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Friday 30 January 2009

The Sons of George III

It's little wonder that Queen Victoria - mistakenly - came down through history as a prudish and unamused woman, when you compare her reign to what went before.Queen Victoria's domestic harmony was in such stark contrast to the lives of her 'wicked uncles' that the glaring difference, while completely missing the passionate nature of Victoria, is so acute.
But, the more I think of these 'wicked uncles', the more I wonder how many of their supposed failings were due to the constraints under which they lived. It's a fact that they were largely self-indulgent and self-seeking. George IV was a most petulent and disagreeable character but, had they been ordinary citizens rather than princes, their sins might not have been so glaring. The major 'fault' (apart from their extravagance and gambling) was that most of them could not marry the women they loved. At least 3 of them contracted 'illegal' marriages (i.e. marriages that contravened the Royal Marriages Act), and a fourth had been happy with his mistress for years and might well have married her, had he been allowed to do so.
George IV married Mrs. Fitzherbert. William IV married Mrs. Jordan, and Edward, Duke of Kent (father of Queen Victoria) had been with Julie St-Laurent long enough to imply he would have married her, if it had been allowed. Unfortunately, where they showed themselves in their true colours, these brothers happily 'dumped' their long-term mistresses when it came to a choice between following the desires of their hearts or the greater desire for settling their debts. When it came to the opportunity of receiving a comfortable government grant for marrying legally and producing a legitimate heir,only Augustus, the eccentric Duke of Sussex had guts enough to stick with his wife for eternity - choosing to be buried with her in Kensal Green cemetery and thereby making municipal cemeteries fashionable.

However, had these princes not been bound by their position - or, had they all had the courage to follow Augustus' lead - and, still more to the point, had the people not had such high expectations of their 'rulers', then they might not have appeared so black at all.

In our own time, we have a Prince of Wales who lacked the courage to go with his heart or who 'sacrificed' his heart out of the duty to marry someone more suitable than the woman he loved - and, like his forebears, that was more or less for show and didn't mean discontinuing following his heart. What happened though to those discarded wives? In a kind of reversal of what happened in the past, we know of the tragedy of Diana. What happened to Mrs. Jordan, Mrs. Fitzberbert and Madame St-Laurent (well, the last one retired to a convent...and then married a South American Prince)? With privilege comes duty. With status comes responsibility. Does this mean that those who are born into a particular class are obliged to abandon every shred of feeling in the name of duty?

It would all have been so much better if we didn't project onto royalty our images of what a leader should be, or if those who were happy to take the privileges, had been equally willing to accept what went with it. Augustus, Duke of Sussex, I think stands out as an honourable man for being honest about his marriage and for following his heart.

Monday 26 January 2009

Elizabeth Longford's "Victoria R.I."

I have been reading this wonderful book again and the more often I return to it, the more brilliant it appears. Elizabeth Longford not only writes with such lucidity and humour, but also includes so many interesting anecdotes. Her chapters on Queen Victoria's childhood are especially fascinating.
It is so clear that the author loves and respects her subject - something which is lacking in several other biographies of Queen Victoria. I can think of few things more dull or insulting than those books which recount facts and more facts as though their subjects were mere puppets or cardboard cut-outs. Elizabeth Longford, like Hannah Pakula, is the very opposite of that kind of writing.
This really is a wonderful book - in my opinion, the most wonderful biography of the Queen that I have ever come across,

Saturday 17 January 2009


Black magician? Holy healer? Saint or sinner? Saint and sinner? Who was Rasputin? Does it all depend on one's own beliefs?

These are just my thoughts. Nothing is really black and white and only when we live in a black and white world do we narrow people down to a category. Often, religions express saints and sinners to extremes. Women saints in particular, have been either plaster-cast virgins or wanton temptresses. Those who err towards the 'supernatural' have been seen as either witches or demons, or supernaturally holy and blessed.

Supposing, if you will, that there is only One Life, One Force in the universe, and that is the Force of Love. Some call it God, some call it Goddess, some call it Allah, some call it Life or Beauty. Humanity, all humanity, is an expression of that Beautiful power, which is far greater than a human brain can imagine. Being expressions of the power, what we think, what we believe with all that we are, is what we become and what we experience in our day to day lives. If we believe - on the deepest level - that we are failures, we fail. If we believe we are martyrs, we die a martyr's death. If we believe we are miraculous, we are miraculous.

Rasputin, I think, came to believe he was miraculous. He was. He did stem the blood flow in the little Tsarevich and healed him. He knew he could. He tapped into that power, which is in all of us. But, eventually, he became so puffed up on his own power that he forgot he had simple tapped into something that is in all of us. His arrogance was his undoing; the same power, which had healed Alexei, recoiled on him.

Before the discovery of electricity, no one would have believed that it would be possible to do the things we take for granted today. Imagine if Edison had thought that he was electricity!! I think that is what happened to Rasputin. Rather than knowing he had a gift and had tapped into a mighty force, he thought he was that force. He was not a black magician, nor a saint, nor a sinner. He was simply a man who became bloated on something that wasn't his, and it backfired on him.

Saturday 10 January 2009

The Baketti painting of the Coronation of Nicholas II has always given me pause for thought. When it is shown on a larger scale, the light, streaming through the window, shines on someone who is clearly the Dowager Empress, Maria Feodorovna, rather than on the Empress Alexandra or even the Tsar. Alix seems to be sitting closer to Nicholas, in her rightful place but the light shines on the woman in the background.
If it is the Dowager Empress on whom the light is shining, what was the artist's message? Why did he paint it that way? Surely the light should have been shining on Nicholas and Alexandra, but it isn't. Was he harking back to another era...was it one more blow at the new Tsar and the new Tsarina. There is loads of detail in this painting - the woman at the back in black, for example. What was it about?

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Prince Albert's Unexpressed Sorrow

Considering the effects of our thoughts and emotions on our bodies (one need only think of blushing or having butterflies in the stomach), it's small wonder that long unexpressed emotions have long term effects on health.
As a child, dear, lovely Prince Albert was, according to his biographer, Daphne Bennet, known for his docility and yet his letters reveal the extent of his inner anguish, particularly in relation to the sudden 'disappearance' of his poor mother - banished by her husband for having an affair (regardless of the fact that he had many mistresses). Albert's mother had lavished affection on him, and departed so swiftly from his life when he was so young - only 5 years old. His feelings about that remained unexpressed and surely clouded the whole of his life. What's more, he was a sensitive boy - a musician and artist - growing up with a gruff 'macho' father and brother.
Perhaps it was for this reason that Albert had such a horror of infidelity and, unlike most princes of the day who would have thought nothing of their sons taking mistresses, was shocked to the core when the Prince of Wales had a fling with an actress. Perhaps it was for the reason, too, that Albert was such a devoted father to his children. Above all, though, I cannot help but think how this sadness affected his health. Frequently he suffered from stomach complaints (it is my belief that stomach cancer rather than typhoid killed him), and exhaustion. He wore himself out with his work, it's true, but all that unxpressed sorrow surely took its toll. It's ironic that his daughter, Alice, who was so close to him, was unable to express her sorrow fully at his death, since she was caring for her mother and taking on some of the Queen responsibilities...and then, likewise, Alice was plagued with ill-health to the end of her short life.