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Thursday 29 November 2012

Capturing History

Shattered Crowns: The Betrayal is now available on Kindle and will be available in paperback in the New Year.

On a separate note....Andre Hilliard, Virginia-based artist and photographer, describes the background to his photography and the influences on his work.  Andre (with an accent on the 'e', which fails to come out on a blog post!) is currently working on a fascinating project, photographing veterans of the Second World War and, as he points out, so many of these people are passing on, he is capturing history for future generations.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Shattered Crowns: The Betrayal

I am happy to announce that the final book of my Shattered Crowns trilogy will be available in Kindle format tomorrow.
Here is a brief excerpt from the book. In this scene Tsar Nicholas meets his brother, Misha, for the last time before his enforced departure to Siberia:
...Nicholas pushed open the door of his study and, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, dabbed it to the corner of his eyes. The room, in which he had spent so many hours for the past twenty-three years, felt bare and devoid of life. Stripped now of his dearest possessions, it took on a sepulchral atmosphere and, as he ran his fingers over the desk and ledges, he felt like a ghost from another era, unwelcome and out of place in this present age. There was nothing left to do here but to strengthen himself to ensure that neither his captors nor his children should see him cry. It had been easier earlier in the day when he had been able to continue the routine of strenuous manual labour, chopping logs and tending the gardens, which he had adopted since the beginning of his captivity. Now, in the stillness of the study the full tragedy of his situation overwhelmed him. Determined not to let his tears fall for fear that, if they did, he should not be able to stop them, he set about searching for any meaningless employment to occupy his hands and his mind.
A stack of books, which had been left untouched for years, caught his eye and he took them one after another from the shelf with a view to returning them in alphabetical order. Dust floated from their pages – something that would have been unthinkable prior to his abdication when servants were forever busying themselves to keep everything pristine – and, as he blew a cobweb from a cover, a photograph fell from the pages and floated down to the carpet. Stooping to retrieve it, he smiled sadly at the faces looking back at him: a happy scene of a family holiday in Denmark several decades earlier. His father, proud and strong, stood beside his mother whose face shone with the radiance of joy and pride in her loving family. There were Nicholas’ sisters, Xenia and Olga – then, still a baby, and now, he reassured himself, safe in the Crimea. Georgy, his late brother, looked so young and healthy in his white sailor suit, smiling and happily unaware that his life would be so brief. Beside him stood Nicholas, though he barely recognised his own youthful features which the pressures of his reign had now aged prematurely; and there, sitting cross-legged on the ground by his father’s feet, sat Misha.
A hundred regrets stormed through Nicholas’ mind as he murmured, “Dear Misha…”…such an innocent, open face displaying the childlike spirit that even the horrors of war could not diminish. Now that everything had fallen to pieces, it seemed to Nicholas that the years of his brother’s exile had been so pointless, bringing nothing but unnecessary pain. At the time of Misha’s banishment, of course, it had been the Tsar’s duty to put family feeling aside to uphold the traditions which had sustained the dynasty for almost three centuries. It would have been incorrect to have granted his brother permission to marry the non-royal divorcee who had stolen his heart. As Head of the Orthodox Church and head of the family, Nicholas had no alternative but to send him away. Now, though, as he stared more intently at the photograph, those years of separation tore at his heart.
He gazed more intently at the image on the photograph and recalled, with no trace of bitterness, that their father had always viewed Misha as a more suitable successor than Nicholas would ever be.
“Papa was right,” he murmured and, in the lonely silence of the study, was convinced that his younger brother – so cheerful, so brave and popular with the troops – would have handed everything so differently.  He might even have saved the dynasty and prevented the chaos which now engulfed their beloved country.
“It would have been better,” he whispered to the image, “if I had never been born, and you had succeeded as Tsar Mikhail II…Oh, Misha, I am so sorry…”
The door creaked open and suddenly there he was, tall, handsome, and dignified, looking every inch like a Tsar.
“Misha,” Nicholas mouthed, too overcome by emotion to speak.
Misha stood in the entrance to the study, gazing directly into Nicholas’ violet-blue eyes; so soulful they were, and so tender, that Misha felt like a drowning man, being drawn deeper into a whirlpool and watching his life flash before him in a myriad of disjointed images. First he was a tiny child, looking up in admiration at the elder brother whose cheerful kindness endeared him to everyone. There had never been any arrogance about Nicholas; no pride in his position as the eldest son and heir to the throne. He had simply been one of the family; respectful of his parents, attentive to his siblings, and gifted with that rare combination of inner strength and outer gentleness which enabled him to set everyone at ease. Throughout his childhood, Misha had always felt safe in his elder brother’s presence and even later in life, when their father died and Nicholas ascended the throne, Misha had been so sure of his brother’s ability and devotion to duty that had never imagined that his reign could end in such an abrupt tragedy. 
