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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Happy Birthday, Kaiser Wilhelm

Perhaps it is because we are such complicated beings that people try to create some sense of order in the chaos of emotions and thoughts within each person’s life. When you think of the hundreds of thousands of thoughts that enter your mind each day, the many emotions through which you move and the millions of images that enter your visual, auditory and olfactory fields it’s small wonder that people try to organise and label so many experiences, and so many other people. Scientists slot things into categories – gasses, liquids solids, elements, minerals, species etc. etc. – everything labelled and in order to prevent confusion. Perhaps for the sake of clarity, historians sometimes adopt the same method, labelling people as good or bad, black or white, innocent or guilty.

In the annals of history, Kaiser Wilhelm is categorised clearly as either mad or bad. I feel for this man, though very few people seem to have much that is good to say of him and I don’t believe this is simply because he happened to be on the losing side of WW1 – after all, few people write in a critical way of Franz Josef or Karl of Austria. Something about this man arouses either scorn and mockery or dislike, and it is my firm belief that this is because no one hated the Kaiser as much as he hated himself. All that grandiose posturing, the uniforms the huge moustache, concealing the lost little boy whom he remained to the end of his life. He was a bundle of contradictions – playful and bizarre one moment, angry the next; adoring his grandmother and holding her while she died; alternatively adoring and despising his mother, whom he treated appallingly; desperately longing to be loved, while at the same time needing to appear strong and above the rest of mankind; hating and loving and envying England; changing mood from one moment to the next; wanting to feel part of his large extended family, yet so desperately longing for the respect of his cousins that his behaviour was often beyond irrational (as when he threatened to ban his sister from entering Germany simply because she had converted to Orthodoxy, but a short time later was encouraging his cousin, Alix, to convert in order to marry the Tsarevich); and perhaps most strikingly, his genuine sense of his own self-righteous innocence at the outbreak of war.
This would-be powerful man remained a victim of his own insecurities all his life. No wonder he suffered at least two nervous breakdowns.

I have often read descriptions of him as ‘bonkers’ and I think it is rather sad that he is written off so easily. Clearly, he did have many psychological issues that remained unresolved - sometimes he played rather cruel tricks on people or behaved inappropriately (slapping Ferdinand of Bulgaria on the bottom and wondering why he was affronted??), but I don’t think he was deliberately cruel and I think he was capable of a great deal of love – as he showed at his grandmother’s deathbed. He loved animals and children. It must have taken a great deal of determination to overcome not only the physical disability of his left arm, but also the psychological effects of knowing he wasn’t the perfect specimen of a prince that his people expected. He rode brilliantly; he spoke many languages fluently; he was an intellectually intelligent man who loved art and literature and wanted to make Germany a place of learning and culture which extended to all classes. He fell in love with his cousin, Ella, and felt rebuffed that his love was unrequited....and later, when he married, he remained faithful to his wife. I think the speed with which he remarried following the death of his first wife, says something of his need to be mothered....He spent his entire life seeking the approval of the mother whom he treated so badly.

The photographs of him in Doorn after his ‘escape’ from Germany, show the face of a
very sad and broken man. Every time I think of him, I think of Longfellow’s lines:

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

So...Happy Birthday, Willy – the contradictions in your character often seem to be mere exaggerations of the contradictions within us all.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Fire at Temple Newsam

On Sunday evening a fire broke out in one of the barns of the farm, which is home to many rare breed animals, at Temple Newsam House. I did not hear about it until yesterday, when someone told me that the beautiful cattle, who are housed there and whom I see very often, had been in danger and had probably died in the flames. I was shocked beyond reason at such a thought but happily, it turned out that the animals were all – thanks to the heroic action of the fire brigade – rescued and quite safe. The thought of those pensive, beautiful creatures being caught in something so frightening was so horrific and what was more horrific was the suggestion (though the cause of the fire has not yet been confirmed and this was pure speculation) that the fire was an arson attack.

I spoke of this to someone whose immediate response was, “When they catch the culprits, they ought to lock them in a barn and light a fire outside until they experience the terror those poor animals must have felt!” And it struck me as rather odd that the same person then sat down to a beef dinner!

