Category Archives: The Laird o’Thistle

Margaret Elphinstone Rhodes, 1925-2016

by The Laird o’ Thistle
November 28, 2016

The Queen’s cousin, who was almost a second sister to her, died this last weekend at age 91. Margaret Rhodes was, simply, the last of the HM’s truly lifelong companions. Descended from two historic Scottish families (Elphinstone and Bowes-Lyon), she was a niece of the late Queen Mother, and a goddaughter of the Queen’s father, King George VI. She was ten months older than HM. As children, the cousins galloped and played horses together, and enjoyed other mad games with family and friends. When WWII broke out in 1939, Cousin Margaret stayed on with the two Princesses – Elizabeth and Margaret Rose – safely tucked away at Balmoral until nearly Christmas, when it was at last deemed safe for the girls to rejoin their families. As the war proceeded and the girls became older, Margaret Elphinstone came down from Scotland to live at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, and to do her bit… eventually becoming a secretary for MI6. Her memories included going to shelter with the King, Queen, and Princesses during air raids. She was a principal member of the party on the famous “night out” for Elizabeth and Margaret, with the crowds on VE Day. She was a bridesmaid at Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip in 1947.

In later years she went on to marry, raise a family, and have many adventures. But she always remained close to her aunt and cousins… entertaining them at her home in Devon, and joining them regularly at Balmoral. In 1981 she and her terminally ill husband moved to a house on the Windsor Castle estate, where he would be closer to medical treatment. After his death, she became a member of the Queen Mother’s household, companioning and serving her aunt until her death. She sat with the Queen at the Queen Mother’s bedside during the latter’s final hours. In the years since the two cousins continued to spend time together, both on holiday together at Balmoral and in regular Sunday visits, after church in the little chapel next to Royal Lodge, when the Queen would stop in for a cuppa and a chat. It is reported that HM visited her cousin during her final illness.

Second, only to Prince Philip, Mrs. Rhodes has been the “nearest living relation” of Queen Elizabeth II over these last fifteen years since the deaths of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. Although the Queen has a good relationship with her Windsor cousins (the Kents and the Duke of Gloucester) they are not nearly as close, nor are they quite her peers in age. The impact of this death on HM will doubtless be significant, even as the monarch’s legendary self-discipline will, again, without doubt, keep her determinedly “carrying on” in her duties as long as she is able. Thankfully, she does still have Prince Philip, her “rock and stay”, at her side.

In her 2011 memoir, The Final Curtsey, Margaret Rhodes made it clear that she… like the Queen… was a person of faith. She looked forward, she said, to the next “great adventure” that lies beyond. With that in mind, there seems no better way to end this particular column than with words from the final verse of Henry Baker’s beloved old paraphrase of Psalm 23:

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good shepherd, may I sing thy praise
Within thy house forever.

Yours aye,
Ken Cuthbertson

A Windsor Centenary, Eighty Years, Seventy, and Sixty-five

by The Laird o’ Thistle
November 19, 2016

It has been some time since I wrote, not since before the Queen surpassed her great-great-grandmother to become the longest reigning monarch in British history, and before she surpassed the personal milestone of her 90th birthday. Coverage of these and other royal events in Britain has been well handled, and I really have not seen what I might usefully add to the mix. That said, there is something that I would like to point out about the upcoming twelve months.

On Sunday, 20 November, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip observe their 69th wedding anniversary, beginning their 70th year of marriage. From that mark, beginning in December 2016, there are a significant number of British royal milestones coming up in the next year. There is a centenary. There are a couple of important eightieth anniversaries. And, there is a series of important seventieth anniversaries, culminating on 20 November 2017. All of them are closely tied to HM Queen Elizabeth II, who also marks the sixty-fifth anniversary of her reign in 2017.

