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Sunday 28 December 2008

The Average Family Gathering

If, in the midst of organizing Christmas gatherings and accommodating various - sometimes contrary - characters in families, it is worth sparing an amused thought for Queen Victoria and the challenge she faced in the organization of her Golden Jubilee celebrations. Apart from the representatives from so many corners of her Empire, the more pressing concern was where to house and seat different members of her own family.
Buckingham Palace itself was bursting at the seams; the Duke of Edinburgh had offered the use of Clarence House, and the Prince of Wales was open to guests at Marlborough House. Nonetheless, it would require very careful and tactful planning to ensure that everyone was housed with 'suitable' companions.
Her grandson, the future Wilhelm II, was originally not invited, since his father, the future Frederick III, would be representing the Kaiser. 'Willy' however was angling for an invitation and, to keep Willy's mother, Crown Princess Victoria, happy, Queen Victoria agreed to invite him. He would have to be kept away from his aunt, Beatrice, and his cousin, Victoria of Hesse, since their husbands were 'Battenbergs' and, to Willy's mind, not sufficiently royal or 'of the blood'. His own sister, Moretta, was as that time, still hoping to marry a third Battenberg brother, Sandro - a notion which Willy and his paternal grandfather refused to even consider.
Willy's father, diagnosed with throat cancer, needed to be housed in a place where he could enjoy quiet after the celebrations; and then there was Willy's sister, Charlotte, who was known for making a scene and for whom, the Queen decided, the possibility of staying with her Uncle Bertie - with his 'fast set' - at Marlborough House was hardly appropriate.
Much as the Queen was looking forward to meeting Ella (Grand Duchess Elizabeth) again, she was certainly not so enamoured at the prospect of having to entertain Ella's husband, Serge.
On top of a myriad of other children and grandchildren and their spouses, were the Indian Maharajas and the splendid Queen of Hawaii (whose position in the order of precedence irked Willy, who ridiculously believed that a European prince should come before a black Queen!).
All things considered, the average family gathering is very easily arranged!

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

Thank you to everyone who has visted this blog over the past year!

If you are visiting now, I wish you every blessing of the season and all the loveliness and beauty in your life that you long for!

Whether or not we have met, Merry Christmas to you!

With love,


Sunday 21 December 2008

A Little More of Ella's Childhood Christmas

(From The Life & Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna by Baroness Sophie Buxhoevden:

"Christmas was celebrated partly in the English and partly in the German way, and was a family feast in which all the household shared. A huge Christmas tree stood in the ballroom, its branches laden with candles, apples, gilt nuts, pink quince sausages, and all kinds of treasures. Round it were tables with gifts for all the members of the family. The servants came in and the Grand Duchess gave them their presents. Then followed a family Christmas dinner, at which the traditional German goose was followed by real English plum pudding and mince pies sent from England. The poor were not forgotten, and Princess Alice had gifts sent to all the hospitals. Later, the Empress continued the same Christmas customs in Russia."

Grand Duchess Elizabeth's Childhood Christmas

From the letters of Princess Alice to Queen Victoria:

Christmas Day 1868:

"Louis [Ella's father] thanks you a thousand times for the charming presents for the children. They showed them to everyone, shouting, "This is from my dear English Grandmama;" and Ella, who is always sentimental, added, "She is so very good, my Grandmama." Irene could not be parted from the doll you gave her, nor Victoria from hers....We spent a very happy Christmas Eve, surrounded by our dear children and our kind relations."

December 23rd 1870 [in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War]

"This morning I have been at the Alice Hospital, which is prospering. I have been taking my gifts for Christmas to one hospital after another. Your two capes have delighted the poor sufferers, and the one wounded for the second time is very bad, alas! My wounded officer in the house is recovering, next to a miracle. For the two wounded in the house, the children, our household, and the children of our servants at the war, I arranged Christmas trees. We grown-up ones of the family have given up Christmas for ourselves. We have too much to do for others, and my parents-in-law, like me, feel the absence of the dear ones who are always here for Christmas."

Christmas Day 1872

"We gave all our servants presents - the whole household and stable - under the Christmas tree, which we made for the children; and when the tree is divided, the children of all our servants come and share it with ours. It keeps the household as a family and is so important. We have fifty people to give to!
...I am so glad Vicky gave such a flattering account of Baby [the future Empress Alexandra of Russia]. She is quite the personification of her nickname 'Sunny' - much like Ella but a smaller head and livelier, with Ernie's dimple and expression."

Sunday 14 December 2008

Dear Papa

On December 14th 1861, England lost the greatest king we never had, and Queen Victoria was plunged into mourning for the untimely death, at the age of 42, of her 'beloved angel', Albert.
The mourning continued for many, many years; his night shirt was laid out on his bed ever evening and his shaving water changed each day, and Queen Victoria withdrew from public life for so long - unable to 'face the world alone' - that public patience ran out and a sign was placed on Buckingham Palace gates, saying: "Situation Vacant".
In the immediate aftermath of his death, his second daughter, Alice - mother of Grand Duchess Elizabeth - was the one who held the family together and sustained her mother through those early weeks. Alice was particularly close to her father and resembled him in many way - both exhausted themselves in the service of their countries, and had an overriding sense of the responsibility that came with their privileged positions.
Two years after Prince Albert's death, Alice - now married to Louis of Hesse - write to her mother:
"Pray for me when you kneel at his grace - pray that my happiness may be allowed to last long; think of me when you kneel there where on that day my hand rested on your and Papa's dear hands, two years ago. That bond between us is so strong, beloved Mama. I feel it is a legacy from him."
Seventeen years to the day after her father's death, Alice - having exhausted herself caring for her family who had been struck with diphtheria, succumbed to the illness herself. She had been virtually unconscious for some days when, on 14th December 1878, she opened her eyes and murmured, "Dear Papa!" He had come to take her home.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Those Who Cannot Learn From History....

