Town & Country (Philippines) - - T & C - By Michael Joseph Gross

Hand­some prince meets beau­ti­ful non-princess? Not so long ago it might have been the end of the fairy tale. Why Europe’s royal houses fi­nally de­cided to let love rule.


Born on the Fourth of july 1937, at the red Cross Clinic in oslo, Sonja har­ald­sen grew up to be­come a lovely 16-year-old, and one day she went to watch a boat race. one of the spec­ta­tors, a boy her age, har­ald Glücks­burg, saw Sonja and was love­struck. he tried to get the girl’s at­ten­tion; she ig­nored him.

or so goes one story of the day har­ald met Sonja. an­other has the two meet­ing at a din­ner party when they were 22 and fall­ing so crash-bang in love that even if har­ald had not been crown prince of nor­way and Sonja had not been the daugh­ter of the own­ers of a women’s cloth­ing store, their in­stant, mu­tual, and last­ing pas­sion might still have been called a fairy­tale ro­mance.

Fairy­tale ro­mance also re­quires fric­tion in the form of an­tag­o­nists or ob­sta­cles: wicked step­moth­ers, thick­ets of thorns. In this story har­ald’s father served that func­tion. King olav V did not want his son to marry a com­moner. he wanted har­ald to make a sen­si­ble match, as the king him­self had done with a girl from the royal fam­ily next door, Princess Märtha of Swe­den (who was also his first cousin).

By law the heir to Nor­way’s throne could not marry with­out the sov­er­eign’s per­mis­sion. Olav’s dis­ap­proval, how­ever, was less de­ter­mined than Har­ald’s de­vo­tion. For nine long years Har­ald and Sonja waited, and dated, and at last love con­quered. The king pro­nounced his bless­ing. Har­ald and Sonja mar­ried. When Olav died and Har­ald was crowned, in 1991, the queen of his heart be­came queen of his land.


Like moves on a chess­board, mar­riages be­tween mem­bers of europe’s dy­nas­ties were, for cen­turies, made to es­tab­lish an ad­van­tage in the con­ti­nent’s bal­ance of power. Some roy­als did marry non­roy­als—a prac­tice known as mor­ga­natic mar­riage—while oth­ers wished to but were pre­vented by law or taboo.

In 1936, af­ter King ed­ward VIII de­cided to marry the Amer­i­can di­vor­cée Wal­lis Simp­son, he ab­di­cated the throne to avoid a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis. the scan­dal put pres­sure on Bri­tish roy­als to lead ex­em­plary lives, and when ed­ward’s niece, Princess Mar­garet, fell in love with rAF Group Cap­tain Peter townsend, who was di­vorced, op­po­si­tion in Par­lia­ment in 1955 forced her to make an ex­cru­ci­at­ing, pub­lic re­nun­ci­a­tion. to marry townsend would have meant sur­ren­der­ing her royal rights, du­ties, and in­come. even five years later, when Mar­garet wed the pho­tog­ra­pher An­thony Arm­strong-Jones, some of europe’s mon­archs did not at­tend the cer­e­mony. As an ob­server later ex­plained, “Princesses mar­ried princes, not com­mon pho­tog­ra­phers.”

the re­stric­tions on royal mar­riage based on so­cial sta­tus were slow to erode. In 2011, Prince Wil­liam mar­ried Cather­ine Mid­dle­ton, whose par­ents met while they were work­ing for Bri­tish Air­ways (she as a flight at­ten­dant, he as a dis­patcher). The Mid­dle­tons, who now run an on­line party re­tailer, also have some fam­ily wealth and no mean pedi­grees them­selves; none­the­less, it was the first time a woman with­out aris­to­cratic lin­eage had mar­ried an heir to the Bri­tish throne in more than 350 years.

But if you tried to imag­ine a royal ro­mance that vi­o­lated ev­ery taboo—con­cern­ing class, race, re­li­gion, gen­der roles, com­mer­cial­ism, and dis­cre­tion—you prob­a­bly would still not have the au­dac­ity to imag­ine the en­gage­ment of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, an Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion ac­tress who is di­vorced, Catholic, and of mixed race, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a com­mit­ted po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist and a some­time cloth­ing de­signer and life­style blog­ger with an avid so­cial me­dia pres­ence re­plete with hash­tags and emo­jis. When their re­la­tion­ship be­gan, in the fall of 2016, old pro­scrip­tions were trig­gered in force, but Harry would have none of it. Just one month af­ter the cou­ple were first seen to­gether in pub­lic, Kens­ing­ton Palace is­sued a state­ment on the prince’s be­half: “His girl­friend… has been sub­ject to a wave of abuse and ha­rass­ment,” which in­volved (among much else) a “smear on the front page of a na­tional news­pa­per; the racial un­der­tones of com­ment pieces; and the out­right sex­ism and racism of so­cial me­dia trolls.” Mov­ingly, the state­ment avowed that the prince “knows com­men­ta­tors will say this is ‘the price she has to pay’ and that ‘this is all part of the game.’ He strongly dis­agrees. This is not a game—it is her life and his.”