Kerensky, who had pushed past him into the study, was wittering about the limited time available for the visit. As irritatingly as a wasp, he buzzed around the room, before taking a book from Nicholas’ desk and settling in a chair. There he sat, flicking through the pages and pretending to read while obviously remaining alert to whatever might pass between the brothers. Nicholas paid him no attention. His eyes remained fixed on his brother and his anguished expression was filled with such sorrow that Misha felt that his heart would break. He longed to fall to his knees with a litany of apologies and regrets but his grief was so great he could not utter a word.
Would all this have happened, he wondered, if he had been more supportive throughout Nicholas’ reign. Time and again, from his first failed attempt to elope with his sister’s lady-in-waiting, to the scandal of his affair with Natasha, the wife of one of his officers, he knew had brought nothing but disappointment. He trembled to think of how deeply he must have wounded Nicholas when, despite all his promises that he would do nothing without the Tsar’s permission, he had reneged on his word and married Natasha in secret, only informing the family of what he had done when everything was signed and sealed. Even worse, he thought now, was the explanation he had given for his actions: little Alexei, the Tsarevich, was suffering from such a severe episode of haemophilia that the doctors doubted he would live. If the boy died, Misha knew his position would change dramatically as he would become Nicholas’ heir. Then it would be impossible to ever marry Natasha. He would be obliged to find a more suitable wife who would one day become Tsarina.
Looking now into Nicholas’ eyes, he understood the great disparity between his brother’s selfless devotion to duty and his own selfish pursuit of satisfaction. Nicholas had no desire to be Tsar but he had sacrificed his personal wishes to dedicate himself to the role, and the least he could have expected in return was the loving and staunch support of his family. Repeatedly, Misha knew, he had failed to give that support and his spirits sank to the depths as he thought of recent events and how, once again, he had failed to accept responsibility. He thought of what anguish Nicholas must have suffered at his abdication, and he understood now that his last hope of saving the dynasty had been to pass over his haemophiliac son, and name Misha as his heir. Had he accepted that role, Misha wondered, would he have been able to prevent this ignominy by ensuring that Nicholas and his family could enjoy a dignified retirement in Livadia or some other country estate?  But he had failed. He had refused to accept the crown without the support of the Duma and, since that support was not forthcoming, he had allowed the dynasty to fall into decay. 
“Misha,” Nicholas said softly and it wounded him even more deeply to realise that there was no malice or recrimination in his tone. If anything, Nicholas appeared even more apologetic than he was as though he somehow considered himself to blame for this tragic turn of events.
To be greeted with such humility and kindness in the face of his failures was more than Misha could bear. Were it not for Kerensky’s unwelcome presence, he should have fallen to floor to beg forgiveness but instead he heard himself ask a series of trite and ridiculous questions.
“How are you, Nicky?”
He heard Nicholas swallow.
“And how’s Alix?”
“Bearing up, you know?”
He nodded, “The children?”
“The same.”
“Good. That’s good.” The tension was unbearable. “Have you heard from Mama?”
“She’s quite safe in the Crimea with Olga and Xenia.”
            And so it went on – meaningless chatter to prevent an intolerable silence which would compel them to face the magnitude of what was occurring – and all the while Misha could only pray that, beneath the inanity of their words, Nicholas understood how deeply he felt and how much he longed to communicate.
            All too soon Kerensky stood up and, dropping the book onto the desk, pointedly looked at his watch. Biting his lip to restrain his tears, Misha nodded, and was about to whisper some final words when a shuffling behind him distracted him. He turned to catch a glimpse of Alexei peeping in from behind the door.
            “May I see the children before I leave?”
           The question was intended for Nicholas but Kerensky answered abruptly, “That won’t be possible.” He looked again at his watch, “It is time to go.”
           Unable to restrain himself any longer, Misha threw his arms around Nicholas’s neck and, kissing his cheek, whispered, “Nicky, I’m so sorry.”
          Nicholas held him so tightly he might have been clinging to him for life, “I love you, Misha. God bless you. God bless you.”
         Kerensky coughed and Misha, choking, tore himself from his brother’s arms and, without looking back, followed Kerensky from the room, pausing only to tousle Alexei’s hair as he passed and wondering whether he would ever see Nicholas or his family again. 

