THE POWER & THE GLORY What might the 21st cen­tury hold for rul­ing dy­nas­ties, from the Wind­sors to the Trumps?

Town & Country (UK) - - CONTENTS -

From the Ro­manovs to the Rock­e­fellers, the Wind­sors to the Kennedys, the world has long been ruled by great dy­nas­ties and their scions – but they must move with the times to sur­vive. Laura Thomp­son con­sid­ers how these clans can re­tain their pre-em­i­nence, and whether dom­i­neer­ing new­com­ers such as the Trumps will usurp the old guard to reign in their place

The con­cept of a ‘dy­nasty’ may be at odds with the modern world, but it still holds the ca­pac­ity for rein­ven­tion. Not just with the cur­rent re­boot of the 1980s tele­vi­sion se­ries Dy­nasty – which swaps big shoul­ders for body-con – but within our very own Royal fam­ily. Just a few months ago, the doors of the Wind­sor mu­seum opened wide to re­ceive a di­vorced, mixed-race Amer­i­can ac­tress, three years older than her fifth-in-line-to-the-throne fi­ancé, groomed and glossy and with a gleam­ing chat-show charm that the Roy­als have never yet en­coun­tered within their ranks.

Meghan Markle, who mar­ries Prince Harry in May, rep­re­sents some­thing seis­mic for the Wind­sors. While the mid­dle-class grad­u­ate Kate Mid­dle­ton has been re­cast in the role of Silent Duchess, obe­di­ent sup­plier of a dy­nas­tic fu­ture, the wife of a sec­ond son has more free­dom; and the glo­ri­ously adult, sexy, clued-up Meghan is a mem­ber of the here-and-now in a way that Kate never had the chance (or pos­si­bly in­cli­na­tion) to be. Meghan is not a per­son­al­ity to be ab­sorbed into the wax­work mu­seum. How she will ex­press her­self, for ex­am­ple, in the mat­ter of her in-laws’ propen­sity to dress up and hunt an­i­mals is any­body’s guess. Yet the fam­ily who shud­dered at Wal­lis Simp­son, shook its head re­gret­fully at Pe­ter Townsend and re­garded Koo Stark as a non-starter even for a sec­ond son – Prince An­drew – has ap­par­ently recog­nised that Meghan Markle might, just, rep­re­sent the way for­ward.

Af­ter the Diana de­ba­cle, the Wind­sors were forced to re­learn the dy­nasty’s first les­son: that sur­vival is all. They knew it al­ready, of course – it is not so very long ago that the Queen’s un­cle, Ed­ward VIII, caused the edifice to rock with his ab­di­ca­tion in 1936 – but con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety re­quires ever greater agility from those who do not re­ally fit into it. And the lat­est, bold­est ex­am­ple of the Royal fam­ily’s will­ing­ness to rein­vent is the ac­cep­tance of the for­mer star of Suits, who even repub­li­cans seem – in turn – to ac­cept. It is a risk, join­ing hands with one’s crit­ics in this way, but it may yet pay off.

Of course, the Wind­sors are a very par­tic­u­lar kind of dy­nasty, one that lives not just in the public view but by grace of public sup­port, and whose mem­bers are fig­ure­heads only: sym­bols of what a dy­nasty rep­re­sents, rather than the thing it­self. In deriva­tion, the term re­lates to the con­cept of power, of which the Wind­sors have very lit­tle. In fact, the tagline for the re­booted Dy­nasty – ‘They have money; they have power; they have ev­ery­thing; and they want more’ – is not so far off the mark when it comes to the rul­ing fam­i­lies of old, whether these be Bour­bons or As­tors, Ro­manovs or Rock­e­fellers.

At the same time, some­thing more sub­tle and res­o­nant lies within that sim­ple seven-let­ter word. It con­jures many shades of mean­ing, rich and mul­ti­far­i­ous im­ages from the House of Atreus to a Ming vase to a pho­to­graph of the Kennedy clan, smil­ing into the sun out­side their clap­board house on Cape Cod. It en­com­passes a row of Velázquez paint­ings of the Span­ish Hab­s­burgs, or a Hol­bein of Henry VIII, de­signed to make the Tu­dors seem im­mutable and eter­nal, which no dy­nasty can be; as noth­ing makes clearer than the evanes­cent black and white pho­to­graphs of the last Tsar of Rus­sia, Nicholas II, with his wife and five chil­dren.