that was valor. Which raised some ques­tions: Might there be more at stake in their re­la­tion­ship than the hap­pi­ness of two peo­ple? What might this match be­tween Meghan and Harry mean for so­ci­ety at large?

the univer­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man rights does not men­tion the free­dom of a prince to woo in peace. The Kens­ing­ton Palace state­ment, how­ever, al­most im­plied that it should. The state­ment could even be read to posit that the courtship of the prince and the ac­tress was more demo­cratic than the world out­side that re­la­tion­ship. (In the pri­vacy of love they were equals. Only when cer­tain out­siders told the story was she con­sid­ered less than.) Could that be true? Do royal fam­i­lies en­dow their mem­bers with more demo­cratic dig­ni­ties—are they able to ac­cept hu­man di­ver­sity with greater ease—than the rest of the hu­man fam­ily does?

If so, what are the con­se­quences for the rest of us? In an era of un­prece­dented wealth for a few and re­stricted so­cial mo­bil­ity for the rest, Markle rep­re­sents a fan­tasy so ex­treme it might be called ex­is­ten­tial im­mi­gra­tion. But even that fan­tasy is not en­tirely a game. This is ac­tu­ally a se­ri­ous ques­tion: Has the world changed, so that mar­ry­ing a prince (or a princess) is the surest way of be­ing treated like a whole per­son? And if so, how did that hap­pen?


Over the past 50 years it has ceased to be ex­cep­tional—it has grad­u­ally be­come the norm—for euro­pean roy­alty to marry commoners. (Of the heirs ap­par­ent to the 10 sur­viv­ing hered­i­tary euro­pean monar­chies, Prince Alois of Liecht­en­stein is the only one who chose a mate of even ap­prox­i­mately equal so­cial rank:

the Wit­tels­bach duchess So­phie, Princess of Bavaria.) The story of how, in just two gen­er­a­tions, non­roy­als were wel­comed into nearly all of Europe’s royal fam­i­lies fol­lows a pat­tern com­mon to many sto­ries of so­cial in­te­gra­tion. A se­quence of pri­vate, hu­man choices—in this case, the choice to pur­sue ro­man­tic love— gains sym­bolic im­por­tance when those choices are made pub­lic, and that en­ables more such choices to be made. Love begets love. And as is true of many of the most dig­ni­fy­ing re­forms of mod­ern so­ci­ety, this one started in Scan­di­navia.

In Kris­tiansand, Nor­way, in the sum­mer of 1999, “a sin­gle mother whose son was fa­thered by a drug dealer” (as one news­pa­per would later re­fer to her) went to a con­cert, where she met a man. The woman, Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby, had a three-year-old son named Mar­ius. She did not have a col­lege de­gree and she had never held a pres­ti­gious job. She was pretty, she was sweet, and she liked to have fun, which some­times in­volved il­le­gal sub­stances.

The man she met at the con­cert was Haakon, crown prince of Nor­way—King Har­ald and Queen Sonja’s son—and Haakon fell in love with Mette-Marit the way Har­ald had fallen in love with Sonja: head­long, all at once, and the-hell-with­you-if-you-don’t-like-it. By May of the fol­low­ing year the crown prince had pub­licly de­clared his love for a woman who by tra­di­tional stan­dards could not have been more un­suit­able.

Haakon’s choice had con­se­quences. In Nor­way ap­proval rat­ings for the monar­chy were low. In neigh­bor­ing coun­tries con­ser­va­tives were con­cerned. One Copen­hagen his­to­rian made this anal­y­sis: “It may be that Mette-Marit is the big­gest threat to the Dan­ish monar­chy for many cen­turies. When the me­dia be­comes tough in Nor­way and Swe­den, a front line will open up against the Dan­ish royal fam­ily from the north.” But if skep­ti­cism and in­sur­rec­tion were con­ta­gious—well, so was love. Haakon had a friend, a few years older, by the name of Fred. Hand­some, smart, ad­ven­tur­ous Fred had stud­ied at Har­vard be­fore he be­came a naval pi­lot and spe­cial op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer. Fred went trekking in Mon­go­lia. Fred drove a team of sled dogs 4,000 miles across Green­land. Fred also dated a lot of women, and no one thought he was in much dan­ger of set­tling down. But Fred was, surely, moved to con­sider his own po­si­tion when he saw what had hap­pened to Haakon. And it may or may not have been a co­in­ci­dence that sparks flew in Fred’s life the very same month that Haakon com­menced co­hab­i­ta­tion with Mette-Marit.


