Forget the House of Windsor’s problems with Prince Harry’s upcoming memoir Spare – these European dynasties have also been in crisis recently with family dramas of their own …
The House of Glucksburg, Denmark
“There is something rotten in this state of Denmark,” remarked the Prince of Denmark in Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, Hamlet. A prescient comment perhaps on the current state of relations within the House of Glucksburg.
Until late last year, the Danish royal family was considered to be one of the most popular and harmonious in Europe. Queen Margrethe II, who has reigned for over 50 years, is arguably Europe’s most intellectual and hands-on monarch with many creative talents and interests.
Affectionately known as “Daisy”, she is passionate about art and archaeology which she studied at Cambridge university (one of five universities she has attended), often going on excavation holidays. She has been an artist throughout her life and her watercolours are in many museums in Denmark, where she has also designed costumes and scenography for ballets.
She married French diplomat Conte Henri de Laborde de Monpezat, who died in 2018, and they had two sons, Crown Prince Frederik and Prince Joachim.
Photograph via @detdanskekongehus Instagram. Photo rights: Per Morten Abrahamsen, Royal House ©?.
Seemingly out of the blue, in September 2022, Queen Margrethe announced that Prince Joachim’s four children would have their HRH titles removed and would no longer be able to use the title of prince and princess. An official statement explained, “Her Majesty The Queen wishes to create the framework for the four grandchildren to be able to shape their own lives to a much greater extent without being limited by the special considerations and duties that a formal affiliation with the Royal House of Denmark as an institution involves. All four grandchildren maintain their places in the order of succession.”
While the idea of a more streamlined royal family chimes with King Charles III’s plan for the House of Windsor, media scrutiny has been intense. The news came as a shock to Prince Joachim and his children – Prince Nikolai, Prince Felix with his ex-wife Alexandra, Countess of Frederiksborg and Prince Henrik and Princess Athena with his second wife Marie. Both Joachim and Alexandra released emotive statements at the time. “My kids don’t know which leg to stand on. What they should believe. Why should their identity be removed? Why must they be punished in that way?” asked Prince Joachim, who is sixth in line to throne.
Queen Margrethe defended her difficult decision, declaring it was “necessary future-proofing of the monarchy”. It was noted that neither of her sons spent Christmas with their mother – Crown Prince Frederik spent the holidays in Australia and Tasmania with his Australian wife Princess Mary.
A Danish newspaper has reported that Prince Joachim, who currently lives in Paris where he works as a defense attaché, will move to Washington DC later this year. As of January 1, his children are now known as the Counts and Countess of Monpezat. Both Count Nikolai and Count Felix have burgeoning modelling careers. Nikolai has featured on the cover of Vogue Scandinavia, while Felix starred in an advertising campaign for Georg Jensen. No doubt they will continue to capitalise on the media interest in their family.
As for brothers Crown Prince Frederik and Prince Joachim, their relationship is said to be “complicated”, though they were photographed together for an official family portrait and attended a New Year’s Day banquet at Christina VII’s palace in Copenhagen.
In her new year address, Queen Margrethe stated: “I always feel great love for my entire family. Difficulties and misunderstandings may arise in any family, also in mine. The whole country has witnessed that. That the relationship with Prince Joachim and Princess Marie has run into difficulties makes me sad. We have now had a quieter period and time for reflection, and I am sure that our family can embark on the new year together with confidence, understanding, and new courage.”
The House of Borbón, Spain
Former King Juan Carlos I has been the subject of a several scandals during his 38-year reign. These have damaged the reputation of the Spanish royal family (and his initial popularity) and have detracted from his legacy, especially the key role he played in the so-called Transition, when Spanish society moved from the end of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco to a full democracy in the late 1970s.
Organising an expensive safari to Botswana in 2012, when Spain was in the midst of an economic crisis, sparked controversy and only came to light when he was flown home in a private jet, having broken his hip in a fall. Juan Carlos’ companion on that trip was a Danish businesswoman called Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, who was later named as his mistress; the trip had apparently been organised as a birthday present for her ten-year-old son.
Indeed, Juan Carlos’ penchant for pursuing women is legendary – and the subject of an explosive book by author and historian Amadeo Martinez entitled Juan Carlos: The King of 5,000 lovers.
