When planning to marry a royal, it should be made clear: the royal world is totally different from the one of celebrities. Getting married is already something to take very seriously: is this person the right partner, can your lives be combined, where should you live, what concessions do you have to make. A royal life, at least when you’re marrying one of the people in the highest positions of the line of succession, comes with extra challenges. It is not a fairytale. So don’t take it too lightly. Your life will be changed quite a bit, so even when you’re madly in love, think twice before taking the big step. Also when you marry a royal from a non-reigning royal family or a mediatized house there might some interest of media, royalty-watchers and locals. Although afterwards you will likely be able to lead a pretty normal life.
Who are the people who can help you prepare for that life?
- Your future partner. Don’t make plans only, but talk in detail about the life that is awaiting.
- When everything is getting more serious: the closest relatives of your partner (you likely won’t meet them before).
- When you’re engaged/married someone might be assigned to you to help you in your new job as a royal, someone with experience. That will be either a lady-in-waiting, someone working at court or an outsider. Andrée van Es, a former politician, was asked to help Queen Máxima of the Netherlands to integrate, to advice her, to accompany her at the start of her royal life.
- Other royals that have been in the same position (not necessarily in the same family as yours). It is for example known that Queen Máxima of the Netherlands offered support to Princess Charlène of Monaco, and even to Empress Masako of Japan.
They have to make clear to you what your position will be, what you can or can not do, tell you who can help you, when they can’t do it themselves. You have to listen carefully, be willing to learn, as lots of things will be different from what you’re used to. Ask questions, be curious, make clear what you find difficult. Remember: you’re part of a family now, and one of your main roles is to present and to protect the monarchy.
There are three things that you have to take into consideration:
- What do I need to learn?
- What will my position be?
- What are my possibilities?
1. Etiquette, protocol, not to forget table manners, curtsying (different in each monarchy) how to get out of a car without showing your underwear, pose for the cameras. There is an endless list of things to learn. You have to get used to staff, to having security following you all over the place. These people can help you, but you should always keep some distance to them. You might have to find yourself a somewhat different dressing style, as lots is allowed, but showing too much skin for example is not done. Some royals do wear hat and gloves (Denmark, The Netherlands), and there are also the evening dresses and tiaras. Lots of new royals dress quite conservative at the start, and gradually become more confident in the way they’re dressing and develop an own style that suits them best.
If you’re from another country you might have to learn a new language, and get to know a different culture. Just ask Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark or Princess Marie of Denmark. Although Hereditary Grand Duchess Stéphanie of Luxembourg already spoke French and German, she has made an effort to learn Luxembourgish, as previously her mother-in-law Grand Duchess Maria Teresa did. The Belgian queens Fabiola and Paola had to learn both French (if they already didn’t speak it) and Flemish, while Queen Mathilde had to learn Flemish better. That even makes the step more difficult. Start with that as soon as possible, preferably before getting engaged. It is important to take time for all this, as it is really a lot to take in.
Keep in mind! If you’re a woman the media is way more interested in you than if you’re a man marrying into the royal family. The life of you and your family will be researched (especially the scandals) and often the wedding also means some changes for your own family. Queen Letizia would probably never have been able to marry King Felipe VI of Spain if her first marriage had taken place in church. Queen Máxima’s father was so controversial that her parents didn’t attend her wedding, and also the past of Princess Sofia of Sweden was not what people expected from a future princess. And lots of people were shocked to hear that Crown Prince Haakon of Norway dated, and later married, a single mother. Your dressing style will be analyzed in details nowadays. Every mistake you make will be widely reported, even if it is something tiny. In some countries you will have more privacy then in others. Media in several countries (Denmark, Sweden and especially the UK come to mind) loves to write about sisters-in-law that do not like each other. Remembering Princess Sofia and Princess Madeleine of Sweden, Crown Princess Mary and Princess Marie of Denmark, or the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York.
2. In some monarchies you won’t have a huge role and will hardly have any official royal engagements, in others you will have to undertake royal engagements yourself. It all depends on the position of your partner in the line of succession. Marrying a monarch, crown prince(ss) or future heir will certainly mean you will have to work for the monarchy. The monarchy concentrates on the monarch and the future, thus the crown prince(ss) and his/her family. All others are there to support them in their role. Some monarchies are pretty modern, others are very old-fashioned. The more old-fashioned the more important the family hierarchy is. And positions might always change in the future.
We have seen changes in several royal families in the past years. In Spain, The Netherlands and Belgium the list of royals actually working on behalf of the monarchy has become much smaller after the new monarch ascended the throne. These monarchies mainly concentrate on the monarch, his wife and children. Other family members sometimes have royal engagements and attend family events. But overall they have their own life and often even jobs. A change can turn out to be a challenge for some of them though, especially if they had to adapt to representing the monarchy much less, and sometimes not at all. Infanta Elena of Spain, Princess Astrid and Prince Laurent of Belgium come to mind immediately. The change for Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands and his wife seems to have been much smaller. Transitions have also been notable in Sweden and Denmark, where the younger children of the monarch have gradually become less important in the past years. They and their families have to define a new role for themselves, like Prince Joachim of Denmark, Prince Carl Philip and Princess Madeleine of Sweden. Others, like Princess Märtha Louise of Norway, have chosen their own path. In the UK I see much more of a struggle, as Queen Elizabeth II is of course much older, and her children and grandchildren have become very much used to a role, that might change in the near future.
3. As said the monarchy concentrates on the monarch and the future, thus the crown prince(ss) and his/her family. Your main job will be to support them in their role. That means that if you are marrying a less important member of the royal family, you’re not going to be the star yourself. One has always to take in consideration what the most important members of the family do, and not overshadow them. Also when having engagements with your partner – especially abroad – he/she, as a born royal, might well be the most important guest, and you’re the one who has to show support.
Define the subjects you’re interested in, see how they fit with the ones of other family members. Distinguish yourself, develop your own profile. Sooner or later you will receive your own patronages. You might not be able to speak freely about private things or politics. But by showing commitment and passion for the subjects you care for, you can give signs in another way. Also without giving your opinion loudly, you will have a voice that is strong and sometimes well heard all over the world. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands used her former career as banker to get involved into microfinance and inclusive finance, the Duchess of Cornwall and Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands for example chose to battle illiteracy. Others fight for the environment, animals, HIV/AIDS, children, violence … There is always something that needs your attention.
Once you’re fully settled and am used to your royal and rather public life, you might slowly be able to make changes to your work, the way you’re dressing or other things. But never too quick. One has to be patient.
Remember: quite understandable royal life is simply not everybody’s cup of tea. In the past marriages would be unequal if you weren’t a royal or noble, and your partner might even lose succession rights, but that is seldomly the case anymore. There are countries where you could choose not to ask for permission to get married, in others your partner could step down from his position and “leave” the family. Such a step gives you more freedom. But it is something that is to be considered carefully, and in cooperation with the family, as it might mean huge changes for all of you. It however won’t mean that the media isn’t interested in you anymore, and certainly if your partner is not used to a life outside the royal family, and earning his/her own money, it might be a challenge for him/her too.
Whether you are a working royal or not. It is important to stay discrete any time, don’t speak extensively about the family, don’t cause scandals. As a family member it is simply your duty to protect the monarchy, even when you’re not directly working for them.