Tuesday, December 25, 2012

December 25 - Royal Birthdays

Portraits of some royal women who were born on Christmas Day!

1874 - Lina Cavalieri

1901 - Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester

1936 - Princess Alexandra of Kent

1948 Alia al-Hussein, Queen of Jordan

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

A joyful Christmas to everyone! May the blessings of our good Lord be with you in the years to come. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lady Mary Curzon

The stately and regal Lady Mary Curzon, Baroness Curzon of Kedleston and Vicereine of India from 1898 to 1905, was born as Mary Leiter in Chicago in 1860. She was the daughter of a wealthy Chicago businessman who made his huge fortune in real estate and dry goods. Mary was a tall, striking beauty, intelligent and very cultivated. After her debut in 1888, she became famous in eastern US society for her breeding and intellect. When she traveled to London in 1894, she charmed London society with her beauty and refined manners and in return she was warmly welcomed anywhere she go. She was then introduced to George Curzon, a young Conservative member of the Parliament. Mary immediately took a liking to this brilliant and talented young man. She was well aware of his title and inheritance, but this did not interest Mary. She was more interested in his talents and with the way he made a position for himself because of his brilliant mind. As for George, it was a love at first sight towards this lovely and charismatic young woman. They were married in 1895 and had three daughters, Mary, Cynthia, and Alexandra. 

In 1898, George became Viceroy of India and was given a peerage, Baron Curzon of Kedleston. Mary was now Vicereine of India, the highest-ranking political position ever attained by an American woman in the British Empire. George and Mary left London and traveled to India before the end of 1898; they arrived in Bombay, where they were warmly greeted with festivities and great enthusiasm. The couple immediately gained the respect and admiration of the people, and soon Mary became a popular and fashionable figure. She started the trend of wearing Indian-made dresses, which became highly popular with Western women in the early 20th century. She also supported local crafts, and made many things for India.

Unfortunately, Mary's demanding social responsibilities and a complication from a miscarriage in 1905 greatly undermined her health. Her health began to fail by the end of 1905 and she was taken back to London where she died there several months later. She was buried in a memorial chapel built by her husband  in honor of his wife's memory. George Curzon was devastated by the death of his wife, and said that he had no fear of death because he would be able to join Mary.

Mary was compared to a "diamond set in gold, the full moon in clear autumnal sky". During a State Ball organized as a celebration for the coronation of King Edward VII, Lady Curzon wore a magnificent and expensive gown known as the "peacock dress". The peacock was a magnificent masterpiece of Indian creation: "It was stitched of gold cloth, embroidered with peacock feathers with a blue/green beetle wing in each eye, which many mistook for emeralds, dipping into their own fantasies about the wealth of millionaire heiresses, Indian potentates and European royalty. The skirt was trimmed with white roses and the bodice with lace. She wore a huge diamond necklace and a large broach of diamonds and pearls. She wore a tiara crown with a pearl tipping each of its high diamond points. It was reported that as she walked through the hall the crowd was breathless." 

Lady Mary Curzon wearing the famous
peacock dress.
It was said that when Mary walked in the ballroom, the guests were breathless. The gown sparkled in her every move and the details of it were extraordinary. One guest commented: "You cannot conceive what a dream she looked."

Monday, October 29, 2012

"A Sacrifice for My Country" - Princess Augusta of Bavaria

Princess Augusta Amalia Ludovika Georgia of Bavaria was the wife of Eugene de Beauharnais, stepson of Napoleon Bonaparte. She was born in Strasbourg in 1788, the eldest daughter of the future King Maximilian I of Bavaria and his first wife, Princess Auguste Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt. Augusta's childhood was marked by many unhappy events. Before the French Revolution, Augusta's father was serving in the French army, but after its outbreak, he changed sides, choosing to serve under the Austrian army in order for him to be able to take part at the French Revolutionary Wars. Maximilian became the Duke of Zweibrucken after the death of his older brother, and decided to return to Germany to oversee his new duchy. But upon his return, he saw his duchy being occupied by the French army. Riots broke out, and the situation became so tense and dangerous that he and his family were forced to flee to his wife's homeland, Darmstadt. Then they moved to Mannheim, where they lived in modest circumstances for the next five years.When the French started attacking Mannheim, the family was forced to flee once again. They seek refuge in Ansbach, but Princess Auguste-Wilhelmine's health was greatly undermine by the stresses of war and five pregnancies. After giving birth to her fifth child, she died in Castle Heidelberg.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Frederica of Baden, Queen of Sweden

Princess Frederica was one of the many daughters of Karl Ludwig, Hereditary Prince of Baden and Princess Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt. She was born in Karlsruhe on March 12, 1781, the fourth daughter of the grand ducal couple.