Apart from my personal views about the unnecessary and cruel slaughter of animals, it raises rather an interesting question. If a person abuses an animal, by law s/he can face a prison sentence. If, however, that person has a license to slaughter animals in abattoirs (where sentient creatures still feel terror) no one objects. The same is true of humanity. If someone takes it upon him/herself to terrorise or murder someone else, people rise up in indignant horror at such a crime. Crowds bang on the police vans taking the murderer to trial and people seem to gain a sense of their own self-righteousness in condemning the crime. If, however, killing is legalised and made respectable (in the case of a war, for example, or – in some countries – an execution) the victims surely feel the same terror, the same pain, the same loss, but it’s alright because the government said it was alright to commit this killing.

If someone had set out to deliberately harm those animals in the barn, I must confess, my initial thought, too, was that I would like that person to feel the fear that those creatures must have felt, but that was simply a reaction – and reactions, as opposed to responses, are always dangerous. Propaganda thrives on creating a reaction and too often legislation numbs human conscience and makes something ‘right’ simply because it has government authority behind it. If people had been able to think for themselves, instead of relying on legislation (someone else’s idea of what is alright and what is not alright) would so many millions have died for nothing on the Marne and the Somme? If people had thought for themselves, instead of relying on legislation, would there have been so many guards and commanders willing to carry out the atrocities of the concentration camps?

Well, I walked through the woods at Temple Newsam today and, seeing the shell of the burned barn still smouldering, and the firemen still pumping water from the lake (what a feat of engineering!), and three donkeys happily grazing in the field nearby, I have to say three cheers for the wonderful fire brigade and thank goodness those animals were saved.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Kaiser and his Grandmother

Some years ago, on August 4th (the anniversary of Britain’s entry into the the First World War), I stood on the corridor outside Queen Victoria’s bedroom at Osborne House on the same spot where Kaiser Wilhelm must have once stood, and tried to imagine how it felt to him, wanting to see his grandmother one last time as she lay on her death bed. The Kaiser’s behaviour after the death of his father was so obnoxious and, since I do not believe him to have been for one moment a callous man at heart, I suspect he regretted that impetuous arrogance for many years afterwards. His family, Queen Victoria’s family, were so reluctant to allow him to even visit his beloved grandmother that he arrived quietly and behaved more like a subservient beggar than a pompous Emperor. As a man to whom appearance seemed to matter so much; a man who hardly ever let down his guard and always had to wear a mask, adopt a powerful persona and play the part he had assigned to himself, his presence at Queen Victoria’s deathbed is very striking. It seems like one of the few times in his life when Willy was truly himself – not arrogant, not wanting to be the centre of attention (the very opposite in fact – he skulked in the corridor, wanting only to be allowed into the room) but acting sincerely and out of genuine love.

Fritz Ponsonby, in his wonderful “Recollections of Three Reigns” describes the scene:

“At about half past six we were told the end had come. The Duke of Argyll told me that the last moments were like a great three-decker ship sinking. She kept on rallying and sinking. The behaviour of the German Emperor was beyond all praise. He kept in the background until they were all summoned. The Prince of Wales, Princess Christian, Princess Louise and Princess Beatrice stood around the bed, while the German Emperor knelt down and supported the Queen with his arm....the Emperor never moved for two and a half hours. His devotion to the Queen quite disarmed all the Royal Family.”

Friday, 21 January 2011

Turi and other royal animals/angels

It is very touching that as, 110 years ago tomorrow, Queen Victoria was nearing her passing she asked to see her little dog. According to the report of her physician, Sir James Reid, on 21st January 1901, as she lay in bed at Osborne,

“...the Queen suddenly asked for her favourite little dog ‘Turi’ (Italian Spitz) but unfortunately he was out for exercise and not to be found. However, when he returned he was taken and put on the Queen’s bed, who patted him and seemed pleased to have him beside her.”
This was the day before Queen Victoria died and it is rather beautiful that Turi is mentioned so close to such a momentous historical occasion. Throughout her life, Queen Victoria’s animals had meant so much to her – and to other members of her family – that her letters are speckled with references to them: to Noble’s puppies, to Vicky’s cats at Potsdam, to the ostrich at Windsor, to Beatrice’s poor little dog who was killed by a carriage on the Isle of Wight. Animals were so close to the Queen’s heart that she openly supported the anti-vivisection league and clearly saw her beloved animals as members of the family. It is lovely that, alongside the mythical and family figures who, carved in stone and marble, adorn the corridors and gardens of Osborne, there are are also carvings of Prince Albert’s beloved greyhound, Eos, (who is pictured in the image here) and various other horses and dogs so beloved by the family.