Then there are im­ages of places, not just the de­fi­antly dy­nas­tic stately homes and cas­tles, but – for in­stance – the leg­endary 17-storey build­ing at 740 Park Av­enue, built by Jackie Onas­sis’ grand­fa­ther, whose apart­ments have housed the scions of modern US dy­nas­ties: no­tably John D Rock­e­feller Jnr, who from 1937 owned the fab­u­lous 40-room triplex called ‘the throne of New York so­ci­ety’. And there are the van­ished places, the ones that must be

dreamt into life, such as Grosvenor House on Park Lane – now the ho­tel, for­merly the Lon­don home of the Dukes of West­min­ster – where, at a gar­den party for Queen Vic­to­ria’s Golden Ju­bilee, the first Duke pa­raded his 1886 Derby win­ner Or­monde.

On which sub­ject: what im­age could be more supremely dy­nas­tic than that of the Dar­ley Ara­bian, a bay horse through whose blood coursed such po­ten­tial, such riches, that he be­came the most dom­i­nant of the three foun­da­tion stal­lions from which all thor­ough­bred race­horses de­scend? Foaled in around 1700, the Dar­ley Ara­bian leads di­rectly to Galileo, who won the Derby 300 years later and is the om­nipo­tent sire of the modern era. This, in­deed, is the essence of a dy­nasty: a gleam­ing line of princelings and princesses, glo­ri­ously ful­fill­ing their destiny.

Of course, peo­ple are nei­ther so pure nor so pre­dictable. Not even rac­ing peo­ple, who – like Galileo’s trainer, Ai­dan O’brien, whose chil­dren have all suc­cess­fully en­tered the sport – tend to form lit­tle dy­nas­ties of their own. Nev­er­the­less there is a fas­ci­nat­ing echo of that thor­ough­bred qual­ity – the sense of ex­alted pre­des­ti­na­tion – within the lives of those who be­long to a dy­nasty.

When Rachel Kemp­son gave birth to her first child, Vanessa, in 1937, Lau­rence Olivier – then per­form­ing in Ham­let with Vanessa’s fa­ther, Michael Red­grave – an­nounced to the Old Vic au­di­ence at the cur­tain call: ‘Ladies and gen­tle­men, tonight a great ac­tress has been born.’ The Red­grave dy­nasty was not long-es­tab­lished, but Michael’s par­ents had both been ac­tors, so too was his wife, and the ex­pec­ta­tion was clearly that the line would con­tinue. As, in­deed, it has. Vanessa was fol­lowed by her si­b­lings Lynn and Corin, her daugh­ters Natasha and Joely, her niece Jemma and her grand­daugh­ter Daisy. The Red­graves are like the Foxes, that other splen­did home­grown dy­nasty, which on the fe­male side de­scends from Ellen Terry and now com­prises Ed­ward, James, Emilia, Fred­die, Lau­rence, Ly­dia and Jack.

And Lau­rence Olivier had it right with his an­nounce­ment – there is ar­guably no greater ac­tress alive than Vanessa Red­grave – but at the same time his words ex­press the dilemma of the dy­nasty. What if the young Vanessa had wanted to be a chef, or a math­e­mati­cian? How great, in fact, is the pres­sure to suc­cumb to one’s dy­nas­tic bid­ding?

The off­spring of the stal­lion Galileo have no say in the mat­ter. They are bred to do one thing and can hardly voice a pref­er­ence for do­ing some­thing else. But a per­son has free will, or at least a be­lief in it. So it must be strange to feel one­self a part of some­thing in­escapable, some­thing that is more than merely ‘a fam­ily’. Some­thing that is li­able to shape one’s fu­ture, even if one rebels against it: as most fa­mously did Ed­ward VIII, and – more cre­atively – did Nica de Roth­schild, the ‘jazz baroness’ pa­tron of Th­elo­nious Monk and Char­lie Parker, who was dis­in­her­ited af­ter she walked out on her mar­riage and moved to the lib­er­a­tion of New York. Such peo­ple never quite leave their names be­hind, of course. Per­haps they do not en­tirely want to do so. Nev­er­the­less they are, in choos­ing their destiny, re­fus­ing the life that they were sup­posed to have lived.

A some­what dra­matic view? Well, per­haps. Many scions of dy­nas­ties have sim­ply recog­nised their luck and en­joyed the com­fort­able ride, to­gether with the May­fair man­sion and the col­lec­tions of Lelys – def­i­nitely worth an ex­is­ten­tial lack of free­dom. And one can, yes, de­scribe the dy­nasty in the most straight­for­ward terms as an up­mar­ket fam­ily job with an un­usual de­gree of se­cu­rity. Even for the lesser mem­bers of a clan, the ones for whom there is no lurk­ing trust fund or handy spare flat on the Zat­tere, the name surely comes in handy; it is un­likely that a Rock­e­feller ever gets the ta­ble next to the kitchen in a restau­rant.