"Those who cannot learn from history," wrote George Santayana, "are doomed to repeat it."
In the wonderful BBC series: "World War II, Behind Closed Doors", more of the truth of what actually happened while hundreds of thousands of people were being killed becomes apparent. Of course, so vile a regime as Hitler's had to be stopped, but, as the programme shows the behind the scenes subterfuges between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill - often playing each other off against the others - there is the overriding sense of three power-hungry little boys moving toy soldiers around in a game. Sadly, the game is all too serious and not one of the three little boys in old men's bodies seems to have any care whatsoever for the millions who are dying. The usual presentation of immediate history is usually a gloss over a power-seeker's plans and the truth only come to light years after the event.
All of this really begs the question - how long before individuals stop being led by those playing out their games on the world stage? How long before we stop being told and start to think for ourselves?
Hitler could never have done what he did, on his own. Nor could Stalin. Nor, for that matter, could Churchill. And each of those people, in their own country, convinced the masses of ordinary people that they were acting for their benefit, for the good of the country and on their behalf. Supposing the people had just said, "We live our own lives. We have no reason to attack another country, or to be governed by another country. We just get on and do what we do - not told what to do, not telling anyone else what to do. We care for and respect one another." Then the boys would have had to return to their toy boxes.
Of course, that is so simplistic and I am merely naive. But to my mind the real naiveté lies in thinking we cannot think for ourselves. For centuries millions of people have gone to their deaths in someone else's cause - and the ultimate cause, when all the propaganda is stripped away, is usually some weakness in the leader, that he desperately tries to hide behind a mask of strength. Jealousy, fear, something from childhood he never outgrew. Millions more people have willingly handed over their power to other - we need to be told what is good for us, what is bad for us; how we should raise and educate our children...and who knows these things better than we do ourselves?
To return to the original point; it seems that history is now to be played down in Primary Schools. How will have any sense of identity, and means of learning from the mistakes of our forebears, any means of knowing who we are? Without history, we are like people with no idea where we came from; no past experience to guide us. Perhaps that's the plan - after all, in so many regimes where tyrants rule, history is re-written or wiped out altogether.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

The Dashing Prince of Battenberg

The Princes of Battenberg were among the most handsome princes in Europe - and none was more dashing that 'Sandro' (Alexander), who, at the recommendation of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, was briefly appointed as the Sovereign Prince of the newly-autonomous Bulgaria.
Moretta fell head-over-heels in love with Sandro and, during a visit to Potsdam, he reciprocated her feelings but - alas! - in the eyes of the proud Prussian court, Sandro, whose mother was a 'commoner' (albeit a brilliant one!) was not of sufficiently royal blood to become the husband of a daughter and sister of a future Kaiser.
For seven years, fluctuating between despair and hope, Moretta prayed that they would be allowed to marry but, the death of Sandro's advocate, Tsar Alexander II, and the turmoil in Bulgaria only added to the intransigence of the Prussian Court. It mattered not that Sandro's brothers had married a daughter and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Sandro was ousted from Bulgaria and, returning to Darmstadt, married an opera singer.
The death of Moretta's beloved father increased her despair, and, in her depression she decided he was 'too ugly' and 'too fat' to ever find a husband and embarked upon a drastic diet, bordering on anorexia. It was left to Queen Victoria to take her in hand, inviting her to England in the summer of 1889, with a view to restoring her to health.
And now, another Sando was suggested as a possible husband - the Russian Grand Duke Sandro Mikhailovich.
"I am thinking a great deal about this 'sailor-boy'," Moretta wrote to her mother, "I wonder if anything will come of it - perhaps by the time we meet, I shall know something.".....

Monday 1 December 2008

Moretta's Mourning...

Moretta, I think, longed more than anything for love. She wanted something so simple, really - a husband and children - nothing more. She had no real interest in politics or even in being a princess. She loved her parents, was a very dutiful daughter, was born at a time of mourning - her father, the future German Emperor Frederick III, had left for battle, and her mother, Queen Victoria's eldest daughter, the brilliant Empress Frederick - was distraught over the death of her little boy, Sigismund. No wonder little Moretta had such a horror of old ladies in black dresses. I imagine that from her cradle, she was surrounded by women in mourning dress, frantic and broken-hearted, bringing with them an atmosphere of gloom which seemed to haunt Moretta for the rest of her life.

Sunday 30 November 2008


Among all the grandchildren of Queen Victoria, Moretta of Prussia is somehow close to my heart. Perhaps it is because she seems to be one of the forgotten ones who has no place in history. Her life was - in the great scheme of how things are written in history - insignificant. She wasn't a saint, she wasn't a heroine, she was, from the start, an also-ran, I guess, and yet I feel for her.

There is a beautiful book of letters from a few brief months of her life, "Queen Victoria at Windsor and Balmoral", edited by James Pope-Hennessy, which gives such a picture into her thoughts, and her thoughts are so touching. The letters are taken from a time when she was - possibly suffering from some kind of anorexia - staying with her grandmother, Queen Victoria. Over the next few days, I would like to write more thoughts about her.

The forgotten people - like the children in the mills and mines, or the members of royal families who play 'bit parts' in history - always stike me as so interesting.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Freedom and Learning from History

In the ancient days of 'O' levels, it was necessary to learn dates and names - The Treaty of Vienna, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Treaty of Versailles; Hastings, Agincourt, Edgehill, The Somme...So much of it was made up of battles - who won, who lost, how the boundaries of countries were redrawn.
Behind the dates and facts were outcomes and it was very much like the old cliché of 'history is one damned thing after another.'
Eventually, social history was introduced. Out went the battles, the treaties and the maps, and in came what was basically a history of 'the poor'. In came factories, children at work, inventions, railways, unions, schools: a kind of history of 'the people.'
It is my firm belief that the only way to learn from history is to understand the individuals - not 'children at work' not kings and rulers or politicians, but individuals: their motivations and psychology because the more we looks at these things, the more we seem them played out time after time.
How many insane rulers have dominated societies? And, more the point, how many millions of people have listened to those rulers, believing themselves powerless until it came to a point where they could stand it no more and the outcome was either a bloody revolution or a war? It seems that throughout history 98% of people have wanted to be led. They did not want to look into psychology or motivation - their own or anyone else's - to see beyond the appearance of things and so sleepwalked into their own abyss. They did not ask, "Why does this man want to rule us? Why do we need to be ruled?" Instead they said, "He is the king/president/Fuhrer/Caesar and he will change everything and make everything wonderful for us!" Perhaps he is a wise king and does his best. Perhaps he is an avaricious power-seeking person. Perhaps he is completely insane ..It doesn't matter what he is - what matters is that people have forgotten that they have the ability to choose their own course, make their own decisions and have entrusted their lives to him.
The bad news is (to my mind) that person can never deliver the expectations.
When they wake up to this fact, the response is anger and a sense of betrayal. If the ruler is a good man, wanting the best for his people - like Tsar Nicholas - they destroy him. If he is a power-seeking individual, like Stalin or Lenin, he destroys them.
The good news is (to my mind) we can learn from history and the biggest lesson is to realize that no one is going to change our world and make it great and make everything right. Only we, as individuals, can change our own lives. There isn't anyone to do this for us. I would venture so far as to say - from a religious perspective - Jesus and all the great spiritual leaders, handed power back to people and what did they do? They ran after him saying, "Saviour! Saviour! Save us!"
King, Tsar, President, Fuhrer, Comrade, Saviour....They never deliver and we kill them are allow them to crush us. Our choice is to wake up and say, "We no longer need to look outside ourselves to someone else to give us freedom or prosperity or hope. It is all within us and there is no one to blame, no one to depend on and no one to deceive us." Freedom comes when we stop expecting it to come from someone else.