Fred flew to Aus­tralia to watch the 2000 Olympics. He walked into a bar, the Slip Inn, in Syd­ney. “Fred from Den­mark” was how he in­tro­duced him­self that night to a young woman from Tas­ma­nia, Mary Don­ald­son. Much later Mary would re­veal that in the months that fol­lowed Fred se­duced her with long, hand­writ­ten let­ters. In one he quoted Kierkegaard: “To risk some­thing is to lose one’s foothold for a mo­ment. Not to risk is to lose one­self.”

The next year Fred—that is, Fred­erik, crown prince of Den­mark, Count of Mon­pezat, Or­der of the Ele­phant, Or­der of the Dan­nebrog—stood up as best man at Haakon’s wed­ding. After­ward, at the ban­quet, Haakon spoke from his heart to Mette-Marit: “I don’t think I have ever been so weak or so strong as I am when I am with you. I don’t think I have been so full of love as I am when I’m with you. From to­day you are no longer just my friend, my girl­friend, and my fi­ancée. To­day we have mar­ried and you have be­come Nor­way’s crown princess. I’m look­ing for­ward to work­ing side by side with you, and with Mar­ius. I can­not prom­ise life will be with­out prob­lems and easy, but it will be event­ful and strong.”

By the time Haakon and Met­teMarit at­tended Fred­erik and Mary’s wed­ding, in 2004, matches be­tween roy­als and commoners were be­com­ing joy­ful sym­bols of hope for a bet­ter life. “Ev­ery time a per­son’s dreams come true, the world be­comes a bet­ter place for us all. Your mar­riage is a gift to the peo­ple of Aus­tralia,” de­clared one Syd­ney news­pa­per. It was a gift to the Dan­ish monar­chy, too: Ap­proval rat­ings surged to 82 per­cent the fol­low­ing year.

In the first decade of the 21st cen­tury, matches be­tween commoners and roy­als were made all across Europe. Like air­planes speed­ing past cir­cles of lat­i­tude, royal loves crossed so­cial bound­aries abruptly, em­brac­ing the vul­gar—in the sense of that word’s Latin root, vul­garis, the com­mon peo­ple. The more flawed the match (com­pared with tra­di­tional ideal royal mates), it some­times seemed, the more at­trac­tive it was.

Haakon’s older sis­ter, Princess Märtha Louise, lost her royal in­come when she mar­ried an artist, the Nor­we­gian writer Ari Behn, who was best known for a short story col­lec­tion ti­tled Sad as Hell. (The cou­ple di­vorced last year.) The Prince of Or­ange, Crown Prince Willem-Alexan­der of the Nether­lands, mar­ried Máx­ima Zor­regui­eta, an Ar­gen­tinian whose father was a gov­ern-

ment min­is­ter in that coun­try’s vi­o­lent, cor­rupt mil­i­tary regime. (Willem-Alexan­der’s mother Queen Beatrix al­lowed the match on con­di­tion that Máx­ima’s father not at­tend the wed­ding.) In Spain, Crown Prince Felipe de To­dos los San­tos an­nounced his en­gage­ment to Le­tizia Or­tiz Ro­ca­solano, a di­vorced TV news broad­caster who has had mul­ti­ple plas­tic surg­eries. Swe­den’s Princess Vic­to­ria—the heir to the throne—started dat­ing her per­sonal trainer, Daniel Westling, in se­cret; then she mar­ried him.

And that’s only a par­tial list. “Hu­man af­fec­tion will al­ways cross bound­aries; de­sign­ing rules it must ad­here to will never work,” wrote one English news­pa­per colum­nist af­ter Haakon’s wed­ding to Mette-Marit. “Mod­ern Bri­tain is a place where be­ing from a dys­func­tional or ‘dif­fer­ent’ back­ground does not pre­vent you from lead­ing a happy, ful­filled life. It’s time for an­other royal wed­ding, and my feel­ing is that Camilla’s would give more real peo­ple real hope than any fairy­tale wed­ding ever could.” When it hap­pened, that pre­dic­tion came true. The pub­lic came to love Camilla Parker Bowles, in part be­cause she and Prince Charles per­se­vered in their love in spite of life’s whole mess.

