Or how I learned to stop worrying and embrace Catholic Monarchy
Lord Byron once described the Portuguese town of Sintra as a glorious Eden. Well, if Sintra is Eden then their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Braganza are the Adam and Eve. Most Americans, some Europeans and even a few Portuguese, do not realize, that Portugal, a republic since 1910, has an heir to the Throne and a real royal family. The Duke and his family have had a state-subsidized residence in Sintra since his parents were allowed to return from exile in 1952. In a twist of irony, as the seaside resorts of Portugal were filling with Bourbons, Habsburgs, Savoy’s and the tattered remains of many royal lines, Portugal’s own royal family was packed off first to Britain and later to Switzerland.
He wasn’t even the one I wanted to meet. My friend, Father G., an American priest assigned to Fatima, had met His Royal Highness on several occasions and arranged a lunch in an historic local hotel. I was interested in the hotel because George Gordon, Lord Byron, had stayed in the hotel and it makes a cameo appearance in an allusion in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. I was interested in the lunch because Father G. had also arranged for the presence of the Marquis of Floresta, the Castile and Leon Cronista de Armas of the Kingdom of Spain. If you are a heraldry buff then Floresta is your ultimate go-to guy. If your grandparents were born in Spain, as were mine, then he is the heraldic St. Peter with the power to loose and to bind the mysteries of Iberian genealogy and coats of arms. Yes, the Duke, to me, between the herald and the Harold, was a mere footnote.
Father G. and I arrived early in our cassocks and sashes. The Duke arrived next. He looked like John Cleese dressed impeccably in wide-wale olive cords, tweed jacket, olive foulard tie and tattersall shirt. All he needed to complete the outfit was a Holland & Holland 20-guage and some upside-down quail. The Spaniards, true to form, arrived last, chauffeured in a sleek, black S-Class Mercedes. The first to emerge was a Valencian grocery baron, large of frame, bald of head and bulging of wallet. His friends called him the Golden Fleece because he always picked up the tab. Next to emerge was a tiny little banker who liked to race yachts in Mexico and thought everyone else should as well. Last was the Marquis on whom I had set my conversational sites for the afternoon. The Spaniards all sported the same uniform: Grey flannel pants, blue blazers, brown loafers, signet pinky ring, Hermes tie and the rosette of some Order or another punctuating their lapels. Somehow, while trying to position myself next to the famous heraldist I ended up next to the Duke. Well, what do you say when you have every possible John Cleese-Monty Python skit running through your head? He spoke and began to ask me about myself. After responding with the requisite responses I asked him about himself. After he told me that his godfather was Pope Pius XII after whom he had been named (Duarte Pio) I figured Floresta would keep for a little while. Then he told me that he was a devout Catholic and Mass was the most important part of his week (I thought, well, maybe this man could be a good leader). Then he told me that his foremost responsibility was to be a loving husband and father (I thought, well, the monarchy is looking darn good). Then he told me how important it was to uphold the sanctity of human life, which begins at conception (at this point I was willing to hike my cassock up to kilt-length, paint my face like Braveheart, and go running down the hill to storm the nearest republican barracks shouting, FRREEEEEEEEEDOOOOMMMMMM!)
The Duke of Braganza maintains a semi-official role in Portugal, attending state functions, often with the President of the Republic. What separates him from many other royals in a similar position is that he is not afraid to lead by example and to live his Faith. He understands that the blood royal has nothing to do with being photographed in the latest nightclubs, flirting with scandal and providing fodder for tabloids. Rather, a King is a man dedicated to his family and those entrusted to his care, an example of how others should live, and a defender of the defenseless. If these principles had been followed by other crowned heads, those heads would not have rolled.
Next week, the Smithsonian Institution will open an exhibit on Portuguese art at the Sackler Gallery in Washington. The president of Portugal will be on hand to open the exhibit and the Duke of Braganza will be there as well to symbolize the history of Portugal and, God willing, its future. Oh, and a simple parish priest will drive him.