Wednesday 26 November 2008


The docu-drama, "World War II, Behind Closed Doors" shows the manipulation and endless one-upmanship between Churchill, Stalin and Roosavelt. Sometimes it seems as those three men sat down and played a game of chess with people's lives. The masses of ordinary people were the pawns in the game, all believing they were fighting for the good of humanity.
When the programme shows interiors of the Kremlin Palaces and shows Stalin walking down those corridors, I cannot help but think how history wrote of 'Bloody Nicholas' - a man who loved his people, who abdicated to prevent a civil war and so as not to abandon his allies - and compare it with the really bloody butcher, Stalin, who for his own aggrandizement murdered millions of his own people as well as the thousand of Polish officers and, basically, anyone who stood in the way of his plans.

Dear Nicholas II never wanted to be Tsar. He never asked for power. He did not want to rule and took his place because he felt it was his duty. What came after him? Greedy, selfish, envious power-seeking Lenin and Stalin...

At the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Nicholas - then in captivity - said, "And they call me a traitor!"
Seeing Churchill, Roosavelt and Stalin, you have to think, "And they call him 'Bloody' Nicholas"????

Monday 24 November 2008

Being Left-Handed

I never saw much in being left-handed; no one ever made anything of it (apart from people saying, "Don't you write strangely?" er...no??) but I know of other people for whom it was a major issue. It was amazing to me that, according to a recent TV documentary, George VI's stammer came from his father insistance that he write with his right hand. Maybe our brains work differently, or maybe nowadays something is being made of something that is of no significance.

Having grown up in a right-handed world, I can't use left-handed scissors or many of the other things which are now created to accommodate us left-handed people. The biggest thing for me was being unable to sew or knit until I read something about how these things are taught to us by right-handers and we are trying to battle against something that comes naturally to us...But I guess my brain has been so busily working to be right-handed that these things are just too befuddling for it.

A few famous left-handers include - Leonardo Da Vinci, Lewis Carroll, Franz Kafka, Thomas Carlyle, Bob Dylan, Prince William (good for him!) etc. etc. It's fun to be different..a bit like those people who have a different blood group...and that's another story....

I'd like to hear of other people's left-handed experiences....

Friday 21 November 2008

If Shakespeare knew the Romanovs...

Shakespeare's model of writing, grounded in Aristotle's formula - the tragic hero/protagonist who had to be noble and whose destiny was wrought by his own fatal flaw, and who met a tragic end, is something so timeless and inspiring.

When it comes to writing of the Romanovs, all the elements are already in place: the king, (or Tsar), the glory (Imperial Russia), the secret tragedy (Alexei's haemophilia), the fatal flaw, (Nicholas' trust in other people) and the ultimate tragedy (the massacre of a family - a massacre so tragic that it is far more powerful than the end of Hamlet, where everyone is slain) . The Romanov story fits Shakespeare's and Aristotle's pattern to such a degree that I often wish that Shakespeare were still here to write their true story with his depths of understanding of psychology and motivation, and his own brilliant command of language!

Oh, for another Shakespeare to write this story! Often I think that when Nicholas and Alexandra were in captivity, these words from King Lear might well have been something they could have shared:

"We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage...so we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we'll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out;
And take upon 's the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies…"

And the death of the beautiful Tsarevich Alexei...wouldn't Shakespeare have written,
"Goodnight, sweet prince, and flight of angels guide thee to thy rest..."

Ah! For another Shakespeare to tell their tale!

Thursday 20 November 2008


I love statues - I try not to, but I can't help it.

Our cities are filled with statues most of which we pass by, never knowing anything about what or whom they represent. It's lovely to see the instantly recognizable Queen Victoria in most English cities, and then there are forgotten soldiers and heroes of wars that are now politically incorrect but who mattered once, and occasionally are moved or hidden away, according to what is acceptable in any given age. Churches are filled with statues that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the lives of the saints they are supposed to represent - gentle smiles and uplifted eyes as though they suffer nothing in the midst unspeakable torture! - and all the same, I love statues - they tell stories.

One day, I went to Westminster Abbey in search of the statue of Ella - Grand Duchess Elizabeth. After searching every nook and cranny (and finding some amazing stories but unable to find Ella) I gave up, disheartened, went outside and, sitting in the sun (a rare sight that summer!), looked up at the sky and saw her among the other 20th Century martyrs above the West Door. It took me by happy surprise - always looking the wrong place and then finding what I was looking for when I gave up trying. There was something poignant about that, too...the thought of her being out of sight, in second place...a bit like those statues that are lost beneath leafy glades and overgrown parks - a footnote in history. And there is something that I think she would have appreciated about that - the kind of statue that says, "Yes, I did what I did. Maybe I made a difference for some people and I don't want to be centre-stage."

It rather reminds me of children running through poppy fields besides war memorials. The busy world goes on, we walk past statues and whether they are heroes, kings, villains or saints, it all just goes to making up life today. Statues make me think of the athletes in races who hand on the baton. Statues seems to say, "Okay, it's your race now...go on and take it up from where we left off...."

I wonder if, when Ella walked into the Abbey for her grandmother's Golden Jubilee celebration, she looked up at the door and had any inkling that one day her statue would stand there. I doubt she did and I'm glad it does.

Sunday 16 November 2008

Who Wrote the Script?