First, the Centenary of the House of Windsor: On 17 July 1917, toward the end of the third full year of World War I, the British royal family changed its name. At the instance of King George V, the briefly tenured House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, which began in 1901 when Edward VII succeeded Queen Victoria, the last Hanoverian, assumed a new identity as the House of Windsor. The stories of that change, in the face of wartime anti-German sentiment, are familiar to many. Also familiar is the fact that other branches of the extended British royal family were compelled to follow suit, including the members of the Battenberg family, who became Mountbattens.

In the century since, obviously, those two particular families have come together. Although officially a member of the Danish-Greek branch of the House of Oldenburg, Prince Philip assumed his maternal line surname when he was naturalized as a British subject in March 1947… seventy years ago. Upon Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne, under pressure from Queen Mary (her grandmother) and Winston Churchill, it was announced that despite custom the official name of the British royal house and family would remain Windsor. (Lord Louis Mountbatten’s indiscreet boasting is said to have provoked Queen Mary.) In 1960 the Queen somewhat ameliorated this with the declaration that the actual surname of her descendants, apart from any royal titles, was to be “Mountbatten-Windsor”. The surname was first officially used by Princess Anne in 1973, in signing the register at her marriage to Captain Mark Philips. It has cropped up occasionally since then.

On 17 July 2017, then, the ninety-one-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, and her ninety-six-year-old husband will observe the 100th anniversary of both their families. So far as I know, no plans have yet been announced for how the anniversary will be marked, but given the Queen’s personal memory of, and deep connection to, her royal grandparents, and Prince Phillip’s corresponding attachment to his Mountbatten kin, it will doubtless be commemorated… perhaps at St. George’s, Windsor.

Second, come two significant eightieth anniversaries: On 11 December 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated and was succeeded by King George VI. At the same moment, of course, 10 ½-year-old Princess Elizabeth became Heiress Presumptive to the throne. In the following spring, on 17 May 1937, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mum) were crowned at Westminster Abbey. Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret both took part in the coronation and balcony appearances afterward, under the stern gaze of their granny, Queen Mary.

The anniversaries of her father’s accession and her parents’ coronation will, doubtless, be more personal than public for the Queen. Nonetheless, they also mark her own entry into official public life in the United Kingdom, some fifteen years prior to her own accession.

Third comes a series of seventieth anniversaries: We have already quietly passed the anniversary of the private consent of King George VI that his daughter could wed Prince Phillip, which occurred in the summer of 1946. The king’s stipulation, however, was that the engagement not be made public until after Princess Elizabeth’s twenty-first birthday on 21 April 1947.

That birthday, most famously, was marked by the “my whole life, whether it be long or short…” speech given by the Princess. Broadcasting to the entire Empire/Commonwealth from South Africa, where the family was on an official tour, the Princess dedicated herself to the service of “our great imperial family, to which we all belong.” In a way, this may be the most important of all the 2017 anniversaries. It is remarkable that seventy years on, she still lives out that commitment daily.

The other anniversaries in this series relate to the Queen and Prince Phillip’s marriage. As noted, the Prince became a British subject, assuming the Mountbatten surname, in March 1947. Their engagement was publicly announced on 10 July 1947. On the eve of their wedding, Philip… along with Princess Elizabeth… was made a Knight of the Garter. He was also made Duke of Edinburgh (etc.) and designated a Royal Highness by King George VI. The royal couple was then married on 20 November 1947 in Westminster Abbey.

Seventieth wedding anniversaries are much more common at present than once seemed imaginable, given the combination of younger ages at marriage in that time, together with increased longevity, and the greater long-term stability of marriages from that generation (than current). That the Queen and Prince Phillip will… God willing… reached this milestone is, nonetheless, a great achievement for them both as spouses and as working partners.

Finally, in tenure: On 6 February 2017, Queen Elizabeth II will quietly mark the sixty-fifth anniversary of the death of her beloved father, and her own accession to the throne. Sadly, for her, shortly on the heels of this will come the fifteenth anniversary of the deaths of both her beloved sister and their mother.

