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Saturday 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a very joyful, beautiful and lovely Christmas!

Thank you for reading my blog throughout this year. Although we might not know each other, I am bidding you all the blessings of the season and all good thoughts, wishes and prayers.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Queen Victoria's Excessive Mourning

The death of Prince Albert on 14th December 1861 had a profound effect on his family. It often seems to me that in the midst of Queen Victoria’s excessive mourning, the effects on Prince Albert’s children have been overlooked. The video at the end of this post points out some of the implications.
Another thought often occurs to me, which might be a little more controversial....
The rest of this post has been temporarily removed due to an Amazon agreement re. the recent publication of my book "Queen Victoria's Granddaughters 1860-1918"


Thursday 1 December 2011

Thanks heavens for these lovely people!

Thank heavens for the lovely people who carry out these projects!
Who would ever buy products that were tested on animals?

Monday 21 November 2011

Happy Birthday, Empress Frederick!

Happy Birthday to Queen Victoria’s brilliant daughter, Princess ‘Vicky’ – German Empress Frederick, and mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II!

Some years ago, I visited Osborne House – a place which, more than any other I think, captures the essence of the happy childhood that Vicky and siblings enjoyed. In the gardens around the Swiss Cottage there was such a sense of the children busily planting their flowers and vegetables; and in the little children’s museum, Vicky’s collection of fossils etc. was so moving as it looked like it might have been placed there earlier that day. There was a quite overwhelming sense of Vicky in that place...not surprising really since she forever seemed to long to return to the safe world of her happy childhood.

Continuing the story of the fascinating life of Queen Victoria:


Friday 18 November 2011

Queen Victoria - A series in several parts

It's quite staggering to me that, even after all these years and the vast amount of available information, many people still view Queen Victoria as a humourless and very stern widow. Often, I have asked schoolchildren what they know of her and they invariably say, "She always wore black...she was not amused....she was very strict...."
For this reason we (Hilliard & Croft) are making a series of videos, intending to show her lighter and more human side. We intend to alternate the narration of the videos and this is the first, while I have narrated - and which I hope you will enjoy. The second video in the series will be available shortly.  (The still image is not what we would have chosen, and that will be rectified very soon with a more attractive image!)

Tuesday 15 November 2011

A New Video

I have a new video of the background to 'Most Beautiful Princess':

Please make allowance for my cold!! (The weather has been very damp of late!!)

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Wednesday 26 October 2011

False Flags and Fantasies

Few things in the recorded history of ‘world events’ are ever as simple as they first appear and, when it comes to wars and the lust for power, things become very murky indeed. The relatively recent term ‘false flag’ refers to events wherein an atrocity or other emotive event is committed by one group of people (often against their own people) disguised as enemies in order – quite often - to provoke their own people to rise up in indignation or even go to war. The term comes from the naval practice of flying an enemy’s flag rather than one’s own while engaging in ‘dastardly deeds’.

As Bonfire Night draws nigh, the shops are already beginning to sell fireworks to celebrate the 5th November, the date on which in 1605 the Catholic plot to blow up the king and the Houses of Parliament was foiled. 400 years later, there are several unanswered questions relating to this alleged plot (who wrote to Monteagle to inform him of the conspiracy? What was the fiercely anti-Catholic Cecil’s role in this? Why did the first search of the cellars overlook the barrels of gunpowder etc. etc.?) Some historians suggest that the whole thing was a deliberate ploy by Cecil, who, with Monteagle as his spy, engineered the whole event in order to provoke anti-Catholic feeling which would then facilitate a purge of the Catholics. Insufficient information is available to know whether or not this is so, but it would make a lot of sense in the light of the murky dealings which continue in politics to this day. Monteagle, however, did, I believe, do rather well out of the whole affair and if it were a false flag event, it was very successful since we even celebrate it today!

I believe that the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was another false flag event. He was, of course, murdered by Gavrilo Princip, but who set that young lad up? Who provided him and his equally bungling co-conspirators (no different from Guy Fawkes’ co-conspirators) with weapons and the perfect place to stand to fire his gun? Who gained from his murder? Well...the answer to that is quite obvious – the ministers who feared his accession and the bankers who loaned huge sums of money to governments to stage a war and then charged exorbitant interest on their loans. And for this so many millions of people died!

What goes on behind the scenes is so appalling that the majority of us cannot believe it to be true. It is written off as ‘conspiracy theory’ or wacky delusional people seeking some explanation for the atrocities that are so often committed in our name but even a cursory glance into the pages of history shows that very few wars have been fought for a genuine reason; very few – if any! - persecutions have had any genuine benefits for anyone other than the few who love to control and to satisfy their own lust for power. Nowadays, when everything is so much more politically correct, we don’t persecute others or wage wars to promote our own interests....no, we do it now to protect innocent people in foreign lands (as long as those lands have oil and gold).

Friday 21 October 2011

The Downfall of Tyrants

The downfall and death of tyrants is a very murky subject and one which leaves me wondering why anyone with even the slightest knowledge of history, psychology or spirituality could ever want power. There are, however, two factors which seem worth mentioning. Firstly, the effect on the tyrant, and secondly the bizarre behaviour (not to mention hypocrisy) of those who seem to gloat in the death of any other human being.
Shakespeare captured it all so perfectly in ‘Macbeth’ wherein the eponymous hero descends into a mental abyss which eventually drives him into delusional insanity, despair and ultimately a very unhappy death.

William the Conqueror – not a likeable man by any means but one who was filled with an overriding personal ambition and who is best remembered for his success at the Battle of Hastings – was eventually killed from an abdominal wound and his naked corpse was deserted by his former ‘friends’ and left lying alone for a whole day and worse was to come:

An interesting post

Ivan the Terrible, saw his country spiral into chaos and lived in terror before he suffered a stroke and died. According to Trotsky, (who was killed after being hit on the head with an ice-pick!) death for Lenin was “a deliverance from physical and moral suffering.” I have been told by various people that Lenin’s brain rather resembled a walnut, so destroyed was it by syphilis (which, at that time, was known to cause insanity). Stalin, having lived in fear of so many of his enemies, suffered a stroke and was left to die untended in his own excrement. Hitler, in despair, killed himself. It is impossible not to think that if someone is so filled with darkness, they are bound to meet a terrible end, not only physically but - far more horrifically - morally/psychologically/spiritually – basically an end in complete despair and terror, which is surely even worse than any physical suffering. It is, perhaps, significant that Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and King Louis XVI of France, both of whom were later quite irrationally branded as tyrants, met their end with great dignity and, in spite of the tragedy, appeared to be at peace within themselves.

In recent time we have been presented with horrific images of the downfall of tyrants and, while on the one hand, it is to be expected that tyrants meet such unhappy ends, on the other it seems more than a little odd to me that nowadays they are always found hiding in holes and are then butchered in self-righteous mania. Gadaafi had indeed committed appalling crimes, as had Saddam Hussein but to see graphic images of any man – whatever his crimes – being killed in such circumstances is, to my mind, beneath the dignity of humanity. Nor can these relatively recent images be overlooked:

In his satirical novel, Joseph Andrews, Henry Fielding described the difference between vanity and hypocrisy. Vanity, he said, is a person doing good in order to be seen and praised. Hypocrisy is a person doing evil disguised as good. One minute the world rulers are befriending this man. The next we hear that his crimes have been going on for 40 years. Then why were people shaking him by the hand so recently? If I recall correctly, the West was funding the Taliban when the Russians were involved in Afghanistan...but then the Taliban were our enemy. Saddam Hussein was also funded by the West during the Iran-Iraq War....And of course, to go back a little further, Churchill, who spoke so dramatically of the ‘Iron Curtain’ was a one-time ‘friend’ of Stalin...