Amid ongoing health and personal problems Juan Carlos decided to abdicate in June 2014, in favour of his son King Felipe VI, who has tried to distance himself from his father’s reputation and especially any financial impropriety. Felipe renounced his personal inheritance from his father and has pledged to improve transparency around the royal family. This followed investigations into Juan Carlos’ personal finances including alleged gifts from Middle Eastern dignitaries.
Aditionally, a corruption scandal involving the former king’s son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin (and 16 others) did the royal family no favours. Urdangarin was investigated and found guilty of using royal connections to generate business income used for private spending through a non-profit organisation, the Noos Institute. Though Urdangarin’s wife, Princess Cristina, was cleared of wrong doing, she had her title of the Duchess of Palma de Mallorca withdrawn and now lives in exile in Switzerland. She is currently separated from her husband who was given a five year, ten month prison sentence in 2018. Adding to the furore, he has been photographed with his alleged girlfriend Ainhoa Armentia.
Most recently, Juan Carlos’ ex-mistress Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, has accused him of spying on and harassing her following their break up in 2012 and for her “refusal to let the former king use a financial sum irrevocably gifted to her, or return other gifts.” Juan Carlos transferred a whopping €65m to her as a gift in 2012. Corinna documents her five-year affair with the king in an eight-part podcast on Spotify: Corinna and The King. The legal case continues, while relations between members of the royal family are decidedly frosty.
The king emeritus is now an expat resident in Abu Dhabi (since 2020), where he has been staying on the island of Zaya Nurai. He attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II against the orders of the Spanish government and was accompanied on that occasion by his wife Queen Sofia, who lives in Spain. Most recently, Juan Carlos’ grandson Felipe Juan Froilán de Marichalar y Borbon, was reported to have been involved in a brawl at Vandido nightclub in Madrid. It’s not the first time Felipe has been in the headlines, nor the last time his grandfather will ruffle feathers.
The House of Grimaldi, Monaco
Colourful characters, tragic deaths, sudden divorces and paternity claims have all been a part of the Grimaldi family, which legend suggests, has been cursed for around 700 years. There are different versions of the story, but the most famous says that a witch cursed the family so that they would never have happy marriages. The current marriage of Prince Albert (known as the “playboy prince”) and Princess Charlene is a case in point.
Shortly after the death of his father Prince Rainier in 2005, Albert acknowledged the paternity of his son Alexandre, with Nicole Coste, an Air France flight attendant from Togo. A year later he also acknowledged a daughter, Jazmin, with Tamara Rotola, a US estate agent. It’s fair to say Prince Albert comes with a lot of baggage.
The couple’s marriage began in 2011 amid allegations that Charlene, a South African former Olympic swimmer, had tried to flee Monaco (three times) before her passport was confiscated. Her apparent cold feet and another alleged paternity suit overshadowed the wedding celebrations and no doubt contributed to Charlene’s much documented tears at the altar (and Albert’s seeming impassivity). The wedding supposedly went ahead after the bride and groom reached “an agreement”, with many believing it was an arranged marriage to provide a legitimate heir to the throne. The couple have six-year-old twins, Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella.
A further “agreement” was perhaps reached last year, when Charlene returned to Monaco after an unexpected, but highly controversial, ten-month stay in South Africa where she had initially travelled for philanthropic and conservation work. She developed an ear, nose and throat infection which necessitated surgery and prevented her from travelling back to Monaco. During this time she was pictured looking frail and was later admitted to a private clinic in Switzerland to receive treatment for emotional and physical exhaustion. Rumours circulated that the couple were on the brink of divorce, consistently denied by both Albert and Charlene.
However, since 2020, Albert has been embroiled in a third paternity suit with claims that he is the father of a love child with an unnamed Brazilian woman, during the time that he and Charlene were already in a relationship. Albert has applied for “sovereign immunity” in the case, which his lawyers have dismissed as a hoax.
Since returning to Monaco in May 2022, French media outlets have claimed that Charlene is receiving €12m a year to appear by her husband’s side at public engagements such as the Monaco ePriz, the Monaco Fashion Awards and the Monte Carlo TV festival.
Speaking (enigmatically) to Monaco-Matin newspaper, Charlene commented, “My state of health is still fragile and I don’t want to go too fast … the path has been long, difficult and very painful.”
Recently, the couple appeared together with their children when Prince Albert wished the Monegasques a happy new year. The Prince added their “thoughts are also with those afflicted by illness, or who have seen loved ones suffering, reminding us not just how fragile life is, but sometimes also, how resilient we can be when faced with adversity.”