Frederica grew up in an idyllic and happy family life. She and her sisters enjoyed a close and warm relationship with each other, and they were particularly close to their mother. Throughout their adult lives, their correspondence with their mother was incessant, and they always confide in her about their joy and unhappiness, and even the political situation in their respective countries. Amalie was a strong and formidable woman, and she was always sympathetic to her daughters' plight. She gave them valuable advice and kept reminding them that their duties to their respective countries and husbands must be foremost in their minds.

Portrait of Queen Frederica of Sweden
by Johan Erik Bolinder.
Frederica studied together with her sister Louise, who was only two years older than Frederica. They were taught about history, art, music, dancing, and etiquette. Their first language was German, but they also learned fluent French. When Louise and Frederica were 14 and 12 respectively, an unexpected proposal came from Russia. Empress Catherine II was looking for brides for her grandsons Alexander and Constantine, and after receiving favourable reports about the Princesses of Baden, she agreed to invite them to Russia. Louise and Frederica duly arrived in St. Petersburg in the autumn of 1792, and after meeting them, Catherine was impressed with their appearance and manners. She thought them well-educated and with high morals. The arrival of these two very young but pretty princesses caused so much celebration and sensation in the Russian court. Louise was a blond and shy beauty while Frederica was a brunette and more animated than her older sister. In the end, it was Louise who captured the heart of the heir to the Russian throne, Alexander, and she and Alexander were subsequently engaged and married. Louise became the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Alexeievna after her conversion to the Orthodox faith. Catherine was hoping that Constantine would like Frederica, but he did not want anything to do with her. She was sent back to Baden, loaded with expensive gifts and praises from Russia. But her touching farewell to her sister Louise was still etched in their memories even years after.

For the time being, Frederica contented herself with her life in Baden with her mother. But one day, news came to Baden from Sweden that would eventually turn Frederica's fate. She was selected by King Gustav IV Adolf to be his wife.

There was an interesting story about how King Gustav IV Adolf came to know about Frederica. The young king, who always wanted to have a beautiful wife, was first betrothed to Princess Louise-Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Schwerin when he was 16 years old. He haven't had met Louise-Charlotte, but he was initially positive about the engagement. However, when he started receiving reports that she was not beautiful, he broke off the engagement. Almost immediately, the King and the Swedish court looked for another candidate. This time the girl was from Russia. She was the Grand Duchess Alexandra Pavlovna, the granddaughter of Empress Catherine. Catherine was very keen on marrying off her eldest granddaughter to the Swedish king. Gustav went to Russia to meet and 'inspect' the princess, but before meeting her in person, he saw a portrait of Alexandra in the studio of the painter Mme. Vigee Le Brun. He was so captivated by her beauty that he fixed his gaze at the portrait for such a long time that his hat, which he held with his hand, fell on the floor. After meeting and spending time with Alexandra, he asked for her hand, and announced that he was in love. Unfortunately, there was no wedding to be concluded. Gustav found out from the engagement contract that Alexandra would not change her religion even after she became Queen. Gustav was incensed and remained adamant that he would not give his people an Orthodox queen. He broke the engagement, and he refused to see Alexandra from then on. Later on, before Gustav left Russia, he had a conversation with Alexandra's sister-in-law, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, the former Princess Louise of Baden and Frederica's sister. The king thought Elizabeth remarkably beautiful, and he felt 'a little in love' with her. But Elizabeth laughed off the king's little attention for her, and sympathetic as ever, tried to comfort him by showing him a portrait her sister Frederica. Upon seeing Frederica's beautiful face, Gustav's expression brighten and thenceforth became resolved in marrying her.

King Gustav IV Adolf 
and Queen Frederica.
Gustav's interest on Frederica was a surprise for Princess Amalie. She wrote to her daughter, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, about the Swedish king's proposal to Frederica: "Judge of my surprise: M. de Taube, who is here, has just asked, on behalf of the King of Sweden, for the hand of one of your younger sisters in marriage. I am so astounded that I do not know what to reply."

Gustav came to Germany to personally see Frederica, and they met in Erhfurt. They were married in Stockholm on October 1797, and later settled in Haga Palace, which Frederica really liked. She was quite popular with the people, and she had no difficulty in getting along with her in-laws, especially her mother-in-law, who treated Frederica with great kindness. But she had a difficult time adjusting to the rigid etiquette of the Swedish court, and felt lonely and homesick in the first few years of her marriage. Gustav was very much in love with his wife, and he often exhaust her with his sexual needs. But his behaviour towards her was very formal, especially in the presence of other people.

Frederica gave birth to the couple's first child, Gustav, in 1799, and he was followed by 4 more children: Sophie, Carl Gustav, Amalia, and Cecilia. Like her sister, now the Empress Elizabeth, Frederica kept a detailed correspondence about her life in Sweden to her mother in Baden.