When I see one man crawling out from a hole, looking like a terrified rat, and then being killed by those he has harmed, I find it shocking. When I see another man allegedly being found in some remote compound and then being dropped from a ship before anyone can see him, I find it a little stage-managed. When I see a third person appearing in a blood-soaked shirt, begging for mercy and being killed, I find it repulsive. It is even more repulsive when, in the same news report, there is a mention that happily Libya’s oil-production is now returning to normal.

Well....whatever really goes on behind the scenes, I cannot think of a worse end than that of a tyrant, whether he be one who is blatantly a criminal, or one who manipulates from behind the scenes = the 'dark forces' that Queen Elizabeth once spoke of...

Sunday 16 October 2011

Bismarck and Karma

While researching – for a new novel based on the life of Moretta of Prussia – I have been quite fascinated by the relationship between Bismarck and the German Emperor’s family and cannot help thinking of the irony of his ultimate downfall. The ‘Iron Chancellor’ is credited with having

successfully brought about German Unification (though the part played by Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia – later Frederick III – was deliberately written out of the history of this) and he had undoubtedly a great deal of political nous and foresight (he predicted with uncanny accuracy that the First World War would occur twenty years after his fall from power and also said it would spring from some minor event in the Balkans). His methods, however, were utterly ruthless and while, on the one hand, he is seen as a great statesman who did a great deal of good for the people, on the other he sometimes seems to be a megalomaniac who would use any underhand means to dispose of his enemies. He deliberately incited various ethnic groups in Austria-Hungary to cause trouble for their Emperor; he deceitfully provoked the Franco-Prussian War, he suppressed any group which he perceived to be a threat to his plans (Catholics and socialists were his main target), and he often used invented scandals to destroy his political opponents.

“I wonder why he does not say straight out,” wrote the then Crown Princess Victoria, “ ‘as long as I live both Constitution and Crown are suspended’ because that is the exact state of the matter. No doubt his is patriotic and sincere and thinks it for the good of Germany. He thinks that a great central power is necessary and that one will must decide and that state be everything and do everything like one vast set of machinery – say the ‘Inflexible’ for instance where the captain works everything alone and directs the ship by electricity etc. So Prince Bismarck wishes, with the press of a little finger, to direct the whole....”

It is unsurprising that the Crown Princess (later Empress Frederick) was so opposed to the Chancellor. Not only were his policies totally contrary to her own more liberal views, and not only had he purposely side-lined her husband, but he had deliberately denigrated the Crown Princess herself, inventing scurrilous stories to destroy her reputation and, perhaps most cruelly of all, had played a major part in turning her eldest son – Wilhelm – against her.

To Bismarck it seems that Wilhelm was something of a puppet. Having flattered him as he was growing up and filled his head with a sense of his own importance, he (Bismarck) almost seemed to believe that he would always be able to manipulate his protégé. The fatal illness and untimely death of Wilhelm’s father must have appeared as a miracle for the elderly statesman who, even as Frederick was dying, was encouraging Wilhelm to step into his shoes as Emperor. In 1888, Wilhelm became Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Chancellor surely expected to be able to manipulate him as he had manipulated his grandfather. He was in for a rude awakening as the arrogance which he himself had fostered in the prince, was to turn against him as though like Dr. Frankenstein he had created a monster which he could not control.

I do not for a moment, however, think Wilhelm was a monster. In the days after his father’s death, he behaved appallingly – surrounding and ransacking the palace where his mother was grieving, in search of private papers; he then basically threw her out of the palace until, for a while, she and her younger daughters had no idea where they would live; he changed the name of the palace to obliterate his father’s memory and in his first speech made strong references to his grandfather but none whatsoever to his father. But Wilhelm’s relationship with his mother was extremely complicated. Bismarck had truly turned him against her and yet, on some level, as a chid and beyond he had adored her (even writing her disturbing letters which sound almost like love letters, and which she felt it prudent to ignore) and I cannot help wonder whether what happened next had something to do with his getting revenge on the man who had treated her so badly.

Far from being a puppet, Wilhelm had strong views of his own and – surprisingly, perhaps, to those who see him a a ‘warlord’ – one of his main concerns at the beginning of his reign, was the welfare of workers. Bismarck, in his determination to crush all opposition,planned to employ a strategy that he had employed before to good effect – he wished to provoke the socialists into an armed uprising so that the police/armed forces could be called in to crush them completely. Wilhelm, who was far more sympathetic to the workers’ demands, was appalled when he discovered this plan and absolutely refused to turn his troops on his own people. Eventually he left the Chancellor no option but to resign. His unceremonious departure must, on some level, have given Wilhelm the sense of having repaid him for his treatment of his parents. The most ironic part of all – true Karma! – came when Bismarck approached Wilhelm’s mother, whom he had treated so badly for so long, and, in desperation, asked her to speak on his behalf to her son. Empress Frederick – without any bitterness (she actually wrote that she felt sorry for Bismarck) – replied in all honesty that she had no influence whatsoever over Wilhelm since Bismarck himself had deliberately destroyed the bond between them.

Karma indeed.....

Thursday 6 October 2011

Not Born to Rule?

Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that the majority of the monarchs who reigned during the First World War had come to the throne either by ‘chance’ or rather sooner than expected? Most of them were not born as heirs, and those who had been prepared from childhood to rule, succeeded following the premature deaths of their fathers.

In Britain, George V had not expected to be king but the untimely death of

his elder brother, Albert Victor, led to his eventual accession. In Austria-Hungary, the aged Franz Josef only became Emperor when his uncle was forced to abdicate during the many upheavals of 1848. When Franz Josef died in the middle of the wa

r, the crown passed to Karl, who would not have become emperor were it not for the suicide (murder?) of Franz Josef’s son, Rudolf, and the murder of Karl’s uncle, Franz Ferdinand. In Belgium, the deaths of his cousin, Leopold, and his elder brother, Baudouin led to King Albert’s accession; while in Italy, King Victor Emmanuel succeeded his assassinated father. Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II might have known from their earliest years that one day they would become emperors, but neither expected their fathers to die so soon. Wilhelm’s father reigned only for three months, while Nicholas’s father died rather suddenly at the age of only 49. The kings of Roumania and Bulgaria and were foreign ‘imports’ who were somewhat unexpectedly offered the thrones; while in Greece, King George I was a Danish prince whose murder led to the accession of son, Constantine; and shortly before the outbreak of war the war, the Serbian King Peter handed over authority to his son, Alexander, who acted as his regent.

Perhaps all of this has no real meaning but it does strike me as rather strange....

(For more about the royalties in the First World War, please visit the site: Shattered Crowns

Wednesday 14 September 2011

19th Century Royalties

I am gradually compiling a guide to the 19th centuries royalties, with particular emphasis on Queen Victoria's family. The intention is to provide information, links (to relevant sites and blog posts from all over the net) and book recommendations. This is very much in the early stages - merely an introduction and outline of Queen Victoria's children and grandchildren - over 3 pages so far (please check the links at the top of the 'About' page)but if I would welcome any recommendations of blog posts, the links to which might be added. If you have written a post about any of Queen Victoria's children or grandchildren, please feel free to contact me.

