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Friday 31 December 2010

A Very Happy New Year!

For so many people whom I have met, the year 2010 has been unusually difficult in so many ways. There seems to have been so much illness and bereavement and it has often felt to me that everything was thrown up into the air in order to come down in a different and far better place. With that thought dominant in my mind, I am so looking forward to Midnight tonight and the birth of 2011.

The year 1866 had been particularly distressing for Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Alice. The Austro-Prussian War not only meant a long separation from her husband and the sadness of seeing the wounded Hessians, but also had led to her being on the opposing side to her closest sister, Vicky, in Prussia. By the end of the year the war was over, and as Princess Alice looked forward to 1867, she wrote to her mother:

“May the Almighty give you every blessing of peace and comfort which the world can still give you....May every blessing fall on my dear old home, with all its dear ones! May peace and the glory which peace and order bring with it, with its many blessings, protect my native land; and may, in the new year, your wise and glorious reign, so overshadowed by dear Papa’s spirit, continue to prosper and be a model and ornament to the world!
This year of pain and anxiety, yet for us so rich in blessings, draws to its close. It moves me more than ever as its last day approaches. For how much have we not to thank the Almighty – for my life, which is so unworthy compared to many others; the new life of this little one [her daughter – Irene] and above all the preservation of my own dear husband who is my all in this life.
The trials of this year must have brought some good with all the evil; good to the individual and good to the multitude. God grant we may all profit by what we have learned, and gain more and more that trust in God’s love, which is our guide and support in trouble and in joy! Oh, more than ever, I have felt this year that God’s goodness and love are indeed beyond comprehension!
...I am really glad to hear you can listen to a little music. Music is such a heavenly thing, and dear Papa loved it so much that I can’t but think that now it must be soothing, and bring you near to him....”

Bring on the fireworks and the music....Ring out the old, ring in the new! A Very Happy New Year!

Thursday 30 December 2010

The Age of Innocence

Along with many people, I was disappointed by the remake of “Upstairs Downstairs”, which was shown over 3 nights this week. The original series played so prominent a role in my adolescence, when ‘James Bellamy’ was the caddish hero who so perfectly epitomised every schoolgirl’s dream! During a Latin lesson in school, a friend passed me a note to say Simon Williams, the actor who played James Bellamy, was coming in person to open a shop in Leeds that night - “Oh, be still my beating heart!” – I still have the photograph of that evening when Simon Williams put his arm around our shoulders and smiled for the camera!

There was a beautiful innocence about that time, and in so many ways the original series recaptured the innocence of the world before 1918. The final series – set in the 1920s – was a sort of aftermath. There was grief, loss, frittering away meaningless hours in trying to capture a lost innocence, the Wall Street Crash, the loss of the Bellamys’ home, and James’ suicide, which was symbolic of so much that had been lost.

The new series lacked so much because it seemed to try so hard. Suddenly it seemed so modern in that it was trying to be so politically correct that it involved the token northerner, the person with Down’s syndrome, the Asian person, the German Jewish person....and tried, in so short a time, to include historical details (the rise of Fascism, the Abdication Crisis etc.)...but it tried too hard and it was not possible to empathise with the characters.

But I think (at least for me) there was something more poignant about the impossibility of making this series, set in the less aesthetically beautiful 1930s, as captivating as the original. The beauty of the original series was its recapturing of an era which is rather like our individual nostalgia for a childhood which might not, to all outward appearances, have been idyllic, but in which to the individual who remembers childhood, there were moments of sheer awe, excitement, the belief in magic, in fairies, in dreams! The pre-1914 world was, I think, a world of innocence. It’s true that it was a world filled with injustice and yet we cannot view it clearly through 21st century eyes without first returning to the way in which it was viewed from the inside.
In the original ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, the servants were so proud to be working for an aristocratic family and they, far more than the family upstairs had such a hierarchy that was so stringent and well-defined. Under-housemaids peeped with delight over banisters to see the rich ladies in their beautiful gowns going out to a ball; butlers and footmen expected their masters to remain somewhat aloof and it was as though everyone had something to which to aspire, which was better than their own present circumstances.