Gustav and Frederica's marriage started off quite well; Frederica genuinely loved her husband despite his difficult character, but differences in their lifestyle and point of view, and not to mention, the tense political situation in Sweden during those times, greatly strained the couple's marriage. Her letters to her sister Elizabeth paints a woman who had to undergo many difficulties in her life in Sweden. But Frederica possessed a very determined character which would be of great use to her in facing her misfortunes in life. Countess Golovina wrote about her: "She was full of wit and ingenuity... Alas! Her destiny, though brilliant, exposed her to great trials, and the crown placed on her head was woven with many thorns."

These words by Countess Golovina perfectly portrayed Frederica's fate as Queen of Sweden. She was a well-liked queen, but Gustav was an unpopular king, and his inept leadership and the failure of his policies caused him and Frederica the throne. In 1809, the King and Queen were deposed by a coup d'etat of army officers. Gustav was arrested and incarcerated in the Castle of Gripsholm, while Frederica and her children were allowed to remain in Haga Palace. In order to ensure his son's succession as the next king, Gustav abdicated, but the Swedish government announced that he and all his descendants were deprived of the right to succeed the Swedish throne. It was a devastating news for Gustav and Frederica. Gustav's uncle was proclaimed as the new king under the name of Charles XIII, thus giving way to another Swedish dynasty, the Bernadottes.

Queen Frederica in exile. Painted by
Karl Stieler in 1810.
During Frederica and her children's house arrest, her dignity and fortitude earned her the people's respect, sympathy and admiration. The new queen, Hedvig Elizabeth Charlotte, treated her with kindness and respect, and sympathize with her. She wanted to help Frederica to preserve her son's right to be king, but Frederica refused. All she ever wanted, she said, was to keep her son and be reunited with her husband. She also firmly explained that "her duty as a wife and mother told her to share the exile with her husband and children". Upon Frederica's request, and with Hedvig's intervention, Gustav was reunited with his family.

Gustav, Frederica, and all their children were allowed to leave the country and lived in exile in Germany. They first settled in Baden with Frederica's mother, but Gustav, restless as ever, did not want to remain there. The couple's relationship greatly deteriorated after their exile, and they eventually divorced in 1812. Gustav settled in St. Gallen in Switzerland until his death in 1837, while Frederica and her children settled in Lausanne. Despite her frail health, she travelled extensively under the name Countess of Itterburg. She died in 1826 of heart failure, and was buried in Schloss und Stiftskirche in the small town of Pforzheim, Germany.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Polish Princess

Portrait of Princess Aniela Czartoryski nee Radziwill
by Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun

Princess Aniela Radziwill was born on 3 October 1781 in Vienna, the eldest daughter of prominent Polish-Lithuanian nobleman Michał Hieronim Radziwiłł and Helena Przeździecka. She was also the younger sister of Prince Anton Radziwill, husband of Princess Louise of Prussia.

Princess Aniela was one of the leading beauties of her time. By the time she was 16, she was starting to make a charming impression on every young man who made her acquaintance. Aniela's sister-in-law, Princess Louise of Prussia, the wife of her brother Anton, wrote about Aniela in her memoirs: "My sister-in-law had grown much prettier... Her noble features, her beautiful touching face won her a great deal of admiration." She had many admirers, one of them was the Comte Clary. There were talks of marriage between the two, but Aniela's family had to give up the idea when they learned that she and Prince Constantine Czartoryski, a Polish nobleman, had fallen in love with each other.

It was said that he had eyes for no one but Aniela, and he was very keen in marrying her. But the marriage did not take place immediately. Prince Constantin's mother was not enthusiastic about the match because of some old resentment between her and Aniela's mother. But Princess Czartoryski had a change of heart after she met Aniela.

Constantin and Aniela were married in 1802 in Nieborow, and soon after the wedding, the portrait painter Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun was tasked to paint a portrait of Aniela. "Her beauty matched the portrait they had drawn of her," wrote Princess Louise, "but the gentle and engaging expression of her features, the rather melancholy look in her eyes, the expressive tones of her voice - especially when she sang - everything threw a charm over her face such as I have never known in anyone else." Constantin and Aniela settled in Pulawy where they enjoyed a happy married life.

Aniela had always had a delicate health, and she became constantly ill the years after her marriage. Unfortunately, only six years after her wedding, she succumbed to an illness and died, leaving her husband with two small children, Eudoxia and Adam.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Girl Who Swallowed a Glass Piano

Princess Alexandra of Bavaria was born on August 26, 1826, the fifth daughter of the eccentric King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Ever since she was a child, Alexandra had been suffering from psychological problems. She was so obsessed with cleanliness (a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder) that she insisted on only wearing white clothes. In her early 20s, her eccentricities intensified. One day, she was observed walking awkwardly sideways down the corridors and through the doors in their palace. When she was asked by her family, she told them that she had swallowed a glass grand piano. Apparently at this time, Alexandra was suffering from delusion. This made her convinced herself that she had swallowed a grand piano made of glass when she was a child, and she was walking sideways through doors because the piano was still inside her and she was afraid of getting stuck. Despite her mental and emotional issues, Alexandra was an intelligent woman and could boast many literary accomplishments. She lived her life to the fullest, She was also a beauty; her portrait was painted by Joseph Stieler for her father's Gallery of Beauties.