As the Queen said in September last year (2015), a long life means passing many milestones. Some are things that have simply occurred, others are things achieved. More than anything else, in my opinion, 2017 marks the seventy years of “devoted service” by Queen Elizabeth II to the “great family” of former Empire and current Commonwealth. Seventy years of service to the century-old House of Windsor, and the Mountbatten-Windsor family. Seventy years of commitment and life together with a beloved husband and partner. Her whole, now long, life of devoted service is an achievement, possibly never to be matched.

Whether 2017 proves to be the culminating year… not in the sense of final, but perhaps in the sense of climatic significance… of the reign of an increasingly elderly and frail couple remains to be seen. The time, for them… and all of us… is not just moving on but counting down. Prince Phillip, over the years, has said that it is really rather obscene to try to create or define a legacy for oneself. But in a way his wife did so, lang syne, back in her own so-called “salad days”, with a speech from a Cape Town garden on a sunny April day…

Yours aye,
Ken Cuthbertson

Vivat Regina!

by The Laird o’ Thistle
September 9, 2015

The day has finally come, the day when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – aka Her Grace Elizabeth (first of that name) Queen of Scots – surpasses Queen Victoria as the longest reigning monarch in the history of the British Isles. Queen Victoria is now second, and poor old George III gets bumped to third place… though he is still the longest reigning “King” in British history.

I do not remember when I first realized that this day might come, and then that it would probably come, and then that it was almost certain to come… but, I have been watching and anticipating the day for a long time.

My thoughts today are somewhat personal. Some years ago Dame Helen Mirren, in the BBC documentary Diamond Queen, noted that “except for my sister, the Queen is the only person who has been a constant presence for my whole life.” That is true for many of us. My own first reliable memory of the Queen is of her at Winston Churchill’s funeral… as hushed commentators spoke of the breaking of protocol so that HM entered St. Paul’s before the Churchill family and left after them. (That, at least, is my memory… 50 years on… of what they said.) I was nine years old at the time. And then, within a few years, I was “hooked” on being a royal watcher, from afar.

While I do admire other royals… Prince Charles for his charity and environmental work, Princess Anne for her charitable efforts and world travel for Save the Children, and so on… it is the Queen who has always most fascinated me. I am fascinated by the utterly serious and dutiful way in which she has done her “job” over the years, in some ways against her more private and down-to-earth countrywoman’s nature. With all due respect to Queen Margrethe and Princess Beatrix, virtually no one on earth fails to understand who you mean if you say simply “THE Queen.”

Today she does not simply set a record. Today she leaves her predecessors in the dust. At the end of his reign, George III was blind, deaf, and insane. The old Victoria was feeble and withdrawn if not quite the grieving recluse of her middle years. Queen Elizabeth, though increasingly moving more carefully and slowly, and needing a hand at times on the steps, continues to be out and about, doing her ceremonial and public duties, going to church, doing her “boxes” of paperwork, and keeping abreast of national and international affairs in the U.K., her other realms, the Commonwealth, and throughout the world. She has worked with and been friends with, Indira Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. In 2011, just a few words at Dublin Castle were said to have changed history and set a new course of Anglo-Irish relations. Last year, an absolutely innocuous but carefully timed word after church in Scotland may have swayed a crucial referendum. (Both being items, I might add, that David Starkey seems to have forgotten in his recent comments.) She has traveled further and been personally seen by more people, than any other monarch in the history of the world.

