Blog special series & guest posts

Prince Philip: The Centenary

By Sarah Betts with Saira Baker

Today marks 100 years since the birth of Prince Philip on the 10th June 1921 on the island of Corfu as the fifth child, but only son of Prince Andrew (a younger son of King George I of Greece) and his wife Alice of Battenberg (a great-grandchild of Queen Victoria). Philip was thrust on to the global stage in 1947 when he married Princess Elizabeth, who later became Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. Their marriage lasted over 70 years until he died on the 9th April 2021, just a couple of months short of his hundredth birthday, the longest serving consort in the history of the British Royal Family.

Philip and his life have been written about for decades, but rarely (and only relatively recently) in an academic setting. However, both the changing world around, and the personal circumstances of, Philip’s long life provide a vast array of avenues of academic enquiry to explore that match well with many of the directions being seriously pursued within the now well-established, and burgeoning, field of Royal studies. So we have seen, even before his death, that, as the study of modern and contemporary monarchies begins to garner more scholarly weight, essays focused, or part-focused on discussing him have begun to appear in collections such as Charles Beem and Miles Taylor’s, The Man Behind the Queen, (2014), Matthew Glencross, Judith Rowbotham and Michael D. Kandiah’s The Windsor Dynasty: 1910 to the Present, (2016), and The Routledge History of Monarchy (2019), whilst he also appears as an interesting case study in Edward Owens’s monograph, The Family Firm. Monarchy Mass Media and the British Public, (2019).

Most obviously, Philip fits into the study of consorts and consortship which has been for many years a central facet of Royal Studies, and he is set to feature again in this context in the fourth volume of the major forthcoming collection edited by Aidan Norrie, Carolyn Harris, Joanna Laynesmith, Danna Messer, and Elena Woodacre, English Consorts: Power, Influence, Dynasty. However, as someone born into one of Europe’s many exiled/abolished monarchies who married into its most prominent surviving one, a member of an elite European-wide genetic network of influential and royal families who also saw action in the British Navy as plain Lt. Mountbatten, a consort of multiple realms across the world in a global age, an enthusiastic and sometimes visionary patron of innovation in science, technology, arts, sports, youth leadership and the environment, as a man honoured with a grand Royal funeral in a time of restrictions and hardships of a global pandemic, Philip’s life, lifetime, heritage and legacy offers opportunities for comparison and contextualisation across a variety of current and emerging interdisciplinary approaches to Royal Studies.

Modern Monarchies Around the World

The current special issue of the Royal Studies Journal is about royal tours in the modern era. While many of us who study monarchies specialize in ancient, medieval, or early modern history, there are a number of monarchies alive and well in today’s world. The maps below highlight the world’s current monarchies.

current world monarchies
Current Monarchies simplified map

The first map shows the 16 countries of the British Commonwealth that recognize the monarch as head of state (the larger Commonwealth consists of over 50 countries) and the 29 other countries with monarchs. The second map is a simplified version of the first: it provides country names but many smaller principalities were left off the map.

The 16 Commonwealth Countries with a monarch are: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Lucia.

Current Monarchies in the Americas
The 10 monarchies in North America are all part of the Commonwealth.
monarchies in Oceania
A close-up of the monarchies in Oceania. All but the Kingdom of Tonga (green) are part of the Commonwealth.
current monarchies africa

Current monarchies in Africa are Lesotho, Morocco, and Swaziland.

current monarchies asia

The current monarchies in Asia are Bahrain, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.

current monarchies europe

The current monarchies in Europe are Andorra, Belgium, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

The only continents without any monarchies are Antarctica and South America. Asia and Europe are tied for the most monarchies, with 13 each.

*All maps were made using, which is an extremely fun resource!

Guest Post by Rocío Martínez

Exhibition: “The Portrait in the Royal Collections: from Juan de Flandes  to Antonio López”

Royal Palace, Madrid. December 4th, 2014-April 19th, 2015.

In the Early Modern period, as many studies had recently shown us, the royal portraits were sometimes used as a substitute of the royal person itself, as a true embodiment of the royal power. This is a special meaning of the royal visual imagery that had been a little lost in an age dominated by image technology, but we can sense once again in the rooms of temporary exhibition of the Royal Palace of Madrid, where you can see more than a hundred of portraits of different royal people that dominated Europe for more than half a millennium.