Mette-Marit has a past that, it seems, will never go away. Com­pro­mis­ing pho­to­graphs from her wild days were pub­lished. Her al­co­holic father mar­ried a strip­per half his age. Yet she and Haakon built a fam­ily; in ad­di­tion to Mar­ius they have two chil­dren of their own, whose ar­rival the coun­try greeted with cel­e­bra­tion. Their first­born, Princess In­grid Alexan­dra, is Nor­way’s heir ap­par­ent. She will some­day be the coun­try’s first fe­male monarch since the 15th cen­tury. By co­in­ci­dence Met­teMarit also played an im­por­tant sym­bolic role in the dark­est mo­ment in Nor­way’s re­cent his­tory—when her step­brother was killed in the mass shoot­ing by An­ders Breivik in 2011. Her loss made Mette-Marit a sym­bol of the peo­ple’s sol­i­dar­ity with the monar­chy. The next year she put her pen­chant for risk-tak­ing—even heed­less­ness—to vir­tu­ous use. On be­half of a gay palace em­ployee who had trou­ble get­ting a visa, she se­cretly trav­eled to In­dia to care for his new­born twins, born to a sur­ro­gate mother. There she spent sev­eral days incog­nito with the ba­bies in a med­i­cal cen­ter, where the staff as­sumed she was a nanny.


What would have hap­pened if Har­ald and Sonja hadn’t fallen in love? They set an ex­am­ple for Haakon, who set an ex­am­ple for Fred­erik, which cre­ated an at­mos­phere in which al­most any­thing be­came pos­si­ble—even an Amer­i­can TV star in a wed­ding dress wav­ing from the bal­cony of Buck­ing­ham Palace. At a time when a cri­sis of le­git­i­macy at­tends the very con­cept of au­thor­ity, th­ese cou­plings have strength­ened bonds be­tween sov­er­eigns and sub­jects. The mar­riage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, like all the sta­tus-dis­cor­dant pair­ings de­scribed here, will have one main po­lit­i­cal ef­fect. The com­ing of the commoners in­oc­u­lates Euro­pean monar­chies against that form of gov­ern­ment’s great­est con­tem­po­rary vul­ner­a­bil­ity: pop­u­lar re­sent­ment based on per­cep­tion of un­just ad­van­tage.

How­ever thorny their pasts, all th­ese commoners ap­pear to be wor­thy of luck—the ex­tra­or­di­nary luck of win­ning the ex­is­ten­tial im­mi­gra­tion lot­tery, on top of the more com­mon luck of ro­man­tic love. One of the most strik­ing things about this chap­ter in the his­tory of royal mar­riage is how sturdy the matches have proved to be—maybe be­cause they’re un­suit­able, not in spite of it. Th­ese loves be­gan with the em­brace of im­per­fec­tion; the rea­sons for their dura­bil­ity and pop­u­lar­ity may not be much more com­pli­cated than that.

In 2017, when King Har­ald and Queen Sonja both turned 80, polls in Nor­way in­di­cated that 81 per­cent of Nor­we­gians sup­ported the monar­chy. In 2018 the cou­ple—and the rest of the coun­try—will cel­e­brate 50 years of mar­riage. Deep in­side one of the mail­bags full of cards and let­ters that will be de­liv­ered to the palace in Oslo, per­haps the ladies-in­wait­ing will find one post­marked Lon­don, with Kens­ing­ton Palace as the re­turn ad­dress.

In the last in-depth in­ter­view Meghan Markle gave be­fore she be­gan dat­ing Harry (it was pub­lished in Good House­keep­ing), she said she liked to write hand­writ­ten notes, which she called “a lost art form.” In that in­ter­view, as in the last one be­fore her be­trothal (in Van­ity Fair last sum­mer), she re­called strug­gling to earn a liv­ing in her early days as an ac­tress. She said that she learned cal­lig­ra­phy and made ex­tra money by writ­ing names and ad­dresses in beau­ti­ful script on other peo­ple’s wed­ding in­vi­ta­tions. She did not say, but it is hard not to imag­ine, that from time to time her hand got tired and she would pause to day­dream for a minute, imag­in­ing the loves of those brides and grooms, hop­ing that such hap­pi­ness one day might be hers.


Match Point Meghan Markle and Prince harry at the 2017 in­vic­tus Games in toronto, two months be­fore they an­nounced their en­gage­ment.

royal flush When Crown Prince har­ald mar­ried non­royal sonja har­ald­sen in 1968, many won­dered if the Nor­we­gian monar­chy would sur­vive. Dur­ing Prince Wil­liam and Kate Mid­dle­ton’s en­gage­ment, the Bri­tish press re­ferred to her as “Com­moner Kate.”

North stars Crown Prince haakon of Nor­way fol­lowed in his father’s foot­steps by mar­ry­ing a non­royal, Mette-Marit tjessem høiby, in 2001. three years later his best man, Crown Prince Fred­erik of Den­mark, wed Mary Don­ald­son, an aus­tralian.

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