Megxit to Covid: a year of troubles for European monarchies
To be a king, queen, prince, or princess nowadays is not as easy as it used to be. Scandals, controversies, and personal tragedies piled onto the palaces of Europe in the past year - from the British 'Megxit' to a Norwegian suicide, Spanish corruption, and various royal mishaps during the coronavirus pandemic.
The internal tensions in the British royal family caused 2020 to start with a bang: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry announced that they were leaving their official positions in the Royal House and were moving to the United States.
Wax doll museums are often curiously in the front line when it comes to reacting to news. Madame Tussauds in London immediately separated the dolls of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry from the rest of the British royal family to reflect the profound change in its official composition.
A revealing detail of the scandal was that the couple talked to their friend Elton John about the decision before they told Queen Elizabeth. Far away in California, they now find themselves estranged from the palace in real life as much as in wax form.
Separated from the royal family but in proximity to that of Meghan Markle, the couple had to endure a tragic loss in July 2020. As Meghan Markle revealed later in an article in the New York Times, she had been pregnant with her second child and suffered a miscarriage.
"Losing a child brings with it almost unbearable guilt," Markle said in the New York Times. "It is something that many people have experienced but few people talk about." With her article, she tried to break "the cycle of solitary mourning."
And that was not all for the couple last summer. As they mourned the loss of their unborn child, they had to deal with a new book about their lives (without their cooperation) in the month of August. It revealed details of their struggles in the royal palace.
'Finding Freedom' suggests that the couple felt confined in the royal circle and that they received little support from the traditional court when the tabloid press attacked them.
It was not just Meghan and Harry who distanced themselves from the British royal family. Mere weeks before them, in late 2019, Prince Andrew had announced that he was stepping back from his official role in the palace due to his alleged involvement in the sex trafficking crimes of Jeffrey Epstein.
Prince Andrew had denied his involvement with one of the girls trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein, but over the course of 2020, indications mounted that his alibi (a party in the Pizza Express) did not hold up.
Another event that shocked European royalty was a suicide in the Christmas break of 2019. Ari Behn, Norwegian Princess Martha Louise's ex-husband, passed away that day. Behn was a known writer and painter, and in his latter years he had published about his struggle with depression.
At several points in 2020, his family reflected on the shocking event. One of his adolescent daughters, Princess Leah, wrote on Instagram that she was struggling with his death. King Harald, his father-in-law, says the situation reminded him of the loss of his own mother when he was 17. He spoke earnestly about his and his family's experience in the book ‘Kongen forteller’ by Harald Stanghelle.
Apart from the tragic death of her ex, Martha Louise has been in the news for her remarkable relationship with Shaman Durek, a healer whose controversial claims include his assurance that sadness causes cancer.
In February and March of 2020, the scope and dangers of the new coronavirus became known in royal houses as well as among the general populations of countries around the world. Shortly after this photo was taken, Prince Charles of Wales found out he was infected with COVID-19.
Later in the year, it became known that Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and the second in line for the throne, had also tested positive in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. He had not told the public right away because "there were important things going on and I didn't want to worry anyone," he reportedly said according to the newspaper 'The Sun'.
Prince William and Kate Middleton took over a number of official appearances from Queen Elizabeth, to spare the monarch (94) and her husband Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (99), from risking their health in public spaces. The condition of Philip caused the British royal house and its watchers most worries in 2020.
On March 19, the Prince of Monaco announced that he too had the coronavirus. His wife Charlene and their twins Gabrielle and Jacques did not test positive at that time. Luckily, Prince Albert did not suffer much from the disease.
Albert's wife Charlene, a sporty South-African beauty, is often referred to as 'the sad princess' because she rarely smiles in public. Media like Huisgenoot in South Africa speculate that the princess is not popular among the Monaco jetset and that she feels "suffocated" in the palace.
At the end of 2020, Charlene made a gesture with her hairdo that implied more than any of her facial expressions. She shaved it in a punk style, showing that she no longer cared what the posh Monaco elite thought of her.