Vladislaw IV Vasa, Marcin  Kober, 1596, Madrid, Monastery of the Descalzas Reales

In this great exhibition, people can see some of the most important pieces of the Spanish Royal Collections, dating from the XVth century to the present, because the last painting shown here, an image of the late king of Spain Juan Carlos I’s family, has been presented to the public for the first time ever in this exhibition. With portraits that range from the painting that Roger van der Weyden made of Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy to the contemporary representation of the king Juan Carlos I made by Dalí, through the works of authors as important as Jakob Seisenegger, Antonio Moro, Juan Pantoja de la Cruz.  Peter Paul  Rubens, Hyacinthe Rigaud, Jean Ranc o Joaquín Sorolla, among many others, this exhibition show together paintings and sculptures that allow us to see the evolution of the royal representation and the conception of the relationship between image and royal power from the first decades of the Early Modern Age to the present.

Virgen of Mercy with the Reyes Católicos and their family, Diego de la Cruz, 1486, Burgos, Monastery of Santa María la Real de las Huelgas.

However, we must take into account that this exhibition isn’t exclusively focused on royal portraits. In fact, it tries to bring to light the most important examples of portraiture kept in the Spanish Royal Collections, so this exhibition shows some portraits that don’t represent royal people per se. But if we take into account that, of the 113 pieces shown in this exhibition, only seven of them represent people that aren’t usually considered as royals (even if they are members of the court closely linked to the royal family’s circle), we can consider this as an exhibition centered around the image of the royal family and the royal power through the centuries.

Prince don Juan of Bourbon, Philip Alexius de Lászlo, 1927, Madrid, Royal Palace

Even if it’s impossible for the people who know well the History of Art linked to the Spanish Monarchy to not miss the famous royal portraits that are shown at the Prado Museum and that aren’t in this exhibition, like the magnificent portraits made by Tiziano, the renowned royal representations made by Velázquez or the great Bourbon family paintings made by Van Loo or Goya,  this exhibition has the added charm of showing portraits of a extraordinary quality and significance that are usually kept in less known monuments and, as a result, are sometimes almost unfamiliar for the great public. In fact, some of these paintings  aren’t shown to the public in the places they are usually kept or are in places where they are difficult to see by the visitors; that’s why the possibility of enjoying some of the pieces shown in this exhibition can be considered as a real privilege. This is the case, for example, of the marvelous portraits of the little prince and princess Vasa of Poland (we will return to these portraits again later), kept in the magnificent convent of the Descalzas Reales of Madrid and are usually shown in a dark corridor where they are difficult to see and appreciate, so this exhibitions is probably the first time we can see these enchanting portraits in all their glory in years. Likewise, the interesting but mostly unknown engraving titled “The king’s lifting over the pavés in front of the Courts of Navarre”, made by Dionisio de Ollo, is usually out of the public view in its home in the Royal Library of the Royal Palace  itself. This way, works that are kept in spaces as unfairly unknown by the general public as the mentioned convent of the Descalzas Reales, the Encarnación, the Santa María of Las Huelgas of Burgos or the Royal Palace of El Pardo, for example, have the opportunity to be seen and enjoyed by a greater number of people of all nations. This exhibition presents to the great public paintings and sculptures of great quality and significance that will thrill even the most expert of royal historians.

Emperor Charles V, Jakob Seisenegger, 1530, Mallorca, Royal Palace of Almudaina
Charles Antonio of Bourbon as Hercules, Giuseppe Bonito, 1750, Madrid, Royal Palace of El Pardo

