To all of you anti-monarchist commenters out there please chill, this one time. Last week s visit to New Orleans by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain, real reigning monarchs, presented probably the only chance I will ever have to write about non-Mardi Gras royalty being in town.
Their visit gave me pause to think about monarchs beginning with the fact that Louisiana& was shaped by two kings – Louis XIV of France and Charles III of Spain – and their successors including the infant Louis XV, after whose regent, Philippe II Duke of Orleans, the city is named.
Our finest avenue, St. Charles, is named after Charles III’s patron saint. Spain ruled Louisiana from 1763 to 1802. In 1788 there was the great fire which did to the French Quarter what World War II did to Berlin practically demolishing every building (856 out of 1100 structures were destroyed.) Just about all the structure that went up after that were done in Spanish style. Charles III’s architectural legacy (including the Spanish-named Cabildo) was stamped on Louis XIV’s political empire.
Enough about the early days: The royal arrival made me wonder how many times the city has been visited by reigning European royalty. Best as I can figure this was the third time. The other two were:
1872, the Russian Grand Duke Alexis. This was the most famous royal visit because it happened to be at the same time as the first Rex parade and the duke was invited to watch the parade at Gallier Hall. It was part of a United States tour (highlighted by hunting buffalo in Nebraska), but the New Orleans stop was the most heralded.
1953, Greek King Paul and Queen Frederika. Who else is better at digging up society news than Nell Nolan, who reported in The Advocate last week about this little remembered visit. The royal couple stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel then took part in a small parade in their honor to a celebration at Gallier Hall.
2018, Felipe and Letizia. As it happened two American cities are celebrating tricentennials this year, practically at the same time. And Spain was part of each’s history. After leaving New Orleans the couple flew to San Antonio, where 300 years ago a fort was built that contained a chapel called the Alamo. That is used to date the city’s beginning. The royal couple was also toasted at Gallier Hall, which has become the common denominator of all monarchial visits.
Not exactly reigning but worthy of an honorable mention: Technically the Duke of Windsor was not a monarch when he visited New Orleans in 1950 for a visit that is popularly remembered because he and his wife, Wallis Simpson, the duchess, attended the Rex ball and bowed to the krewe’s monarchs.
Fourteen years earlier the duke had reigned as King Edward VIII of England, but in one of history’s most celebrated romances abdicated his lofty office to be able to marry an American divorcee. As a visitor, a former king is better than no king and the city was honored.
As often happens, memories survive better than monarchies: The Grand Duke’s family lost out in the Russian revolution though he was able to live out his life in France.
Greece’s King Paul served until his death in 1964. In 1974 the Greek monarchy was abolished by a national referendum.
In England, Edward’s brother became King George VI. In 1953 his daughter Elizabeth was crowned as Queen. She has reigned ever since.
In Spain the monarchy was abolished, but then resorted as a constitutional monarchy in 1975. In that year Juan Carlos became king. His son Felipe succeeded him in 2014.
Bonus thoughts about the royal visitors:
- Felipe became king on June 19, 2004, which means that Tuesday of this week is his four year anniversary.
- Queen Letizia is a former TV news anchor which shows that in the modern game of thrones the media are a powerhouse.