Saturday 24 November 2012

True Friends to Animals

Several times recently I have met with some beautiful creatures - Hearing Dogs for Deaf People,  Guide Dogs for the Blind, and the donkeys of the Elizabeth Svensden Trust for Children and Donkeys. There are so many wonderful ways that humans and animals are working together, which is surely the natural balance of creation.
Having seen this week, too, a reminder of the appalling treatment of Anne the circus elephant (who is now happily re-homed and thriving!) and read of other cases of the maltreatment of beautiful creatures, I wanted to do something to help promote the wonderful groups of people and animals who work together. As it's impossible to donate to every animal charity, I decided to donate a novel to be read on line free in the hope that if people like it they might contribute whatever they choose to an animal charity of their choice.
I have set up a new blog for this purpose and, in time, I hope that photographers and artists as well as authors might also agree to donate something of their work to the site. Please visit the site:

True Friends to Animals

“If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men....Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission - to be of service to them wherever they require it.”—Francis of Assisi

Monday 19 November 2012

All Things Beautiful

Over the next few weeks, my American friends and I will be uploading a series of podcasts on a variety of subjects. We began today with an interview about my novel 'Most Beautiful Princess' which is now available at the top right corner of this site, or here:

 "Interview about Most Beautiful Princess"

Many thanks to Kate Morris and Syzygy for allowing us to use 'Waltz Eddie'  - at a later date we hope to host an interview with these musicians, as well as discussing all kinds of subjects related to anything which is beautiful, from perfumes to photography, from books to gardens and stately homes, from art to animals and much more besides. There is so much written in newspapers about dark and unpleasant subjects and our aim is to present podcasts which focus on loveliness in all its forms, including a variety of interviews.

I hope you'll enjoy listening to our podcasts!

Sunday 11 November 2012

Armistice Day

As the Armistice came into effect on 11th November 1918, Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary signed a manifesto, relinquishing his authority over the government of what was left of his Empire:

“Always being filled with a burning love for all my peoples, I do not want to hinder their free development. I accept in advance what German-Austria will decide on her future political organization. The people have taken over the government through its representatives. I renounce any share in the affairs of state. At the same time, I relieve my Austrian Government of its mandate.”

Count Czernin wrote of him: “When the Monarchy collapsed, the Servant of God conducted himself, as in all other situations, in an admirable fashion. He did not abdicate his claim to the throne, for, to him, the rule by the grace of God had been placed on him as a duty which he was not permitted to shun. He temporarily renounced the exercise of his imperial prerogatives and accepted all the adversity he was experiencing as the Will of God. The Servant of God’s sole desire, in this situation too, was to avoid any bloodshed. He was fully absorbed with the principle of Christian charity. That is why he could only act this way and no other.”