That said, I think there are two main strengths in this exhibition that deserve to be taken into account. The first one is related to the numerous and delightful portraits of royal children that are shown in this exhibition. Unique in their genre, the young princes and princesses that are shown in this exhibition are represented with all the dignity and formality of their rank, but they still can transmit the kind of innocence and gentleness typical of their young age. Amongst all the children portraits shown here, there are several that stand out. The first ones are a pair of portraits with the image of the princes of Poland Anna Maria Vasa and Vladislaw IV, paintings that I have mentioned before in this review. This two young children, painted when they were three and one year old respectively, are dressed just as if they were adults, with rigid court clothes and heavy jewels, where only the velvet cushion in which the young prince stands (proof that he was so little that he can’t even stand securely on his own) and the tenderness of their young faces are the only things that betray the innocence of their ages. Next to them is another very singular portrait, in this case of young princess Anne of Austria, later queen of France, who was just several months old when it was painted. She appears sitting in a red cushion, as she couldn’t even stand yet, but this detail doesn’t take away even a bit of solemnity to the formal stance and regal expression of the young princess. In this case, what attracts the viewer’s attention the most is the great variety of protective charms and relics that cover her little body, a visual proof of part of the belief system of the Baroque, in which they were trying to protect royal babies from illnesses and premature death that they couldn’t explain and against they couldn’t fight with a mix of superstition and traditional religiosity that can be perfectly appreciated in this truly interesting portrait. Lastly, taking a leap of a hundred years, we change centuries and dynasties to see how some of the symbols traditionally used by the Habsburgs share space with elements linked to the new dynasty. In this last case are especially important those children portraits that represent several of Charles III’s sons as classic gods. Two of those children portraits are shown here, the portrait of prince Ferdinand of Bourbon as god Mars and the one of Charles Antonio of Bourbon as Hercules. These young children, painted as divine gods, reflect the continuity of important previous models though its simbology and presentation, still a little hieratic and way too formal for children portraits if we compare them with other portraits of little princes and princesses of that century, but we can perceive several characteristics of the change in perception that will transform these kind of representations, of a more familiar nature, without leaving behind the royal significance that must accompany the portraits of the members of a royal family. These are only some of the many marvelous children portraits shown in this exhibition, from the little effigies of the Reyes Católicos’ children that appear under the protective cloak of the Virgin of Mercy (1486) to the portrait of the grandfather of the reigning king of Spain don Juan of Bourbon as a teenager (1927).

Allegory of Philip  V and his family fighting against heresy, Felipe de Silva, 1710-1711, Madrid, Monastery of San Lorenzo El Escorial
Anna of Austria, Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, 1602, Madrid, Monastery of the Descalzas Reales.

The second of the main strengths that, in my opinion, have this exhibition is the possibility of perceive how the different royal portraits adapt to the political and representative necessities of every moment to transmit effectively the meaning that every monarch need to present in a determined instance, something that can be appreciated better when we can observe different works at the same time. This exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to unravel the political and ideological significance that these portraits transmitted to their contemporaries and to see the intent behind their creation. It was very different the purpose behind the conception of portraits like the ones made of the little Bourbon princes to let their grandfather know them and those paintings like “The Virgin of Mercy”, kept in the monastery of Santa María of Las  Huelgas of Burgos, for example. In this painting, the presence of the Reyes Católicos and their children legitimize the position of the abbess Leonor of Mendoza, sister of the powerful, cardinal Mendoza (who, by the way, is also  present in this painting), that was designated for that position against the wishes of  the rest of the nuns after  the deposition of the previous abbess. We can also appreciate a strong underlying meaning in the portrait that Jakob Seisenegger made of the emperor Charles V, who was represented with court clothes because he wanted to present a conciliatory image of himself in front of his protestant subjects, as he still hoped to reach a lasting agreement with them. Lastly, I can also mention the painting called “Allegory of Philip V and his family fighting against heresy”, linked to the War of Spanish Succession, during which the Bourbon party attacked the supporters of the archduke Charles of Austria accusing him of permitting the entrance of heretics (English, Dutch and some Germans from protestant territories) in the Spanish Monarchy. He is presented here as the protector of Catholic Faith, but it also has another meaning. The order of St. Jerome that lived in the Monastery of Saint Lorenzo El Escorial needed to make peace with the new king and to assure him of its unwavering loyalty, as the monks had had some disputes with Philip V during the war. One of the most interesting of these disputes, for example, was told by Fray Nicolás Jesús Belando. He wrote that once, when queen María Luisa Gabriela of Savoy had to get out of Madrid fairly quickly because the troops of the archduke Charles were nearing the capital, she arrived to the El Escorial and there, according to Fray Nicolás, “she found closed the gates of her own home” when the monks denied her entrance to the monastery and had to sleep in the street with her young son. These are only some examples that allow us to analyze and understand the different dimensions of the royal portraits and how they can transmit different messages depending on the political circumstances of the moment they were created.

Princess Anna Maria Vasa, Marcin Kober, 1596, Madrid, Monastery of the Descalzas Reales

Lastly, I must add that this exhibition has the ability of surprising us in every step. Without doubt, several of the portraits shown here still have secrets awaiting to be discovered, like the case of the strange portrait of king Charles IV backwards, made  by Juan Bauzil, almost  unique in its nature, whose meaning haven’t been unraveled yet.  In any case, those historians interested in the History of Monarchy have a date in Madrid this spring. If you can, don’t miss this exhibition. You won’t regret it.