"All the world's a stage..." Imagine, if you will, that we are all players with our 'entrances and exits'. Imagine, if you will, that your life right now is a play and you are acting your part. Is it a comedy or a tragedy? A dull routine soap opera or an epic film?
Before the performance, comes the script that is learned by heart, you know your character and can play your role to perfection.
"I am so unfortunate...", "I am so lucky..." "Things never work out right for me...", "Other people are the lucky ones...." Whatever you say is scripted and you are so great an actor that you have mastered that part to perfection. What a fabulous performance! So accomplished an actor that the part s/he was playing was every bit real not only to the audience, but even to the actor him/herself.
It's my understanding that everything we do and are begins with a script. The script is written in our souls/subconscious mind. What we think about all day comes into our experience. And, by 'think about,' I mean in the unguarded moments when, much of the time, there is nothing but criticism, fear and noise in our heads. Some script is there and sooner or later it plays out in our day to day performance - the art of living.
But, the big question is, "Who wrote this script?"
It's so easy to put it onto fate, or the great Author of Life...and to me the interesting and shocking thing is that I did. I wrote my script. You wrote yours. We didn't write them when we were thinking of what we want to do and how we want to spend our lives. We wrote them in our unguarded moments; we wrote them while watching horror films or beautiful scenes. We wrote them absent-mindedly while listening to the beauty of music or the screaming of so-called music that shouts of nothing but violence. We wrote them while loving others, or while thinking badly of others....We wrote them. The Author of Life, in my view, has enough faith in us to entrust us with that responsibility. We are more powerful than we know...and that is why, in my view, it's so important to guard our thoughts, and what we allow into our minds and hearts and ears and eyes.
And the great thing is...if we don't like the part we've been playing, we simply rip up that script and start again. All works of art require hours of labour and love and effort so we might find it difficult to change scripts overnight, but that's what it's all about.

Friday 14 November 2008

Lost Little Boys Who Rule The World

Supposing we started from childhood and looked at the heroes and heroines of history. Let's take Churchill as an example of a hero of history. Once there was a sad little boy whose mother abandoned him, wasn't interested in him and sent him to a school where he received a daily thrashing. He wrote to her regularly and she occasionally replied. The sad little boy wept and his resentment grew. All he wanted was the love of his mother.

The mother's husband died and she, having spent her life to date, and being a victim herself of the chess game that families play among themselves, switched her ambition to her son. Suddenly, the little boy - by now almost a man - took centre-stage in her life and he milked it for all it was worth. The mother paid him every attention; her whole life was devoted to him...and how he relished it! She was American. When war came, how he longed for her approval! If only America were part of the war...(if only my mother loved me...still lost little boy at school)...What if an American ship were sunk...then America would join the war...The Lousitania. Oh what tragedy! And the little boy got his mother's (and America's support).

Earlier, another little boy longed for his mother's love. He thought she didn't love him because he spent much of his life in the care of tutors who were repeatedly (through his eyes) cruel to him - forcing him to mount a horse, when he was constantly falling off it; forcing him into machines to stretch his arm that never grew properly (thanks - in his eyes - to his cruel mother who brought him into the world that way). What could he do to win her love? Show himself to be a strong man! Grow a great big moustache...wear military uniforms...look the part of a great military leader...Dear Kaiser Wilhelm (whom I happen to love) - another lost little boy.

If we go back to Ivan the Terrible, or even Caligula ('little boots') we see history is filled with lost little boys in positions of power. Does the world change? I think not...but before we accept anymore leadership or any more messages from people who tell us they can make everything right, let's look into their childhood and see where they're coming from....

Tuesday 11 November 2008


We wore our poppies with admiration for the courage of so many people, and with sadness for the horrors of the futility of it all, and particularly for the sorrow of the First World War. When we wake up to the voice of our individuality and realize we don't need to do this anymore, or to listen to leaders acting out their own insecurities on the world stage...Well...

This is a song Poppies:

Young man with a smile on an old photograph
In a uniform smart as your father before,
Pack up your troubles and daring to laugh
As you tramp through the town on your way to the war...

Will you die at a price? Will you die for a shilling?
Is it worth all the pain and the things we don't know?
Is it worth all the horror and bloodshed and killing?
Are you willing to die so a poppy can grow?

Young man with a tear as you walk away crying,
Put down your gun now and lift up your head,
War time is over and breezes are sighing
Through fields of small flowers that blood has stained red.

Did you die at a price? Did you die for a shilling?
Is it worth all the pain and the things we don't know?
Is it worth all the horror and bloodshed and killing?
Were you willing to die so a poppy could grow?

Young man, you who look at the old photograph,
In a uniform smart as your grandfather wore,
Looking so brave now and daring to laugh
As you follow his footsteps and march to the war,

Has the offer been raised? Is it still just a shilling?
Lives are bought cheaply. It's always been so.
When so mine fine people need bloodshed and killing,
We shall slaughter our sons so that poppies can grow...

Sunday 9 November 2008


It's raining and fireworks are exploding like the shells on the Somme.

The poem, by John McCrae is so moving. What a tragedy! What terrible, unnecessary tragedies were played out in the First World War. May 'the torch' be one of freedom from adulation and passing over our responsibilities to leaders. May it be a torch of independence and knowing we do not have to find someone else on whom to lay the blame, or on whom to place all our hopes...Isn't that what it was all about?

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Friday 7 November 2008

There Was A Time...

There was a time when the world was richer - and that doesn't mean more affluent. Richer in colour, in skill, in the time taken over producing something that would last. In the days before plastic; in the days before 24 hour shopping; in the days before the throw-away society, life was richer. There was a time, too, when those privileged enough to enjoy that richness were in the minority. The majority of people sweated their socks off to produce that loveliness - the seamstresses working till they went blind to produce beautiful cuffs and collars; the children who painted beautiful toys in paint that choked them; the miners, the mill workers etc. etc. whose names and faces are forgotten while the names and faces of the few who paid for it all still stand in stained-glass windows in cathedrals or abbeys.

There was a time, too, when people doffed their caps to their 'betters'. It was ridiculous but 'people so love a cage'. And the 'cage' we were in, was one of class and no one could cross that dividing line...or wanted to. There were princesses and princes who wished that the world could be different and life could be fairer, as surely as there were revolutionaries with the same end. There were women stifling because their gifts had no chance of being used. It was a mind-set. They were all enslaved by it.

Then, along came the notions of making everyone equal. No more loveliness. No more beauty. It wasn't about raising us all to the people we can be; it was about bringing us all down to our lowest level. Only speed and 'anyone can be skilled' now, and 'we all have something to say...' is the norm, and the outcome is pickled fish, mutilated cows or unmade beds called art?? I just can't get over the artist, David, spending five years learning to paint hands - and then painting The Coronation of Napoleon in which the hand of the bishop is so life-like you expect it to jump from the wall!

Nor can I get over the notion of any old rot being classed as poetry, compared to the beauty that raises us to our true selves when we read Emily Bronte's brilliant soul-searching, or Masefield's breathlessness before the sea...

Oh...huge sigh....there was a time...If we could only blend it all perfectly and all be the real people we are here to be....

