Sunday, August 26, 2018

Luxarazzi 101: Prince Consort Felix - Family and Interwar Years

For the first part of our biography series on Prince Felix, have a look here.


After returning from their honeymoon that took them to Egypt, among others, Grand Duchess Charlotte, grandmother of the current Grand Duke, and her husband Prince Felix faced a difficult time back in Luxembourg. Although the monarchy had been preserved following the outcome of the 1919 Referendum, both Charlotte and Felix knew that the events of the First World War had considerably soured the public's perception of the institution. They knew that meddling in politics had led to the downfall of Charlotte's sister Marie-Adélaïde, so therefore any further interference should be avoided at all costs. As a result, the couple wished to prove themselves to the Luxembourgish people as a dedicated team devoted to improving life within the Grand Duchy.
Charlotte (far left) and Felix (far right) with Albert I and Elisabeth of the Belgians
in 1930 during a Belgian state visit to Luxembourg
Male consorts were still a rarity among European royalty during the early years of Felix's marriage. The only other male consort at the time was Hendrik of Mecklenberg-Schwerin, the husband of Dutch Queen Wilhelmina; the fact that he was given insufficient income and few duties had caused significant trouble within the marriage. Though his life as a consort and second fiddle was not without struggle, Felix was determined to serve his new country to the best of his abilities, despite the fact that the role was not as well-defined for a man as all of his predecessors within the family and Luxembourg in general had been women.  He is often considered the most important and trusted advisor of his wife who was the one guiding family life and decisions.

Felix and Charlotte visiting the Aero-Club in 1922
Fitting of his military past, Felix became colonel at the head of the Luxembourg Volunteer Army, one of two branches of the armed forces (the other one being the police), starting in 1920. Their first engagement after returning from honeymoon had actually led Charlotte and Felix to visit the volunteer troops on December 19, 1919. The command was largely ceremonial, as the day-to-day operations were under the control of Captain Emile Speller. Felix also divided his time among various charitable pursuits, such as serving the first of two terms as the president of the Luxembourg Red Cross from 1923 to 1932.

The year 1920 was a crucial one for Luxembourg: On January 15, the first British ambassador after the war was sent to the Grand Duchy to present his credentials to the Grand Duchess with French and Belgian ambassadors to follow soon thus strengthening the country and Charlotte's rule. Charlotte and Felix also met with French President Raymond Poincaré in Thionville in February. In December, Luxembourg became part of the League of Nations though it meant that Charlotte and Felix had to somewhat distance themselves from the German or married-to-Germans parts of their family.

In 1922 Felix served as the official "guardian" of five members of the former Emperor Karl of Austria's suite who settled temporarily in the Grand Duchy on their way to Spain from exile in Madeira. The presence of the contingency in Luxembourg was deeply unpopular with the people as it was feared that it would incite violence in the country. 
Charlotte and Felix with their children in the early 1930s 
In the meantime, the Grand Ducal Family was growing rapidly, ensuring the succession and continuation of the dynasty. In the morning hours of January 6, 100 canon shots announced the birth of the first first child of the couple, the future Grand Duke Jean, at around 11pm the night before. The birth of an heir to the throne evoked a new patriotic pride in the Grand Duchy that had been missing for almost a decade or so. Four daughters and another son were born between 1922 and 1929:

- Princess Elisabeth (1922-2011)
- Prince Charles (1927-1977)
- Princess Alix (1929-)

Prince Felix in 1937 during a hunt in Grünewald Forest
A long-standing urban legend exists stating that Felix lost ownership of a large portion of the central Luxembourg’s Grünewald Forest in 1934 through a poorly-placed casino bet. The story is certainly apocryphal as the forest was actually sold by Grand Duchess Charlotte to the government to help pay family expenses, which were severely strained due to the ongoing Great Depression. Château de Berg, which the Grand Ducal Family had personally owned up until this point, was also part of this transaction. The castle remains the official residence of the Grand Duke (or Grand Duchess) to this day.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Felix served as the official representative of the Grand Duchy at a number of royal events in Europe. Along with Charlotte, Felix attended the wedding of the future Leopold III of Belgium and Astrid of Sweden in 1926. (Leopold and Astrid's daughter Josephine Charlotte would marry Felix and Charlotte's son Jean in 1953.) Felix served as an official representative of Luxembourg at the funeral of British King George V in 1936, as well as an attendee at the coronation of George VI later that same year. 

Felix gradually became more involved in the government as a member of the Council of State at the beginning of 1937. The following year, a conference on military medicine and pharmacy was held in Luxembourg City. The conference was formed as a means of exploring the growing threat of conflict in Europe and treatment of resulted wounded. One idea discussed was that of turning the Grand Duchy into a neutral area devoted strictly to the treatment of all wounded and ill military personnel. Prince Felix became the head of a committee dedicated to determining the feasibility of this proposal. Felix saw this idea as a possible means of maintaining Luxembourg's neutrality should war begin in Europe. As history tells us, however, the idea never came into fruition - we will delve deeper into how Luxembourg and especially Prince Felix fared during the Second World War in the next part of this series.

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