Also, al­though dy­nas­ties have an air of ro­mance, this qual­ity has ac­cu­mu­lated with the pas­sage of time. How­ever long ago, they must have be­gun pro­saically. Some­body in the past was good at fight­ing, or at busi­ness, or at strid­ing across the stage with their face streaked in grease­paint. Or some­body mar­ried well. Take the Grosvenors, the rich­est of Bri­tish aris­to­crats. The 7th Duke of West­min­ster, Hugh, owns 300 acres of May­fair and Bel­gravia: this is the heart of the fam­ily’s in­her­i­tance, which came to them in 1677 with the mar­riage of Sir Thomas Grosvenor to 12-year-old Mary Davies, a scrivener’s daugh­ter, also heiress to a vast chunk of meadow and marshland just west of cen­tral Lon­don. The land was first built upon in earnest in the early 18th cen­tury – Grosvenor Square be­gan to be laid


out in 1725 – by which time few peo­ple re­mem­bered that it had been ac­quired by Mary’s great-un­cle, Hugh Aud­ley, a money­len­der to both sides in the English Civil War.

The ven­er­a­ble Amer­i­can dy­nas­ties are, per­force, more openly mer­can­tile in their ori­gins. John Pier­pont Mor­gan, born in 1837, was a fi­nancier who died in 1913 worth around $80 mil­lion; a sum that led his con­tem­po­rary, John D Rock­e­feller Snr, to say: ‘And to think, he wasn’t even a rich man.’ Rock­e­feller, son of a semi-crook, who made his for­tune through oil, was in­deed far richer: the first Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire. The legacy of such men is part of the pur­pose­ful silhouette of their na­tion, most par­tic­u­larly of New York City, with its Mor­gan Li­brary, its Rock­e­feller Cen­ter, its Carnegie Hall, its Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum filled with art col­lec­tions that once hung on the walls of 5th Av­enue man­sions, its tow­er­ing art deco tem­ples to phil­an­thropic wealth. These dy­nas­ties, in­deed, are modern Amer­ica, and none more so than the one that has been di­rectly likened to the House of Atreus: the Kennedys.

It was Jackie Onas­sis, for­merly the wife of Jack Kennedy, who first saw the par­al­lel. She had pre­vi­ously com­pared her hus­band’s ten­ure at the White House with the world of Arthurian leg­end; in an in­ter­view with Life magazine, given just a few days af­ter Kennedy’s as­sas­si­na­tion in 1963, she said: ‘There will be great Pres­i­dents again. But there will never be an­other Camelot.’ Not long after­wards Jackie read Edith Hamil­ton’s The Greek Way, which told of the ‘ill-fated house’ whose mem­bers in­cluded Agamem­non, Elec­tra and Orestes, and whose gen­er­a­tions ex­pi­ated yet re­peated the sins of the past. When Jackie lent the book to her brother-in-law Bobby, he was in­stantly per­suaded by the com­par­i­son with his own fam­ily. In 1968 he, too, was as­sas­si­nated.

In the 1940s, his brother Joseph and sis­ter Kath­leen, Mar­chioness of Hart­ing­ton, had been killed in air crashes, while his sis­ter Rose­mary was in­sti­tu­tion­alised af­ter a botched lo­bot­omy. In 1969, his brother Teddy drove off a bridge at Chap­paquid­dick, fa­tally trap­ping the car’s pas­sen­ger Mary Jo Kopechne. At the in­quiry into this in­ci­dent, Teddy asked out­right whether ‘some aw­ful curse did ac­tu­ally hang over all the Kennedys’. Thirty years later, John F Kennedy Jnr lost con­trol of the plane that he was pi­lot­ing and plum­meted, with his wife and sis­ter-in-law, into the At­lantic Ocean close to Martha’s Vine­yard.

It was – as first per­ceived by Jackie Kennedy – as though a kind of hubris hov­ered over the fam­ily, be­cause they had flown too high and sym­bol­ised too much. And it is what makes the Kennedys the supreme ex­am­ple of the dy­nasty: a group of in­di­vid­u­als in which the mer­i­to­cratic start­ing point has been ab­sorbed, trans­muted, into some­thing an­tique and in­ef­fa­ble.

The events that be­fell the fam­ily can be ex­plained away nat­u­rally, of course.

Vanessa Red­grave with her daugh­ters Joely (left) and Natasha in 1968

Above: Jackie Kennedy with Caro­line, John Jnr and Bobby (be­hind) at the fu­neral of John F Kennedy in 1963. Right: John Jnr with his wife Carolyn Bes­set­tekennedy in 1997

Left: the Queen and the Duke of Ed­in­burgh with Jackie, Caro­line and John Jnr in 1965. Be­low: Tsar Nicholas II and fam­ily in 1913

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