Comment Opinion & Features

Europe’s radiant royals are helping preserve family values

King Willem-Alexander, Queen Máxima and their three daughters (Remko de Waal/AFP/Getty)

Royal history is often entwined with stories of scandals, illicit lovers, royal mistresses and infants born out of wedlock. (Charles II had 19 such progeny.) So royal misbehaviour is nothing new; nor is the choice of unwise companions.

Yet it is surely edifying to note that among the European royals these days there seem to be so many happy and faithful marriages, and such a show of united family life.

Consider King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands – most recently in the news because of the death of the king’s aunt, Christina, who was partly blind (and, as it happens, a Catholic convert, which caused some controversy). Willem-Alexander and Máxima, who have three daughters, are a true love match, and no squeak of marital scandal has ever been attached to either of them.

Similarly, for their neighbours: King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium have four children, and seem to be a devoted married couple.

Same story for the Scandis: in Sweden, the Crown Princess Victoria and her husband, Daniel, have just marked 18 years of apparently blissfully united conjugal life, with their two young children.

In Denmark, the Crown Prince Frederik and his Tasmanian-born wife, Mary, are celebrating 15 years of marriage and four children. The Norwegian royals also present a joyful picture of family togetherness.

In Spain, King Felipe and his beautiful consort Letizia, appear to be a notably faithful couple (although it is true that Letizia was previously married), and the parents of two seemingly well-brought-up young girls, the Infantas. King Felipe certainly seems to be a more loving husband than his predecessor.

In Monaco, where the Grimaldis had a previous reputation for fast living and French mistresses, Prince Albert appears to have settled into the role of contented husband and father, with his wife, Charlene, and young twins.

Meanwhile the summer holidays have brought holiday snapshots, in the Continental press, of these many examples of royals leading exemplary lives.

We never know exactly what lies under the surface, or in the human heart, but it’s interesting to observe the prevalence of what might be called conservative and Christian family values among Europe’s crowned heads.

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Like many people, I’m fascinated by the Camino to Santiago, though I doubt if I’ll ever have the time, the opportunity or the endurance to walk it myself. Books and stories about the pilgrimage can bring home the experience, and I’ve enjoyed Michael Small’s fictionalised story of the Camino walk, Waiting for Amy.

It’s a “quest” narrative – about an older man, Wade, who has lost his faith and is walking the Camino across Spain as both a spiritual search and a self-examination.

He is instructed by a mysterious guide, who appears episodically, that the Camino is about “body, mind and spirit”.

The body is tested by the walking – but also, for a lone older man, by the experience of mixed dormitories, and the presence of attractive young women, to whose charms Wade is vulnerable. He tells himself that “there’s no fool like an old fool”, but he is human, and the impact of the Camino is highly emotional. Spirit, mind and flesh are all intertwined in this journey. Wade also carries a guilty secret, which is where Amy comes to be part of the story. It would make an intriguing movie, with the right director.

The book is topographically accurate – every step along the Camino route is recorded – and partly autobiographical too. Michael Small is 75, a retired teacher who has always wanted to write, and after he walked the Camino, the story came to him. He found a helpful editor and published his novel himself – good for him. Waiting for Amy is available from Amazon at £8.99 for the paperback and £1.99 for the Kindle edition.

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Some Brexit enthusiasts want Britain to mark November 1 with a national holiday – the first day after the expected exit from the EU. But as November 1 is All Saints’ Day, and a national holiday in many parts of Continental Europe, this might act as a revival of a holy day marked by European Christendom. In that sense, it would be rejoining a European tradition, rather than separating from one.

Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4