Queen Victoria & Other 19th Century Royalties

Saturday 10 September 2011

Queen Victoria's Favourite Authors

Alongside being a prolific letter-writer and lover of poetry, Queen Victoria greatly enjoyed contemporary novels, particularly those about the lives of ordinary people. Among her favourite authors were Dinah Craik, whose novel John Halifax, Gentleman was probably her most successful work (and, incidentally, made into a BBC television series in the 1970s).

Of Mrs. Craik, Queen Victoria wrote to her eldest daughter, Vicky,:
“Have you ever read two pretty, simple but very pleasantly written novels called ‘A Noble Life’ by the authoress of ‘J. Halifax’ and ‘Janet’s Home’? They have both been read to me of an evening and I like them so much. Not sensation novels but pretty, simple stories, full of truth and good feeling.”

Mrs. Oliphant was another of the Queen favourite authors and, with her love
of all things Scottish, she greatly enjoyed ‘Merkland’ which she described as ‘An old – but excellent Scotch’ novel.’ In 1868 the Queen met Mrs Oliphant whom she considered, “very pleasant and clever looking.’

Naturally, her friendship with the Prime Minister, Disraeli, led her to

greatly appreciate his novels, too, and when her own ‘Leaves from a Highland Journal’ was published, she was greatly flattered when he spoke to her as a fellow-writer, “We authors, ma’am…”

Marie Correlli - a writer of popular novels – also appealed to the Queen, as did Wilkie Collins, Dickens and George Eliot, regardless of the scandal of the latter’s private life. Harriet Beecher-Stowe’s biography of Byron, however, Queen Victoria considered shocking since it included information about the poet’s incestuous relationship with his sister.

“That Byron scandal is too shameful; I have not read it as I have a particular horror of scandal and gossip, and it is quite untrue. Mrs. Stowe has behaved shamefully.”

Friday 9 September 2011

Queen Victoria and Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Continuing the theme of royalties and the arts, Queen Victoria’s friendship with Alfred, Lord Tennyson is very fascinating. Being a neighbour on the Isle of Wight, Tennyson was sometimes invited from his home, Farringford (now The Farringford Hotel ), to Osborne House where Queen Victoria, who enjoyed his work, liked to spend time in his company, though, as she wrote to her daughter, Vicky, she found him rather dark and gloomy at times and described him as looking ‘very old’.

The rest of this post has been temporarily removed due to an agreement re. the recent publication of my book "Queen Victoria's Granddaughters 1860-1918".

Saturday 3 September 2011

Royal Patronage of the Arts

In the guidebook to Frogmore House and the Royal Mausoleum, there is a photograph of a fan designed and painted by Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Vicky, and presented to her mother in 1856. Alas, I cannot scan or post the photograph, and a description will not do it justice. The detail of flowers, an angel and a classical figure are so exquisite that it is difficult to believe that this was not created by a professional artist with many years of experience but by a sixteen year old girl (and it certainly puts many modern works of so-called art to shame!).
Although Vicky continued to paint throughout her life, it is not easy to find copies of her work and this is surely a great loss to the art world.

Many members of Queen Victoria’s family were gifted artists. Members of the Royal Academy said that Prince Albert, some of whose painting hang on the walls of Osborne House, could have been a professional artist had he not been a prince (and, incidentally, the composer Mendelsohn said he could have been a successful composer);

Vicky’s sister, Princess Louise, was an equally accomplished sculptor who created this statue of Queen Victoria, which stands in Kensington Gardens; and Queen Victoria herself was skilled in watercolours and oils as her painting of Prince Albert shows.

Artistic and musical themselves, Queen Victoria’s family – like many other royal families of Europe – were also great patrons of the arts and they were aware that their patronage was not simply a matter of personal gratification but that they were preserving some of the greatest works of art for the nation. The much-maligned Grand Duke Serge of Russia, husband of Grand Duchess Elizabeth, was renowned for his art collections and he made it clear that he wished to ensure that these treasures were being kept for Russia, not for his own pleasure (though he undoubtedly took pleasure in them, too). Queen Victoria, despite her initial reluctance to be seen on photographs,was also an early patron of photography as this article shows.

Queen Victoria and Photography

Kaiser Wilhelm – an enthusiastic archaeologist – was also eager to continue in the tradition of Frederick the Great in cultivating the art, poetry and literature of his country.

Another interesting article shows the importance of royal patronage for French artists and how their careers suffered during and after the revolution.

French Royal Patronage

It often seems to me that it is possible to judge the state of civilisation in a nation not only by the way it treats its animals but also by its contribution to art, literature and music and, alongside their many other contributions to society, I think the role of royalties in patronising the arts cannot be underestimated.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Queen Marie of Roumania's Appreciation of Beauty

Queen Marie of Roumania - herself one of the most beautiful princesses of her age - was cousin to Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia: "The most beautiful princess in Europe". She wrote of her:

"...This faculty of enjoying beauty as a whole and in detail has followed me all through life. Line, colour, form, and the sounds and scents belonging to each picture, have made life extraordinarily rich, and with every one of those unforgettable impressions comes always that feeling of gratitude for each new beauty revealed to my soul.

Today I still feel grateful to beloved Queen Alexandra for the vision of beauty she was to me...This other beautiful woman had a tragic and terrible fate. She was the Grand Duchess Elisabeth of Russia, my cousin, sister of the late Czarina. She had married one of my mother's younger brothers, the Grand Duke Serge. He was blown up by Nihilists, long, long before the revolution, whilst governor of Moscow. She then entered holy orders, building a convent in which she lived; but her holy life brought her no mercy from the Bolsheviks. She was abominably slaughtered in Siberia, but, curiously enough, her body was found and later on transported to Jerusalem, where it now lies in the Holy Land.
She was quite newly married when her beauty burst upon me as a marvellous revelation. Her loveliness was of what used to be called the "angelic" kind. Her eyes, her lips, her smile, her hands, the way she looked at you, the way she talked, the way she moved, all was exquisite beyond words; it almost brought tears to your eyes."

Monday 15 August 2011

Friday 12 August 2011

'In England Now'

Some years ago someone whose opinion, spirituality and intelligence I trust said that there is a small group of people (eight families, I believe) who wish to control the world and this group of people have been working through various means to achieve that end for the past 150 years or more. It seemed so bizarre and contrary to all I had learned, lived by, my spirituality and my world-view that I couldn’t make sense of it and so, without disputing it, I simply decided to watch from an impartial standpoint and see what I saw. Since then, I have discovered and seen many things. I have read the biographies of people who, with amazing courage and great honesty, wrote of how they were hired by various government agencies to incite revolutions (notably in South America in the 1980s) in order to pressurise the presidents or governments there into handing over their most arable land to fruit producing companies. I have read sermons from priests about their work among the poor of Africa and how the people have been deprived of their usual crops and compelled to buy seed from big companies who have genetically manipulated those seeds so that they do not naturally reproduce the following year. I have observed the way in which animals are appalling treated and how pharmaceutical companies introduce dangerous toxins into the food chain, then provide cures for the results and keep people on medication for their entire lives (at great profit to themselves). I have seen, too, how the American Constitution – that flagship of freedom!! - appears to be being deliberately dismantled and how the countries of Europe are being compelled to hand over their independence to a central body in Brussels and how just about everything I was taught about the history of the world since about 1789 was inaccurate or, to be honest, a lie.

