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Saturday 23 September 2017

Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

With the recent find of an intact World War 1 German U-boat with the bodies of the twenty-three man crew still inside, I am reminded again of the reasons why Germany resorted to unrestricted submarine warfare, which ostensibly brought the United States into the war.

The following extract is taken from my book, "The Innocence of Kaiser Wilhelm II":

"...following the establishment of the ‘starvation blockade’, Admiral Tirpitz and his fellow commanders saw no alternative but to retaliate in kind by preventing supply ships from carrying goods to Britain. U-boat captains were ordered to stop and search British merchant vessels, and, after giving due warning to enable to crews to escape into lifeboats, to sink them with torpedoes. Initially, this was carried out in a genteel fashion, for, as one American commentator wrote:

“The submarines…not only gave time to lower boats but frequently took them in tow and brought them to safety. When the German auxiliary cruisers took aboard the crews and passengers of vessels, they treated them with kindness and humanity. This is proof against the theory of barbarity and cruelty attaching itself to her maritime warfare.”[i]

Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, unhappy with this gentlemanly arrangement, which allowed for the loss of so many merchant ships, issued orders that the crews were not permitted to abandon their vessels, but rather should ram the flimsy submarines or – since much of the merchant fleet had been secretly armed – should open fire upon them. This policy made it impossible for the U-boat commanders to continue to assist the enemy crews without risking the lives of their own men, leaving them no alternative but to sink without warning any British ship that they encountered.

Churchill then issued another illegal order that the merchant marines should paint over the names of their vessels and fly the flags of neutral countries to avoid torpedo attacks. Moreover, he manned some of the merchant fleet with Royal Naval officers disguised as foreign fishermen or civilian sailors, so that, whenever a submarine surfaced, the seemingly innocent trading boat was instantly transformed into a lethal warship.

Due to this deceit, and contrary to his own wishes, in February 1915 the Kaiser was persuaded to sign an order declaring unrestricted submarine warfare, meaning that any vessel sailing in British waters, including the English Channel, would be deemed a legitimate target for the U-boat commanders. Wilhelm’s reluctance to authorise this policy stemmed partly ‘from feelings of humanity’[ii], and partly from his fear that it would alienate neutral countries – particularly the United States.(copyright Christina Croft 2015)


[i] ‘Historicus Junior’ The ‘Lusitania Case’ (Hugh H. Masterson, June 1915)
[ii] Blucher, Princess Evelyn An English Wife in Berlin (E. Dutton & Co. 1921)

Tuesday 19 September 2017

The Tragedy of Napoleon III

It's impossible not to admire the way in which Napoleon III held fast to a dream in the face of mockery, failure and disappointment. From his earliest years, he dreamed of emulating his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte, and for the first four decades of his life he continued to hold fast to the ambition despite revolution, exile and imprisonment.

Humiliated by the government of Louis Philippe, he embarked on several hare-brained schemes to bring his plans to fruition, but they ended in failure, ultimately resulting in his being confined in the prison of Ham for almost six years. Rather than bewailing his fate, he nurtured his ambition for the future of France, studying and writing extensively, and preparing schemes for the betterment of the country when he eventually achieved his aim.

Later, following his escape from Ham, he settled for a while in England where one statesman commented, "Did you ever know such a fool as that fellow is? Why, he really believes he will yet be Emperor of France!"
Even his friend, the Duke of Cambridge, remarked, "...I think he has not enough to carry him through so vast an undertaking, and that he will consequently break down in the attempt of making himself Emperor…which he is evidently driving at."

Ultimately, though, he proved his critics wrong when, in December 1851, he staged a coup d'etat and had himself declared Emperor.

The tragedy was that, while he worked tirelessly for the good of his people, ill-health plagued him and power gradually slipped through his hands, as his ministers rejected his attempts at to maintain an autocracy; and his final defeat at Sedan owed almost as much to his debilitating illness as it did to the superiority of the Prussian forces.

My new book, "Queen Victoria & The French Royal Families" (available in paperback and Kindle formats) includes his story as well as that of his predecessor, King Louis Philippe, and their relationship with the British Royal Family.



Friday 4 August 2017

August 4th 1914

On 4th August 1914, Britain entered the First World War. It is a matter of contention whether on not there was any reason to do so, for, although the invasion of Belgium is the cause that is always cited, King Albert of the Belgians specifically stated that he did not want foreign armies to intervene; and, what was more, there was plenty of evidence that the French had already entered his country before the Germans did.

Here, too, is an extract from 'The Innocence of Kaiser Wilhelm II', which shows that, in fact, the British and the King were desperate to enter the conflict, and Belgium was merely a convenient excuse:

