From Placentia to the Palace -- the Canadian roots of the Countess of St. Andrews
An article on the Canadian roots of the Countess of St. Andrews, featuring commentary from me, appeared in today's The Telegram (a Newfoundland newspaper), authored by Steve Bartlett
"From Placentia to the Palace: The Queen’s first great-grandchild isn’t the only Canadian with a connection to the throne -- The Telegram - January 8th 2011
Not many people born in this province can say the late Princess Diana was their son’s godmother.
Or that their in-laws live in a palace. Or that their youngest child is in the line of succession for the British throne.
Or that there is speculation as to whether she’ll present the trophies at the Wimbledon tennis championship.
But Placentia-born Sylvana (Tomaselli) Windsor can make such claims.
“(She) is one of the least known members of the Royal Family. She and her husband maintain a very low profile,” explained Rafal Heydel-Mankoo, an editor with Burke’s Peerage and Gentry, a guide to the genealogical history of royal and noteworthy families.
Canadian connections to the monarchy recently made holiday headlines.Autumn Phillips, the Montreal-born wife of the Queen’s grandson, Peter, had a baby girl Dec. 29.
The newborn is Elizabeth II’s first great-grandchild, and she’ll hold dual British and Canadian citizenship, making the child the first Canuck to be in line for the throne. (She’s 12th on the list.)The baby girl and her mom weren’t the first Canadian citizens to be part of the modern-day Royal Family, though. Sylvana married George Windsor 23 years ago Sunday at a registry office in Scotland.
George’s father is Prince Edward, the Queen’s first cousin. He’s also the Duke of Kent, a title that involves carrying out official duties on behalf of the Queen and sees him living in a Kensington Palace apartment.
With his “I do,” Sylvana’s hubby gave up his place in the succession to the throne. Because she was Catholic, the Act of Settlement barred George — but not his children — from the crown. (Not that there was ever a realistic chance he’d become king.)
Sylvana and George have three children, a boy and two girls. The two oldest converted to Catholicism and are also blocked from the line of succession. The youngest child has not converted and is 29th in line for the throne. George Windsor’s title is Earl of St. Andrews, making Sylvana the Countess of St. Andrews. Both are considered courtesy stylings.
Heydel-Mankoo noted that George will become the Duke of Kent with the passing of his father. Sylvana would then be the Duchess of Kent.
But they will not be Royal Highnesses, as the current Duke and Duchess are. It was decided in 1917 that Royal Dukedoms — as the five dukes are known — would no longer be “Royal” after the third generation.
George and Sylvana will instead be known as His Grace and Her Grace, Heydel-Mankoo explained.
Given the increasing distance between the Duke of Kent and the throne, the peerage expert said it’s doubtful the couple would fulfil as many duties on behalf of the crown as George’s parents do.
“It will be interesting to see whether the Earl of St. Andrews will succeed his father as president of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon,” Heydel-Mankoo said. “And, if so, whether the Countess of St. Andrews will present the Wimbledon trophies, as her mother-in-law famously did until recently.”
Sylvana did not respond to The Telegram’s request for an interview.
There are next to no public details about her life in Canada, and Newfoundland especially. She was born at Placentia in May 1957, to Maximillian Tomaselli and Josiane Preschez.
Town resident Rhonda Power checked church records for The Telegram Friday and confirmed Sylvana was baptized at the Holy Rosary Parish on July 20th of the year she was born.The sponsors at the christening were not local, suggesting a possible connection to the U.S. naval base at nearby Argentia. Other than that, it’s known that Sylvana was married to a John Paul Jones in Vancouver in 1977, and they divorced in 1981.
The Telegram spoke to numerous people knowledgeable about Placentia and the Argentia base, but the name Tomaselli didn’t ring a bell with any of them. That’s not surprising, since it’s hardly a common surname in Placentia, Fox Harbour and Jerseyside.
George Wiscombe worked on the base at the officer’s club from the mid-’50s until 1994. When asked if he knew a Maximillian Tomaselli, he replied, “No, sir, I don’t.” Wiscombe said there were thousands of serviceman who went through, and unless Tomaselli was an officer, he wouldn’t have known him. People with in-depth knowledge of the Placentia cottage hospital didn’t recognize the name either.
Outside of Sylvana’s royal ties, what’s known about her is that she’s a respected scholar.
According to Heydel-Mankoo, she graduated from York University in Ontario with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in arts before going on to study at the University of Cambridge.That’s where she met her royal husband and where she currently lectures, at St. John’s College. Listed on the school’s website under her maiden name, Sylvana specializes in 18th-century political theory and is the director of studies in history.
She has written numerous scholarly articles and edited or co-edited four books, Heydel-Mankoo said.
Her three children appeared in a fashion spread for Tatler, a British magazine, this past November. Still, Heydel-Mankoo said their notoriety is not on the rise. “The have maintained a discreet and respectable lifestyle,” he said, attributing that to the importance of their faith.
Interestingly, the Daily Mail reported in October that the late Princess Diana was the godmother of Sylvana’s son. (There are old pictures online of Sylvana sitting next to Diana, who has a baby on her lap.)
Sylvana’s journey from Placentia to the Palace must have been interesting, without a doubt. If only more were known about it."