To be frank, I am not a conspiracy theorist – not because I doubt that there are conspiracies but because I not really very interested in what politicians do or don’t do and who is right and who is wrong. Most of the time it seems a bit silly to me – little boys (and now girls) playing little power games. I would much rather walk in the woods, look at trees, ducks, flowers, goats, dogs, the sky and read poetry, listen to music and commune with nature; and I believe – or rather know with all my heart and soul – that there is a far greater and more beautiful power beyond all the childishness of power-seekers - but sometimes it just feels right to speak out.

In the light of recent events, England must appear as a very sorry place to
be: a place of mindless violence, unrest, riots and discord. Firstly, these events took place in relatively small areas of the country. Secondly, is it really possible that this violence erupted spontaneously and on such a scale from people who – let’s be honest – appear to be so easily led by a mass mentality and not to be able to think for themselves. Something or someone co-ordinated it. Thirdly, what is the significance and relation to this of the recent Bilderberg meetings? Is there a connection or not? Why is Bilderberg so secret? Why are we suddenly intervening in Libya? Why are we in Afghanistan? Why is someone creating a constant climate of fear? Why are people like Peter Mandelson (one time member of the Young Communist League) living in luxury and appearing at Bilderberg meetings, created as Peers of the Realm? Why is Tony Blair, who lied to Parliament about Iraq’s supposed W.M.D.s making a fortune from oil-producing countries now? Why was President Obama awarded the Nobel Peace Prize simply for being elected president? We have let things go on unchecked for too long and now, this past week's chaos appears like the oubreak of a fever that signifies the bringing to a head of an illness that is being cured.

Happily, something really wonderful is coming out of all of this mayhem. If you want to destroy a nation – as Russia was destroyed in 1917 and Germany a year later, and as many S. American countries were destroyed in the 1980s – first you must create chaos. The South American countries, re-invented themselves. Now, they seem like the safest places on earth. The recent chaos in England has brought out the true English and wonderfully multi-cultural character! Far from creating a climate of fear, these events have created an amazing awareness of who we really are! I have yet to see a more dignified response to something so horrific, as the response of
Mr. Tariq Jahan to the murder of his son. This Moslem gentleman, to whom all our hearts and love go out, spoke so powerfully as he called for peace and of his faith. Then there were the Sikhs who silently stood outside their Temple to prevent any attack. They did not want violence. They simple stood there to protect what was sacred to them. The brilliantly outspoken Christian Archbishop of York, John Sentamu,
who cut up his clerical collar and refuses to wear it again until there is freedom in Zimbabwe, and who has done so much for the local community, appeared on the BBC saying that if attackers approached his door, he would defend his family and his home with a cricket bat if necessary. And hundreds of ordinary English people appeared on the streets not to act as vigilantes but to protect their own communities and clear up the mess left by the riots. This is England. Immediately we all step into the ‘spirit of the blitz’ and this normally reserved nation suddenly remembers that we are proud of our communities and our tolerance and way of life. It might take a riot or two to remind us who we are but, after years of socialist propaganda and the attempts to create fear, we are still a nation of eccentrics and communities; a tolerant nation and a nation of individuals.

It seems to me that these recent events have achieved the very opposite effect than was planned. Now, perhaps, they will attempt to police the internet in the name of protecting us, but really it won’t work. There is a power far greater than any material, financial or political machine, and it simply cannot be eradicated. That is the power that lives within all of us -the beauty and divinity and sacredness of humanity and the soul that cannot be crushed.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

The Art of Distraction

A conjuror appears on the stage and, with dance-like movements, draws our attention to his right hand while his left hand – unseen – cleverly conceals the trickery that leaves us amazed by his magic. Sometimes I try to look away from what the right hand is doing or from what we are being guided to see, but most accomplished conjurors are so skilled in the art of distraction that their performances are successfully deceptive and we see only what they want us to see.

Since the advent of newspapers and, more effectively, since the advent of televised news and 24 hour news, the art of the political conjuror has been honed in to perfection. It used to seem odd to me that one day there would be some ‘major’ government crisis in the news or, more poignantly, some jiggery-pokey with financial markets and within a day or two we were threatened by a terrible health scare or some outside threat that drove all coverage of the government/banking mess from the headlines. At one time there was SARS (and we would within a few weeks all be walking around wearing masks). Then there was bird flu – which would wipe out half the country if we weren’t careful. More recently (during our last Labour government’s mess) there was swine flu – the threat of which was so great that the government saw fit to put a glossy leaflet through the letter box of every house in the country, telling us to ‘dispose of tissues carefully’ and wash our hands after blowing our noses. Dear me, we must have been in a very sorry state to have to be taught basic hygiene! I also recall various bombings of embassies and even a war or two, when a British Prime Minister or an American President was coming under attack. On a wider scale, this goes beyond presidents and Prime Ministers, to what led to the outbreak of the First and Second World Wars – who had anything to gain? What was happening with the financial markets?

For the past few nights England, it seems, is being distracted by the riots in the cities – or at least in some parts of some cities. I do not underestimate the extent of the damage, or the horrendousness of what is happening, the devastation to some people’s businesses and their loss of livelihood and the fear evoked in particularly in some parts of London. If you look at the British newspapers’ headlines, you see images of burning buildings, looted shops and lines that shout ANARCHY! What is making everyone aghast is that there seems to be no reason behind this outbreak of madness. Those involved are mostly children or teenagers, running amok through their own communities and creating misery and terror. Here are some thoughts, though:

This is not about starving people looting shops because they are hungry; nor is it about government cuts or anything of the sort. This is a well-orchestrated series of events, led by people who are, according to eye-witnesses, guiding the rioters away from the police and who are in constant communication with each other. Who are these people and who is behind them? Children are very easy to lead; disaffected youths are even easier to provoke into violence, as Hitler knew so well. And while we are distracted by this mayhem – this orchestrated work of destruction – what is happening in the financial world? (Interesting that only a few months before the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the outbreak of WW1, the Federal Reserve was set up in America?).

A great light in the middle of this: today in Chapeltown, Leeds – an area of the city that was involved in the 1981 riots – a peace rally was held by local business people and residents of all ages, stating their commitment to their community and demonstrating a spirit that goes beyond the manipulation of trouble-makers. In London, many young people went out into the streets to clear up the mess left by the nights of rioting. No matter how this is reported in the media and no matter how widespread it appears, this is not the true face of England, which remains filled with people who do care for one another and do not live by this manipulated mentality. England today still look like this:

and this:

And, turning from the distraction, what is going on with the financiers and the small group of people who would like to destroy the individuality of nations and the freedom of individuals?

Saturday 30 July 2011

Annus Mirabilis!

It often seems that those who sit out storms come through them far stronger and far lighter and far wiser that ever before. Maybe some people remember the sadness in the Queen’s voice when, with what sounded like a sore throat and bad cold and a great deal of sorrow, she spoke of the ‘annus horribilis’ of 1992 – a year she would surely be happy to forget. The 1990s was a particularly unhappy decade for the Queen and, following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, she came under increasingly unpleasant scrutiny from newspapers (which, incidentally, are now being shown in their true light...or rather darkness!). Happily, though, she did not buckle under but, as she has done for almost 60 years, continued in her role and remained true to herself.

Today, I am sure she must have really enjoyed the lovely wedding of her granddaughter Zara – a quite different and, for the Queen, probably less demanding occasion from the wedding of Prince William only three months ago. Already preparations are underway for her Diamond Jubilee and it is a lovely to think that perhaps, having come through the other side of the annus horribilis, it is now an annus mirabilis and thank heavens for the next generation!

Congratulations to Zara and Mike Tyndall (a good Yorkshire fellow!!) and I wish them a very happy life together!