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Please Remember the Hedgehogs!!

On the evening before Bonfire Night - when already many people are beginning their fires - please, before lighting it, remember to check that no hedgehogs have snuggled up in your firewood.
This year there are more helpless baby hedgehogs than even - the hedgehog sanctuaries are taking more in all the time - because the cold spring meant many hedgehogs did not give birth to the babies until later in the year, giving them little time to store up enough fat for hibernation. The little ones (and the older ones too) often snuggle into the wood stacks that people have been preparing for tomorrow night. Please take a peek, first, to make sure a hedgehog hasn't hidden in yours.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Rag and Bone Men

Whatever happened to rag and bone men? Even writing of them, I feel as though I am a thousand years old! They used to come by with a horse and cart and shout 'rag 'n' bone' and, as a child, I recall my mother jumping from the Saturday dinner table to gather up the 'rags' (never any bones!). And, if we took them out to the man, he gave us a ride on the horse-drawn cart....and left us somewhere miles away to walk home!!

Nowadays, there are plastic charity bags that come through the letter box several times a week and, no matter how much you put in them, sometimes they are collected, sometimes not...(Maybe our rags and bones aren't worth collecting!).

Speaking of charity collections..How utterly bizarre that the OXFAM clothes bank, which has an opening the size of a cat flap, says, "Warning: Climbing inside this box could lead to injury." Yeah right...like I was about to climb in there?? I bought a window-cleaning brush today and on the label it said: "Warning!! This is meant for cleaning purposes only. Any other use, could lead to injury." ????? What else would you use it for? Well, maybe there are times when it's better to control one's imagination.

Today is the 144th birthday of Grand Duchess Elizabeth, whose birth shocked her grandmother, Queen Victoria, because the Queen felt her daughter - Princess Alice - should have waited longer before having a second child. The Queen was in for an even greater shock when she discovered that Alice had chosen to breast-feed her baby - something that the Queen considered unpleasant for anyone, and for a princess unneccessary and demeaning! So great was the Queen's annoyance that she ordered a cow in the royal dairy to be named Alice!

Friday 31 October 2008

The Ghosts of Temple Newsam

Temple Newsam House, a short walk from where I live, is renowned for its ghosts and it seems appropriate to speak of them at Halloween. Thousands of years ago, when I was a child, the famous 'Blue Lady' was the stuff of nightmares. Many times, since, I have been through the house half hoping to see her - alas to no avail! Children, today, though still speak of her and the various legends about how she was attacked and robbed while returning home and died soon afterwards. Legend has it, she returns in search of her stolen jewels. Then there is the story of the maid strangled in the cellars while resisting the advances of a footman...
I have never seen any ghosts at Temple Newsam but I have walked thousands of times in the woods there and I believe there is something so mystical and ancient about them. It would not surprise me to see fauns and satyrs skipping around those gnarled trees. The Templar legends resonate in that place and there is something so unique about the atmosphere of Temple Newsam that I have never experienced anywhere else. I would love to hear more of other people's stories of the ghosts they have encountered there, for I know there are many!

Monday 20 October 2008

The Message of a Beautiful Prince

Once upon a time a beautiful prince, called Albert, who had spent his whole life in service to his country, his family and his people, had a beautiful dream of peace throughout the world. A wise and brilliant man, born into a position of some authority, then married into a position of great power, he was determined to use his gifts for the good of all. Whatever the cost to his health or his own comfort, he dedicated himself to duty so wholeheartedly that eventually it cost him his life. The tragedy was that his beautiful dream turned into a nightmare on the battlefields of WWI. His children and grandchildren found themselves on opposing sides. They became enemies and their positions of authority crumbled away as monarchies were overthrown.

Now, here's the rub. If this beautiful man had forgotten the world, forgotten his responsibility and duty, and had simply cared for his family, wouldn't they have been better off? Wouldn't he have been better off? He did it because he felt it was his duty and he cared for the people. The people were perfectly capable of taking care of themselves but, as always, people look to a figure of authority for guidance, and cast their own problems onto that figure, projecting every difficulty onto someone else - a figure of authority. The appalling part is that, as we 'came of age', instead of taking back responsibility, we (people) let ourselves be led by someone who claimed to speak for us: a Hitler, a Stalin, a dictator in any guise. These Hitlers, Stalins (who still appear) did not have the beautiful prince's love for their people, they saw only his power and they wanted it for themselves...

Sadly, to me, the days of the beautiful prince have gone. The sadness I feel about that, is only the sadness that we all go through when we pass out of childhood. The scary thing - far more scary that anything in the past - is the way that we go on following figures who come as wolves in sheep's clothing, promising change or a better world, or promising a great future. No one can do it for us; we can only do it for ourselves by taking back the power that is our birthright, and realizing from the mistakes of the beautiful prince and his beautiful family, that we'd all be better staying at home - not Empire-building, not seizing power, just living without having to rely on someone else to make our decisions for us.

If there were a choice between corrupt bankers and politicians or people like the beautiful prince, I would go for the latter. If there were a better choice between being ruled or simply living and minding our own business, I would go for the latter again. If we learn anything from history, it is surely that we need neither rule nor be ruled. Let's live according to our lights and grow up.

Wednesday 15 October 2008


Anyone who has ever written from the heart will empathise with this: Wow!! This book is published and, for the first time, it is published exactly as I created it, and will be available for anyone who wishes to read it within a couple of weeks. A labour of love that has become a reality at last!!

Thank you so much for all the emails and kind support given to this book!! I trust it lives up to expectations!! And am deeply grateful to you!!

Wednesday 8 October 2008

There Is So Much More....

Perhaps it is dangerous to say that, amid the chaos of economies crashing and banks and bail outs and everything else in the news, I believe that what is now being reported so widely, is not so great a catastrophe as the loss of individual self-expression and the deep appreciation of beauty and freedom. What is happening, to my mind, is the natural outcome of a world where we have lost our way as far as individual freedom and the recognition of beauty goes. If we hang our hopes on economics, and let art be defined by unmade beds, piles of bricks, lights turned on and off, thrown-together things by those who are afraid to say, "The King is in the altogether," what can we expect? A throw-away society, depending on nothing of substance is bound to end up with nothing.

Happily, in spite of what they would have us believe, all is not lost.

That which is truly beautiful always prevails in the long run. That which is truly beautiful is always individual, original and free of the constraints of trying to be fashionable or living up to anyone else's standards or the general consensus of 'it must be this way...it must be that way...'

