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Who is Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg?

Henri Albert Gabriel Félix Marie Guillaume was born 16 April 1955, the second child and eldest son of the (then) Hereditary Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg and Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium. The Prince was born at his parent’s residence Betzdorf Castle, like his elder sister, Princess Marie-Astrid (born on 17 February 1954) before him and all of his future siblings would be: twins, Prince Jean and Princess Margaretha (born on 15 May 1957) and Prince Guillaume (born on 1 May 1963). His godparents were his maternal uncle, the (then) Prince of Liège (King Albert II of Belgium) and his paternal aunt, Princess Marie Gabriele of Luxembourg, Countess of Holstein-Ledreborg.

On 12 November 1964, when Henri was aged nine, his grandmother, Grand Duchess Charlotte’s abdication and his father’s subsequent accession as Grand Duke of Luxembourg made the young Prince heir apparent. As the Grand Duke’s eldest son, he automatically took the title of Hereditary Grand Duke. However, this did not come into use until Prince Henri reached maturity at the age of 18 on 16 April 1972. Henri attended primary school in Luxembourg and started his secondary education in the country before completing it in France, where he successfully passed the French General Certificate of Education (baccalauréat) in 1974. Following the conclusion of his secondary education, the Hereditary Grand Duke then enrolled at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the United Kingdom like his father before him and like two of his own sons would later do. His Royal Highness was commissioned an officer in 1975. In 1989, His Royal Highness was appointed an Honorary Major of the Royal Parachute Regiment (UK).

Prince Henri then studied economics and political science at the University of Geneva where, in 1980, after four years at the university, he graduated with honours in political science. His studies took him to other countries, both in Europe and overseas. Between 1978 and 1980, he visited the United States as a trainee to gain practical working experience as well as to further his studies. It was while studying at the university that Henri met Maria Teresa Mestre y Batista Falla, a wealthy Cuban and descendant of Spanish nobility. The two pursued similar studies and sometimes worked together in the same study group. It is unknown exactly how long the pair knew one another before beginning to date, but it is known that their relationship blossomed out of a strong friendship.

The pair’s engagement was announced on 8 November 1980 by Luxembourg Minister of State Pierre Werner. The announcement was made three weeks after the couple had finished their studies at the University of Geneva and, apparently, a day after the engagement was considered official. The Luxembourg public had known nothing of the couple’s relationship up to this point. Despite Maria Teresa’s accomplishments and the noble and wealthy history of her family, the Grand Ducal Family was reportedly dismayed at the Prince’s wish to marry her, as they had hoped he would choose a royal or noble spouse. It was rumoured that Hereditary Grand Duke Henri even offered to renounce his claim to the Grand Ducal Throne in order to be allowed to marry Maria Teresa if that was what it would take. At this drastic proposal, Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte finally relented and allowed the couple to announce their engagement.

After originally being told to choose either a date in February, March or April for their wedding festivities, the couple did not want to wait any longer and thus chose the closest day, the 14th of February. It was only a few years after their wedding that the couple realised that they had chosen to marry on St Valentine’s Day, as it was not a well-known date in Europe at the time.

Grand Ducal Family of Luxembourg in 2012. Photo: Denis Probst via Wikimedia Commons.

On the morning of 14 February 1981, the couple was married civilly in a simple ceremony held at the Grand Ducal Palace of Luxembourg in the presence of their respective immediate families and their closest friends. The ceremony was conducted by the Mayor of Luxembourg City, Camille Polfer and was followed an hour later by a religious ceremony in the Notre Dame Cathedral in the capital city. Over 700 guests attended the religious service, including King Olav V of Norway, King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of Belgium, Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik of Denmark, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Of the occasion, Prince Henri later said:

“I will always remember this day as the day that was filled with such great joy. I will not conceal that I was a little excited about the enormous appeal, which had surrounded our wedding in the media. However, in that moment, in which my fiancée walked into the cathedral, any nervousness I had was gone, and I knew that we would now forever face the tasks that my life and my function would put to us to overcome, together. This moment is one of my best memories.”

