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Saturday 21 April 2012

Monday 9 April 2012

The Tip of a Murky Iceberg

Although it is sad, it isn’t really surprising that at the height of the First World War with so much suffering and slaughter, people sought someone to blame for the horrors they endured. A ‘foreign’ Queen proved an easy target, particularly when that Queen happened to be born on enemy’ soil. Empress Zita of Austria-Hungary was accused of being an ‘Italian Queen’; Queen Sophie of the Hellenes was accused to passing information to her brother, the Kaiser, and of course Empress Alexandra of Russia was accused of being a German spy. All this nonsense was horrific for the victims of these slanders, but I suppose it is almost understandable when people seek someone to blame.

In researching my Shattered Crowns trilogy (the second book of which will be available this summer) I have come across other information which is far more disconcerting. These damaging rumours, it appears, were not simply the product of the anger and despair of ordinary people, but were actively encouraged and stirred up by far murkier figures who had a great deal to gain from the overthrow of monarchies – particularly the monarchies of Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia. I recently came across an article from 1918, which reported a speech given by a respected, religious leader (obviously giving him some moral authority) who stated quite openly that the Tsarina Alexandra was responsible for the death of Lord Kitchener!

Kitchener was, at the time of his death, en route to Russia where, at the Tsar’s invitation, he was to assist in the reorganisation of the Russian Army. It might be remembered that during the arms crisis of 1916, Kitchener was something of a lone voice in the British War office, urging his government to provide Russia with the arms that had been promised. He alone seemed to understand the importance of adhering to that promise and he personally arranged a deal with an American arms manufacturer to send supplies to Russia....Interestingly, those supplies did not arrive until a month or so before the Russian Revolution (which was, in fact, funded by certain banking families based in America!) and Kitchener’s ship was sunk – ostensibly by a German mine (though the Germans insisted they were not active in that region) – before he reached Russia.

Anyone with even the tiniest knowledge of the Russian Imperial Family must be aware that Alexandra was utterly devoted to her husband, felt a great deal of antipathy towards Kaiser Wilhelm, and was totally committed to the Russian war effort. The article that claimed she was responsible for Kitchener’s death is one of the most ludicrous and outrageous pieces of propaganda I have ever read....Yet it didn’t appear in a Russian revolutionary paper but....in the New York Times! Of course, it is only reporting a speech but the headline is glaring and no attempt is made to refute the lies. How convenient was it that this article – which, incidentally is filled with praise for President Woodrow Wilson! –appeared at a time when plans were being made for the dismantling of the whole ‘old order’ of European monarchies! What better way to persuade the people of the evils of those old regimes (in Germany and Austria-Hungary as well as Russia) than to portray an innocent woman as so vile a traitor? And how cleverly this article was written to manipulate minds into believing that the old world order was entirely corrupt and only a ‘new world order’ could save the day....
And this, alas, is but the tip of an extremely murky iceberg which had more devastating effects on the world and on the lives of ordinary people than the one which sank Titanic!

The Article

Sunday 8 April 2012

Happy Easter!

“Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain;
Wheat that in the dark earth, many months hath lain.
Fresh from the earth, that in the earth hath been,
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.”

Wishing you a Very Happy Easter!

Thursday 5 April 2012

The Queen in York

How wonderful that after yesterday’s storm, the snow had gone today and the sun shone to welcome the Queen to Yorkshire where she handed out the traditional Maundy money in York! (The picture is from the BBC North website) It was a double celebration in Jubilee Year, since this year is also the 800th anniversary of York’s status as a ‘free city’. An interesting ceremony is associated with that status: when the Queen arrives at the city gates she must ask permission to enter the city – permission which was granted by the Lord Mayor, to rapturous applause. What a wonderful continuation of history!

Another interesting aspect of the Maundy Money tradition is that, as it is practised today, it stems from a suggestion from one of the least assuming and most charming of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters – Princess Marie Louise. The tradition obviously originally comes from Jesus’ example at the Last Supper, where he washed the disciples' feet. Long ago, monarchs went out on this day and washed the feet of the poor and gave alms but by the end of the 17th Century that custom had faded. Money was still distributed on behalf of the monarch but the monarch did not attend the ceremony until Princess Marie Louise suggested resuming the tradition to her cousin George V.

Usually this practice has been carried out in London or the South so it is quite lovely that, in the year of her Jubilee, the Queen should choose York for today’s ceremony. York is truly a fascinating city and one which positively abounds with history and the history of this country! I don’t work for the Tourist Board but, to anyone who lives abroad and is considering visiting Britain, please remember that England doesn’t end in the Home Counties! Yorkshire and the North in general boast some of the most beautiful landscapes, castles and sites of historical interest in the country. Sadly, we have a bad press as the ‘industrial North’ and are frequently presented as rather stupid people who wear flat caps and keep whippets! Interesting that this is the home of the Brontes, J. B. Priestly, Alan Bennett, Andrew Marvell, Judi Dench, John Atkinson Grimshaw...to name but a few!