People who have been in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II often speak of their sense of awe. Republicans become tongue-tied; and young, rebellious performers are suddenly so conventional when they meet her. That is the mystique of royalty. To those of us who are not royal, the very presence of a Queen, King, Prince or Princess, takes us right back to our childhood innocence and dreams and sense of wonder. The pre-1914 world was filled with such people and created fairy-tale-like occasions of pageants, processions, jubilees, coronations and royal funerals. The royalties might have lived in grand style but they created so beautiful an image and inspired such aspirations! If all their fortunes were added together and shared among the masses, each person might have gained a couple of pennies. The end of innocence came, I think, with the rise of envy. Rather than aspiring to be all that each person can be, unhappy people – led into wars by unhappy ad envious ministers and not by kings - looked at those whom they perceived as better off, and destroyed them. The murder of Tsars, Kings, the overthrow of dynasties gained nothing, but deprived us of so much appreciation, respect, awe and that child-like innocence, which we try to recapture in period dramas.

The world of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, really ended in 1914-1918. I think it was a well-meaning mistake to try to revive it in another era, in which it didn’t really fit at all.

Friday 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your beliefs and whatever your circumstances, thank you for taking the time to visit this blog, and may your Christmas be filled with joy!

Monday 20 December 2010

Heilige Nacht

Is there a more moving carol than the original German version of ‘Heilige Nacht’ – I can imagine Prince Albert, who brought to England so many of the Christmas traditions we still enjoy today, singing it in his beautiful voice. That beautiful carol captures so perfectly the quietness which is so inspired by the muffling of snow and the inner silence that comes so natually at this time of year. It is the sound, to me, of something so profound, so beautifully inexpressible....and it is captured quite beautifully in this excerpt from ‘Oh, what a lovely war’ – where, for a moment, men remembered who they really are and caught the true Christmas spirit...


Sunday 19 December 2010

Morganatic Marriages and Bloodlines

It is near impossible nowadays to understand the concept of a morganatic marriage – a marriage between people of different social ranks wherein the person of the lower social rank (almost invariably the wife) and any subsequent children are not eligible to share the titles or ranks of the person of higher rank. Usually the ‘inferior’ wife was given some other meaningless title, which accounts for so many obscure German and Russian titles – Princess of Battenberg, Princess von Hanau, Countess Carlow, etc. etc. The closest thing we have to it today is the title of Camilla, wife of the Prince of Wales, yet titled – for various reasons – Duchess of Cornwall. In Britain there have never been morganatic marriages – as Queen Victoria, who couldn’t understand the idea at all, wrote so simply, “Either people are married or they are not.”

The purpose of this bizarre state of affairs was to preserve the noble blood of great dynasties. I cannot imagine how anyone conceived the idea that royal blood is different from other blood and it would taint a dynasty to have a commoner’s blood thrown into the mix but the irony of the outcome of such ideas is so tragically apparent. It was a disease of the blood – the noble blood - haemophilia, which caused such havoc and agony in many royal houses; the attempt to preserve the bloodline in Austria led to so many marriages between double first cousins that the children suffered enormously, both physically and mentally; and there was also, throughout the 19th and early 20th century, a vast amount of royal blood spilled from the murder of Carlos of Portugal, through to the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
and the murder of the Russian Imperial Family. Royal blood flowed, too, on the battlefields of the First World War – the nephews of the Kaiser were killed alongside the cousin of George V of Britain and cousin of Tsar Nicholas II, and in the midst of battle it can hardly have been any less horrific for a prince than for an average ‘Tommy’.

I cannot imagine how stifling and how utterly nonsensical it must have felt to have been a prince or princess for whom the choice of a marriage partner was based primarily on dynastic considerations, with some strange idea that this would preserve some kind of superiority. I can imagine, though, how someone like the very intelligent Franz Ferdinand felt when the woman whom he loved devotedly was constantly humiliated because of her ‘inferior’ blood. He had seen Crown Prince Rudolf slide into a life of utter decadence due to the stifling of the Court; and had seen Rudolf’s mother drift deeper and deeper into depression for the same reason. Franz Ferdinand loved Sophie. In the Court and in the world at large he was seen as brusque and unsociable, but at home he loved his children, loved his wife deeply and it is small wonder that in such circumstances he despised the coterie of snobs who stood between him and his uncle, Emperor Franz Josef. Forty or so years earlier in England, Prince Albert wrote of the need to bring new, stronger blood into the dynasty. I think, perhaps, he and Franz Ferdinand (a man whom admire more, the more I learn about him – except for his mass-slaughter of animals) would have had some brilliant conversations had they been around at the same time, and between them might have brought about a great deal of good.