The younger princes and princesses of Europe sometimes had difficulties restraining themselves amidst the COVID-19 safety regulations. Prince Joachim, the nephew of King Philippe of Belgium, sneaked into a party in the Spanish city of Cordoba while gatherings of more than 15 people were absolutely forbidden at the time. Having raved it up with 26 other students from various nationalities, Joachim started to show signs of the coronavirus, newspaper El País reported. It caused an international scandal.
A similar scandal shook the royal family of The Netherlands, whose two eldest Princesses Amalia and Alexia spent a weekend in Greece while unnecessary travel within Europe was absolutely uncalled for. The COVID holiday caused a lot of chagrin among the Dutch public.
On the Spanish island of Mallorca, Princess Birgitta of Sweden did follow the rules, but it meant that she got stuck on the island until the first wave of the virus was over. The 83-year old sister of King Carl Gustaf of Sweden usually spends half the year on the Balearic island. Now she was forced to stay a bit longer, Svensk Damtidning reported.
Meanwhile, monarchs in countries varying from England to Denmark, The Netherlands and Spain were criticized in 2020 for their decadent lifestyles. The Danish Prince Frederick and his wife Mary (of Australian roots) got into a pickle at the beginning of the year after it became known that they had a 'secret' house in Switzerland. The property was worth two million euros ($2.5 million).
The Danish people and government had already debated the amounts of money they invested in the monarchy, and they did not like to hear about hidden luxury property. The same happened for the Dutch King, Willem-Alexander, who bought a sailing yacht worth two million euros ($2.5 million) while his country was in the midst of the pandemic (and his daughters in Greece). Here we see him and his wife Máxima apologizing on public television.
Prince Joachim of Denmark also caused multiple contoversies. He likes to party and critics of the monarchy often question his expenses. Some have even said he should follow the example of Meghan Markle and Harry of England, to break away from the Danish royal family and earn his own living.
The Belgian monarchy has also been shaken up by controversies. One of its most notorious members is Prince Laurent. His unruly and irregular conduct includes an alleged diversion of public funds for personal use. On one occasion he went to trial for this matter and was acquitted, and in another case he was charged with a fine.
Delphine Boël, the secret daughter of the former Belgian king Albert II, struggled for years to be recognized as his offspring. He refused to admit it and she filed a law suit. In October 2020, Albert's son Philippe finally made an official statement saying that Boël was his sister and that she may be called Princess Delphine.
Meanwhile, a shadow of corruption hangs over the Spanish monarchy. Over the course of the year, more and more information surfaced about the shady dealings of the former King, Juan Carlos. The biggest scandal was that he allegedly received "kickbacks over a 7 billion euro high-speed train project in Saudi Arabia awarded to a Spanish consortium in 2011," as the Financial Times reports.
The story came to light after the German aristocrat Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein had accused the King Emeritus in 2019 of the collection of commissions. She also revealed that he had given her personally a sum of 65 million euros. (She'd been a close friend of his, indeed.)
Juan Carlos and Corinna Larsen-Wittgenstein allegedly had an extramarital affair for years. They broke up after Larsen found out that the King was dating other women at the same time (while being married to the Spanish Queen Sofia as well, of course). She told about their affair in a controversial BBC interview in August 2020.
Philip VI, the country's current monarch, stopped his father's allowance in June 2020 and renounced his own inheritance. Then, as the investigations by Swiss and Spanish prosecutors into his alleged corruption intensified, the former king left Spain in August to spend the rest of 2020 in exile in Saudi Arabia.
Queen Letizia of Spain had just made peace with her mother-in-law Sofia (right) after various disagreements, and then a controversial biography came out by the Argentinian journalist Leonardo Faccio in early 2020. It was titled "The Impatient Queen." Words like "insecure" and "obsessive" also popped up in the book. Read more about it here.
Finally, the royal Habsburg family was saddened by the unexpected death of one of their young and beautiful princesses. She was about to celebrate her 32nd birthday with her husband and her two-year-old son. But then, in May 2020, Maria Galitzine of Austria passed away unexpectedly from a cardiac aneurysm. The princess lived in Houston, Texas, just like her mother and sisters.