Friday 29 July 2011

Freedom of the Press & The Internet

I love the internet! It seems to me to be the greatest innovation since the discovery of fire or the invention of the wheel! The way in which people can communicate with friends across the world at any hour of the day or night, is brilliant. The way in which people who wouldn’t otherwise have ever met can come together is amazing. The way in which information is available at the press of a key is so rewarding. The way in which it is possible to learn and discover things that you might never have thought of is amazing; and, above all, the possibilities for sharing ideas and learning to see through the eyes of people who might live thousands of miles away is awe-inspiring. Once, while working on a book, I needed to know whether a particular car of a particular era would start by a key in the ignition or by winding a crank in the engine. Knowing nothing about engines I searched for an antique car forum, posed my question and within half an hour had 5 detailed replies from experts! How brilliant is that?

There are people who speak of the dangers of the internet because some social websites give rise to people – especially children – placing themselves at the mercy of predators. This is undoubtedly true but there have always been wicked people who use whatever methods are available to abuse others, and I think that, in time, children will become as aware of the dangers as children in the past were aware of the dangers of getting into strangers’ cars or taking sweets from strange men. Another – slightly amusing to me – ‘danger’ is what happens when you purchase a website and let it lapse. There is a website in my name which is now filled with ‘steamy sex secrets’ which have nothing to do with me, though it is still registered in my name and, since I once had cards printed with that website address and handed them out to many people in places where I give talks about the Victorians, it might be a bit weird if anyone goes to that site! That causes me a lot of amusement and, no matter what, I hope with all my heart that there will never be any form of internet censorship because that would be far worse than the so called dangers of the present freedom of expression.

The recent newspaper scandals of News International demonstrate the dangers of monopolies and what happens when free-speech or the ‘freedom of the press’ falls into the hands of a few magnates. This isn’t a new phenomenon. In 1914, a German newspaper published a totally false story of Germany’s war preparations and military mobilisation. Only two years previously, the British Prime Minister, Asquith, had warned the Kaiser of the danger of German newspapers being dominated by a small group of people with their own agenda. That article, I am sure, was a deliberate attempt to raise fear across Europe and provoke war.

The exchange of ideas available on the internet overrides the news that is fed to people by the standard papers and TV broadcasts – which are often indirectly under government control - and allows people to look beneath the surface of what we are being told. From such a position, people are able to form our own opinions without relying on some magnate’s slant on what is happening in the world.

And, speaking of the internet, please visit our new blog, which has just been set up:
Lost in the myths of history
and also, if you feel inclined, a new website (which won’t be sold on!)
Hilliard & Croft

Monday 25 July 2011

Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats

I am delighted that the paperback version of Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats is now complete and will be available for purchase within the next fourteen days (or less!).

Saturday 16 July 2011

3rd Excerpt from "Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats"

This excerpt takes place immediately after the funeral of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, when Archduke Karl meets with the Czech princes who attended the requiem..