Among the many accounts of the death of Queen Victoria, little mention is made of Turi’s presence and the comfort he brought her. He is rather overshadowed by the presence of Kaisers, Kings, Princes and Princesses...but it was Turi whom the Queen specifically asked for and I would love to know what happened to him afterwards. I hope he wasn’t like Caesar, Edward VII’s dog, who wandered desperately around Buckingham Palace searching for his master after his passing (but was happily given a leading role at the King’s funeral).

People remember the names of horses who carried war leaders into battle – the Duke of Wellington’s ‘Copenhagen’, and Napoleon’s ‘Marengo’ etc. etc. – it’s rather lovely to think of the other animals whose presence graced the lives of great people. Tsarevich Alexei’s spaniel ‘Joy’ and Mary, Queen of Scots’ terrier ‘Gedden’ accompanied their human companions to the death. More faithful than any servant, more comforting than any words offered by friends or family, these half-forgotten angels in animal form remained unflinching to the end and, unmoved by politics or the bickering that goes on between humans, deserve their place in history.

Little Turi deserves his place in history, too, and I am glad his name is recorded.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Kaiser Wilhelm, German Unification and the End of Empires.

On the 18th January 1871, the King of Prussia stood in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles to hear himself proclaimed the first German Emperor. It’s impossible to overlook the irony that Versailles also gave its name to the treaty which so decimated Germany, almost half a century later.

What an effect must that moment have had on the young Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, future Kaiser Wilhelm II, and grandson of the first Prussian Emperor? As a boy, Wilhelm witnessed Prussia’s rise to power. He was seven years old in 1866 when his father returned triumphantly after defeating the Austrians in the Seven Weeks War and he saw, too, how several German states who had sided with the enemy, were brought under Prussian command. At twelve years old, he witnessed his country’s victory in the Franco-Prussian War and the ease with which the German Empire then came into being. To a small, insecure boy, traumatised by the disability of his arm, and confused by a desperate need to win his mother’s approval, such victories must have seemed incredibly romantic. It seems as though this was the dream around which he created his own persona....and yet it was a persona that he, with all his insecurities, could never live up to. Deeply sensitive on so many levels, and desperate to be liked, he seemed to spend his life hiding behind a mask of over-joviality and a sense of his own magnanimity, interspersed with outbursts of rage due to his feelings of being misunderstood, followed by periods of deep depression.

The interesting part of it all is that, of the 43 years of the German Empire, prior to World War I, Wilhelm was Emperor for 26 years and, during that time, Germany enjoyed peace and prosperity to a far greater extent than any other major power in Europe. While Russia suffered the disastrous war with Japan and the 1905 revolution; Britain battled with the Boers and faced strikes, suffragettes and the persistent problems posed by the Irish Home Rule question; and Austria-Hungary’s fragmentation began, in Germany, industry thrived, workers were given more rights than anywhere else in Europe and there was peace.

Now, here’s a thought...if one could view nations and empires as individual people growing through the stages of their lives, it would seem in 1871, that Germany had reached her adolescence, was beginning to find her own place in the world, and for the next 40 or so years was growing into her prime as a cultured and civilised place to be. Children – unfortunately! – often imitate their parents and the adults around them. If Germany were a person looking at her neighbours, she would see other Empires, some of which (like Austria) seemed already decrepit, desperately guzzling up land, creating colonies, and basking in the glory of power. Where could Germany go to spread her wings as other empires did? Africa, India, South America, Canada, Australia, the ocean...everywhere was already taken. Hemmed in on all sides, she needed to flex her muscles but there was no room to move, so she grew stronger, built better ships, created a more powerful army...and was seen as aggressive.

Kaiser Wilhelm’s life, and stages of life, coincided so clearly with that of his Empire from its first beginnings to its sad end. There was so much potential in Germany in 1871 and I believe Kaiser Wilhelm also had a great deal of potential for good, but it was already the beginning of the end of Empires and it seems as though Germany came too late to the party....

Friday, 14 January 2011

The End of an Era - the Tragic Departure of Emperor Karl and Empress Zita

To anyone who wishes to really enter into the spirit of the age of Imperial (and post-World War I) Austria, I cannot recommend highly enough Stefan Zweig’s “The World of Yesterday” – a book that is not only beautifully written, but one which literally transports you on a journey to another time like no other.