The whole notion of blood seems to go back to Biblical times when the Hebrews were wandering in the desert and discovered that the blood of certain animals made them ill or even earlier when Greek and Roman doctors believed blood was something mystical. There remained a superstitious view of it for so many years that even today we speak of ‘blue blood’ – a rather apt idea considering the presence of porphyria in some dynasties - and ‘full-bloodied’.

I am glad that, for all our faults, we never entertained the notion of morganatic marriages in Britain.

Saturday 18 December 2010

The Power of Persuasion and Propaganda

Charles Edward, Duke of Albany and Duke of Coburg, was the son of my favourite of Queen Victoria’s sons – Prince Leopold. It’s very sad that most of what is remembered of Charles Edward is depicted in these photographs of him wearing the swastika and sitting beside Hitler.

Even today, 65 years after the end of WW2 there are frequent condemnatory references on websites and in books to the affiliation between various royalties and the Nazis but it is staggering that while we, even to this day, are subjects of so much propaganda, we judge with self-righteous hindsight the people of the past.

Hitler was obviously a deranged megalomaniac and tyrant but, had I been part of a noble German dynasty who wanted the best for my people, and had seen them suffer the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles, I might, in the 1930s – without access to all the information we have so easily today - have been swayed by the message of someone who said he could restore our country to its sense of dignity. I might have seen it as an opportunity to restore dignity, too, to the people I believed I was here to serve and govern, and live up to all that had been instilled in me about my duty as a member of the family of rulers to do the best for those in my duchy. I might even have heard Hitler’s voice as the one glimmer of light in the darkness of our country’s history. Perhaps I would have recalled brothers or friends who had died ignobly on the Somme or the Marne, and wondered why it was okay for Britain to raise Cenotaphs to her glorious dead, when my friends and family were seen as aggressors. After all, those real people who died had no more idea about why they went to war than my English or Russian cousins did, but the cousins were heroes and we were demons....though they all set off with the same idea of this being the right thing to do. Since then, I had seen my country brought to its knees, humiliated, emasculated and basically leaderless. Then, in the midst of weakness and despair, came a voice that gave hope....the voice of someone promising to restore all I loved...the voice of Adolf Hitler.

Remember, I had been raised as a grandchild of a prince who believed with all his heart that princes were there to serve and do the best for their people. WW1 left me with a sense of having failed in that....and a sense of my own confusion and sorrow at having witnessed so much slaughter for nothing, and having been cut off from my cousins and siblings.

In such circumstances of desperation and hope of a better future, I doubt I would have been aware that such a man, who gave me hope, was so deranged as to be planning genocide or anything of the sort. I doubt I would have even thought about anything other than the possibility of returning to the ideals of my youth when Germany was a prosperous and respected nation. Perhaps when the reality of what was happening – the madness, the mass slaughter of Jewish people, Polish people, gypsies, homosexuals, people with learning difficulties, all kinds of innocent people – dawned on me, it was too devastating to even think about.

Charles Edward, Duke of Coburg, son of beautiful Prince Leopold, sat alone, watching on television as his sister and cousins attended the coronation of our present Queen in 1953 because he was not allowed into this country, being seen as a ‘traitor’. I just wonder what any of us would have done in such circumstances.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Shells of Souls

