The prince... and glamorous wife who refuses to become a pauper
In Luxembourg, an acrimonious divorce puts a royal at loggerheads with his ‘gold-digger’ wife
ON Friday morning, just as on any other day in Luxembourg City, an air of calm understatement reigned over the Grand Ducal Palace.
To passers-by, the sprawling old town complex – a 16th century Flemish Renaissance design that serves as the primary residence of Grand Duke Henri, the tiny country’s head of state – bore few royal flourishes and even fewer signs of life. Curtains were drawn tightly. A lone ceremonial guard paced. Tourists took selfies.
There didn’t seem much happening, which is precisely how the court of the Grand Ducal likes it. You see, in Luxembourg, perhaps more than anywhere else in Europe, royal business is done without drawing attention to itself.
That, at least, was the case, until an increasingly acrimonious divorce got in the way. Over recent weeks, the quiet facade of the Grand Ducal has been placed under rare strain – and spotlight
– by the separation of the Grand Duke’s third son, Prince Louis, and his wife of 11 years, Princess Tessy, which is currently being dragged through the London courts.
She has been dubbed a “gold-digger”, accused of stepping up her public appearances and glamorous social media activity in an attempt to make the most of her final few months as a princess. He has been accused of smearing her name, after a “disgusting character assassination” in a national magazine.
It’s all very unLuxembourgish, and despite everything coming to a head in the UK’s Royal Courts of Justice earlier this month, it doesn’t look anywhere near finished.
Throughout their relationship, the prince and princess have never quite followed tradition. They are thought to have first met in Kosovo in 2004, when the prince, then 18, was serving in the Luxembourg army and the princess, a year older, was the only female soldier in a United Nations peacekeeping battalion.
A year later, their relationship was made public by Grand Duke Henri’s announcement that she was pregnant with his first grandchild, and that she and the prince were to marry. A son, Gabriel, was born in 2006, and the couple married later that year in a small ceremony in Gilsdorf, a town in the north-east of Luxembourg.
At the time, the prince had not followed family protocol for arranging a wedding, so the marriage was morganatic – meaning his succession rights were lost and his wife and son took the surname ‘de Nassau’.
As the daughter of a roofer, the princess was both the first Luxembourgish bride and the first ‘commoner’ to marry into the Grand Ducal family.
Traditionally, Luxembourgish royals tended to up and out for their spouses, often plumping for other European royals. That system has created a wicked web: Grand Duke Henri’s first cousin is Philippe, King of the Belgians; his sister, Princess Magaretha, is married to Prince Nikolaus of Liechtenstein; jolly Harald V of Norway, meanwhile, was their mother’s first cousin.
A besotted grandfather, however, Grand Duke Henri gave his daughter-in-law her own title in 2009: officially making her Her Royal Highness, Princess Tessy of Luxembourg and her sons – a second, Noah, was born in 2007 – princes.
The young family moved to the town house they still share in Kensington, west London, sending the boys to an English boarding school. Both parents completed two degrees at universities in the city before balancing jobs with philanthropic work.
Any “scandal” is not due to the split itself.
Despite the family’s strong Catholic faith, the prince and princess are not the first Luxembourg royals to divorce, nor the first to have had a child out of wedlock, so when their intention to separate was announced by the family in January, the national reaction registered somewhere between a shoulder shrug and an eyebrow raise.
Yves, a newspaper seller based near the palace, was closer to the shrug end of the scale. “This is Europe in 2017 – people fight, people grow up and apart, people divorce... these two just happen to be members of the Grand Ducal family.”
What did cause rancour, was what came next.
“[The princess] was a little bit too much and too often in the public eye,” confides a royal correspondent. “Designer dresses, expensive hotels... this kind of behaviour is not liked by people in Luxembourg.”
Though the princess’s name has already been scrubbed from the Grand Ducal’s official website, she continues to be addressed as HRH for appearances at conferences, such as the World Economic Forum in Dubai this week – a matter that is irking royalists.
Her title has disappeared from Instagram, where she now describes herself as a “Social Entrepreneur, Mother of Two gorgeous Princes, Director, UN Ambassador for Young Girls, Patron and much more[sic]”; rather more prosaically, she is described as co-director by DS-48, the security services firm for which she works in Millbank Tower.
In court in London this month, the princess was said to be fighting for a settlement more ‘commensurate’ with her in-laws’ status as royalty from the world’s wealthiest country (by GDP, but still) than she had been offered.
The couple’s Kensington home is also disputed.
Back in Luxembourg, meanwhile, the courtroom events sparked a particularly vicious attack in one red-top, ‘Privat’, asking whether the princess was a ‘gold-digger’ and concluding she would ‘always be the daughter of a roofer’, not a princess. In fact, her father is now said to teach artisanal carpentry. So there.
The prince’s aides have been accused of having threatened to drag the case out “for years” if the princess did not settle; a charge the prince himself had angrily denied in court. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
This kind of behaviour is not liked by people in Luxembourg
Princess Tessy and Prince Louis in June 2013. Photo: Getty
Grand Duke Henri