'Prince Michael' was simply just a chancer
Last week I wrote about my friend Wojciech Tycinski who was the Polish Consul General for Scotland a few years ago.
Apart from occasional encounters with Wojciech in Edinburgh, the other time that I saw him was at the Polish War Memorial in Invergordon.
The weekend after Remembrance Sunday in November, there takes place a very special ceremony at this elegant war memorial, partly shaded by the venerable trees of the adjacent House of Rosskeen.
The Polish Consul General lays a wreath, Invergordon Community Council lays a wreath, as do the Highland Council, the British Legion and the local MSP, which is why I was there.
In fact quite a number of wreaths are laid, candles lit and other forms of homage paid to the brave Poles who gave their lives in the Second World War.
It is a most dignified occasion and when you see the number of Poles, old and young, who turn up for the event, and when you hear them singing the Polish national anthem after the two minute silence, started and finished by a single shot from a shotgun, it is hard not to be moved. Of all the things I have done over the years, this special day will always have a place in my heart.
But that is not why I put pen to paper this week: it is actually something that happened at the second or third wreath-laying that Wojciech and I attended, and because I found it so bizarre I have to tell you about it.
"Who is this peoples? Is like fancy dress!" With this Wojciech drew my attention to a group that we had not seen before at the war memorial.
The leader of this incongruous party was a slim bespectacled gentleman in a kilt and sky blue Prince Charlie doublet with a large plaid over his shoulder.
At his side, attached to his belt, he carried a sword, and in his hands he held a huge wreath of flowers in the red and white colours of the Polish flag.
He appeared disdainful and rather aloof – clearly "a somebody" – and just behind him strode two rather overweight gentlemen, also in kilts and sky blue doublets, and covered in every kind of Highland accoutrement you can imagine, dirks, powder horns, bonnets, sashes, dingly dangly orders and decoration, and firmly clamped in their right hands, drawn claymore swords.
"What on earth?..." I muttered to the crowd around me.
"Oh, that’s His Royal Highness, and those are His Royal Highness’s Household Guards!"
"His Royal Highness?!"
"Yes, His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Albany, he’s the direct descendent of Bonny Prince Charlie!"
What? Back at my office in Tain I checked him out online. This was what I found.
"Michel Roger Lafosse (born 21 April 1958, Brussels, Belgium), subsequently known as Michael James Alexander Stewart of Albany, claims to be a descendant of Charles Edward Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charlie") and thus the legitimate Jacobite claimant to the throne of the Kingdom of Scotland.
"Since 1979 he has referred to himself as ‘HRH Prince Michael James Alexander Stewart, 7th Count of Albany’, stating that an ancestor used the title ‘Count of Albany’. Lafosse also says he has the right to other noble titles including Comte de Blois, Duc d’Aquitaine and Baron Lafosse de Chatry."
My my, what a rum cove, I thought to myself as I switched the computer off and headed home for a late tea.
The people you meet – or in fact didn’t meet face-to-face that day at the Polish war memorial. Soon my mind was on other things in Holyrood and this odd fellow was largely forgotten.
But then a year later, at the war memorial, there he was again.
This time with four Household Guards, galumphing about in seriously OTT Highland kit, and waving their swords (rather dangerously I thought).
"Oh such fun, this is pure Gilbert and Sullivan!" exclaimed one of the Invergordon councillors, clearly seeing the amusing side of the afternoon.
However, mindful of the dignity of the occasion I was increasingly worried by all this. And when a frowning Wojciech Tycinski told me that he had just been told that His Royal Highness intended to hand out special Royal Scrolls during the bunfight back at the British Legion Club, I started to have a sense of humour failure.
"Hulloa rerr, pal – ah’m his Royal Highness’s Personal Private Secretary – wud ye like for tae be presentit tae his Royal Highness?"
So I was shortly addressed by a cheery West of Scotland stout party in a short skirt, high heels, feather boa, fag, and a large G&T.
I am afraid, gentle reader, that for once the cheerful Jamie Stone mask slipped and I starchily replied "no!".
"Honest to goodness, you really are completely obsessing" my redoubtable constituency assistant Heather tackled me, as once again I searched online. "It doesn’t matter if he’s a fake, just let it go."
The following year His Royal Highness failed to attend. Nor was his Private Secretary there, though two of his Royal Household Guards were, albeit now not quite cutting the same dash as hitherto. They were distinctly subdued over pints of heavy back at the Legion.
This time I went online when Heather wasn’t around.
"Although born in Belgium as Michel Roger Lafosse, he became a naturalized British citizen in the 1990s and has since used the name Michael James Alexander Stewart of Albany. In 1998, he authored The Forgotten Monarchy of Scotland, within which he makes the case for his ancestral ties to the Royal House of Stuart.
"In 2006 it was reported that Lafosse was to be deported after having lost British citizenship because, it is alleged, he submitted a forged birth certificate.
Later it was further reported that, in the wake of the publicity surrounding his claims and his loss of British citizenship, Lafosse had sold up his house in Edinburgh and returned to Belgium to live with his mother..."
At the end of the day "Prince Michael" turned out to be a chancer, no more royal than I am the Sultan of Morocco.
It was a strange episode. Strange too that a completely bogus identity can carry someone surprisingly far before anyone blows the whistle.