“....Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla…”
“Day of wrath, that dreadful day, the whole world shall lie in ashes…” he whispered, when suddenly the sound of raised voices echoed from the Medieval Gate where three men stood talking loudly.
Striding in their direction, Karl immediately recognised them as the Czech Princes Kinsky, Schwarzenberg and Lobkowitz, who had knelt reverently in the chapel and seemed genuinely saddened by the deaths. Seeing him approach they turned in unison and, though their greeting was polite, there was an obvious hostility etched into their faces.
“Gentlemen, it is a sad day…” Karl began in a conciliatory tone but rather than placating them his words provoked anger.
Prince Kinsky was the first to speak, “A sad day and a thoroughly shameful one!”
“Shameful?” Karl said, uncertain of his meaning.
“Had I not seen this for myself, I would never have believed it.”
“Montenuovo,” Prince Lobkowitz said, “should be publicly humiliated and dismissed at once for such an affront. How dare so vile and insignificant a creature dishonour the Archduke and his wife in this way!”
Though his own feelings were slightly less vehement, Karl immediately warmed to these men who shared his disgust at the treatment of Sophie and Franz Ferdinand.
“It is a great insult to my uncle’s memory…” he began but Prince Kinsky interrupted,
“If I were in the Emperor’s position I would have Montenuovo flogged for this.”
Lobkowitz agreed, “As if it were not enough that they treated Her Highness so atrociously in her lifetime, they now go out of their way to abuse her in death.”
“And as for that excuse for a requiem…” Kinsky said so angrily that he could barely blurt out his words and looked to Schwarzenberg to speak for him.
“Who told the Cardinal to rush through the service and why were there so few mourners? We know that many foreign royalties wished to attend but they were not allowed to do so. King Carol of Roumania was actually turned back at the border!”
Appalled by this information, Karl shook his head, “I had no idea.”
Kinsky, regaining his composure, said, “Even our own people were turned away. Crowds had gathered to file past the coffins. Many had patiently waited in line since dawn, and others had made the effort to travel from different parts of the empire but almost four hours before the service began Montenuovo had the doors locked and refused them entry.”
“It would be understandable,” Schwarzenberg said, “if the public were to be given another opportunity of paying their respects but we have just been told that there will be no formal procession to the station. The bodies are to be shipped away in the night like a pair of executed criminals.”
“At least,” Kinsky said bitterly, “when they reach Artstetten they will be given the honour they deserve. I thank God that the Archduke had the foresight to make provision for himself and Her Highness in Bohemia where they have always been shown the respect and affection that was so sorely denied them in Vienna.”
Karl stared down at the ground and said quietly, “I know it is small consolation but I agree with everything you have said. I was very fond of my uncle and I know that all of this has been conducted in a shameful manner. The Emperor, however, is not to blame. He…”
“The Emperor allowed this to happen,” Kinsky said. “It is common knowledge that he intensely disliked Archduke Franz Ferdinand and I dare say that he is more than relieved by this turn of events.”
“No!” Karl protested loyally. “It’s true that they disagreed about many things but the Emperor is truly horrified and saddened by what has happened.”
Kinsky shook his head scornfully and opened his mouth to say more but Schwarzenberg urgently intervened as though fearful of what his companion had been about to say.
“You must understand, Your Imperial Highness, that the Archduke was the only member of your family who truly understood and respected the Bohemian people. As in so many other parts of this empire, there is a feeling among the Czechs that we are issued with orders from Vienna by people who have no understanding of our culture and our way of life. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was different and, of course, his wife was one of our own people. The Choteks might be sneered at here, but in Bohemia they are a highly respected family.”
Lobkowitz nodded, “Unlike the ministers or even the Emperor – to whom, I assure you, we remain devoted – the Archduke listened to us. We even hoped that when he eventually succeeded to the throne he might restore the Kingdom of Bohemia as an autonomous region within the empire in much the same way as the Kingdom of Bavaria is both autonomous and part of the German Empire.”
Karl nodded thoughtfully and wondered whether it would be imprudent to suggest that, like Uncle Franz, he recognised the need for greater freedom and self-government in the various provinces.
Schwarzenberg, seeming to read his thoughts, said, “Of course, this is not an appropriate time to discuss your future plans but, as you are now heir, perhaps you will consider what we have said and honour the Archduke’s memory by implementing some of his ideas.”
“Uncle Franz had many plans for reform. He was well-travelled and well-read and, though as yet I lack his wisdom and experience, I hope that one day I will be able to combine our great traditions with some of his more progressive ideas.”
“Then I suggest,” said Kinsky, “that you keep your views to yourself until you are in a position to execute them.”
Karl, disturbed by his ominous tone, ran his foot over the cobbles, inadvertently kicking a stone that flew across the courtyard and ricocheted on the opposite wall.
Schwarzenberg moved closer, “The details of exactly what happened in Sarajevo remain unclear. Perhaps you could elucidate?”
Karl opened his hands helplessly, “The killer, Gavrilo Princip, was a nineteen-year-old Bosnian who believed that by assassinating Uncle Franz he would further the cause of a South Slav Kingdom. Princip wasn’t working alone. There were several would-be assassins in the street that day…”
“We have read all of this in the newspapers but it makes so little sense,” Kinsky said impatiently. “Doesn’t it strike you as odd that a group that is allegedly comprised of Serbian officers, ministers and lawyers should choose a set of incompetent kids to carry out such an attack?”
“I suppose,” Karl said, “young men like Princip are malleable. It is easy to train them into believing their actions are justified, and their leaders view them as dispensable.”
Kinsky’s eyes narrowed, “Imagine if we were planning the assassination of someone as important as the heir to an empire. Whom would we choose to carry it out – a tubercular boy who, from all accounts, hadn’t even held a gun until a few months ago, or a skilled marksman with experience of weapons?”
Karl shook his head, “What are you suggesting?”
“Is there any proof that this boy was acting on behalf of the Black Hand?”
“The Emperor has ordered a thorough investigation so we must wait for its findings.”
Kinsky threw back his head, “The investigators will find whatever they are told to find, which undoubtedly means they will implicate the Serbian government in the murders.”
Karl glanced warily across the courtyard.
“You are aware, I suppose,” Shwarzenberg said, lowering his voice to a whisper, “that the Serbian Prime Minister, Pasic, warned our ambassador in Belgrade that a plot was afoot and the Archduke’s life would be in danger if he travelled to Sarajevo?”
Karl, increasingly unnerved, shook his head.
“Pasic had received word that these assassins were planning to disrupt the visit and he gave orders that they were to be arrested at the border.”
“And,” Lobkowitz said, “three days before the Archduke left Vienna, the Serbian envoy gave Bilinski, the Civil Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the same warning but in every case these warning were ignored.”
“Why?” Karl frowned.
“Why indeed?” Kinsky looked up at the sky. “One thing is certain, there are several men within our own empire and even more international intriguers who had far more to gain from His Imperial Highness’ death than the Serbs had. When did the Archduke receive his invitation to Sarajevo?”
Karl shrugged, “I don’t know. A few months ago, I would imagine.”
“Around the time of the Emperor’s illness, perhaps?”
“The thought that the Emperor might die must have triggered a great deal of fear in certain circles. Everyone knew that the Archduke had already prepared lists of the ministers whom he would remove from office; and everyone knew, too, that he had no intention of supporting an invasion of Serbia.”
“There is no proof,” Schwarzenberg said, “that these boys were linked to the Black Hand. Even if they were duped into believing that they were acting on behalf of that group, who is to say that that was actually the case?”
Karl’s stomach churned, “You are saying that his murder was planned by …”
“No,” Schwarzenberg interrupted, “we are accusing no one. We are merely making observations.”
Lobkowitz nodded, “Who knows what goes on in the shady world of spies and agent provocateurs?”
“You must admit,” Kinsky said, looking directly at Karl, “that the timing and manner of His Imperial Highness’s death couldn’t have worked out better for many of those ministers in Vienna if they had planned the whole thing themselves. Now, they can remain secure in their positions of power; and this very public killing has provided them with the perfect excuse they were seeking to invade Serbia.”
Again Karl remembered Franz Ferdinand’s words on the evening of the ball: “…What frightens me, Karl, is the thought that these people would willingly manipulate us into a situation where war becomes inevitable. To all intents and purposes, it will be seen as an imperial war fought by kings but in fact the whole tragedy will have been engineered by ministers and generals who will then use the ensuing chaos to set themselves up in our place.”
“And,” Kinsky said, “they must be rejoicing that they are not only rid of the Archduke, but also his wife whom they all treated so appallingly.”
“Isn’t it strange,” Schwarzenberg nodded, “that Princip was as close to Her Highness as I am to you, yet he claims that he killed her by accident?”
Karl stared at the ground, weighed down by so many conflicting thoughts and emotions that for several minutes he could not speak and when he eventually did so, his voice trembled, “What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing,” Kinsky said. “There is nothing to be done. The investigation will produce its report, and history will record these events accordingly but, with all due respect, Your Imperial Highness, be aware that very few world events are ever quite as simple as they are presented for posterity.”
“Indeed,” said Lobkowitz. “Documents disappear, investigations run into insurmountable obstacles, and the truth is lost in the fairy tales that are told to keep the public happy. It is so often the case that beneath these stories, there are layers upon layers of artifice, and even when we have a glimpse of the truth and the immediate culprits are unmasked, there are many more who lurk in the shadows and whose guilt is never uncovered.”
Karl nodded sadly. Just as the news of the murder had shattered the beauty of a summer afternoon, so, too, had Uncle Franz death wrecked the idyll of the age of innocence.
“Whether or not we will ever know the truth of what happened in Sarajevo, there is something we can do now to honour Uncle Franz and Sophie.”
The three princes looked at him with interest.
“There are still crowds outside who would like to pay their respects as the bodies are taken to the station.”
“Police cordons have been set up to keep the people away.”
“The police will give way to the new heir apparent. Gentlemen, perhaps you will join me in leading the crowds in procession so that we can at least mark the Archduke’s departure from Vienna in a manner that’s honourable and fitting.”

Friday 15 July 2011

2nd Excerpt from "Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats"

This is a second excerpt from "Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats".
Here, Kaiser Wilhelm, at his daughter's wedding, is viewing himself in a mirror and trying to make sense of his conflicting emotions regarding his late mother and his sense of his own inadequacy.

He pressed his hand to his ear, trying to silence the demons that had taunted him for so long. If only Mama had been more like Queen Victoria, things could have been very different. Grandmama did not see him as weak – she recognised his potential as a noble German Emperor. While she lived, the two nations could stand side-by-side, their combined heritage bringing peace and culture to the world. With Grandmama’s passing, and the accession of Uncle Bertie as Britain’s King Edward VII, that seemingly unbreakable bond had been severed. For almost a decade an aggressive rivalry had replaced the former cooperation between the two countries, and the mutual respect they had once shared had been twisted into antipathy.
Wilhelm peered more closely at the mirror and, as he stared intently at his own face, that of his late uncle, lying in state, floated through his mind. Along with the rest of the family, he had paid his respects to the corpse of the British king but, while others struggled to contain their grief, it had taken Wilhelm even greater self-control to conceal his relief and elation. Looking down at that lifeless body, lying like a great oak felled by a storm, it had dawned on him that the death of King Edward VII marked the dawn of a new age for Germany and for her Emperor.
Huge, bronchitic and bloated by his own excesses, Uncle Bertie, no less than Wilhelm himself, had come to personify his empire. Like her king, quaffing and gluttonising at his table, Britain’s appetites had become insatiable, ravenously gobbling up so much of the world. Like her king, too, flirting and sprawling with his Parisian whores, Britain had abandoned her rightful partner, Germany, choosing instead an adulterous alliance with France. This was all Uncle Bertie’s doing, Wilhelm thought. With his patronising attitude and his lack of respect for his Kaiser-nephew, the nine years of his reign had brought nothing but tension between two great nations whose union had been sealed seventy years earlier in the marriage of Wilhelm’s grandparents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
Three years had passed since Uncle Bertie’s death but still that union remained unrestored. Britain continued her liaison with France and had even extended her alliances to create a comfortable ménage-a-trois with Russia, leaving Germany – the young and virile nation – to seek dubious comfort in the arms of the aged and decrepit old crone, Austria-Hungary.
“Now, though,” Wilhelm murmured, adopting the pose of a hero, “it is time for the restoration of the true order. When Britain realises that her era of domination is over and it is Germany’s hour to take the lead, she will abandon her flirtation with France and return to me, begging for an alliance like an unfaithful wife pleading for her husband’s forgiveness.”
He smiled at his own magnanimity, “I will take her back. I will overlook these past thirteen years and, in her gratitude, she will treat me with respect and devotion. Germany is in the ascendancy. Our military prowess, our growing navy, our social welfare programmes and advances in industry, outclass those of any other nation, and I, as her Kaiser, the All-Highest, am the most influential ruler of the age!”