Across the years she has moved through her life surrounded by royal relatives spanning three centuries, thus far. She remembers three of Queen Victoria’s children (Louise, Arthur of Connaught, and Beatrice), as well as many of Victoria’s grandchildren. Throughout the years she has been a devoted granddaughter to her beloved “Grandpapa England” and Queen Mary, a devoted daughter to her revered father – King George VI – and her long-lived “Mummy”, and a loving and patient sister to Princess Margaret. She has only ever had eyes for one man, Prince Philip, and the two keep soldiering on side-by-side, at ages 89 and 94 respectively. The Queen faced the challenges, early on, of being a constantly working mother, and reportedly regrets not having been able to be more present to and with her children. Since Princess Margaret’s death, she continues to include the Snowdon children and grandchildren in the close family circle. She is a loving granny, with a particular bond to her heir’s heir, Prince William, with whom she used to share Sunday tea when he was a student at Eton. The arrival of her great-grandchildren seems to please her greatly, as evidenced by those wonderful pictures of her interacting with little Prince George at Princess Charlotte’s christening earlier this summer. Those children may easily live and perhaps reign, on into the 22nd century.

Meanwhile… today is a day, a milestone, but not yet an ending. Next spring she turns 90. In 2017 the Windsor dynasty turns 100, with her having led it through nearly two-thirds of that time. Later that year, God-willing, she and the Duke of Edinburgh will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. More grandchildren will probably marry, and more great-grandchildren will probably appear. The U.K. will continue to reconfigure itself… or, “its-selves”… and so will Europe and the world. She will soon be seeing her 13th U.S. President enter the White House. She’s now on her 7th Pope. And, so it goes….

Thank you, Ma’am, for a lifetime of service as Princess and as Queen. Thank you, for all that has been done, and all that will yet be done. God bless you, now and always!

Yours Aye,
Ken Cuthbertson

“Much Ado About Nothing?” – Pondering Richard III’s DNA

by The Laird o’Thistle
December 4, 2014

The announcement this week that DNA evidence has shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the car-park bones from Leicester are those of Richard III is most welcome. But, it was the other news about Richard’s DNA that is garnering the headlines, mostly variations of, “DOUBT CAST ON ROYAL ANCESTRY!”

It appears that Richard III’s male-line descent from the Plantagenets has been disproven. Somewhere in the family line a husband was cuckolded by an adulterous wife (or, an infertile husband found a willing stand-in to father an heir for him). Speculation is rife as to the “who-what-when-where” this break in the royal line occurred. Most of the speculation, however, gets a failing grade in historical research!

A quick and simple look at Wikipedia (no less) indicates that there has been speculation, apparently since the fifteenth century, that the paternal grandfather of Edward IV and Richard III was illegitimate. He was known as Richard of Conisburgh (1375-1415). Richard of Conisburgh was ostensibly the son of Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, the fourth son of King Edward III. (Edmund’s two elder brothers were Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, of whom more, anon.) Richard of Conisburgh’s mother was Isabella of Castile. His elder brother was Edward, the second Duke of York in the Plantagenet line. (Edward was the highest ranking English casualty at the battle of Agincourt, dying there in October 1415. He had no children.) Richard of Conisburgh married Anne Mortimer in 1408, and they had two surviving children, a son and a daughter. Their son, Richard (1411-1460), became the third Duke of York after the death of his uncle, and was the father of Edward IV and Richard III. In the summerof 1415 it was discovered that Richard of Conisburgh was part of a plot to assassinate King Henry V, and, after a hasty trial, Conisburgh was executed.

Questions about Richard of Conisburgh’s paternity have existed for years. He received no lands from his “father”, and was not even mentioned in Edmund’s will. It is believed that he may have been the offspring of an adulterous liaison between Isabella of Castile and John Holland, the first Duke of Exeter. Although passed over by his father, Conisburgh was favored by his mother who, in her will, appealed to King Richard II (Conisburgh’s godfather) to grant her son an annuity… which he did. This may be notable because, besides being Richard of Conisburgh’s godfather, Richard II was the maternal half-brother of John Holland. (Holland’s mother was Joan, the “Fair Maid of Kent”, a granddaughter of King Edward I. John Holland was a son of Joan’s first marriage. Her second marriage was to Edward III’s eldest son, Edward the “Black Prince” of Wales. Richard II was the offspring of that second marriage.) After the deposing of Richard II in 1399, Conisburgh “received no favors” from the Lancastrian Henry IV.

