swedish for the next two hundred years.
The present king´s father-in-law, the Crown Princess´s late grandfather, Walter Sommerlath, emigrated to Brazil in the 1920s and in exile became a member of the German Nazi party on Decmber 1, 1934. (His membership card can be inspected at the German Bundesarchiv in Berlin.) Sommerlath´s daughter Silvia, born in wartime Germany in 1943 when the family had moved back, was one of the German hostesses at the Munich Olympics in 1972, where she met the future Swedish King.

Swedish republicans (not to be confused with the US phenomenon) are facing an uphill task. The Royals are undoubtedly popular. Even Carl XVI Gustaf, whose greatest public relations achievement was to marry his new-found German-Brazilian girl friend Silvia, has over the years, obtuse though he is, gathered public sympathy, particularly in his moving speech after the 2004 Asian tsunami which claimed the lives of some 600 Swedish Thailand visitors. The King said he regretted not being a fairy tale monarch who could restore everything back to normalcy.

Crown Princess Victoria is far from obtuse, in fact extremely articulate – and probably has increased her popularity by marrying her man of the people, Daniel Westling, who now becomes a Prince and a Duke and as the King´s son-in-law and the husband of the future Queen is be addressed as "Your Royal Highness". The wedding ceremony was conducted by the Archbishop of the Swedish Lutheran Church. The Bishop of Stockholm was excluded, probably because she is a Lesbian.

Some pointed questions were raised within the Lutheran Church as to how the Crown Princess should be escorted to the altar. In what almost turned into an "Altargate" crisis, critics asked if it wouldn´t be a practically feudal exercise, if the King handed over his daughter to another male person as a piece of property. Or could it be interpreted as the King in fact handing over his daughter to the People, incarnated in young Daniel Westling, the Prince-to-be?

A few days before the wedding, a very Swedish compromise was worked out: the King would walk his daughter half-way to the altar, then withdraw and follow behind the couple to the altar in the Storkyrka ("Big church") of Stockholm.

So will the monarchy go on for ever and ever? Shortly before the wedding, a young Swedish author, Jens Liljestrand, in the Malmö newspaper Sydsvenska Dagbladet offered a surprising alternative. In an interview taking place, science fiction-wise, a few years into the future, the present Crown Princess has turned into a nearly anonymous Mrs Victoria Westling.

Since her brother and her sister were equally unwilling to take over the throne, Victoria´s abdication immediately after her father´s death gave Swedish politicians the option either to offer the kingdom to another available royal family or finally turn Sweden into a republic. In Liljestrand´s alternative future, Queen Victoria carried on for a few years while the Swedish parliament worked out the transition. After that she retired into "civilian" life. Had she in fact been a closet republican all along? Not at all.

"I did love the idea of monarchy", Victoria Westling says regretfully in Liljestrand´s interview. "The monarchy was a nice concept, and it had been working quite well, at least in Sweden. But in our present type of society, with extreme intimacy and extreme lack of respect, and all the paparazzi around, the monarchy is no longer feasible. As far as I am concerned, the monarchy died with Diana in that car in Paris."


Tuesday, August 10, 2010


When writing to someone of title, there are certain conventions that should be followed in the addressing and greeting of the letter. It is courteous and respectful to properly honor a person of title in the address, the salutation, and even in the closing of your letter. Below is a guideline to the use of appropriate protocol in your written correspondence to people of title.

Royalty and Noble Titles

Address: His Imperial Majesty (Name of Emperor), Emperor of (Country)
Salutation: Sir: or May it please Your Majesty:
Closing: I have the honor to remain Your Imperial Majesty’s obedient servant
The King
Address: His Majesty the King
Salutation: Your dignified Majesty:
Closing: I have honor to remain, Sir, Your Majesty’s most humble and obedient subject

The Queen
Address: Her Majesty the Queen
Salutation: Madam: or May it please Your Majesty:
Closing: I have honor to remain, Madam, Your Majesty’s most humble and obedient subject

Royal Prince
Address: His Royal Highness The Prince of ……
Salutation: Sir:
Closing: I have honor to remain, Sir, Your Highness’s most humble and obedient subject

Royal Princess
Address: Her Royal Highness The Princess of ……
Salutation: Madam:
Closing: I have honor to remain, Madam, Your Highness’s most humble and obedient subject

Address: His Grace The Duke of …..
Salutation: My Lord Duke:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Address: Her Grace The Duchess of …..
Salutation: Dear Madam:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Address: The Rt Hon. The Lord …..
Salutation: My Lord:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Baroness (wife of a Baron)
Address: The Rt Hon. The Lady …..
Salutation: Dear Madam:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Address: The Most Hon. The Marquess of …..
Salutation: My Lord:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Marchioness (wife of a Marquess)
Address: The Most Hon. The Marchioness of …..
Salutation: Dear Madam:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Address: The Rt Hon. The Earl of …..
Salutation: My Lord;
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Countess (wife of an Earl)
Address: The Rt Hon. The Countess of …..
Salutation: Dear Madam:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Address: The Rt Hon. The Viscount of …..
Salutation: My Lord:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Viscountess (wife of a Viscount)
Address: The Rt Hon. The Viscountess …..
Salutation: Dear Madam:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Address: Sir (First name and surname), Bt
Salutation: Dear Sir:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Baronet’s Wife
Address : Lady (Surname only)
Salutation: Dear Madam:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Address: Sir (First name and surname), followed with appropriate letters relevant to Order
Salutation: Dear Sir:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Knight’s Wife
Address: Lady (Surname only)
Salutation: Dear Madam:
Closing: Yours faithfully,

Religious Dignitaries

The Pope
Address: His Holiness (Name & Roman Numeral)
Salutation: Your Holiness:
Closing: I have the honor to remain Your Holiness’s obedient servant,