Wednesday 13 July 2011

The Earl of Harewood

I was sad to hear of the death of the Earl of Harewood at the weekend as he seemed such a lovely man. I live not far from Harewood House and, while visiting the bird garden there as a small child, was asking my parents something about a particular bird when a gentleman (who looked very old to me but anyone over thirty looks old to a child!) very kindly supplied me with the answer. My mother whispered, “That is the earl!” and I hurriedly flicked through the guide book for his photograph and found that was true. Not being acquainted with royal protocol, I looked up at this tall man and asked for his autograph on the photo, and he smiled kindly and signed it for me.

Many years later, I wrote to him about a book and received a very lovely handwritten reply. He had accidentally dropped a half-finished Times crossword into the envelope somehow, and I was going to complete it and return it to him, but I never did.
Sincere condolences to his family...I am sure he will be remembered with love.

Sunday 10 July 2011

"Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats" Excerpt

I am delighted that within a day or two, my novel: “Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats” will be available via Kindle, and will available in paperback in about a month. The cover posted here, is a temporary cover for the Kindle edition.
As I wrote in a previous post, “The Scapegoats” is the first in the ‘Shattered Crowns’ trilogy which follows the royalties of Europe through the years 1914-1918. The Scapegoats covers the periods from April 1913 to the outbreak of the First World War. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Emperor Franz Josef, Archduke Karl, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II feature most prominently in this novel, an excerpt from which, I include below (and will include further excerpts over the next couple of days.

This excerpt is part of a conversation between Archduke Karl and his uncle, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It takes place during a winter ball where the two men have escaped from the chatter of the ballroom and, as they discuss the fate of Crown Prince Rudolf, Franz Ferdinand gradually reveals his suspicions that he will soon be murdered:

....Eventually, [Franz Ferdinand] turned and said, “In the past, I believed that kings and emperors made all the decisions for their people. Now, though, I see it very differently. For the most part, monarchs are merely the actors who take centre-stage. Their lines are scripted for them and their movements are stage-managed by faceless people whom the audience never sees. Even in an autocracy like Austria-Hungary, so much goes on behind the scenes where ministers and politicians plot and intrigue among themselves. They see their monarchs as little more than puppets. They make plans that suit their personal ambitions and increase their own sense of power, and they manipulate their emperors into accepting and implementing those plans at whatever cost to their countries. Then comes the cruellest part of all: when the drama turns into tragedy, these people withdraw into the shadows leaving the emperor to shoulder all the blame.”
Karl frowned, “I cannot believe that an emperor anointed by God could be so easily influenced.”
“Most emperors who take their coronation oath seriously have the good of their people at heart but even the most astute of them cannot see with his own eyes all that is happening across his empire. These shady people know that; and so, with carefully woven words, they persuade him that unless he follows this course or that course, the country will suffer. They conceal things that they don’t want him to know and they scare him into accepting their ideas.”
“Scare him!” Karl laughed in disbelief.
“Yes,” Franz Ferdinand nodded emphatically. “The ability to inspire fear is the politician’s most powerful weapon. Men react totally irrationally when they are afraid. Even in Biblical times, wasn’t it fear of losing their authority that prompted the Sanhedrin to hand Christ over for crucifixion? And wasn’t it the fear of repercussions from Rome that prevented Pontius Pilate from setting him free? Imagine being able to harness that fear and twist it to your own ends. That is a tactic that politicians have mastered. Create an enemy, create something or someone to fear, and then persuade the people that you alone can protect them from the impending disaster. If the people believe you – and skilled politicians ensure that they do – they will do whatever you ask of them: they will fight your wars, pay your taxes, and allow their own freedom to be curtailed, all the time believing that you are acting for their highest good.”
Karl ran his hand across his brow.
“These politicians employ the same tactics when dealing with their emperors. They say, ‘unless you implement harsh laws, more people will suffer’ or, ‘unless we take up arms against this country or that country, we will be invaded,’ and all the time, unbeknown to their king, they are striking deals among themselves or with their foreign counterparts.”
“But why?” Karl blinked, “Why would they do such a thing?”
“Money, power…”
“And for that, they would not only betray the trust of an emperor but also endanger the welfare and lives of their fellow countrymen?”
Franz Ferdinand smiled at him gently and spoke in the tone of a patient schoolmaster to an innocent pupil, “The more noble the emperor, the easier it is for the unscrupulous to take advantage of him. Good men, who act from the highest motives, believe that those around them are equally noble. I hate to disillusion you, Karl, but the truth is that there are many ambitious and self-seeking men in positions of authority. Who would have believed that someone like Redl, on whom so much of our country’s security depended, would sell us out to protect his pathetic reputation and to fund his lavish lifestyle?”
“That was a particularly unpleasant case.”
“Believe me, Redl is not the only one who would be willing to sacrifice all that we hold dear to further a greedy ambition. Every day secret agreements are reached between politicians, arms manufacturers, bankers, spies and newspaper proprietors. There are always people who place their personal gain before the good of the country.”
Karl returned to the table and, sitting down, rested his head in his hands. The evening had begun so brightly in the glamour of the ballroom, yet now, alone with his uncle, he felt suddenly drained and exhausted.
Franz Ferdinand came to stand behind him and rested an avuncular hand on his shoulder, “I am so sorry, Karl,” he said softly. “I didn’t intend to distress you but men in our position must see what is going on or there is no hope for our country or our people.”
A line from the Gospel ran through Karl’s mind, ‘I am sending you out like lambs among wolves; be as wily as serpents and as gentle as doves....’

Monday 4 July 2011

Happy Independence Day!

A very Happy Independence Day to all American visitors!

May the spirit of your brilliant Founding Fathers always live in America! May your constitution thrive and your country become once more ‘the land of the free’!

“A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.” (Thomas Jefferson)

Saturday 2 July 2011

Freedom, Fear and Empowerment

Something dawned on me today when a kind lady asked me to donate to a cancer research charity, to collect for which she had given up her Saturday morning. Often we see that certain drugs are not available to some people because they are ‘too expensive’. Several years ago I saw a documentary about a village in India where people who had suffered from polio as children had become deformed and were treated as outcasts by their families and yet for something like £1 a village they could be inoculated but the pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t donate that vaccine. They do, however, freely provide vaccines against bizarre epidemics like swine flu and other man-made illnesses (made in labs?) and also – as I know from several friends who have worked for such companies – give huge bonuses to their staff and the owners of these companies are mega-millionaires. So, as I donated to the charity simply because the lady who asked me to was obviously doing so in good faith, I couldn’t help thinking, “Where does all this research money go? To drug companies who then create something that they charge the earth for, and also who – perhaps! – actually create illnesses in labs....”