So much for Richard of Conisburgh. It seems likely to me that the new DNA discovery will eventually be found (if they can get evidence from the Holland family) to confirm the old speculation. What all the articles that I have seen thus far fail to take into account, however, is that the House of York’s primary claim to the throne – putting them ahead of the Lancastrians – was not based on their male-line descent from Edmund of Langley. It was based on their descent through Richard of Conisburgh’s wife, Anne Mortimer, who was the heiress of Edward II’s second son, Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence. The question of Richard III’s male-line descent… and that of Edward IV… is moot, so long as their father was their father, the son of Anne Mortimer.

Anne Mortimer (1390-1411) was the daughter and eventual heiress of Roger Mortimer, fourth Earl of March, and Eleanor Holland. (Eleanor was a grandniece of John Holland, above.) Roger Mortimer was, in turn the son and primary heir of Philippa of Clarence, the only child of Lionel of Antwerp. Roger Mortimer was widely, though not officially, recognized as the “heir presumptive” to the childless King Richard II. Mortimer, however, was slain in Ireland in 1398, and the family claim was shunted aside by Henry IV’s coup the following year. Mortimer’s elder surviving son and daughters were not well treated by the Lancastrians, and Anne Mortimer was the only one to have issue. Anne’s marriage to Richard of Conisburgh occurred without parental consent, but it was validated by the Pope in 1408. Anne died shortly after the birth of her son Richard, the eventual third Duke of York, in 1411.

Anne Mortimer was the key to the House of York’s claim to the throne, over against the Lancastrians. It was her claim that was being pressed in the Wars of the Roses. It was her claim that passed through her son to King’s Edward IV and Richard III. It was her claim that passed through Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York, to the Tudors with Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry VII. The question of the male-line descent of Edward IV and Richard III is moot… as is the question being asked by some about legitimacy in the Lancastrian line. While the English laws of succession… until the recent change prior to Prince George’s birth… practiced male primogeniture, they never excluded descent via the female line. England was never a land where the Salic Law (allowing only male-line descent) was recognized. (Ironically, Shakespeare includes a notable discussion of the Salic Law in his Henry V.)

It is fairly safe to assume, then, that despite the sensational headlines of the moment, there is no actual threat to the legitimacy of the British royal line, past or present, in this Richard III news. There may be a newly confirmed anomaly, but the legitimacy of the historic succession is not in question here.

Best wishes to all for a Merry Christmas, and a “Gude New Year” to ane and ‘a!

Yours aye,
Ken Cuthbertson

What To Do With Richard III?

by The Laird o’Thistle
August 17 2013

There has been a lot of royal re-burying going on in recent years. First there were the Romanovs in Russia, then just recently the Karadordevics in Serbia, and currently there is the planned reburial of Richard III in England… which has hit a slight snag. Within the last few day The Plantagenet Alliance, made up of some of the descendants of Richard III’s extended family (he himself having no issue who produced heirs), have won the right to ask Britain’s High Court to institute a judicial review of the plan to re-inter the remains of the last Plantagenet monarch in Leicester Cathedral. The Plantagenet Alliance prefers that the remains be interred instead at York Minster.

It all seems a bit surreal and absurd… as if some fifteenth- or twentieth-generation descendant of Richard III’s sister had any truly valid personal interest in what happened to Uncle Dickie’s poor old bones. But between two cathedrals, two towns, two tourist sites vying for a new attraction… aye, there’s the rub! So, as noted by Mr. Justice Haddon-Cave, who approved the appeal, the scene now shifts to the Temple in London where, ironically, John Beaufort of Lancaster and Richard Plantagenet of York supposedly began the conflict of the Wars of the Roses in 1455.

