Suffolk roots of Jordan ruler King Abdullah II – son of Princess Muna – explored as he takes the fight to Islamic State
- Credit: PA
King Abdullah II of Jordan is leading the way in fighting Islamic extremism. He has pledged Islamic State (IS) will pay a heavy price for the immolation of a Jordan pilot, who was burned to death in a barbaric ritual killing.
The king has gained widespread backing from his people who are determined to see victory and his strong words and prompt, forceful military response have been praised by world leaders.
But should part of that extolment be extended to Suffolk?
For his mother, Her Royal Highness Princess Muna al-Hussein of Jordan, was an ordinary girl born in a Suffolk cottage some 2,000 miles from Jordan’s capital Amman.
Antoinette Avril Gardiner, an amateur ballet dancer known as Toni Gardiner, was born in Chelmondiston, near Ipswich, in 1941.
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She was the only daughter of military officer Lieutenant-Colonel Tony Gardiner; a Second World War hero who died at the age of 95 in 2011.
And in fact, the king of Jordan’s family history on his mother side includes generations of farmers, haybinders, dressmakers and agricultural labourers from the Shotley peninsular, predominantly Chelmondiston.
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As a result of her father’s military postings, Princess Muna spent time in Jordan, where she met her future husband, King Hussein I, who ruled Jordan from 1952 until his death in 1999.
Reports are conflicted over how they first met. A diplomatic reception has been cited, but it is widely thought they chanced upon each other during the filming of Lawrence of Arabia.
In the late 1950s, the Army posted her father to Jordan and in 1960 she joined him to work as a secretarial assistant on the film set when the desert scenes were being filmed in Jordan, which King Hussein assisted in filming.
On May 3, 1961, the East Anglian Daily Times reported that “excitement ran through the village of Chelmondiston” when it was announced that the pair were engaged.
“At their home... Mr and Mrs W Goodchild, Miss Gardiner’s aunt and uncle, faced batch after batch of newspaper and television reporters,” the EADT reported. The family had not been seen for the last 18 months after her father went to Amman to become military adviser to the British training mission there.
But friends of the family remembered her as a “lovely looking girl” who was “passionately fond of dancing”, the report said, adding Princess Muna and King Hussein met at a private party at her father’s house in Amman, where she had been carrying out social work among refugees and was an English-language announcer on Jordan radio. In a broadcast issued at the time, King Hussein said he fell in love with her “because of her good and loving qualities”.
The couple married on May 25, 1961 in Amman and unlike Hussein’s other three wives, Princess Muna never became Queen of Jordan, reportedly refusing the title.
They had four children and King Abdullah II, the eldest son, was born in Amman on January 30, 1962.
They were divorced on December 21, 1971 but she was allowed to retain her royal titles.
As a Western-born mother of an Arab monarch in a strategically sensitive country, Princess Muna, who still lives in Jordan, has endeared herself to the Muslim community with her quiet devotion to her children and helping underprivileged people through a variety of charitable organisations.
Yet one 80-year-old woman living in Chelmondiston, who did not want to be named, still remembers her as a “lovely little girl”.
She said: “All the press came here when it was announced they were going to get married.
“But it was all a long time ago and a lot of people living here now probably won’t even be aware of her story.”
Meanwhile, as a nation, Jordan is still grieving following the brutal killing of one of its military pilots, who was shot down and later murdered by the terrorist group Islamic State (IS).
Video footage showing 26-year-old Flight Lieutenant Moaz al Kasasbeh being burned alive in a cage drew condemnation from across the world and in retaliation King Abdullah II, the nation’s ruler, vowed to wage a “harsh” war against IS.
Last Wednesday, hours after IS released the video, Jordan executed two death-row prisoners – including an Iraqi woman militant.
Jordan had offered to swap an al Qaida prisoner for the pilot, but said after the release of the video that it became clear that the pilot had already been killed in early January.
Jordanian fighters have since bombed IS militants, who control parts of neighbouring Syria and Iraq, over three consecutive days, ending their sorties on Saturday with 56 air strikes on weapons depots, training centres and military barracks.
More than 600,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan since the start of the conflict and now make up a considerable part of Jordan’s population.
In recent days, Jordanian officials have delivered tough warnings to IS, saying the retaliation campaign would not stop until the group has been destroyed.
The United States and several Arab allies, including Jordan, have been striking the Islamic State group in Syria since September 23, while war planes from the US and other countries have been waging an air campaign against the extremists in Iraq for even longer.
As part of Prince Charles’ six-day tour of the Middle East, he visited Jordan on Saturday and formally met King Abdullah II on Sunday, giving the heir to the throne the opportunity to sympathise with the foreign monarch over the pilot’s death.
The Prince knew Abdullah’s father well and also has strong ties to the king, who in turn has links to the UK having graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and served in the British Army.