Towards the end of the First World War, Stefan was away in Switzerland but, following the Armistice, he returned to a broken Austria. This incredibly moving account is one of the few first-hand witness statements of the tragic departure of the Emperor Karl and Empress Zita, which coincided with Stefan’s train journey back to his native land. He arrives at the Austrian border station:

“Upon alighting [from the train] I became aware of a restlessness among the customs officers and police. They paid small attention to us and made their inspection in a most negligent manner; plainly something important was about to happen. At last came the sound of a bell that announced the approach of a train from the Austrian side. The police lined up; the officials piled out of their offices, their womenfolk, evidently in the know,crowded together on the platform. I was particularly struck by an old lady in black with her two daughters, from her carriage and clothes evidently an aristocrat. She was visibly excited and constantly pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.
Slowly, almost majestically it seemed, the train rolled near, a particular sort of train, not the shabby, weather-beaten kind, but with spacious black cars, a train de luxe. The locomotive stopped. There was a perceptible stir among the lines of those waiting but I was still in the dark. Then I recognised behind the plate glass window of the car, Emperor Karl, the last Emperor of Austria, standing with his black-clad wife, Empress Zita. I was sartled; the last Emperor of Austria, heir of the Habsburg dynasty which had ruled for seven hundred years, was forsaking his realm! He had refused to abdicate formally, yet the Republic granted every honour on the departure which it compelled rather than submitted. The tall, serious man at the window was having a last look at the hills and the homes, at the people of his land. The historic moment was doubly shocking to me, who had grown up in the tradition of the Empire, whose first song at school had been the ‘Kaiserlied’ and who had taken the military oath to obey ‘on land, at sea and in the air’ this serious and thoughtful-looking man in mufti. Innumerable times I had see the old Emperor in the long since legendary splendour of elaborate celebrations; I had seen him in the great staircase of the Schonbrunn, surrounded by his family and brilliantly uniformed generals, receiving the homage of the eighty-thousand Viennese schoolchildren, massed on the broad green plain, singing...I had seen him at the Court ball...and again at Ischl, riding to hunt in a green Tyrolean hat; I had seen him marching devoutly, with bowed head, in the Corpus Christi procession to the Cathedral of St. Stephen, and then the catafalque on that foggy, wet winter’s day in the middle of the war....

And now I saw his heir, the last emperor, banished from the country...All of those who stood about sensed history, world history, in this tragic sight. The gendarmes, the police, the soldiery were embarrassed and looked abashed because uncertain whether traditional recognition was still in order, the women hardly dared to look up, all were silent and thus the faint sobbing of the old lady, who had come from heaven knows what distance only to see ‘her’ emperor once more, was plainly audible. At last the conductor gave the signal. Everyone stared up mechanically, the irrevocable moment had come. The locomotive started with a violent jerk as if it too had to overcome a disinclination, and slowly the train withdrew. The officials followed it with a respectful gaze, after which, with that air of embarrassment which is observable at funerals, they returned to their respective stations. It was the moment in which the almost millenary monarchy really ended. I knew it was a different Austria, a different world, to which I was returning.”

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Echoes of Voices

As startling as old film footage of people whom we admire from the past and suddenly glimpse for a moment, is the sound of old voice recordings. To quote, yet again, L.P. Hartley’s famous line, “the past is a foreign country...”, it often seems, on hearing original recordings that they even spoke a different language. The sounds of words were melodic and so different from how we speak today and, as someone who loves words, I find this so fascinating and listening to their voices is like eavesdropping in on a conversation or hearing an echo.

We have all heard the clipped tones of the broadcasters of the earliest BBC and Pathe news recordings and I used to think it was something to do with the recording equipment that made the accents sound so different from anything we hear now but now, having heard many more recordings, I think people really did speak differently even 100 years ago. Listening to this recording of Virginia Woolf, for example (rather like listening to the charming voice of Princess Alice of Athlone, to which someone kindly sent a link some post ago) it’s obvious that a voice/accent like this would not be heard today. The ‘a’ pronounced as ‘e’, (to say ‘a man’, you must say ‘a men’) the elongated vowels...how to describe it!