Sensibly, Mr. Justice Haddon-Cave also noted that the royal family, the state, and the church also need to be involved in deciding about the disposition of Richard III’s remains, not just the many-times-removed grandnieces and grandnephews of The Plantagenet Alliance. His recommendation is that there be an independent advisory group of experts and members of the Privy Council set up to decide the issue, and that is good, so far as it goes.

My own thought is that here, if ever or anywhere, a good case can be made for the direct intervention of the Queen. Elizabeth II is not only Richard III’s successor as Head of State, but she is also herself a many-times removed grandniece (being a sixteenth generation descendant of Elizabeth of York, a daughter of Edward IV and the wife of Henry VII). If Mr. Justice Haddon-Cave’s worthy advice is adopted, then let the independent commission be appointed to advise not some judicial or governmental entity, but the Sovereign. Then there can be no doubt that whatever decision is made is final, by “Command of the Queen!”

Personally, I think Richard III’s bones should rest, in honor, in Leicester. That is where they have been for five hundred and twenty-eight years already, and that accords with the understanding by which the archaeological dig was permitted in the first place, and with the archaeological “best practice” of reinterring human remains close by where they were discovered. Plans have been made for the creation of a dignified raised tomb in an appropriate setting within Leicester Cathedral. That surely suffices.

Once the decision is finally and truly made, the reburial can proceed in a timely fashion. It is providential that the hereditary Earl Marshal of England (the Duke of Norfolk), who oversees royal funerals among other things, happens to be a Roman Catholic. For it does seem fitting that representatives of that faith should be involved in the rites accompanying the entombment of a king who lived and died more than a generation before the Reformation, and whose first burial was within the precincts of a house of the Greyfriars (Franciscans). On the Anglican side, perhaps the Archbishop of York might diplomatically join the Bishop of Leicester in dedicating the new tomb.

It would also seem appropriate, on the “state” side of the occasion, for the current Prince Richard, HRH the Duke of Gloucester, to be involved in the ceremonies for the previous Richard, Duke of Gloucester. He would be the ideal person to be the Queen’s personal representative on the day. That, plus a few heralds from the College of Arms, and a berobed Knight of the Garter or two would be just enough to lend appropriate dignity without being too far “over the top.”

Such is what I would do with what is left of Richard III, were I in charge. I’m not, of course. Whatever unfolds, however, my most sincere hope is that the enthusiasts will not manage to usurp the occasion. Richard III is long since dead, and his poor bones should be allowed to rest again in peace.

Yours Aye,
Ken Cuthbertson

P.S. Following up on last month’s column, I was gratified to have gotten at least one of wee Prince George’s names right. On the other two names, the choice of Louis is not a huge surprise, as a nod to the Mountbatten lineage. Alexander, however, is a very interesting choice. Some have suggested that it is a nod to the Queen, whose second name (of three) is Alexandra. Perhaps. The only current Alexander in the extended royal family is the Duke of Gloucester’s son, the Earl of Ulster. The Gloucesters were neighbors to the Wales family at Kensington Palace when William was young, and Prince William is said to have been named in honor of the current Duke’s elder brother who died in an air crash. So perhaps there is a tie. It will be interesting to see if Alexander, Earl of Ulster, shows up among the godparents at the christening.

Be sure to check out all of the Laird o’Thistle’s other columns here

What’s in a Name?

by The Laird o’ Thistle
July 05 2013

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s baby is due any time now. We will soon know its gender, but it will probably be a while until we know the child’s name. The British royals have a tradition of keeping the names of their newborns to themselves for a while after the child is born. That, however, is not curbing the speculation.

Whatever its gender, this child is set to become monarch someday… if the British Crown survives and Great Britain is not swamped by rising sea levels. So, whatever name is chosen will have to be deemed suitable.