I know it sounds like some kind of weird sci-film to think such a thing and it is totally contrary to my nature to be so suspicious! Sometimes, though, things become too blatant to ignore any longer and you have to speak out. Remember SARS and bird flu and swine flu and how they all appeared at times when governments were going through a difficult time and needed the people to be distracted by something fearful. I dare say they will come up with something new before too long and – at the same time as the EU is banning certain herbal remedies that have been used since the world began (like St. John’s Wart) – the grip of pharmaceutical companies becomes more obvious.

Having been engrossed in the horrendously murky dealings behind the First World War – and the way in which this was anything but an ‘imperial’ war but was absolutely manufactured by megalomaniacs who set out to overthrow Russia, Germany and any other country that did not adhere to state control (and then replaced the governance of Russia and Germany with absolute state control – these people not only funded Lenin and Trotsky, but also Hitler!), it became so obvious that there is a very dark and very misguided group of people who still continue their bizarre dream of ‘world domination’ to this day. When you want to overthrow a country, the best thing to do is create the idea that their present leader is a tyrant, then create uprisings and then step in as though you are a peace-keeper. It’s gone on for centuries now. It’s become rather ‘old hat’ and we still fall for it. Also, create an atmosphere of fear so that people will believe you are protecting them while you are subjecting them to abuse in airports (zap them with massive radiation and, if they refuse that, subject them to physical molestation) or while you manipulate the boom and bust, the supposed ‘global downturn’ and little by little you control the world...well, not really...

The trouble for these people, though, is that they do not take into account the incredible nature of humanity or the spiritual dimension of Life which is far more powerful than any big corporation, conglomerate, government or empire. Just as green shoots and flowers sprout through the most dilapidated of places, there isn’t enough oppression in the world to stifle the true nature of the individual spirit. There isn’t enough hatred in the world to overcome one single person who loves; there aren’t enough methods of control to enslave one single free spirit; there aren’t enough lies to smother the truth that every person is of vital importance and not one person or group of people has real power over another.

I often wonder why these people don't concentrate on their own lives rather than trying to elbow their way into everyone else's. I guess they must be lacking a sense of self-worth if they need to 'take charge' of others to distract themselves from their own sense of inadequacy. Little boys playing their intimidating games...I don't want to play anymore in their culture of fear.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

The Kingdom of Heaven

I think often that heaven is far closer and more accessible than we know. It cannot possibly be simply a ‘place’ we go to when we die. Heaven, I was taught as a child, is where God is; and at the same time was told that God is omnipresent – therefore to those who believe in heaven, it must be with us now. ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you’ or ‘among you’ (depending on the translation). It seems to me that physical life is but one aspect of who we are. In physical life there appears to be time but there are moments when we ‘glimpse eternity’ and realise that time, like so much else, is only a tool to help us order our lives. Beyond time, beyond all the boundaries that we put in place to create order, it often feels that in the timelessness of everything, we have access to all that has ever been and all that ever will be, since it all is really in the great ‘eternal now’.

Believing that to be so, it has always seemed perfectly logical to me that we can talk as freely and as naturally with those who are no longer in physical life, as we can with those around us. I do not mean table-tapping or Ouija boards or any of the other weird and dark things people use – on the contrary, I mean that through the purity of our own being and the Light of the Divinity within us, we can be in tune with anyone from any place or any time. Churches have always believed this – prayer, conversations with saints etc. are not dark and do not require darkened rooms or spooky goings-on; they are light and pure and natural. It was always perfectly natural to me to converse with saints, since that is what my Catholic upbringing showed me. It only began to dawn on me later that many saints were not really very nice people, and many had been canonised for political reasons...in fact some were downright racist, sexist, bigoted and quite nasty pieces of work. If, however, it was perfectly natural to converse with those people, was it not equally natural to converse with anyone?

It seems that there are wavelengths on which we operate and some of these coincide with the wavelengths of others, and just as we are attracted to or have a rapport with those around us though sometimes we do not know why we are just drawn to some people, we can be equally drawn to or have a rapport with those who are no longer on earth and from that place we are perfectly in-tune with them. It is a very remarkable and beautiful experience, I think. Some people might consider this a load of balderdash but I believe it.

On the anniversary of the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, I cannot help but think of the sheer joy that both of them experienced at the moment of their ‘death’. Such a horrific event, so pre-meditated and with such dire consequences for humanity (and for their beloved children), and yet whenever I think of them on this day, I have such a powerful sense of the joy that they both felt – a great release and a huge amount of laughter and exhilaration.

Did you ever attend a funeral expecting to be moved and tearful only to find it was an amazingly joyous and uplifting occasion? If so, maybe you’ll agree with these thoughts about Franz Ferdinand and Sophie.

Monday 27 June 2011

Ninety-Seven Years Ago Tonight

Ninety-seven years ago this evening, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, hosted a banquet for officers and local dignitaries at their hotel in Bosnia. The orchestra of the Sarajevo garrison played for them and I imagine that on a summer evening, the guests were entertained to such beautiful and popular music as Strauss’ Roses from the South and the Emperor Waltz. (Strauss' music being the epitome of Vienna at that time, I put his picture here).
That evening was so perfect for Franz Ferdinand. Someone once said that the three ingredients to happiness are something to enjoy, something to look forward to, and someone to love. In his role as Inspector of the Imperial Army, Franz Ferdinand had just witnessed a successful series of military manoeuvres and, considering that he had often despaired of the state of the Austrian army, that must have come as a great relief to him. He had, only weeks earlier, cultivated a friendship with Kaiser Wilhelm and together they had planned closer co-operation with Russia and the other major powers. More importantly to Franz Ferdinand, he had enjoyed a summer of seeing his wife accepted by the people at the races and at the opera; and he had spent time with his beloved children. He certainly had something to enjoy.
Tomorrow would be his fourteenth wedding anniversary and, perhaps for the first time, he and Sophie would travel together in the same motorcade – no longer would she be relegated to the role of an inferior. What’s more, he would have the chance to explain his views on giving greater autonomy to the different regions of the Empire. His uncle, Emperor Franz Josef, weakened by his recent bout of bronchitis, could not be emperor forever and very soon, it would seem, Franz Ferdinand would be able to implement his own ideas. He had a lot to look forward to.
And Sophie beside him. This woman, for whom he had endured the alienation of his family and the court, and who was probably the only person in his life (apart from their children) who truly understood him, meant more to him than anything. He truly loved her.
Yes, indeed, I imagine Franz Ferdinand was very happy on this night, ninety-seven years ago.

His murder the next day was such a major world event that there hasn’t ever been a history book about the First World War that doesn’t mention him. Even in my ‘O’ level classes and the rather dull text books that described this amazing time, there was a faint photograph of him on that fateful day, and, in the index of the book there was only one reference to him to say he was murdered and consequently war broke out.

His murder and the subsequent slaughter was not, I am sure, merely the work of some tubercular student with notions of nationalism, but rather a well-defined plot in which Princips was only the ‘patsy’. Had this man lived, the history of the 20th Century would have been very different but, since we cannot directly change the past, we can, at least, recognise the true character of a man who – like so many others – had been so maligned or ‘written off’ by historians.

I am so glad that his last evening was spent with his beloved Sophie and that, it seems, he was truly happy that night.