It is a strange and sad thing that, after so many centuries of so many wars, still they go on and on and on...Wouldn’t you think that at some point, leaders would have learned the lesson that no war is the war to end wars, and no peace ever came from killing? This poem by John Scott was written in the 18th century and it might well have been written at any time since.

The Drum
I hate that drum's discordant sound,
Parading round, and round, and round:
To thoughtless youth it pleasure yields,
And lures from cities and from fields,
To sell their liberty for charms
Of tawdry lace and glitt'ring arms;
And when Ambition's voice commands,
To fight and fall in foreign lands.

I hate that drum's discordant sound,
Parading round, and round, and round:
To me it talks of ravaged plains,
And burning towns and ruin'd swains,
And mangled limbs, and dying groans,
And widow's tears, and orphans moans,
And all that Misery's hand bestows,
To fill a catalogue of woes.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Kaiser Wilhelm's Arrival in Holland

It often seems to be presented that as Armistice Day approached in 1918, the Kaiser fled Germany and strolled happily into Holland where his first statement was, ‘and now for a nice English cup of tea.’ In fact, the Kaiser’s departure from Spa and arrival in Holland was anything but pleasant. In spite of Queen Wilhelmina’s hospitality (and later her refusal to extradite him so he could stand trial for war crimes!) he remained for some time under guard in a castle with a double moat – partly for his own protection, and partly because he was initially treated almost like a prisoner.

His son, Crown Prince Wilhelm, described the events of the 9th-10th November very movingly in his memoirs:

Memoirs of the Crown Prince
and one of the men who accompanied Wilhelm across the border describes the events of the 10th November:

“I come now to the 10th (November). The night passed quietly but I doubt if a single eye was closed in sleep during its entire course. Soon after 4 a.m. we assembled in the dining car. The Emperor came in apparently self-possessed and calm, gave us all a friendly shake of the hand, as usual. During the breakfast we learned the shameful terms of the armistice. At 5 o'clock a.m. the train started for the Dutch frontier. It had a guard of four soldiers in each car, since it had to pass through places occupied by mutinied troops. Soon ten minutes after we halted at the little station La Reide.
In the darkness, the Emperor left the train and stepped, accompanied by a few gentlemen, into the automobile provided to take him across the Dutch frontier. The rest of us continued in the train. We travelled through Pepinster and Liege and ruined Vise. About 7 a.m. the train stopped. Obliquely across the track was a wire hedge. We had reached the Dutch frontier. As parting greeting the last German sentinel had called after us some coarse words. Our car was uncoupled and we waited for the Dutch engine to take us across the frontier. It came at about 10 o'clock a.m. and drew us into the neutral Kingdom. When we reached the first Dutch station we saw the Emperor, who had preceded us in automobile, walking up and down the platform. In great depression of spirit we presented ourselves before him.

The Dutch Government had been made acquainted with the decision of the Emperor by its Consul in Brussels. The Emperor had also telegraphed to the Queen asking her permission to enter her kingdom as a private gentleman. The Emperor had been received at the frontier by the Dutch Military Commander, Major van Dyl. T he Major looked out for our protection against the public, as the place was filled with hostile Belgian deserters. In the course of the forenoon the German Consul at Maastricht had a number of Dutch officers, both civil and military, presented themselves before the Emperor. We learned that the Queen had placed the Castle Amerongen, property of Count Bentick, at the service of the Emperor. Our departure from the frontier for the Castle was fixed for the next day, the 11th of November.
It was a most depressing, shameful journey. At every station thousands of people were gathered, greeting us with shouting, whistling, cursing. They threatened us, made signs of choking and hanging us, etc. In such manner was our poor Emperor received on Dutch soil.”

