Well, I suppose that, having lived through Sarah Ferguson (Duchess of York) trying to sell access to Prince Andrew, and Prince Charles having once pined to be Camilla Parker-Bowles’ tampon, no royal behavior should ever be shocking. Especially when the royals are from one of those hail, hail Freedonia countries with all sorts of pretenders to the throne and exiles in waiting (straight out of Ninotchka) running around. A country like, say, Romania.
Still, I was a bit started to spy this particular headline over on CNN the other day: Romanian princess arrested in Oregon cockfighting sweep.
What’s not to like about that one? (The headline, not the cockfighting.)
Princess Irina Walker, who is fifth in line for the Romanian throne – if it ever comes up for grabs – and her husband were among a half dozen folks out in Oregon “charged with operating an illegal gambling business.”
Those six are also charged, along with 12 others, with conspiracy to violate the animal Welfare Act by conducting unlawful animal fighting ventures on 10 occasions, the statement said…Each of the offenses carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, according to the Justice Department.
As always, the local Oregon news had more detail on the case, including information on just how completely and utterly despicable this “sport” is:
The indictment alleges that the derbies featured dozens of cockfights in a ring, much like a fight card in a night of boxing. But the combatants were roosters, each with knives, gaffs or other cutting instruments attached to their legs, fighting to their deaths in a blood sport now outlawed in all 50 states. (Source: Oregon Live.)
Not in my wildest dreams can I imagine even knowing someone who would want to watch armed roosters gouge at each other until one died. Or until one stopped fighting, at which point it would be killed by a human. Some fun, eh?
A referee supervised the fights as concessionaires sold beer and food, and those managing the action took a 10 percent "house" cut, prosecutors allege.
In this country, cockfighting is largely an immigrant pursuit – the others arrested with the Walkers all had Hispanic names – so I’m guessing that the princess and the pea-headed husband were in it for the “house” cut. Or maybe they ran a concession. (Avoid the chicken satay: it might be a bit too real-time.)
Cockfighting is no petty-ante operation, by the way:
Top purses in the earlier cockfighting case sometimes reached into the tens of thousands of dollars, authorities said.
But the Walkers could lose their ranch, because it’s:
…subject to federal forfeiture because it was used in a criminal enterprise.
In truth, both of the Walkers look like a couple of sad sacks - the sort couple who tied the knot not in the Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest, but rather in the Heart of Reno wedding chapel in Reno. Which was the case.
But, hey, I don’t imagine that Gwyneth Paltrow or George Clooney would look like Gwyneth Paltrow or George Clooney in their mug shots either.
Irina Walker has never been a visible member of the royal family, which owns four castles in Romania. She has visited the European nation only a handful of times, said historian Filip-Lucian Iorga. Her biography is largely unknown to the Romanian public, he said. The royal family is popular, but largely uninvolved in local politics.
Being largely involved in local politics is generally a wise move, especially in a country that so recently escaped decades of totalitarian insanity at the hands of the Ceausescus. (Not all royals are despots, and not all despots are royals.) But what, pray tell, does it mean, exactly, to be a royal Romanian?
We get the Brits – they change the guard, they wave from the balcony, they walk around in bespoke suits with their hands clasped behind their backs. They get their faces on tea towels. They have followings. They play polo. They give out the trophies at Wimbledon. They cut ribbons. They are a visible, tourist-attracting presence.
And we even get the lesser royals – like those in Sweden and Holland – who get trotted out for ceremonial occasions and marry each other.
But what’s the function of royalty in Romania?
Not much, apparently, as the royal family has lived very modestly during its long exile. After the communists forced him to abdicate in the late 1940’s, King Michael:
…worked several jobs in Switzerland and the United Kingdom, including as a test pilot and running a chicken farm and a carpenter's shop. (Source: Second article on Oregon Live.)
And Irina had to work, too. A life-long animal lover – at least according to her family – she had a series of jobs on purebred horse ranches. She sold stuff at Christie’s. She got married. Had kids. Got remarried in that Reno wedding chapel.
And now she stands accused of running a cockfighting ring on her ranch.
The small-r small-f royal family gave a measured response:
The Romanian royal family released a statement, saying King Michael I "has taken notice with profound sadness of the events concerning Princess Irina of Romania, his daughter. His Majesty and the entire Royal Family hope that the American and Oregon state justices will solve this case in the fairest and quickest manner possible."
My guess is that Princess Irina was a quasi-innocent bystander to the cockfighting operation, tolerating it for the income, excusing it as an other-culture “thing”, letting her husband take care of whatever arrangements were made – but not attaching gaffs to the roosters’ claws or refereeing the matches.
But innocent or guilty, all I can say is that royalty is just so NOT what it used to be.
I don’t imagine that any latter-day Dorothy Parker will be doggerel-ing Princess Irina up the way old Dorothy did for Irina’s great-grand-mama:
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
But she has made CNN news.