Address: His Eminence, (First and Last Name)
Salutation: Your Eminence: or Dear Cardinal (Surname):
Closing: Yours very truly,

Address: The Most Reverend (First and Last Name), Archbishop of (Name of Diocese)
Salutation: Dear Archbishop (Surname)
Closing: Yours very truly,

Address: The Most Reverend (First and Last Name), Bishop of (Name of Diocese)
Salutation: Dear Bishop (Surname)
Closing: Yours very truly,

Address: The Very Reverend (First and Last Name), Abbot of …..
Salutation: Right Reverend Father: or Dear Abbot (Surname)
Closing: Yours sincerely,

Address: The Very Reverend (First and Last Name)
Salutation: Dear Canon (Surname)
Closing: Yours sincerely,

Address: The Reverend (First and Last Name)
Salutation: Dear Father:
Closing: Yours sincerely,

Nun – Mother Superior
Address: Reverend Mother (First and Last Name)
Salutation: Dear Reverend Mother:
Closing: Yours sincerely,

Nun – Sister
Address: Sister (First and Last Name)
Salutation: Dear Sister (Surname):
Closing: Yours sincerely,

Address: The Very Reverend (First and Last Name), Dean of (Name of Cathedral)
Salutation: Dear Dean (Surname):
Closing: Yours sincerely,

Address: The Venerable (First and Last Name)
Salutation: Dear Archdeacon (Surname):
Closing: Yours sincerely,

Address: The Reverend (First and Last Name)
Salutation: Dear Dr./Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss (Surname):
Closing: Yours sincerely,

Address: Rabbi (First and Last Name)
Salutation: Dear Rabbi:
Closing: Yours sincerely,

The austerity monarch

Amid all the publicity about the "bonfire of the quangos" there is one unelected quasi-autonomous body that seems to be being abolished with a little less fanfare – the British monarchy. It was missing from the various lists in recent days on business, health and the arts.

But Cameron and Co clearly have their eye on it. The constitutional reforms soon coming on stream are surreptitiously removing the Queen's prerogative powers and duties. Can the UB40 be far behind?

David Cameron started his attack in 2006 almost as soon as he became Conservative leader. At that time he exempted "the personal prerogative powers of the monarch, such as the power to dissolve parliament and appoint a prime minister". But those are exactly the powers he now has in his sights. In these straitened times, nothing is sacred. It's a simple question: What does the Queen do? Does it need doing? Could someone else fill the gap?

It is slightly difficult to work out what the Queen's powers and duties are because we have an unwritten constitution. Fortunately we also have Wikipedia. It acts rather like the British constitution: bits are added, changed, taken away by mysterious unknown hands yet it looks as if it has always been the same. So, according to this unimpeachable source, these are the Queen's significant personal prerogative powers:

Appointing and dismissing the prime minister
We now know that the Lib Dems do this. If Nick Clegg has his way, this constitutional power will be enshrined in the alternative vote system, giving the Lib Dems, pretty well, a guaranteed veto on the issue. The Queen's personal right will devolve to Clegg and his heirs in perpetuity.

Dissolving parliament
Calling and dissolving parliaments has been in the monarch's sole power since there have been parliaments. Now the Lib-Cons want fixed terms but with a power of dissolution given to parliament – on a two thirds vote or a simple majority if it is a matter of confidence.

There is a precedent – in 1640 when parliament gave itself the power to dissolve itself. It didn't end well. In fact it took 20 years before what was left of the Long Parliament finally disbanded after executions, civil wars, more executions, purges, abolition, dictatorship, reinstatement and finally a return to the ways things were. The monarch has retained the power ever since.

What happens, thanks to the prerogative powers, is that the prime minister goes to the monarch and asks for the dissolution. By convention she is expected to accede to his request – but it is her call. She might instead accept the resignation of her prime minister and then go looking for another one. The important principles involved are enshrined in documentary form viz an anonymous letter published on 2 May 1950 in the Times – up there with Wikipedia as an authority of the highest constitutional standing. It notes:

"It is surely indisputable (and common sense) that a Prime Minister may ask– not demand – that his Sovereign will grant him a dissolution of Parliament; and that the Sovereign, if he so chooses, may refuse to grant this request."

Under the reforms, even if parliament's dissolution decision went to the Queen for her formal agreement, she would be denied any discretion in the matter. To come into conflict with an elected parliament would be a far more serious thing than dealing with a mere here-today gone-tomorrow prime minister. It would be a constitutional crisis. So her prerogative in this matter is to be lost.

Other prerogative powers
The important ones of these are exercised by the prime minister already as executive powers of government. He gets to declare war, make treaties, choose Her Majesty's ministers, peers and Church of England archbishops. The Queen owns the wild swans but not in any practical sense (like eating them). The crown estates are ripe for privatisation (Vince Cable is happy enough to flog off Her Majesty's Royal Mail; he's unlikely to balk at selling the crown estates). The foreshore is the Queen's, but some sensible arrangement could be made about the driftwood, plastic bottles, condoms and winkles found there. She has the prerogative of mercy – but mercifully Ken Clarke is now in post and preparing to throw open the prison gates.

There is not much here, then, for which the presence of a monarch is essential. But what about all those other little jobs she does, the ceremonial stuff? Opening civic centres? Glad-handing the cast of Lord Lloyd-Webber's latest hit? Step forward once more Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister. If the Queen is to be a woman with a constitutional position but no role, Cleggy, surely, is a man with no constitutional position desperately seeking just such a role.

Richard Alcock, Sunday 1 August 2010

House of Lords Luncheon 19th May 2010

Andres Linholm, Chancellor of the Estonian Monarchist League, presided at a Luncheon in the House of Lords in honour of His Excellency Johan Verbeke Belgian Ambassador to the UK.