Except for Princess Anne’s family, the Windsors have always been a fairly conservative lot in such matters. Although a monarch can traditionally choose their regnal name from any of their baptismal names, the fact that there is so much lifelong media coverage nowadays makes it unlikely that a future monarch will choose anything other than her or his first name. Thus we seem destined for a Charles III, a William V, and a…? The Windsors also tend to draw on old family names, but not on names too closely associated with any other current member of the family, at least not on anyone too close to the throne or too young.

Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, chose very solid royal names for their two sons:

William Arthur Philip Louis
Henry Charles Albert David

The Duchess’s parents were also extremely traditional in the naming of their three children:

Catherine Elizabeth Middleton
Philippa Charlotte Middleton
James William Middleton

Then there are the grandparents:

Charles Philip Arthur George
Diana Frances
Michael Francis Middleton
Carole Elizabeth (Goldsmith) Middleton

And, finally, there is a certain pair of great-grandparents:

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary

There are, of course, numerous additional options, particularly if William and Catherine opt to delve back into the Victorians as Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York, did for their daughters.

If I were to guess, and that is all that this essay is, I would bet that if it is a girl the name of the new little princess will include the names Catherine, Elizabeth, and Diana. But I would also guess that none of those will be the child’s first name. I rather think that H.M. might prefer that her name not be first. Diana would be possible, but it might also be viewed as a somewhat awkward choice in relation to William’s father. There have been several Queen Catherines as consorts over the centuries (Woodville, Aragon, Howard, Braganza), but the name has not been a very lucky one, historically speaking.

Other options? Victoria would be good, but that is the name of the current Crown Princess of Sweden. The possibility of two Queen Victorias overlapping in different countries might be off-putting. I am intrigued by the idea of Charlotte. George III’s consort was Queen Charlotte. Charlotte is the feminine form of Charles. Philippa Middleton’s middle name is Charlotte. That said, there is also the unfortunate history of George IV’s daughter Charlotte, heiress to the throne, who died in childbirth in 1817. Sophia is a rather trendy name that would, at the same time hearken back to Sophia of Hanover, the mother of George I, who did not inherit because her cousin, Queen Anne, outlived her by only a few weeks. One last, but to my mind perhaps best option, is Alexandra. It is one of H.M.’s names, bestowed on her in memory of her great-grandmother Queen Alexandra (wife of Edward VII). True, it is also the name of H.M.’s cousin, Princess Alexandra. But as she is now apparently withdrawing from active royal life for health reasons, and is quite far down the line of succession, I doubt it would not seem a conflict.

My guess, then, for a girl’s name:

Alexandra Catherine Diana Elizabeth

The name for a boy is equally puzzling. Once again I think it likely that the names William, Charles, and Philip will be included. But, again, I somewhat doubt that any of those names will be primary. Michael may be included in honor of Michael Middleton, but also not as a first name. Other names, then? Edward is taken, by the Earl of Wessex. This Scot would love to see another King James, but wee Jamie Wessex (Edward’s son) has that name currently in use. David would please both the Welsh (St. David) and the Scots (two kings by that name), but it is rather too politically biblical. Arthur would be too mythically daunting. Albert would be an interesting choice, a nod to both the Prince Consort (Victoria’s husband) and to the Queen’s father, “Bertie” (George VI). My wager, however, is that they may simply opt for good old George.

My guess for a boy’s name is thus:

George William Philip Michael Charles

All of this, of course, is offered in speculative good fun. In a couple of months we will know the child’s name. I the meantime I pray for a safe delivery and good health for mother and child, and for the continued recovery and well-being of Prince Philip.

Yours Aye,
Ken Cuthbertson

Be sure to check out all of the Laird o’Thistle’s other columns here

A British Abdication?

by The Laird o’Thistle
May 05 2013

After a hiatus of nearly a year I am back to Unofficial Royalty, probably more as an “occasional” columnist henceforth than as a regular monthly contributor. But, for the moment, here I be.

