Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg is celebrating twenty years as his country’s ruler but if you’re waiting for a jubilee, then move along. Events to mark what is a milestone for every monarch have been muted to say the least. In fact, as Henri lives through this landmark, all eyes are turning increasingly to those who will one day take his throne.
The Grand Duke is aware of that. In an interview to mark this historic moment, Henri has told Luxemburger Wort that he has no plans to step aside. Abdication rumours have followed him for a while now but he has now dismissed any possibility of handing over power to his heir, Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume, for the forseeable future. The fact that the question was asked at all, however, indicates the situation that Henri finds himself in and hints at a reason for this particular anniversary being rather low key.
In fact, low key is a good way to describe much of Henri’s past year. Even before the coronavirus pandemic took hold and changed the very nature of royal roles, the Grand Duke was treading a fine line in the public eye. He himself is a popular man. But the Grand Ducal Court over which he presides and the role of his consort there have come under intensive and far from positive scrutiny in recent times. The Waringo Report found a culture of fear there and reforms are well under way. And in the meantime, focus has increasingly fallen on the couple who will one day take over as Luxembourg’s leading pair.
The heir to the throne, Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume, has taken an increasingly high profile role along with his wife, Hereditary Grand Duchess Stephanie. The birth of their long awaited first child, Prince Charles, in May 2020 was always bound to excite interest but in the months since, it’s this trio who have become the leading lights of the Luxembourg Royal Family.
Part of it’s down to baby love because, let’s face it, we all love a (royal) baby. The fact that Guillaume and Stephanie waited eight years before welcoming a son who they clearly delight in only adds to the interest. But when Charles was christened, in September 2020, Henri was all but invisible. Yes, it’s a day for parents and child but the ruler of a monarchy is a pretty major player at milestones involving a future successor. Instead, Henri made a low key arrival and remained discreetly in the background for the rest of the day.
In the weeks following, the Grand Duke has held a series of audiences but his agenda has been low key. Meanwhile, the family of his son and heir are the ones everyone is looking at and talking about as they met Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, during a tree planting marking the arrival of Charles and made a high profile appearance celebrating another royal tradition, the naming of a rose in honour of the baby prince.
Of course, this all comes at a difficult time for everyone. The coronavirus pandemic continues to dominate lives across Europe and the restrictions it has brought with it, to keep all of us safe, has limited many royal events. But Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg’s twentieth anniversary as ruler feels less of a milestone and more like a passing place. The focus of his royal family has most definitely fallen now on what is yet to come and not just because young Charles is turning into an almost irresistible young prince.
The handover of power may not be imminent but Guillaume, Stephanie and their son represent a future where the difficulties of the past years can be left behind and at this historic moment, that certainly feels like where attention is moving.