Getting out of the car at a supermarket today, I saw, very close to my foot, a perfect ‘shell’ of a squirrel. He lay on his side, quite dead, in a place where, until a couple of days ago, there had been a mound of snow. He looked like a young squirrel – not our original native red squirrels which are so rarely seen nowadays, but a grey one (an American variety!) with unusually white fur across his chest.
I felt sad to think perhaps he had frozen to death in that mound of snow, for there was nothing about him that suggested he had been attacked and he looked very young. I walk often in the woods and see countless lively squirrels but have never ever seen a dead one, so it seemed odd that this little one should be lying there like litter in the supermarket car park. The most striking thing, though, was – and please forgive me if this sounds macabre – that shell-like look that all bodies have when Life has moved on from them. I was a nurse for a while and, being around the ‘dying’ (I write it in inverted commas because ‘dying’ sounds so final and that, I am sure, is not so) there was always such a noticeable time when a hush fell over the ward, and such a sense of awe at the moment when someone seemed to move out of their body and all that was left was a shell.

This is the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s ‘dreadful 14th’ – the day on which her husband, Prince Albert and, seventeen years later, her daughter, Princess Alice, left this life. One snowy night, around this time of year, when carols were playing on a hospital ward, I held the hand of someone else, who will probably not be remembered by anyone since this person was neither a prince nor a princess and had no family as far as we knew, as they passed on. I hardly knew this person except in their most intimate moment of death. It was late on a dark December evening, just before Christmas. The ‘patient’ had been moved to a side room, the ward was quiet and so I went to sit with this person. I was tired, didn’t really want to be there and hated working nights but my head was filled with the carols I had been hearing, “where charity stands watching, and faith holds wide the door..” and this person sighed deeply and was gone, “the dark night breaks, the morning wakes and Christmas comes once more...” That little, stark side room in a hospital, which was once a workhouse and is filled with the energy of so much death and darkness, suddenly seemed joyful. I saw the body – the shell of the soul of that person whose hand I had been holding, while feeling so dark and tired and sleepy and sad, and suddenly I wanted to dance. It seemed like all the sad stuff we hang around death is so meaningless because it’s no different from shells on beaches or fallen leaves in autumn.

There was always, in my experience, great respect shown to dead bodies by nurses and porters. In laying out a body, all the nurses I knew spoke to it, treated it with respect as though there person still inhabited it. (Newspapers make out nowadays that nurses are careless of the elderly but that was never my experience as a nurse). So, we did what needed to be done with this person’s body and my colleague was speaking to it as though the person was still there. To me it was nothing but a shell, but, after years of believing in a vague heaven, in that moment and ever since, I would stake my life on the certainty of eternal life and the very real reality of heaven being closer than we know.

On the terrible 14th – ‘dear, angel Albert’ (oh, sigh, what a beautiful man!) and ‘dearest Alice’ – how significant that Alice shares her anniversary with her beloved father, and I have no doubt whatsoever that he came to lead her on when her final words were, “Dear Papa...”
Gosh! What light she must have experienced!

Thinking of Prince Albert, Tennyson's brilliant poem comes to mind:

"Lives of great men all remind us,
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us,
Footprints in the sands of time."

Prince Albert, I think, more than any other person of the time, changed for the better the face of the British monarchy and the face of Britain itself...

It also happens to be the feast day of John of the Cross and I came across one of his very beautiful poem, which seems so appropriate for Prince Albert and Princess Alice today, and posted it here: http://hilliardandcroft.blogspot.com/(Since the snow looks set to return tomorrow, I’d be interested to hear any advice on whether we can feed squirrels or what we should leave out for them. So much has been written about the best things to do for hedgehogs but little about squirrels. Are they best left to themselves?)

Monday 13 December 2010

An Unlikely Friendship

A couple of weeks before his fatal visit to Sarajevo, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria entertained Kaiser Wilhelm II at one of his favourite homes, Konospischt Castle,
just south of Prague. There, the Archduke had followed his passion to cultivate roses and the Kaiser brought along another avid rose-breeder, Admiral von Tirpitz.
Since Franz Ferdinand had recently been created an admiral in the Austrian navy to enable him to continue his work as Inspector of the Armed Services in Austria-Hungary, one might think, with hindsight, that the meeting of these three men was a political or military meeting in preparation for war. I think, though, that it was simply a social visit, which must have meant a great deal to Franz Ferdinand whose marriage to a lady-in-waiting had led him to feel so excluded from and angry about royal events within Austria.
As I see it, Kaiser Wilhelm and the Archduke formed a friendship which partly accounts for the Kaiser’s horror at his murder a couple of weeks later. (All the other Royal Houses of Europe were equally shocked – in Britain, George V declared a week of mourning; in Russia, Tsar Nicholas declared 14 days...other countries also were in mourning for him).