The reason I disappeared for so long was that, after eight years of monthly columns, I really felt I had run out of worthwhile things to say, and I was finding no new topics of sufficient interest to me to delve into the rather arcane research involved. But then, this week, along came the abdication of Queen Beatrix, and the investiture of King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands….

At lunch with friends on the first of May, I heard a table of older men talking of the Dutch transition, and one of them said: “Prince Charles was surely looking glum! The old lady just keeps hanging in there.” And, suddenly, there was my topic: “What if” Queen Elizabeth II were, after all these many years, to suddenly change her mind about abdicating the throne and handing it over to the Prince of Wales? At this point I do not really expect that to happen; but, “What if…?”

The thing that most impressed me in the transition from Queen Beatrix to King Willem-Alexander was the affection and esteem that flowed between them. The words each spoke of the other on the palace balcony, and the looks exchanged between them, were priceless. The photo shots of the now Princess Beatrix matriarchal brooding and beaming over her young granddaughters during the investiture ceremony were heartwarming. There was no death, no funeral, no shadow of grief over a late Majesty “of happy memory” such as has long haunted Elizabeth II’s accession anniversary. It was simply a proud mother handing over the helm to her son, and stepping gracefully back into a well-earned retirement.

So, what if Queen Elizabeth were to follow suit? How might it be conceivable?

What I have noticed over the last few years is how Her Majesty’s age is showing more and more. She seems smaller, and more round-shouldered. She moves and treds more carefully, and concentrates more intently. At times she looks more weary. All, even as she soldiers faithfully on. She does not seem to have quite the zest and energy of her mother at the same age. (Nor did her mother carry anything like a comparable workload.)

Nothing short of a catastrophe – either the total failure of her own health, or the death of Prince Philip – would, I suspect, cause H.M. to even consider stepping aside before the end of 2017. I choose that date for several reasons. 2015 will mark three major milestones. In May and August of that year the world will mark the 70th anniversaries of the end of World War II, first in Europe and then in the Pacific. The Queen and Prince Philip will, as able, want to be deeply involved in those commemorations. And then in September of that year H.M. will surpass Queen Victoria to become the longest reigning British monarch, ever. In 2016 the Queen will turn 90, and Prince Philip will be 95. 2017 then brings the 65th anniversary of the Queen’s accession, and marks another very significant historical anniversary… the centenary of the House of Windsor on July 17. In 1917 the longterm survival of any monarchy seemed “iffy” at best. Yet the House of Windsor has not just survived, but flourished. As just the fourth monarch, and as only the third generation, of this dynasty, it must be in the Queen’s mind to preside, if possible, over that celebration.

November of 2017 will also see the 70th wedding anniversary of Elizabeth and Philip. Barring unforeseen circumstances it could be an ideal time, right after that, for the “old lady” and her beloved spouse to finally step back, performing in the process yet another great precedent-setting act of service in modernizing the British monarchy. (Charles might also appreciate becoming King before he turns 70!)

Is it conceivable? Contrary to popular opinion I think it might be. Above and beyond anything else, Queen Elizabeth II may be counted on to “serve” the British Crown. That was her pledge at age twenty-one, and her guiding principle over the sixty-one years of her reign thus far. If it were to become clear that what best served the Crown was for her to stand down, she would. The recent example of Pope Benedict XVI points the way, perhaps even better than the Dutch transition, as the Supreme Pontiff of Rome chose act upon his own realization that age and health were preventing him from doing the job as it needs to be done. So he flew off in a helicopter to Castle Gandolfo, to walk in the garden and play the piano.

Do I want the Queen to abdicate? I never thought I would say that I did. But I am beginning to think that it might be a good thing, for her and for all. She absolutely should stay the course until she passes Queen Victoria, for that achievement is just too close now to consider anything else. But then I hope that she will give herself the freedom to consider the possibility… the opportunity. Perhaps some day, before long, she and her friend Princess Beatrix really ought to sit down and have a good chat about it. Eh?

Yours Aye,

Ken Cuthbertson