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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Coming soon...

A little of the background to my forthcoming book: "Queen Victoria's Granddaughters 1860-1918"

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

"Queen Victoria's Granddaughters"

Soon to be available, my new book:
“Queen Victoria’s Granddaughters 1860-1918”


Unlike my recent books, this is not a novel but a factual work, following the 22 princesses from childhood to the end of the First World War.

This is not intended to be a 'scholarly' work although it is based on years of research, but rather a glimpse into the halcyon days of the European monarchies, the everyday experiences of the princesses, and the intricate web of family ties connecting the different royal courts. Writing it was a labour of love and, while I appreciate that with 22 central characters and a ‘cast of thousands’ (slight exaggeration!) it might be confusing for readers who are unfamiliar with the royal families, I have included a short who’s who, at the beginning of each chapter (particularly to facilitate Kindle readers).

The book is divided into 4 Parts: Part 1 – “Like the rabbits in Windsor Park” - An introduction to the families of Queen Victoria’s Children
Part 2 – “A Very Doubtful Happiness” - Happy & Unhappy Marriages
Part 3 – “The Last Link is Broken” – Changes & Conflicts
Part 4 – “Marching to their Deaths” – War & Tragedy

“Queen Victoria’s Granddaughters” will be available on Kindle within a few weeks and I shall write more information about it here as the publication date approaches.

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Suffragettes & The Protection of Children

I have been re-reading Emmeline Pankhurst’s interesting autobiography: “My Own Story – Memories of a Militant”, and the account of events prior to her founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union (the ‘suffragettes’) is fascinating and also casts a light on how very far more recent ‘feminists’ strayed from the original Women’s Movement, although they hijacked the suffragettes and claimed to be following the same cause.

Mrs Pankhurst came from a relatively well-to-do family in Manchester where her parents were actively involved in social reform. Such was her background that her parents were able to send her to a private school in Paris and she was clearly a particularly clever child. From her earliest years she was also affronted by the idea that her brothers’ education was seen as more important as her own, and when she heard her father once say of her: “What a pity she wasn’t born a lad!” she realised that the lot of women was one of subservience and inferiority to men. This, of course, would impact her later career.

Far more importantly, however, Mrs Pankhurst became a Poor Law Guardian involved with the Manchester Workhouse, where she instituted many reforms but frequently found herself in confrontation with the all-male Board of Guardians. Her descriptions of the state of the young girls in the workhouse are very moving:

I found there were many pregnant women in the workhouse, scrubbing floors, doing the hardest kind of work, almost until their babies came into the world. Many of them were unmarried women, very, very young...mere girls. These poor mothers were allowed to stay in the hospital after their confinement for a short two weeks. Then they had to make a choice of staying in the workhouse and earning their living by scrubbing and other work, in which case they were separated from their babies; or they could be discharged. They could stay and be paupers or they could leave – leave with a two-week old baby in their arms, without hope, without a home, without money, without anywhere to go...”

And again: “It is from that class of workhouse mothers – mostly young servant girls...more than from any other that illegitimacy comes. These poor little servant girls...fall easy prey to those who have designs on them...” She goes on to describe how these girls often are forced to send their babies to ‘baby farmers’ whom they pay to care for them so that the mothers can work to survive. The baby-farms are not inspected because “if a man who ruins a girl pays down a sum of £20, the boarding home is immune from inspection. As long as the baby farmer takes only one child at a time, the house cannot be inspected. Of course the babies die with hideous promptness, often long before the twenty pounds has been spent, and then baby farmers are free to solicit another victim. For years, as I have said, women have tried to get that one reform of the Poor Law to reach and protect all illegitimate children, and to make it impossible for any rich scoundrel to escape future liability for his child because of the lump sum he has paid. Over and over again it has been tried, but it has always failed because the ones who really care about such things are women.”

This is one small example from the book, which demonstrates that one of the main reasons why women demanded the vote was the protection of children. The suffragettes – and Mrs Pankhurst in particular – firmly believed that giving women the vote was vital not only to recognise the value of women but also to recognise the importance of women’s maternal qualities  and ensure that women were able to care for their children properly.

I find it really distressing that these great ideals for which the courageous suffragettes were prepared to suffer imprisonment, torture (and in some cases even death!) were so distorted by later feminists who claim to be following in their footsteps. Many years ago, while visiting a suffragette museum, I was aghast to see it filled with feminist literature supporting ‘a woman’s right to choose abortion', as though that were something the suffragettes would have supported!!

Naturally, there have been many benefits from the so-called 'women's movement' (equal pay, equal opportunities etc.) and I am a 100% advocate of equality and mutual respect; but I feel that there has also been a great distortion of what it means to be truly feminine. Many women who have attained high positions in business or politics, behave in a masculine manner, rather than employing feminine qualities. The worst part of all, though, is the way in which – in many cases – children (born or unborn) are seen as an inconvenience rather than complete individuals. Parenthood is seen as a right (and one that can then be handed over the state!) rather than a privilege. Motherhood is not respected and many mothers seem to view the state (or schools or other institutions) as responsible for their children.
 
I would highly recommend that those who promote feminism, look back at the writings of the campaigners for women’s emancipation, and recognise that these heroines were absolutely committed to the care of children and would undoubtedly be appalled that somehow their efforts have been distorted into pro-abortion arguments or the arguments which are even more widely bandied about nowadays, whereby children are somehow seen as the responsibility of the state rather than the parents. The suffragettes were aiming to enable mothers and fathers to care for their children and not to make them the responsibility of the Poor Law, the benefit system or any other aspect of the state.  