It has been a little baffling to see what brought together these two men, Franz Ferdinand and Wilhelm, who in so many ways seem so different, and to understand the basis of their friendship, which I believe was genuine. Their contradictions in character and belief are part of the fascination...and, yet again, bring the delight of seeing how this ‘family’ of monarchs of the era seem like a microcosm (or macrocosm) of the contradictions in everyone’s life.

Franz Ferdinand was brusque, unsociable and seemed to despise so much pomp and rigidity in the Habsburg Court.
Wilhelm loved to be the centre of attention, revelled in display and pageantry, laughed too loudly and enjoyed everything to do with display. Franz Ferdinand had forward thinking ideas about basing the government of the Austrian Empire on the American model – a sort of federal group of states.
Wilhelm despised the American dream as republican and in 1911 had the bizarre notion of sending battleships towards Manhattan. Franz Ferdinand was utterly devoted to his children and wife; they were always foremost in his mind and he was willing to suffer the humiliation of declaring his marriage morganatic in order to marry the woman he loved. Wilhelm had a difficult relationship with his sons, particularly the Crown Prince for whom he seemed to feel a kind of envy. Wilhelm cared intensely about what people thought of him. Franz Ferdinand didn’t care at all whether or not he was liked.

Apart from their friendship, both were in themselves so contradictory. Wilhelm loved and despised Britain at the same time. He was genuinely kind on occasions but could turn in an instant if he saw his kindness appearing as weakness. He adored his grandmother but had a love-hate relationship with his mother. He banned his sister, Sophie, from returning to Germany because she had converted to Orthodoxy then eagerly encouraged his cousin, Alix, to convert so that she could marry the Tsar. Franz Ferdinand loved roses and nature, but was also one of the most prolific hunters of his age, killing thousands of innocent creatures. He railed against the traditional Habsburgs way of doing things but was not willing to abdicate his position in line to the throne (as Franz Josef’s father had done). At home with his family, he was a doting father and romantic husband who adored his wife....yet to the outside world he appeared so unsociable.

What created a friendship between these two men? I think they both considered themselves outsiders within their own families. Wilhelm, I think, too, saw an opportunity of appearing as benevolent and wise advisor to a man who would soon become Emperor; Franz Ferdinand, I think, was so grateful that Wilhelm was gracious to his wife, who had been so humiliated by his own family.

Had Franz Ferdinand not been murdered, I wonder how it would have all played out...and imagine that the the friendship of these two unlikely men might have created a perfect balance between tradition and progress. Endlessly, endlessly fascinating since neither of them is as one-dimensional as most superficial histories portray them.

Saturday 11 December 2010

All for 'A Scrap of Paper'

In 1914, on hearing of Britain’s intention to declare war on Germany unless the Kaiser’s troops withdrew from Belgium, the German Chancellor (who had, incidentally, gone out of his way to create peaceful ties with Britain), declared that it was all for ‘a scrap of paper’. It’s amazing what devastation a scrap of paper can cause – the Ems telegram and the Franco-Prussian War, for example – and perhaps nowadays, it would be ‘for a website or an email’ that a man is imprisoned on jumped-up charges...However, that’s another story...

In the light of the ugly scenes in London this week, including the appalling attack on the car of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall,
the pointless burning of statues and attacks on innocent taxi drivers, and the alleged high-handedness of the police, the rightness or wrongness of the students’ cause has been somewhat lost but three things come to mind.

Firstly, Charlie Gilmour, the Cambridge student and son of the Pink Floyd guitarist, said he was ‘mortified' by his ‘moment of idiocy’ in climbing the cenotaph. I think virtually all of the students and others who involved themselves in that situation would be among the first to be appalled by Hitler’s henchmen or the savage butchery of innocents in the French Revolution. But Charlie Gilmour’s ‘moment of idiocy’ shows what happens when people are so roused by a cause that they quite forget what they are doing and lose themselves in a mob mentality. I think it can happen to anyone. I wonder how many of the boys who smashed up synagogues on Kristallnacht went home the next day and were mortified by their own behaviour. Being part of a crowd might seem to be the way to make changes, but really, looking at history, crowds banding together tend to bring nothing but chaos.

