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Why can Princess Alexandra undertake engagements but Beatrice & Eugenie can’t?

As Royal Central has been reporting in recent days, tensions have been emerging between the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York over the question of whether Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie should become full-time working royals.

While Prince Andrew is pushing for his daughters to gain more recognition and not be overshadowed by their cousins, Princes William and Harry, the Prince of Wales has long been campaigning for a more streamlined monarchy. Perhaps the most notable example of his efforts in this direction came in 2012, when the Queen was flanked only by Charles himself, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry on her historic Diamond Jubilee balcony appearance (readers may recall that the Duke of Edinburgh was absent as he had been admitted to hospital a few days earlier).

A poll taken by Royal Central a few days ago showed that over half of people surveyed believe that Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie should not become full time working royals.

The question has been hotly debated in royal circles for years, with things now coming to a head with the involvement of the Queen. Prince Andrew, in fact, reportedly wrote to his mother asking that his daughters be made full-time working members of the Royal Family and be given taxpayer-funded accommodation at Kensington Palace, like their cousins Princes William and Harry. A spokeswoman from Buckingham Palace refused to comment on the matter, but there is no doubt that the issue remains a very pressing one.

A question puzzling those who are favour of the York Princesses being granted full-time working royal status is the unique position of the Queen’s first cousin, Princess Alexandra.

Born on Christmas Day 1936, Princess Alexandra is the youngest daughter of Prince George, Duke of Kent, and Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, and the youngest granddaughter of King George V and Queen Mary.

The Royal Family’s website reports that the Princess “has supported the Queen throughout her reign, through representing Her Majesty in the UK and overseas and attending events of national significance”. Princess Alexandra remains a very active member of the Royal Family and is patron or president of over 100 organisations, which reflect her wide-ranging interests.

She undertook her first official solo engagement aged just 17, when she visited the British Red Cross on 11 August 1954. The Princess was then 9th in line to the throne and it was imperative that she started playing a more active role within the Royal Family after the accession of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth II. As Princess Alexandra’s brother, Prince Michael of Kent, clarifies on his website: “Prince Michael’s sister, Princess Alexandra, was asked by the Queen to undertake such duties because of a lack of female members of the family during the 1960s“.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were away on their first Commonwealth tour for almost six months between November 1953 and May 1954. Prince Charles and Princess Anne were of course still too young. The Queen Mother, who was still grieving, undertook a limited number of engagements at the time, as did the Princess Royal, the Queen’s aunt, who had been widowed in 1947 and mostly resided at Harewood House, her home in West Yorkshire.

This left only Princess Margaret, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester (whose children were still too young to fulfil a public role), the Duchess of Kent and her children.

In the early years of her cousin’s reign, Princess Alexandra undertook many high profile engagements: she carried out an extensive tour of Australia in 1959 and, a year later, represented the Queen at the Nigerian Independence celebrations.

Nowadays, the Princess, who is now 50th in line to throne, continues to support the Queen at official receptions and annual events, such as as Trooping the Colour. She also regularly attends receptions for The Queen’s Award for Enterprise winners and The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. Most recently, she was a guest at the State banquet the Queen gave in honour of the President of the Republic of Colombia earlier this month.

With the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh still undertaking between them the bulk of official engagements (figures for 2015 can be found here), it does perhaps not seem as necessary for the younger members of the Royal Family to start taking a more active role as it was in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Princess Alexandra first took on higher profile engagements.

However, while the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh remain undoubtedly very active, they’re 90 and 95 respectively, Prince Charles is about to turn 68 and Princess Anne is 66. It will be many years, if not decades, before Prince George and Princess Charlotte can take on any sort of public role. In this scenario, it comes as no surprise that the Duke of York is lobbying for more active roles for his daughters, who are the only adult princesses of the blood under 30 years old.

After the Duke of York required his mother’s intervention on the matter, the question of whether the York Princesses will be allowed to receive full-time working royal status lies with the Queen.