Musings on the Monarchy: Victoria Season 2, Episode 3 (Spoiler Alert)
By: Ellen LeCompte
Fancy boats, be they yachts or warships, have always been part of royal demonstrations of power and status from the time the Vikings were pillaging along the coasts of Anglo-Saxon England back in the 800s. Given that Britain is an island, ships were of particular importance to defend the realm (Elizabeth’s Armada) and chase off enemies (Napoleon at Trafalgar.) In this week’s episode, when Victoria is showing the model of the Royal Yacht ‘Victoria and Albert’ to the toddler Princess Royal, it marked the newest iteration of naval competition between the Major Powers – private yachts with all the latest bells and whistles (literally!) that could carry monarchs and assorted other royals to the far reaches of empires. Keeping in mind that Victoria was the ‘Grandmother of Europe’ with 42 grandchildren, most of these royals were cousins and, like all families, had their fair share of intra-familial rivalries, the most intense one between the Kaiser and just about everyone, but especially Edward VII and Tsar Nicolas of Russia. This not-so-friendly cousinly competition often played out at regattas – Cowes off the Isle of Wight being the biggest annual one-upmanship exercise (and still is today.) Both George V and George VI were naval officers as young men and loved the sea. Prince Phillip served during World War II in the Royal Navy and proposed to Princess Elizabeth as plain Lt. Mountbatten. Prince Charles also went the navy route (despite seasickness) and Prince William did his duty for several years as part of Air Sea Rescue.
When not being used to tout British interests around the globe, both diplomatically and commercially, Royal yachts like Britannia provided a refuge from the formality of court - perfect for holidays in Scotland every summer (except during World War II and the Falklands War when they were utilized as hospital ships.) Prince Charles oversaw the handing over of Hong Kong aboard the Britannia. The current Queen entertained American Presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan in its dining room. Charles and Diana honeymooned in the Mediterranean to escape the paparazzi. When Tony Blair’s government forced the decommissioning of The Britannia in 1997 as too expensive, the Queen was devastated to lose this cherished link to her own youth playing games with the crew on the deck with Princess Margaret. The Britannia is now permanently moored near Edinburgh earning its keep from tours and highflying corporate events. Her Majesty has had the last (bittersweet) laugh though, as it has been determined that the UK is paying a whole lot more for diplomatic and trade delegations abroad by having to use hotels, and plans are now being drawn up for a new yacht.
Keeping It In The Family (For Better Or For Worse)
And speaking of being ‘Grandmother of Europe,’ Victoria and Albert were active players in the age old game of ‘Prince/Princesses for export’ to forge alliances and thwart opposing countries, not unlike their predecessors. Henry VII (first Tudor king of England from 1485 to 1509) married a daughter off to the King of Scotland to protect his back and used Spain’s mistrust of France to acquire a princess with a huge dowry for England. Little did he realize that to hang on to both the treasure and treaty, marrying son #1’s widow off to son # 2 would lay the foundation for the next generation’s split from Rome and the Protestant Reformation. This, in turn, ultimately led to the 1701 Act of Settlement that not only barred Catholics from the throne, but disqualified anyone who became a Roman Catholic, or who married one, from inheriting the throne which considerably shrank the pool of potential brides and grooms. It does make perfect sense when you consider that the monarch is also Head of the Church of England, a Protestant Anglican church established by the royals’ 16th-century forebear Henry VIII. Since Austria, Spain and France were both solidly Catholic, this pretty much left the German states as the only matchmaking possibilities for the English. This meant that they were all related - first through James I's granddaughter, Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover (which is how the Hanovers came to rule) and then through the eleven of George III’s children who married Germans. In the end though, it didn’t prove to be a successful strategy. Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II was abandoned to the Bolsheviks by his cousin George V and, the Kaiser waged war against all of his cousins. Ironically, as a result of using her children and grandchildren as marriage pawns, Victoria also unwittingly exported the hemophilia gene across Europe, opening the doors to revolution and the rise of republicanism. In this case blood was not thicker than water….
Tune in next Sunday, February 4 for Episode 4 of Victoria Season 2 on Masterpiece. And, return for more Musings on the Monarchy.
About Ellen LeCompte
As the President Emeritus of the Richmond Branch of the English-Speaking Union, Ellen LeCompte is more than just an anglophile who has spent the last 50 years traveling from Virginia to the UK, attended British boarding school, studied at Cambridge and has a 17th century cottage in the Cotswolds. Since 2003 she has been recognized by Travel + Leisure magazine as their UK expert. A graduate of the College of William and Mary with a degree in international economics, Ellen started LeCompte Travel in 2001 organizing small, customized special interest tours and private itineraries featuring special access exclusive experiences with personalized themes such as Masterpiece Theatre, historic events, decorative arts, gardens, and architecture. And yes, she has met The Queen! Twice.
About the English-Speaking Union
The Central Virginia Branch of the English-Speaking Union (ESU) is a non-profit educational organization whose mission is to strengthen and broaden ties among the worldwide English-speaking community. Recognizing that English is a shared language that fosters global accord and goodwill by providing educational and cultural opportunities for students, educators, and members, the ESU is linked to over 70 ESU branches in the United States, as well as a network of branches in over 50 countries. The Central Virginia Branch is committed to supporting the English language in the Richmond area by providing scholarships to teachers for summer study in the UK as well as sponsoring Richmond's 'Bardathon,' a platform for high school students to experience the plays of William Shakespeare.