Tuesday 6 November 2012

More of Queen Louise's Concerns

Two days after sending the letter described in the previous post, Queen Louise of the Belgians wrote again to Queen Victoria, with further concerns about her father’s visit to England:

“My dearly beloved Victoria,
...We are quite sure, I assure you, that you and Albert will take care of him and that he is with you in safe hands. And what makes my mother uneasy is the fear that, being at liberty and without control, he will do too much, as she says, le jeune homme, ride, go about and do everything as if he were twenty years old. If I must tell you all the truth, she is afraid also he will eat too much. I am sure he will tell it to you himself, as he was so much amused with this fear; but to do her pleasure, being well assured by me that you would allow it, and that is was even customary, he has given up, of himself, all thought of attending early breakfast....I will also only say that, though he has sent over his horses in case they should be wanted, my mother begs, if possible, his riding at all. I wrote to her already that I supposed there would be no occasion for riding, and that you promenades would either be on foot or in a carriage....”

I can’t help thinking that the King was probably looking forward to a break from the excessive concern of his family!

However, five days later, Queen Louise was clearly happy about the care that he had been shown:

My dearly beloved Victoria,
...I thank you very much for attending to all my recommendations about my father. I only fear they will lead you to think we view him as a great child and treat him like one. [that thought did cross my mind!!]; but he is so precious and dear to us all that I am sure you will understand and excuse our being overanxious...
Yours most devotedly,

And the King returned safely and happily to France (only to be deposed shortly afterwards).

Monday 5 November 2012

A Visit from King Louis Philippe

In October 1844 King Louis Philippe of France visited Queen Victoria & Prince Albert at Windsor. The Queen had written to her dear friend, Louise, Queen of the Belgians, the daughter of Louis Philippe, to ask if her father had any special requirements. This reply is rather touching not only because it reveals a good deal about the King’s character and shows the concern his family had for him, but also because it shows how little things change. This letter could have been written today (almost!) to anyone expecting a visit from an elderly relative!
My dearly beloved Victoria,
....I have not much to say about my father’s lodging habits and likings. My father is one of the beings most easy to please, satisfy and accommodate. His eventful life has used him to everything, and makes any kinds of arrangements acceptable to him. There is only one thing he cannot easily do, it is to be ready very early. He means notwithstanding, to try to come to your breakfast but you must insist upon his not doing it. It would disturb him in all his habits and be bad for him, as he would certainly eat – a thing he is not to do in the mornings. He generally takes hardly what may be called a breakfast. You must not tell him that I wrote you this but you must manage it with Montpensier [Louise’s youngest brother, Antoine], and kindly order for him a bowl of chicken broth. It is the only thing he takes generally in the morning and between his meals.I have also no observation to make but I have told Montpensier to speak openly to Albert whenever he thought something ought to be done for my father, or might hurt him and inconvenience him, and you may consult him when you are in doubt. He is entrusted with all the recommendations of my mother, for my father is naturally so imprudent and so little accustomed to caution and care that he must be watched to prevent his catching a cold or doing what may be injurious to him. About his rooms – a hard bed and a large table for his papers are all that he requires. He generally sleeps on a horsehair mattress with a plank of wood under it; but any kind of bed will do if it isn’t too soft. His liking will be to be at your command and do all you like. You know he can take a great deal of exercise and all will interest and delight him to see, as to do: this is not a compliment but a mere fact. His only wish is that you should not go out of your way for him and change your habits on his account....
You have no notion of the satisfaction it gives him and how delighted he will be to see you again and to be once more in England....
Yours most devotedly,

Sunday 4 November 2012

A New Video

Thank you, again, to Lucy, who has added her lovely review of 'Most Beautiful Princess' on her wonderful Enchanted by Josephine site!

Continuing the series of videos about the royalties in the First World War, I have just uploaded a new, short one about Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which might interest some people...

Thursday 1 November 2012


Happy Birthday to Grand Duchess Elizabeth!

And many, many thanks to Lucy, who has kindly allowed me to write a guest post about 'Ella' on her beautiful site:

Enchanted By Josephine