Isn't it fascination (aside from the power of individual thought and the circumstances we create for ourselves) that so many artists who were not recognised in their lifetime, now have their paintings stored in safes and selling for millions? It was ever thus, I think. The vast majority of us, most of the time, are asleep and want to be told what to do, what to think, what is good, what is bad. Whether these instructions come from governments, churches or are the acting-out of our childhood, we feel safe that way, because, when it all goes wrong, we have someone to blame. Hence, the individuals who couldn't fit into that - like Van Gogh or John Claire - ended up in 'asylums,' and then, when their art is recognised, along come those trying to emulate that 'madness' by trying to shock. It's so passé and unoriginal!

Looking for true beauty, it is so wonderful to come across truly original eyes - the kind of work that makes you stand back and think, "Yes!!! There are people who don't give a damn for what is said to be the norm because they are real artists and truly have an eye for the real!" There are several websites that seem to me to speak this way. I love this page filled with Heinrich Heine quotations and beautiful pictures and messages:


I love all the loveliness in this site, by Tom:


And I truly love the beauty of the brilliant photography of André Hilliard, whose orchids photograph appears above:


So, we think the collapse of banks is so important? Maybe it is on one level. At the same time, there is more to life, and when we stop listening to the fluster and control-stuff, and think for ourselves, we can see that there are brilliant people all around us and there is far more to life than what goes on in 'The City'. We don't have to live in boxes. We don't have to be protected or told what is beautiful. We need only open our eyes and see that there are geniuses everywhere, and I, for one, am honoured to have seen some of their work.

Thursday 25 September 2008

True Beauty

The most striking aspect of Grand Duchess Elizabeth has always been for me, her natural inclination to create beauty in everything. Renowned as 'the most beautiful princess in Europe', far from being possessive about that gift, she used it to the full both for herself and for others. When young, she paid great attention to her appearance; as time passed, that beauty went deeper and deeper and culminated in bringing beauty into the most 'ugly' places - into slums and hovels, into lives devoid of dignity, and into a world thrown into confusion by murder and war.

Now, more than at any other time in history, I believe that message is vital. We have made such advances in technology and science - wonderful advances, bringing people together - but I cannot help but feel sometimes that, along the way, we have forgotten the true meaning of beauty. One only need browse the shelves of video shops to see how many films are made about destruction and violence - 'action films' they are called. One only need glance at billboards or watch a couple of adverts to see how beauty is narrowed down to some designers' ideas of how we should all look, what we should wear....what beauty means.

I live near a wood filled with ancient trees, beside which is a new wood planted for the millennium. To see the young trees growing so quickly is amazing! To see the ancient trees with their gnarled roots, their twisted and heavily-laded branches, the marks in the bark, the intertwining of their limbs is truly breath-taking. Not one tree quite resembles another. Yet, there they all stand having absorbed centuries of wisdom and their beauty is ineffable. They don't fit a pattern. They don't do anything in the way of 'action'. But, strong and solid, they sometimes seem to me to have watched and listened and absorbed centuries of thoughts of passers-by, like me, and they are truly uplifting.

There is, I think, a beauty that doesn't ever try to be anything other than itself at its very best. I think Ella knew that so deeply and, unlike Rasputin, who felt a need to debase people in order to destroy their pride, she simply drew that loveliness from others.

In the midst of financial crises, toppling of governments and ending of empires; in the midst of turmoil in politics and the power-seeking scare-mongering of some politicians, true beauty cannot be destroyed. It is. And, like the ancient trees growing happily beside the newer woods, it simply continues because it is real. And reality is eternal.

Sunday 21 September 2008

3rd excerpt from "Most Beautiful Princess"

It was early evening as she walked alone on the shores of the Sea of Galilee...
...A fishing boat moved silently over the water and a solitary seagull soared through the pale blue sky. The setting sun spread an amber glow across the horizon like a heavenly vision and, for a moment, breathlessly she paused. Perhaps it was indeed a heavenly vision: a vision of serenity, simplicity and perfection, so far, far removed from the shallow world of glittering ballrooms and palaces. So deep was the sense of peace that tears filled her eyes and a kind of sadness flooded her soul. She raised her hand to her heart. What a strange pain this was: nostalgia for something she had never known? Or a glimpse into another world of ineffable beauty?
She had known this feeling before but never to such depths. Like the glimmer of a candle caught through the corner of her eye, something so close and yet just out of reach; something so simple yet too profound to grasp; like a whispered word or the echo of a sigh; something…something…familiar yet different. She recalled one amber evening as a child, running through the meadows of Osborne, suddenly arrested by a sense that she was running through her childhood, running through her life, running through the whole of history; no longer simply an isolated being running on summer lawns, but a part of the great stream of Spirit, timeless and changeless yet endlessly flowing, creating, evolving. Even then, came the paradoxical awareness of the transience of the moment, captured forever in one eternal now..
Now, as the silent boat sailed across the Galilean sea, it seemed but a shadow of other boats, sailing the same waters long, long before she was born. She could almost hear the voices of fishermen calling to the other boats to help with the miraculous catch; and see the outline the Man walking across the waves. Christ, the fishermen, the apostles, all humanity seemed as close to her as her own self, woven into the fabric of her being as they were woven into the fabric of history; woven into everyone’s being, into Being Itself.

Sunday 14 September 2008

2nd Excerpt from "Most Beautiful Princess"

....“Murder?” she thought, “Can murder ever be justified….Thou shalt not kill….” And yet, when the whole of Europe was engaged in such bloody slaughter, the removal of one dangerous man, one source of evil, seemed so small a thing. Had all this bloodshed and horror hardened her heart, she wondered. Five, ten years ago it would have been unthinkable to even entertain such a notion but now…desperate times, desperate remedies. She flicked through the pages of her Bible to the Gospel of St. John: “It is better that one man should die for the people, rather than that the whole nation should perish…”
“Matushka,” Mitrophan gently tapped her shoulder, “forgive me, but you look so troubled.”
“I am troubled, Father, deeply troubled.”
He knelt down beside her, “Is there anything I can do?”
“It is better that one man should die for the people, rather than that the whole nation should perish…” she read aloud. “That’s what they said of Christ. Those who killed him believed they were acting for the common good. Do you think that the death of one man could prevent the destruction of a nation?”
“Every nation chooses its own scapegoats. It is easier to lay the responsibility for all our ills at the feet of someone else than to accept that we have brought calamity onto ourselves.”
“But if one man were truly destroying the country and…”
“Could one man do that without the tacit consent of all his fellow countrymen? Evil is like a plant - it can’t flourish unless it is fed and watered.” He gazed towards the infant in the crib, “By our carelessness and selfishness, we all contribute to its growth and then when we see what a monster we have created, we attempt to destroy it as though it is external to ourselves.”
“Something terrible is about to happen,” she whispered. “I have neither condemned nor condoned it but in my heart I think it’s the only way.”
“With or without your agreement, this terrible thing will happen anyway?”
She nodded.
“Then it’s out of your hands and all you can do is place it in the hands of God. Pray that if it is his will, this thing might be averted but, if there is no other way, pray for everyone involved.”
She stared at the serene expressions of the statues in the crib. How she longed for peace, for an end to all this horror, and a return to the beauty that was once her sole preoccupation.
“There was time once,” she murmured, “to contemplate everything; to reflect, to feel..."