"In all his correspondence with his cousins, Britain’s King George V repeatedly emphasised his desire for peace but, in July 2014, an article appeared in the Daily Telegraph which calls into question his sincerity. According to recently discovered evidence, including a personal letter from Buckingham Palace, on August 2nd 1914, the King summoned the Foreign Secretary, Edward Grey, and told him directly that Britain must participate in the war to prevent Germany from becoming the most dominant force in Europe. When Grey observed that there was no justifiable reason for Britain to do so, the King told him he must find one.  
Throughout the crisis, Grey had remained ambiguous in response to questions from Germany, Russia and France as to what role Britain would play in the event of a European war. When Sazonov pressed the British and French Ambassadors to stand by their Russian allies, the French Ambassador, Maurice Paléologue, had responded affirmatively without hesitation but the British Ambassador, George Buchanan, explained:
“I could not hold out any hope of [Britain] making a declaration of solidarity that would involve unconditional engagement to support France and Russia by force of arms on behalf of a country like Serbia where no British interests were involved.”[i]
When informed of this conversation, Grey commented that this was the correct response, but Buchanan was already eagerly trying to persuade his government to back the Russians and he promised Sazanov that he would ‘make strong representations…in favour of the policy of resistance to Germanic arrogance.’[ii]  He was equally keen to ensure that Germany should take the blame for the subsequent conflict, telling Paléologue, on 28th July:
“The German Government must be saddled with all the responsibility and all the initiative. English opinion will accept the idea of intervening in the war only if Germany is indubitably the aggressor...Please talk to Sazonov to that effect.”[iii]
The Germans in general, and Wilhelm in particular, were desperate for an assurance of British neutrality, and several approaches had been made to Grey to ascertain his position and to discover under what conditions Britain might feel it was necessary to take up arms. In view of the Anglo-French Entente, Bethmann asked whether Britain would remain neutral if the Germans did not invade France, but since this did not preclude an attack on French colonies, the British refused to accept it.
On 1st August, however, the Kaiser received a message from Prince Linchowsky, his Ambassador in London, stating that Grey had told him that Britain would remain out of the conflict providing France was not attacked. Wilhelm was so overjoyed that, without informing his Chief of Staff, he immediately ordered a halt to the German advance towards Luxembourg, and sent a message to his cousin, George, assuring him of his willingness to accept the proposal. To his horror, however, George replied – in almost identical terms to those in which he had written to Nicholas following the Russian mobilisation – that there ‘must have been some misunderstanding’ as the discussion between Grey and Linchowsky was merely an informal and hypothetical conversation and had no significance.
On the same day, Linchowsky again asked Grey if the British would remain impassive provided that the Germans did not invade neutral Belgium. Grey refused to give that assurance, stating that Belgium might be ‘an important but not a decisive factor.’ On behalf of the Kaiser, the German government then asked on what terms Britain would remain neutral, but, as the British Member of Parliament, James Ramsey-McDonald, stated openly in the House of Commons:
“Sir Edward Grey declined to discuss the matter. This fact was suppressed by Mr Asquith and Sir Edward Grey in their speeches to Parliament. When Sir Edward Grey failed to secure peace between Germany and Russia, he worked deliberately to involve us in the war, using Belgium as his chief excuse.”[iv]
Three days after stating that the invasion would not be a decisive factor, Britain went to war in defence of ‘plucky little Belgium.’"

[i] Buchanan, Sir George My Mission to Russia Vol. 1 (Cassell & Company Ltd. 1923)
[ii] Paléologue, Maurice An Ambassador’s Memoirs (G.H. Doran 1925)
[iii] Paléologue, Maurice An Ambassador’s Memoirs (G.H. Doran 1925)
[iv] McGuire, James K. What Germany Could do for Ireland (Wolfe Tone Company 1916)

Sunday 30 July 2017


Just as we look back aghast at the idea that human beings could take pleasure in watching Christians being torn apart by lions in the Roman amphitheatres, or watching others being guillotined following the French Revolution, I truly believe that in the years to come, people will look back aghast on this era for the way that we treat animals with such barbarity.

I have heard people say that animals are killed humanely, but I have seen pigs and sheep going into a small slaughter house, and seen the terror in their eyes and their desperation to escape. They know what is about to happen, and they are desperate to live. People cheered for the 'Tamworth two' - the pigs who escaped slaughter, but millions more animals are facing this horror every single day.

It is estimated that each vegetarian saves between 50 and 100 animals a year. Nowadays there are so many alternatives to meat - products that taste exactly like chicken, beef, cheese, pork etc. etc. - and so it really is not necessary for animals to suffer any longer in this way.

Ten years ago, an amazing film was released, Earthlings and now it is available free. Part of it is beautiful and part of it is horrific, but to watch only a small part of it would surely make people think again before tucking into the flesh of some innocent, sentient being that was unnecessarily and brutally murdered.

Sunday 16 July 2017

"The Curse of the Elephant Man"

The 1980 film, 'The Elephant Man', starring John Hurt as the eponymous hero, was an excellent portrayal of the tragic life of Joseph Merrick who, tragically deformed by a medical condition, became an exhibit in a freak show before being taken into the care of the London Hospital, where he lived out the rest of his short life in relative comfort.

A more recent documentary, The Curse of the Elephant Man, is an attempt to discover the cause of his condition, and concludes with a wonderful reconstruction of how he would have appeared had he not been so afflicted.


The tragic part of his story is that he was a gentle, intelligent and learned man, who did not respond with aggression to those who treated him aggressively, and whose true character was only revealed by Sir Frederick Treves - the surgeon who, incidentally, also safely removed Edward VII's appendix shortly before his coronation. Most people who saw Joseph until that time, judged him solely by appearance, and did not make the time to talk with him or to discover who he really was.

Nowadays, in our age of celebrity culture, where some people are famous purely for being famous, and being young(ish) and physically attractive seems sufficient to make a political leader worthy of praise, newspapers regularly publish stories of the doings of people whose sole claim to fame is their appearance, and it is bizarre that they gain a following on social media. Ironically,  Beauty and the Beast has made a big comeback, perhaps because we are tiring of the superficiality of judging solely by appearances and actually listening to what people have to say. Looking at the picture of what Joseph Merrick would have looked like were it not for his condition, it is tragic to think that behind those pensive eyes, was a man who was clearly more beautiful than all those who screamed on seeing him in the freak show. Who were the real freaks?