Secondly, it seems to me – if we are to learn anything from history – that those who have brought about the greatest changes for the better, have been individuals who had the courage of their own convictions and simply went about doing what needed to be done. Nothing that is happening today with young people could compare to the plight of children at work or pauper apprentices in the 19th century. There were no riots, no wrecking of statues or anything of the sort by those who brought about change. On the contrary, it took brave and sensible people like Richard Oastler,
Robert Raikes and the like to follow their own path and make changes because they had absolute faith in the rightness of their cause and didn’t need a mob to support them. Prison reform – Elizabeth Fry, the great heroine of that cause - did she call for a demonstration? No, she went about improving the lives of individuals and made a massive difference. The reform of nursing (in the days when nurses were mostly drunken women who couldn’t find another job) – Florence Nightingale – did she march to Parliament? No, she got on and changed things from the inside. Compare their effects with those who led revolutions: the French Revolution gained a mob mentality beyond belief – people literally torn to pieces in the street, people’s heads torn off and paraded on poles, people being arrested for something as simple as sighing in a queue! The Russian Revolution – the murder of an entire family followed by Stalin’s mass murder of his own people...and so on and so on....I do not believe we gain anything from banding together in crowds and demanding ‘our rights’ since they always become distorted and the anger seems to end up being vented on the wrong people.

Thirdly, to return to the scrap of paper and the actual student protest....I had what you might call the good fortune of growing up in the 80s when students received grants but I wonder what good the scrap of paper (certificate) I received at the end of it actually meant. Everything that interests me, everything that has been of any value to me, I learned for myself. The scrap of paper might have paved the way into a job I didn’t really want and I studied for a degree because it was expected that that was what you did next. I say ‘studied for a degree’ but I put a heck of a lot less time into studying what I had been signed up to study than I did before or since in studying what I really wanted to know. The protests seem to me to be missing the point. This is probably the wrong thing to say but what's so important about having a degree? Why do we need someone else – some university board – to justify and verify our existence or our learning? Isn’t it enough to follow what you love? It’s so much better to follow your own path than to be spoon fed by some university course. The greatest people of the past – the architects and designers like Brunel and the inventors like Hargreaves and Jethro Tull were self-taught...

Of course there are some subjects - medicine, dentistry, engineering etc. etc. where tuition is necessary but a large number of university subjects seem to narrow down rather than broaden the scope of learning.

When I was 7 or 8 I was totally absorbed by castles and the history of the 12-14th centuries. School got in the way of my learning. At 12 years old I learned everything there was to know about the suffragette movement because it fascinated me. Much as I loved my school, school work and homework got in the way of my studies because I loved going to the reference library and copying whole books out by hand (as there were no photocopiers then and you were not allowed to take them from the library). I remember all I learned then because I loved it, and I remember so little of what I was taught for my degree. I know someone who knows everything there is to know about transport – he knew it when he was about 8 years old, knew more than his teachers ever did and he didn’t need a piece of paper to prove it. I know someone who knows so much about Egyptian history – he taught himself. We have more access to learning than we ever had before and I wonder, do you want to be taught or do you want a scrap of paper? When I began studying Queen Victoria’s family avidly someone advised me to gain a doctorate and I thought, “What a horrid idea! How stifling to need someone else to tell me what I need to write, to study, to learn...” If we love a subject, we can follow it – we have books, the internet, access to so many materials nowadays....or are you protesting because you feel deprived of your right to become a cog in the wheel, another person with another scrap of paper – a certificate to tell you that you are intelligent or learned. You don’t need that! And if it’s a question of a degree leading to a better job and more money...look at Jamie Oliver, Alan Sugar, Richard Branson, Susan Boyle, Simon Cowell ....all more successful than most graduates...hmm...Just a thought about whether or not it's worth rioting and causing so much damage for a scrap of paper...

