And that’s a wrap on the Duke of Cambridge’s Middle Eastern tour! As I noted last night, I haven’t been able to give this trip as much attention as it deserved, but the task handed to the second-in-line to the throne was a weighty one and there was ample room for him to inadvertently say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Historically, the British Royal Family’s stance on conflict between Israel and Palestine has been that they wouldn’t weigh in until a resolution had been reached – and while that’s very royal, it’s not particularly useful or reflective of reality.
William’s presence in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a marked course-correction and he took on a jam-packed schedule full of intense, high-profile meetings without breaking a sweat. He did a wonderful job this week and now that it’s come to a close, I’m actually a bit grateful that the Duchess didn’t join him, even though she was missed. Handling this solo allowed the spotlight to remain on him, not Kate’s fashion or candid remarks about their children. This week, I think even his critics will have to agree, he appeared like a future monarch.
So, let’s cover the final day, though you can catch up on Days One, Two, Three & Four in earlier posts. This morning, William was in Jerusalem where he was given a short history of the its Old City from the vantage point of the Mount of Olives. The moment offered one of the most stunning vistas we’ve received this tour.
He then traveled to the nearby Church of St Mary Magdalene where his great-grandmother, Princess Alice, is buried. Alice was the Duke of Edinburgh’s mother, herself a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria – hence how Prince Philip and the Queen are distantly related. Alice was born Princess Alice of Battenberg, her parents being Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse (eldest daughter of Queen Victoria’s second daughter). Alice went on to marry Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, though you will note her tomb only says Greece.
Andrew was a son of King George I of Greece, who himself was a son of King Christian IX of Denmark and a brother to Alexandra of Denmark, queen consort of Britain’s Edward VII. Thus, he was legally a Greek prince, but based on heritage still retained his standing as a member of the Danish Royal Family. Andrew and Alice had five children, four daughters and then, finally, Philip, who was born in 1921 in Corfu.
The Greek Royal Family ended up in exile not long after Philip’s birth and unfortunately that led to a break in Andrew and Alice’s marriage and disruptive childhoods for their children. Their daughters ended up marrying German men and settling on the continent, but Philip spent most of his time in Britain – his summers were spent in England with his maternal aunts and uncles (the Battenbergs became the Mountbattens, which may ring a bell) and he was educated in Scotland (which may also ring a bell for fans of The Crown).
Alice suffered from mental health issues and was at various points hospitalized. She eventually made a recovery and spent her later years and widowhood in Greece focused on her faith and humanitarian efforts, which included supporting Jewish families during the Holocaust. Towards the end of her life, she joined Philip in London and spent a few years living at Buckingham Palace with him, the Queen and her young grandchildren. She chose as her place of rest the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem and her wishes were finally carried out in 1988.
Philip and the Prince of Wales have both made the trip to pay their respects – Philip was in fact present along with one of his sisters for his mother’s re-burial there. It is the first time, of course, that William has visited her grave.
The Duke was welcomed by Father Roman, the head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, and Abbess Elizabeth. Before entering, and per Russian Orthodox custom, he took bread and salt. Inside, he laid flowers at the sarcophagus of St Elizabeth (more on her below) and then made his way to Alice’s crypt.
Father Roman said a prayer for Alice’s soul and William bowed his head in silence for several minutes.
Before leaving, he was shows photographs from this particular branch of his family and presented with gifts for Kate and their children, including a glass Easter Egg for the Duchess and small wooden Easter eggs for Princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte.
William’s gift in return, however, was fairly breathtaking. He offered up a facsimile of an icon that was placed in 1913 by Princess Elizabeth of Hesse at the tomb of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (her maternal grandparents). Elizabeth was Alice’s maternal aunt, younger sister of her mother, Victoria of Hesse. She went on to marry a member of the Russian Royal Family and was assassinated in 1918 on Lenin’s orders. Elizabeth was later canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church and is thus St Elizabeth Romanov – the same saint above for whom William paid his respects. She is buried in the same church as her niece.
William said, “This is to go with my great-grandmother,” and Father Roman promised to hang the gift in Alice’s crypt.
Father Roman later said:
“I told him [William] all about the history of the church. We spoke about Princess Alice’s relics, and how she came to be buried here and we prayed together. He said he found it profoundly moving, he was certainly moved to learn more about his family history and pay his respects to his great-grandmother in such a holy place. Because this is the personal part of his visit, this is his family. Everything else on this trip has been so official and public, this was half an hour of totally personal peace.
“We also shared a little joke. When I was showing him the family tree with the Russian links, I told the Prince that I’d read somewhere that someone once asked Prince Philip if he had ever been to Russia, and that he had said ‘they murdered half my bloody family, so maybe I’ll go, maybe not.’ The Prince laughed and said: ‘He would say that.'”
For me, this was the highlight of the trip and the moment I was waiting for – I thought it was beautifully executed.
But he wasn’t done yet: William made his way to the Old City where he prayed at the Western Wall.
He also visited the Dome of the Rock. Muslims believe it was the site of the Prophet Muhammad’s ascent to heaven, while for the Jewish it is where Abraham was ordered by God to sacrifice his son.
Finally, he was shown the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Church stands above the site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection. William was shown the Holy Edicule, a shrine built where the body of Jesus is believed to have been buried. At Golgotha, which according to tradition is where the crucifixion took place, William lit a candle at the altar.
While today wasn’t perhaps the busiest day of the tour, it was arguably the most meaningful – and certainly the most spiritual. As William paid his respects to various faiths today I couldn’t help but be reminded of his father, for Prince Charles has been a staunch advocate on the importance of religions peacefully co-existing. That may not seem particularly revolutionary, but it is profound when one considers that he will one day be the head of the Church of England and it was only a few years ago that members of the BRF were prohibited from marrying Catholics, for example. Britain’s religious strife may seem a thing of a past – and it is, in some respects – but in today’s landscape any and all reminders to protect the freedom to worship – any worship – are crucial. Charles has always been aware of this necessity and uses his position to promote that message with regularity – it was nice to see his son carry on that mantle abroad today.
In the meantime, I’m sure that William is exhausted and very happy to be back home at Kensington Palace with Kate and their children. We will next see the whole family on July 9 for Louis’s christening at St James’s Chapel in London, and it’s entirely possible that we will see William and Kate before that thanks to Wimbledon starting on July 2. I think we all have our fingers crossed for a showing of Kate with the Duchess of Sussex, but I’ll take an old-school Cambridge appearance, too!
As for Harry and Meghan, their next engagement is scheduled for July 5 and an appearance for the entire RF has been announced on July 10 at Westminster Abbey for the centenary of the Royal Air Force. From there, the couple will head off for their mini-tour of Dublin. So, a lot to look forward to in the next couple weeks and in the meantime, I’m going to play catch up on historical posts!