The Yorkshire accent is so different from this. We say castle not carsel, and bath, nor barth, but even audios of northerners from the past (not parst!) sound so different from how we speak today. The accent is more exaggerated – filled with expressions that no one really uses anymore and so much more pronounced than it is nowadays. It used to be – until very recently and well within my lifetime – a rather embarrassing thing to have a northern accent if you wanted to make anything of your life among southerners! Nothing but the standard southern accent was permitted on the BBC for many years....and it initially seemed strange to hear more familiar accents in newscasters’ voices. Nowadays it is all so different. Even Prince William speaks in such a different accent/tone from that of the Queen – perhaps because he has spent more time among people from different areas, or perhaps because the language is evolving so rapidly. I once read, though cannot vouch for the truth of it, that the American accent is very close to how people spoke in Elizabethan England and so the American pronunciation of Shakespeare is far closer to the original than anything produced by the R.S.C.

I actually believe that if we were all to travel back a hundred years, the accents and intonation around us would sound very different from what we hear today and would be very interested to learn of the development of the same phenomenon in other countries. I wonder what it would be like to hear Queen Victoria speak or to hear King Edward VII speak...in an ordinary room, without recording equipment. Did Hitler really sound so stark and mad? Did people really speak to one another in the clipped tones of those old recordings? How did Tsar Nicholas’ voice sound to the ear? What was the tone of Franz Ferdinand’s voice?...

Out of all the people I love from the past, the only voice I can really imagine is that of Prince Albert with his soft Coburg accent....

Monday, 10 January 2011

Facts, Fiction and Truth

One morning a man walks into a church, packed with a sincere and devout congregation who have worshipped there all their lives, and utters a series of blasphemies. While the congregation rises in angry astonishment, the man walks away to spend an evening with prostitutes, collaborators and drunkards. In the days that follow, he openly flouts the law, insults the clergy and gathers a group of ne’er-do-wells to form a kind of cult around himself. He causes havoc in a St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (or its equivalent in his day), and when, eventually the law catches up with him, he is executed as a criminal...and good riddance to him.

Here is the beginning of another version of the same man’s life: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us....” The Son of God came to give Light to the Word, but the world would not accept him and crucified him and three days later he rose from the dead. Of course, this man is Jesus as seen through the eyes of the religious leaders of his time and seen through the eyes of evangelists and Christians. All the allegations are facts – he broke the law, he blasphemed, he disregarded authority – but they are not the whole Truth. Even the Gospel writers (and there are many more Gospels than the canonical Gospels) do not agree on all points and quite often contradict one another. The facts become distorted but I do not doubt the Truth expressed by each evangelist or by each critic.

This somewhat extreme example shows, I think, the challenges faced by anyone who writes today of real people of the past. In the East, particularly at the time the scriptures were written, there was a completely different understanding of what constituted a biography or history. Myth was a most wonderful device used to express the essence of a person, and the readers (or more often hearers) of the story, understood that. It didn’t matter so much what someone actually did, as who they were, their drive, their motive, their very essence or expression of the Divine, which, I personally believe expresses through all of us.

Nowadays, it seems that people are obsessed with facts and proof. Someone did this – we can prove it; we have a photograph or a written record of it. Someone said this – we can prove it; we have a recording of it. Someone thought this – we can prove it, we have a letter from them that is evidence of the fact. If you were to write someone’s biography without sufficient footnotes, it would be seen as risible. But with all my heart I believe facts miss the point completely.

How often within one day does your behaviour change? How often within one season do you fluctuate between joy and sorrow, between certainty and doubt? How often in your lifetime so far have you swung between kindness and unkindness; between elation and despair; between rage and love? Are there photographs of you which were taken when you were unaware and you look terrible, and others where you actually look quite nice? Have you ever written a letter to someone – perhaps out of duty in thanks for a Christmas gift or something – and said things which you weren’t really feeling at all? Have you ever been out of sorts and said something that later you think, “I don’t really think that at all, I was just in a bad mood.” One day, perhaps, depending on whose hands these things fall into, someone could write a very factual story of your life. But, while all of those facts would be there in your own image, handwriting, recording of your voice, it wouldn’t capture you at all.

This, I think, is one of the dangers of modern biography. A fictional account of a real person’s life is obviously the interpretation of the novelist. If it is worth reading at all it will contain truths not only about the subject of the book but also about the author’s view of humanity. Readers understand that and have the opportunity to interpret it at face value, as they choose. Biographies though – particularly those with the stamp of having been written by someone with a particular qualification – take on an authoritarian aspect. They are bound by facts. They are provable....and facts are so often mistaken for Truth.