Saturday 13 September 2008

Excerpt from "Most Beautiful Princess"

....That afternoon, Serge sat in his study, staring to no obvious purpose at the papers spread across his desk. But for the steady scuffing of his boot over the carpet the room was silent, and yet, in that steady shuffling of his foot, Ella sensed a scream of desperation, so loud and clamorous that it almost compelled her to block her ears. For some seconds she stood in the entrance gazing at him, longing for him to look up, but, whether he was unaware of her presence or had no desire to see her, his eyes remained fixed on the papers. She yearned to rush to his side, kneel at his feet and beg him to share whatever burden troubled him so intensely but twelve months of hoping had taught her that any attempt to penetrate his thoughts only drove him to a deeper silence. She pushed the door until it creaked but even when the floorboards rasped beneath her feet he did not look up.
He raised his head slightly.
“Are you very busy?”
He shook a wad of papers, “I need to read through these before I leave.”
“May I talk with you?”
“Of course.” He picked up a pen and struck out a few lines on his documents. She drew closer and waited but his only response was a fleeting glance and a swift, questioning raise of his eyebrows.
“Could you at least…” an unintentional irritation crept into her voice, but she restrained it with a shake of her head. “Shall I come back later when you’re less busy?”
He sighed, put down his pen and pushed back his chair. She tried to catch his eye but he looked beyond, or rather through her as though she were a ghost hovering invisibly before him. Even an impatient word would have been preferable to his asphyxiating silence. Her eyes wandered desperately around the room trying to find some common link to start a conversation but there was only the starkness of his study, his papers, his own private world in which she played so small a part.
There was so much she burned to say and her thoughts ran so quickly that she half-expected to hear them tumbling uncontrollably from her tongue, ‘Why don’t you love me? Why can’t you love me? What have I done to repulse you?’
“Please,” she murmured pathetically, “will you sit over here?”
He flinched but stood up and followed her to the sofa where he sat half-turned towards her. He raised one hand to his chin, wiping his index finger to and fro across his lips. Her fingers moved tentatively towards his other hand, resting flat on the cushion between them. When she touched his skin with the lightness of a pianist playing a gentle melody, he neither responded nor moved away....

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Biography v. Fiction

If you were asked to write your autobiography, where would you begin? "I was born...I did this, I did that...I went to school, college, university....met so & so etc. etc."?? Or would you write: "The first thing I felt was...." or "I hurt..." or "I was happy...."? Which would be closer to your essence and to who you really are? Which would be more real?

If you were asked to write someone else's biography, where would you begin? With the same questions? Or, because we feel such a sense of separation from each other, would you feel like Thomas Gradgrind in Dickens' Hard Times, when he says:

"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!"

And more than facts...stick to sources!! State your sources, sir - how can you know this, how can you prove this??? In a biography or factual account of any life, these things are necessary, otherwise real historical people become dstorted and nothing but the projections of the writer. But how can I prove in my own life - how can you prove in yours - that you once felt humiliated, destroyed, elated, ecstatic??? Do you have sources for that?? Did you write it down? Did you make sure it was stored in archives?? How did you feel when you first fell in love?? Can prove it??

I can't. I have no sources for my own life...how much less anyone else's.

I am totally opposed to turning real historical people into projections of ourselves (something most of us do, with most people we meet, much of the time anyway!!) and for that reason, always found it objectionable when people fictionalised actual events and people. However, there are times when (to quote Dickens again):

"Some persons hold," he pursued, still hesitating, "that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart. . . ."

Sometimes, reading the spoken words and letters of people of the past, one has such a feel for what that person is saying, that it goes beyond what can be proved or cited to sources. Any novel is a projection of the author but so, too, is any biography in that the author places some kind of interpretation on the 'facts'. It is my belief that if a novel is clearly labelled as a 'novel' the author's intention is clear - it is an interpretation of truth. That is no less valid than something that is labelled 'biography'. Perhaps, in some ways, the former is closer to truth than the latter because the former is patently the author's interpretation.

When I was at school (a thousand years ago!), those who studied science subjects for 'A' level, were generally considered somehow 'cleverer' than those who studied arts subjects. I suspect this is a result of patriarchal societies where classifying things into boxes is more important than getting to the heart of the matter.

There are many ways to approach a person's life and none of them is as true as the person him/herself, but when it comes to presenting a life in any particular genre, I firmly believe that the bottom line is respect for the person. Many people have written from accurate sources and have written without love. Many people have written inaccuracies and novels, without love. When one writes from the heart and the head, I honestly don't think it matters which genre one chooses.

New Novel Based On The Life of Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia

Based on the true story of Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna, "Most Beautiful Princess" follows 'Ella' from her arrival in Russia to marry Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich, brother of Tsar Alexander III, through to her horrific murder at the hands of the Bolsheviks.

Adored and yet vilified as a German spy; childless, yet loved by children; gentle, yet capable of virtually single-handedly engineering the marriage of her ill-fated sister, Alexandra to Nicholas II, last Tsar of all the Russias; devoted to her difficult husband, yet so often the object of slander and gossip, at first glance her intriguing life seems one of extremes. Yet there is one unchanging thread running through this story - from all the glamour of Royal Courts in the halcyon days of the 19th century monarchies, to the abject poverty of Moscow's slums; she maintained an unchanging determination to bring beauty into the world. Far from being simply a story of an another era, the life of Ella, Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna speaks directly of so many issues facing the world today. In a life which encountered terrorism, the need for religious tolerance, the bridging of the gap between the rich and the poor, and the joining of the material with the spiritual, Ella's is not only a fascinating historical life but perhaps, more importantly, a template for the future of all our lives.