Monday 6 December 2010

Princess Marie Louise and the Kaiser

This post is in response to a comment by ‘Anonymous’ on the previous post.

Throughout Marie Louise’s lovely book, there are many references to Kaiser Wilhelm and they present him as a sympathetic, cheerful and warm man for whom Marie Louise obviously had great affection. While Marie Louise was living in Anhalt, she often took tea with the Empress Dona – who comes over as a little bit stiff (e.g. being thoroughly shocked that Marie Louise was – horror of horrors! – once seen riding a bicycle, and another time travelling in an ordinary fiacre rather than a royal carriage!). They obviously had a friendly and close relationship though. Here are a few excerpts from: “My Memories of Six Reigns”:

“I want to give all...a true and quite different side to the character of that much-maligned man, William II, German Emperor. At heart he was pro-British, though not, I agree in his policy for there his country and its interests had, of necessity always to be first. He was devoted to his grandmother, Queen Victoria, and admired everything English....I can say in perfect truth that the Emperor did not want war. He was against the invasion of Belgium for two reasons – first, he did not wish Germany to break her word, she having guaranteed to neutrality of Belgium, and second that he knew it would bring this country [Britain] into the war. I can also say that when the Emperor saw the telegram sent to Serbia by Berchtold, he was terribly upset....”
“To return to the affection he had for my parents, the following fact will give you a very touching proof of what I am endeavouring to tell you. In 1916 my parents celebrated their golden wedding. I spite of the war, it was a very happy day...in the afternoon, while we were talking, the steward handed a telegram to my mother. It was from the Crown Princess of Sweden, Margaret, daughter of the Duke of Connaught. The telegram was as follows: “William asks me to transmit to you his loyal and devoted good wishes to dear Uncle Christian and Aunt Helena on the occasion of their golden wedding.” “
Marie Louise’s brother, Albert, served in the Prussian army. She writes:

“Although he was on the retired list when war broke out, he was honour bound to place his services at the disposal of the Emperor. But he made on stipulation: that he would under no circumstances serve on the Western Front. The Emperor fully understood his objections and in consequence appointed him to the staff of General von Loewenfeld, who was in charge of the Berlin defences. The General’s mother was an English woman and the Emperor, knowing this, told my brother that he had arranged this appointment on purpose, realising that the General was in an equally difficult position.”

Sunday 5 December 2010

Princess Marie Louise's Ghost Stories

In the dark, snowy nights of December, when everything seems so bleak and stark and the trees look like skeletons with their white limbs all frozen, it’s small surprise that there is an ancient tradition of telling ghost stories. Perhaps Nature’s hibernation is designed to take us on inner journeys at this time of year – a sort of balance with the activity of Spring. Or, perhaps, it is just that from days long ago there was nothing else to do on winter nights but tell stories and the season lends itself to mystical or ghostly tales.

Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein,
in her most beautiful book, “My Memories of Six Reigns” – in which she comes across as such a delightful, interesting, lovely person of great humility and filled with admiration or understanding of almost everyone she met (including her husband who treated her so badly) – writes of some fascinating and interesting mystical/ghostly experiences. This one, however, is so touchingly beautiful.

“On my return to England, after the dissolution of my marriage, I took a small house in South Kensington and this is what happened to me soon after I moved in. I was arranging my books and odds and ends in my sitting room when the door opened and in walked my eldest brother, Christian Victor. “Oh Kicky, [the pet name we brothers and sisters always called him by], how nice to see you again.” He replied: “I just came to see that you were all right and happy.” He sat down in the chair next to the fire, and I then noticed he had his favourite dachshund on his knee. We talked a little, then he got up and told me I was not to follow him downstairs, that he was very happy and all was well with him. After he had gone and shut the door, I realised that he was in khaki but did not have his medal ribbons on. I then remembered that during the South African War, an order had been issued that officers were not to wear their ribbons so that the enemy would not be able to distinguish them from their men. Only then did I suddenly realise that this dearly beloved brother had died eighteen months previously and lay in his last resting place in South Africa.
My sister came to see me that same afternoon and I told her of what had taken place. She was sitting in the same chair as he had done and when she got up she remarked, “I know he has been here – I can feel it.”