Facts have their place but are far less reliable than Truth. To my mind, the closest we can come to the Truth of another person (of the past) is what you sense about them as you read the many contradictory facts of their life. Sometimes it is possible, even within the confines of one’s own mental agenda, to simply sense how they saw the world; what it was like to stand in their shoes, feel how they felt – it cannot be proved it can only be experienced and is filtered through one’s own experience...but it comes closer to the depths of a person than what is simply ‘proven’.

Facts are not all they seem, I think. Truth is everything and is so seldom recorded. We sense it by contemplating and viewing the lives of people about whom we write or in whom we are interested or to whom we feel drawn, though we can never be prove the truth of our contemplations and yet, there really is no need for proof – everything is interpretation anyway. (A quotation from Franz Werfel’s ‘Song of Bernadette’ comes to mind: for those who believe, no explanation is necessary; "for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.” It seems to apply to so many things....)

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Poets and Propaganda

“The World of Yesterday” by Stefan Zweig presents one of the most remarkable and honest depictions of the world in 1914 that I have ever read. Zweig, an Austrian and Jewish poet and author, captures so brilliantly the ambience of that era – from his thrilling descriptions of the carefree world of innocence and his meetings with literary figures of the time, through the madness of xenophobic hatred that raged at the outbreak of war. His writing is so immediate because he lived through it, and, unlike many of his peers, he had travelled a great deal and made friends all over the continent and so stood aghast at the way in which poets and authors turned their art into propaganda for the war machine. Writing as an Austrian, he speaks a great deal (with horror!) of the German poets of the era and the way in which their anti-English works served to inspire hatred and prolong the war.

It was rather interesting to me this evening, having just read Zweig’s wonderful
descriptions, to be discussing some favourite poems when someone mentioned one which he had learned in school: “Vitai Lampada” by Sir Henry Newbolt. I used to love this poem because it seemed so inspiring when feeling out of sorts, but reading it again tonight, and looking into the background of it, it is clear that like Zweig’s friends, Newbolt was writing to prolong the myth that somehow war was glorious.

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night --
Ten to make and the match to win --
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote --
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'

The sand of the desert is sodden red, --
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; --
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the School is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind --
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'

The poem no longer seems so beautiful as it once did.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Wedding of Karl and Zita

Isn’t it exhilarating when people of the past, whose names have been so frequently repeated in history lessons in a rather one-dimensional fashion, start to become really real to you? There is such a wonderful moment when a person who was nothing but a name on a page, remembered for one small incident of their life or death, seems to become flesh and blood again before your eyes. It is rather like bringing a cloudy picture into focus through a camera lens – once there was only a vague outline but little by little the vibrancy of colour and form take shape and there is a moment of absolute clarity.

The Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand is remembered primarily (and, for the most part, solely) as the man whose murder was the catalyst to the First World War. If you Google Franz Ferdinand, the main sites that appear recount only his death (or, more frequently, the more recent music band ‘Franz Ferdinand’!). Where sites or books go a little further than the event of his death, he is described simply as unpopular, aloof, angry and not really a very attractive character.

Some time ago, I became fascinated by this man for whom, for some obscure reason, I feel great warmth. Like so many historical royalties, he is written off so glibly in one or two sentences but, the more I learn of him, the greater warmth I feel towards him. No one is ever quite so one-dimensional as history seems to present him/her.

As this is set to be a year of joyful royal weddings in Britain, here is a wonderful clip of original film footage of another joyful royal wedding, a hundred years ago: that of the lovely Archduke (future Emperor) Karl of Austria, and Zita of Bourbon-Parma. Franz Ferdinand appears several times in the clip and far from being the aloof character of popular description, he appears like any other happy participant in any other happy wedding at any time in history.


Incidentally, while attending one of many funerals last year (thank goodness it is now 2011 and 2010 is over!), it was striking to me to see the same mourners, the same setting, the same movement as is seen at every other funeral throughout the ages, whether it be on old film footage or in paintings. Weddings, births, Christenings and funerals - the continuity of life, the continuity of the cycle of life – there is something quite lovely in the way that, no matter how advanced and sophisticated we think we are, we still move with the same seasonal cycles, as individual families and as humanity as a whole.

Apart from the cars and the clothing, the lovely clip of Karl’s wedding, could be from any era. If you look at the faces of the people in the background, it is just a happy family occasion. There is something so beautiful about it and about the way that old film footage gives us an insight into the characters of people which often contrasts sharply with the story that is presented by historians.

I am so grateful to the person called ‘storicus’ who has uploaded so many beautiful videos to YouTube.