Although this is a novel, all the characters in the book actually existed and, having already researched and written the biography of Ella, I have ensured that it is grounded in historical accuracy.
Some historical biographers take exception to the fictionalisation of real people - and I completely understand and appreciate that opinion. Over the next few days, however, I shall explain why I chose this genre to present my understanding of the beautiful life of Grand Duchess Elizabeth.

Tuesday 6 May 2008

A kind of living?

In the past - long past, before industrialisation - when people rose with the sun and moved in time with the seasons, things moved at their own pace like Robert Louis Stevenson's 'clock in a thunder storm'. Old village women sat by the beds of expectant mothers and the by the beds of the dying. Now, in clinical settings, everything is hurried and organized to plan. The baby will be born on this date. We'll switch off the life-support or withdraw the treatment on that date....

We have a pain - we fix it with a pill. We have an infection - we get a course of antibiotics.There are no silent Sundays; there are no holidays when everyone is at home; the busy world just goes on 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Efficiency, organization, speeding, rushing, racing....for what?

In the wonderful Le Petit Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery, the little prince meets a scientist who offers him a pill that can turn into water. "Why?" asks the wise little prince. "To save time walking to the well," replies the scientist. "And what would I do with the time I saved?" asks the prince. The answer: "Whatever you choose."
"If I had that time to spare," says the prince, "I would take a slow stroll to the well."

What's all this rushing about for? Who decided we had to live like this? The crowded rush hour buses and trains... the ant-like coming and going...for what? To earn the money to grab a couple of days of at the end of the week to do as we choose? Good heavens! What a strange idea of living we have!

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Mental Footprint

Carbon footprints are all the rage and it's a fad to measure your own, much as it was a fad a couple of years ago for everyone to wear pedometers and walk so many miles a day. Somewhere along the line, someone makes a fortune out of these fads and it makes no difference whatsoever to the overall health of the population or the earth. Here's a wacky idea which I think makes more sense. How about the mental footprint we leave behind wherever we go? No one makes money out of this. No one uses this to promote a product (well...a few people try with strange machines) but it has, I think, a bigger effect on the environment in which we all live than anything else. How often to we go into a place that has an atmosphere of gloom and come away feeling exhausted? How often does a particular historical site retain the atmosphere of ages? Some places have a happy atmosphere, others an atmosphere of gloom. Some people you meet leave you feeling much better about the world, others leave you feeling drained. When a house has been the site of a murder, it is often pulled down, so even the most sceptical must accept there is something going on about atmospheres. My suggestion is that instead of measuring our carbon footprint, we measure our thought-print. If we go among people thinking the worst, being miserable and condemnatory we add to that atmosphere. If we go among people thinking the best, we create harmony and will do far more good to ourselves as well as to others, than counting calories or how many watts we have used. The earth is much older than we are and has come through ice ages and all kinds of geological changes. Humanity is much younger than the earth....how arrogant to think we are more powerful than the environment in which we develop. We are not responsible directly for what happens in the ice caps and the weather systems. We are, though, responsible for our own thoughts...If we want to make the world a better place, the best place to start is in our own minds.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Princess Alice, continued.

Devoted as Alice was to her husband, it did not take long to discover that their intellectual and spiritual interests were far apart. Oftentimes melancholic, profoundly spiritual Alice had a questioning faith, and longed for a soul mate who could empathise with her quest for truth. She became fascinated by the controversial theologian David Strauss and her patronage of his work led to her being branded by the superficial Queen Augusta of Prussia as an atheist. Nothing could have been further from the truth but when tragedy struck her family with the death of her little son, Frittie, it seems Alice felt the need to return to a more conventional view of religion.
Frittie, diagnosed the previous year with haemophilia, was playing in Alice's room, when he caught sight of his brother through an open window. Climbing up to wave to him, the little boy fell onto the concrete below. At first he seemed merely dazed but that night he suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and died. Alice never fully recovered from his death.
Five years later, her eldest daughter Victoria contracted diphtheria which quickly spread through the family. Only her second daughter, Ella, remained free of the disease and, for her own safety, was sent to stay with her paternal grandmother in nearby Bessungen.
Alice personally nursed all of her children in turn, adhering to the doctor's instructions that she must neither kiss nor hold them for fear of contracting the illness herself. In spite of all her care, her youngest daughter, May, died, and, since Louis had also been struck with the illness, Alice was obliged to attend her funeral alone.
When Alice's son, Ernie, himself suffering from the disease asked for news of his sister's progress, Alice felt obliged to conceal from him the fact that she had died for fear that the news would further weaken him. As Ernie began to recover, Alice told him the truth and he was so upset that she could no longer bear it. Contrary to the doctor's instructions she hugged and kissed him...It was to be what Disraeli reported to Parliament, 'the kiss of death'.
As the rest of the family recovered, Alice contracted the disease and too worn out to fight it, died, at the age of 35, on the anniversary of the death her father - 14th December 1878. Her final whispered words were, "Dear Papa..." It seems her beloved father had come to take her home.

Friday 4 January 2008

Princess Alice 1843-1878

Over the next few weeks, I intend to add accounts of some of the members of Queen Victoria's extended family, beginning today with one of the most tragic and heroic of all the Queen's children, her second daughter, Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse.

Only eighteen-years-old when her father, Prince Albert, died in December 1861, the young princess virtually took over all her mother's duties, while the Queen was lost in her grief. This gave Alice little time to come to terms with her own bereavement - and she had been very close to her father.
Alice's wedding, the following July, was a gloomy affair. Virtually everyone was dressed in black, the Queen and several of Alice's siblings wept throughout the service and even the recently-widowed Archbishop performing the ceremony was in tears.
Alice went with her new husband, Prince Louis of Hesse-and-by-Rhine, to Darmstadt, the centre of the little German Grand Duchy to which her husband was heir. By royal standards they were not wealthy and were driven to beg Queen Victoria for financial assistance.
Alice devoted herself entirely to the people of Hesse, often going incognito to their homes, scrubbing floors and making meals for the sick and elderly. She founded countless charitable institutions, supported the Red Cross, opened a 'mental asylum' and personally worked in the hospitals carrying out the most menial tasks.
She bore 5 children - two of whom, Ella, the future Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna, and Alix, the future Empress Alexandra of Russia - were destined to be murdered by the bolsheviks. Unlike many princesses of her day, Alice took a personal interest in every aspect of her children's welfare and education, shocking Queen Victoria by breast-feeding baby Ella herself. Their curriculum was wide-ranging and alongside academic skills she introduced all her children to the idea that responsibility accompanied their privileged position.
To be continued....