Some people might write it off as some psychological response to her grief for the death of her brother and the stress of the unhappy annulment of her marriage, but both Marie Louise and her sister, Thora, were very down-to-earth women and I believe it completely.

Thursday 2 December 2010

The Victorians and the Balance of Heart and Mind

(I have temporarily put on hold the remaining excerpts from ‘Queen Victoria’s Granddaughters’ as they concern WW1 and, as a result of research for a book I am working on, much more detailed information has recently come to light).

In the meantime, this bitterly cold night when everything is knee-deep in snow brings to mind some thoughts about the Victorian Age in general and what an incredibly bizarre era it was. The Age of Sentimentality at its peak – Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’; Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘Little Match Girl’;
Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ and ‘The Selfish Giant’; Dickens’ account of the death of Little Nell,
which had people weeping in the streets as they read it; countless sentimental songs about dying children of drunken fathers – and I wonder if that excessive sentimentality was some kind of attempt to balance what was happening at the other end of the spectrum: the sudden supremacy of learning/mind/education. The balance of Yin & Yang perhaps, in what is regarded as ‘New Age’ parlance, but is really very ancient). The sentimentality was ‘the heart’ (or perhaps the Feminine aspect) to its extreme and it might well have been a response to the ‘Intellect’ aspect (which is regarded as more Masculine).

Until the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Britain, along with the rest of Europe, was predominantly agricultural. What happened in governments had little impact on the everyday life of people who moved with the seasons and seldom knew what was going on in some government somewhere else. Their lives weren’t easy but they lived in harmony with Nature. Dependent on sunlight, they got up later in the winter and earlier in the summer. Every season was celebrated for its particular gifts with festivals like Easter and Christmas or Beltain and Samhain; Michaelmas, Martinmas, Lady Day; equinox or solstice.

Suddenly – dramatically! – there was an explosion of ‘progression’. It almost seems like the adolescence of humanity. Brilliant engineers appeared; brilliant inventors, brilliant designers and the whole way of life was thrown into turmoil as industry flourished. Brilliance was brought into the lives of ordinary people - railways with gorgeous stations; soap, running hot water, warmer clothes, richer diets...It was all meant to create a better way of life for people and today we are the inheritors of that better way of life (with our access to transport, communication etc. etc.) but it happened so rapidly that something was temporarily lost. People lost their way for a while. People forgot their humanity, too, and many were treated as mere commodities, herded into slums in cities that were not ready to receive them. I stand in utter awe of the bridge-builders, the railway designers, the people who began the age of invention that led to all the benefits we enjoy today (not least the internet!). It all moved so quickly that it became overly ‘Yang’ – all intellect and commodity, and no heart, so soul anymore, so people tried to reach back to that with over-sentimentality.

The entire 20th century, it seems to me, was an attempt to come to terms with all of that. First there was the anger – exploding in two World Wars – and deciding that the cause of all the distress was the monarchies (so we’ll kill them)). Then we don’t know who to turn to, so seek new ‘strong’ leaders – like Hitler, Lenin, Stalin – and that doesn’t work so there comes the backlash of the 60s with the ‘make love not war’ slogans and attempts to escape via drugs etc. Gradually, too, there came a return of people trying to balance Nature and Creation/Heart and Intellect...the rise of the New Agers, which wasn’t really new at all.

Today, I think, we live in a time where we have the benefit of all that has gone before. We live in an era where we can bring things into balance again. Between the extremes of political correctness and hypersensitivity, to the extreme of being pawns of the state or cogs in the wheel; and between the extremes of intellectual mastery or superstitious peasants, there is always a balance. To my mind, it is always the balance that takes place within the individual person played out on the larger scale of humanity - the perfect balance of the heart and the mind – the thought and the feeling, the Masculine and Feminine, the Arts and the Sciences – the wonderful balance of Creation of Divine design.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

"The Bulgarians Have Gone Off Their Heads" - More of Queen Victoria's Granddaughters

Due to a new agreement with Amazon Kindle, it has been necessary to delete this post but the information is available in my book: Queen Victoria's Granddaughters 1860-1918