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Osborne

I received an email to say that the podcast link on this site doesn’t work for some ipads/tablets. I am not sure how widespread that is but am grateful to the person who sent the email telling me of this. All the podcasts can be heard at:


 and, in response to a request from the kind ‘emailer’, I include the most recent podcast (about Osborne House) here:
 

Podcast Powered By Podbean

I am also delighted to announce that Shattered Crowns: The Betrayal, which is already available via Kindle, will be available in paperback within 48 hours.
 
 

Monday, 7 January 2013

"Hedges Full of Honeysuckle"

On a rather dull January day, when many people have the post-Christmas blues, it's lovely to think of somewhere beautiful. I think my favourite place in the entire world is probably Osborne House, and this wonderful description from Queen Marie of Roumania captures it so perfectly:

"Osborne! The very name is still a joy. It meant summer holidays, it meant the sea and the seashore, it meant wonderful shells to be found when the tide was low—shells of every color and shape. It meant glorious bathing when the tide was high, and drives in the big "wagonette," as we called our brake, through the sweet-smelling woods, past hedges full of honeysuckle.

And it meant dear old Grandmama Queen in the background. Grandmama Queen at breakfast under her ecru, green-fringed parasol, surrounded by dogs, Indians, Highlanders, and also an aunt or two in nervous attendance, or occasionally a curtsying lady in waiting in correct black, all smiles and with the mellowed voice usual to those who served or attended to the great little old lady.

It also meant the beautiful terraces in front of Osborne House where the big magnolias grew against the walls, those giant magnolias which had a lemonlike fragrance and in which you could bury your whole face, but which you never dared pick because they were far too precious and exotic for childish plunder. Even when faded and their petals turned to a sort of leathery brown, they still kept their delicious scent, and then their curious hard-pointed centers became very prominent; they really were mystery flowers, as also were the passion flowers with their cross in the center and the many stamens laid flat in a perfect circle like the wheels of a watch. There was also jasmine on those terraces, and jasmine has always filled me with a sort of ecstasy."

Friday, 4 January 2013

"Queen Victoria's Children"

A slightly belated HAPPY NEW YEAR to you!

I wonder why, whenever there are documentaries on TV about the royalties of the past, they seem to go out of their way to denigrate these people and present a biased opinion. Over the past three evenings, the BBC aired a documentary series: Queen Victoria’s Children, which, rather than concentrating on the wonderful things that many of these children achieved, focussed totally on what an appalling mother the ‘talking heads’ on the programme conceived the Queen to be.

Of course, it is well-known that the Queen Victoria was very needy and her behaviour towards her children was not ideal but this programme repeated over and over again phrases such as ‘domestic tyrant’, ‘pathological’ and ‘control-freak’ in describing Queen Victoria. It also took many of her written words out of context and presented a very dark view of her, implying that all her children were unhappy and in a constant state of rebellion against her. She and Prince Albert were presented as totally absorbed in each other to the detriment of their children. Nothing was said in favour of the Queen and so it became a very mean-spirited series.

I don’t deny that she had countless shortcomings as a mother and was one of the neediest people in history, but there was no attempt to understand that or explain her motives, nor did the programme say anything about her kindnesses or how she would write something on the spur of the moment, and later relent. A few things were also very unjust e.g. ‘she had her children beaten’ – well yes, we know that is cruel and awful but it was common practice. ‘She saw them only twice a day but could always make time for Albert’ – she spent more time with her children than the majority of royalties of the time did, and of course she made time for Albert because he was hugely involved in her work as Queen! Also it was stated that the children all had arranged marriages and that is a blatant untruth. While, of course, according to the mores of the time, it was important to find suitable ‘partis’ and make appropriate marriages, none of them was forced to marry against his/her will. Vicky was extremely young, but they didn’t just pack her off to a loveless marriage (as did many other royal parents at the time). Nor did the programme mention how Queen Victoria went out of her way to find a loving wife for Leopold because that what was he wanted; and the same was true of Lenchen. The documentary also said that the children were raised with a strong awareness of their own position (as though they were superior) but said nothing of the fact that the awareness of their position – in Prince Albert’s eyes particularly – meant they must be aware of the responsibility that accompanies privilege. Absolutely, Queen Victoria was a complex and demanding mother, but there are many examples of the genuine love she had for her children. What’s more, although she and Albert made mistakes, they were almost unique in their wish to ‘do the right thing’ for them and for the country.

Several times on other documentaries recently, I have heard Prince Albert described as ‘a bore’ and ‘a prude’. This is quite staggering, considering the extent of Prince Albert’s interests! He was an artist, musician and composer with a strong interest in engineering and science, as well as a tactful diplomat who smoothed over many disputes between politicians, and had a very strong social conscience and went out of his way to improve housing and working conditions for the poor. Moreover, whether or not his treatment of his children meets modern ideals, he spent a great deal of time with them and loved them deeply. His daughters were educated beyond what was common for the princesses of that era; he encouraged his tomboy daughter, Lenchen, to ride fast horses because that brought her joy, and he taught his children himself. He was a Renaissance man but because he didn’t like frittering his time away in ballrooms, was faithful to his wife, and didn’t have numerous affairs, he is viewed as a prude and a bore? He was hardly prudish, considering the works of art he often exchanged with his wife! And he was hardly a bore when he could converse on such a wide range of subjects!

I do wish that, if they must present these documentaries, they would at least present an opposing view to show these people in a truer light!