A Royal Ramble
Our driver was from London. As he made his way toward the city, we talked about the wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle that had taken place only a few weeks earlier. I told him that practically all of the American television networks covered the nuptials. He gave me a surprised look. “You mean they showed the wedding in America?” “Yes,” I answered and in doing so clarified a socio/political point in my own mind: “Americans don’t want a monarchy of their own,” I said, “but they like looking at yours.” He nodded, seeming to be both surprised and pleased.
Announcement last week of the death of Prince Philip brought to mind New Orleans and its brushes with monarchs. The city, of course, is famous for its ceremonial rulers and it is appropriate that the very first Rex, King of Carnival, hosted a real royal persona, the Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanov. The Duke’s dad was Czar Alexander II. Alexis was the fifth child and fourth son. He would have had a long wait in the line of succession. His time was better spent visiting the world. Alexis stopped in New Orleans as part of a national tour, probably never realizing that the coincidence of his being there on Feb 13, 1872, the day of Rex’ debut, helped legitimize the Carnival king’s reign—one monarch acknowledging another.
British royalty was also part of Rex lore. That was in 1950 when Edward the Duke of Windsor and his wife, Wallis, were guests at the Rex ball. Edward was no average duke. He was also the United Kingdom’s former monarch, King Edward VIII, who in one of the world’s most intriguing love stories had abdicated the throne to be able to marry Wallis Simpson a divorcee, which was against royal rules.
Edward’s resignation left his brother, George, to become King George VI. After his death in 1952, Elizabeth, his eldest daughter became Queen. Her marriage to Philp would make him a Prince, one who always walked two steps behind his wife.
There have been two pairs of real life sitting kings and queens to visit the city. In November 1953 the city hosted King Paul and Queen Frederika of Greece. To their list of titles, they could add being named Honorary Citizens of New Orleans. Their visit was celebrated at Antoine’s with a gala dinner.
Nell Nolan, the ace social columnist for The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, dug up this gem about the Grecian couple’s extended family:
The grandson of Paul and Frederika, Greece’s exiled Crown Prince Pavlos, met his wife, duty-free-shopping heiress Marie-Chantal Miller, in New Orleans years ago.
Nolan was writing about royalty on the occasion of another King and Queen combo, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain who made a quick, little-publicized Tricentennial visit in 2018 to acknowledge Spain’s decisive role in the city’s history. There is plenty cross-national bloodline mingling in European royalty. According to Nolan, the Spanish King’s parents are the former King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, who was the daughter of the Greek majesties Paul and Frederika.
Oh, in case you’re keeping score: Frederika was a great, great granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
In a story that will remind many royalty watchers of the saga of Grace Kelley, the Philadelphia-born actress who became the Princess of Monaco via her marriage to Monaco’s Prince Ranier III in 1958, there was a similar romance with New Orleans connections that preceded that. In 1889 Alice Heine, married Albert 1, the Prince of Monaco. (Monaco, which is an independent city-state Principality, doesn’t have a king, the Prince is the ruler.) Born in 1858 and raised in the French Quarter, Alice Heine’s family, which was well connected in European business and social life (her mother was French) moved to France when the American Civil War broke out. That proved to be fortuitous. Gradually one thing led to another, she eventually met Albert and soon became a princess.
There was one other visitor who was not a king by title but was certainly monarch-like in status, that was Pope John Paul II who had a two-night stay filled with lots of ceremony in 1987. Like a king, a pope does rule over a political entity, Vatican City, and has a military force, the Swiss Guard. Unlike a king, he is also Bishop of Rome. John Paul did NOT have a gala at Antoine’s, but the Antoine’s kitchen prepared his meals. People would later joke that there a miraculous accomplishment attached to his visit. John Paul presided over a ceremony dedicated to youth in the Superdome Saturday afternoon. That evening Tulane had a football game in the building. The next day the Saints were at home. Both Tulane and the Saints won. Amen!
Finally, a comment about Phillip. One year we were on vacation in London on what happened to be the same day that the Queen was opening a session of parliament. As per tradition, there was a royal procession featuring the Queen riding by in a carriage. On-lookers were excited to see her. I was drawn to Phillip. He looked very impressive sitting at the side of his wife and queen—stately but friendly. From what I have read he was a great comfort to her. History had cast him into a role that was glamorous yet often tortuous and heartbreaking. Yet always, the nation came first.
We Americans are right to be fascinated.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.