The couple went on to have five children together: Prince Guillaume Jean Joseph Marie (born on 11 November 1981), Prince Félix (born on 3 June 1984), Prince Louis (born on 3 August 1986), Princess Alexandra (born on 16 February 1991) and Prince Sébastien (born on 16 April 1992, the same birthday as his father). The couple now also has four grandchildren.

One of Prince Henri’s main roles as Hereditary Grand Duke was Honorary Chairman of the Board of Economic Development, established in 1977. As a result of this position, His Royal Highness visited numerous countries around the world in order to promote investment opportunities in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. In 1980, he was appointed a member of the State Council, as a result of which he became familiar with the legislative branch of Luxembourg’s parliamentary system. He held membership until 1998.

His Royal Highness chairs a number of economic, social, cultural, sports and other associations as well as the Civil Emergency Services. His Royal Highness is an active member of the Mentor Foundation, which was recently created under the patronage of the World Health Organisation. The aim of the Foundation is to prevent substance abuse among young people. He has been a full member of the International Olympic Committee since the Nagano session of February 1998.

His Royal Highness is deeply concerned about nature and its preservation both in Luxembourg and abroad. He is Chairman of the Galapagos Darwin Trust Luxembourg, and he is part of the President’s Council of the Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands. The association “Hëllef fir d’Natur- natur&ëmwelt” (environment preservation) has also been granted his high patronage. Besides these organisations, the Prince became (and continues to be) a member of the board of directors of the “Fondation du Grand-Duc et de la Grande-Duchesse”, which was created by his wife following their wedding (albeit under a different name).

Henri and Maria Teresa, and their son Guillaume. Photo: Disquatufais (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

On 4 March 1998, Prince Henri was appointed as Lieutenant Representative by his father, Grand Duke Jean, meaning that he assumed most of his father’s constitutional powers. On October 7, 2000, Grand Duke Jean abdicated in favour of his eldest son, and so Prince Henri became Grand Duke of Luxembourg and took the constitutional oath before the Chamber of Deputies later that day. Upon his accession to the throne, Grand Duke Henri became Commander-in-Chief of the Luxembourg Army, and obtained the rank of general.

Grand Duke Henri is a constitutional monarch, and therefore, has limited powers; however, he does have the power to appoint the Prime Minister and government, to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies, to proclaim laws enacted by the Chamber of Deputies, and to accredit ambassadors. However, a constitutional crisis almost came into effect when on 2 December 2008 Grand Duke Henri refused to ratify a new law on euthanasia that had been approved earlier in the year by the Chamber of Deputies. The signature of the Grand Duke was required under the Constitution in order for the law to take effect. In the absence of clarity on the long-term implications for the constitutional position of the Grand Duke posed by such a refusal, it was announced by the Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, that a constitutional amendment would be brought forward whereby the signature of the monarch would no longer be necessary for laws to be enacted. This would remove one of the legislative roles of the Grand Duke, namely the approving of new legislation.

The Grand Duke is fluent in Luxembourgish, French, English and German and has some knowledge in Spanish, his wife’s mother-tongue. The Grand Duke spends most of his leisure time reading or listening to classical music. His Royal Highness adores sports, his favourite sports being swimming, water-skiing, sailing, tennis, hunting and fishing. The Grand Duke lives with his wife and two youngest children at Berg Castle in the village of Colmar-Berg near Luxembourg City. He also has a holiday home at Cabasson, near Bormes-les-Mimosas in the south of France, where the Grand Ducal Family spend most summers.

On 3 February 2011, Grand Duke Henri was admitted to the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg after falling ill that morning. Shortly afterwards, the Grand Ducal Court issued a statement saying that His Royal Highness was to undergo an angioplasty. The day after, the Communications Chief announced that the surgery had been a success.  Although the reason has not formally been disclosed, it is reported that the Grand Duke felt ill after waking that day, and the Court Physician noticed circulation problems. It was then that he was rushed to hospital, to the cardiac unit, and was discharged the following day.

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