Princess Alexandra and her delusion was the subject of a BBC Radio program, The Glass Piano written by Deborah Levy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Royal Portrait: Princess Margaret

Today is her 82th birthday! 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Carola of Vasa, Queen of Saxony

Carola of Vasa, Queen of Saxony

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of Princess Carola of Vasa, last Queen of Saxony. She was born in Vienna in 1833, the only daughter of Gustav, Prince of Vasa and Princess Louise Amalie of Baden. Carola's father was Crown Prince of Sweden until 1809, when, following a military coup, the Swedish Parliament denied him the chance to become king. The prince and the royal family were forced into exile and settled in Austria. He also lost his title as Crown Prince of Sweden, but he was given the title Count of Itterburg and Prince of Vasa by the Emperor of Austria because of his military merit. As an exiled royal, Gustav settled in Vienna and served as an officer at the Austro-Hungarian Army.

While staying with his relatives in Karlsruhe, the Prince Gustav met his cousin Princess Louise Amalie of Baden, and they got married in 1828. The young couple were given apartments at the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna and these became their home. Their first child, a son named Louis, was born a year after their marriage but he died soon after he was born. Their second child, Carola, was born and baptized in Schonbrunn Palace a year later.

The marriage of Carola's parents was not happy. When she was ten years old, her parents divorced. Her mother returned to Baden bringing little Carola with her. She spent her early childhood in the home of her grandparents in Karlsruhe, and her grandmother Stephanie de Beauharnais exerted great influence in the spiritual and character development of Carola.

Despite her parents' separation, Carola grew up to be a lively and amiable girl, with melancholic eyes. By the time she was an adolescence, she went to live once again in Austria with her father. Under the elegant and intellectual atmosphere of the Viennese court, she received an excellent education, and became fluent in French, German, English and Swedish. By the time she was 13 years old, Carola was a brunette beauty, with luminous large blue eyes, and an elegant, slender figure. She was regarded by many as one of the most beautiful princesses in Europe, and suitors flocked in her home to obtain her hand. There were proposals to marry her to Emperor Napoleon III of the French, but her father was totally against the match because of the tense political situation in France during that time.

In 1852, Crown Prince Albert of Saxony visited Vienna. The Prince was a good-looking and clever young man, and he was able to meet and make Carola's acquaintance. The couple soon fell in love, and Prince Albert asked Carola's hand for marriage. However, her father was against the marriage because he did not want Carola, a Lutheran, to convert to Catholicism. Nevertheless, Carola went ahead and converted, and she and Prince Albert where married six months later in Dresden, the capital of Saxony.

Carola and Albert settled for a happy and peaceful married life in Dresden. Her affectionate and generous nature won her the affection and support of her husband, her parents-in-law and her future subjects. When she was homesick, her husband and her parents-in-law proved to be a great support for her. As Crown Princess of Saxony, she took a keen interest in her new homeland, and became involved in different charities. During the war of 1866, she visited the Saxon field hospitals in Vienna, where she became known as the Good Samaritan. In 1867 she founded the Albert Commission, which supplied medical equipment and services to the German army hospital during the war between 1870-1871. For her magnanimous work, Carola was awarded the Prussian Order of Louise and the Saxon Order of Sidonia. She accompanied Albert to Compiegne in 1871 at the victory over France, and was a well-liked hostess when she presided over the entertainment for the victorious armies.

When Prince Albert's father died in 1873, Albert and Carola became the King and Queen of Saxony, and they took up residence at the Dresden Castle. With her new position, she continued her charity and other social issues that she had started when she was still Crown Princess. She also made significant contributions for the improvement of health care in Saxony. She helped established a school for nurses in Leipzig, the Carol-Haus Hospital, a women employment agency, and women's school in Schwarzenberg, a home for the handicapped. She was a popular queen in Saxony.

In 1884, the new Bernadotte dynasty of Sweden and the Vasa dynasty made an official reconciliation. The remains of Carola's grandfather and father were transferred to Sweden and interred at the royal crypt. King Oscar II of Sweden came to visit Dresden, and became in good terms with Carola. King Albert died in 1902, and Carola five years later, in 1907. They were buried at Katholische Hofkirche. Carola's funeral is said to have been the finest and most elaborate that Dresden has ever seen.

King Albert and Queen Carola were childless, and after the King's death, he was succeeded by his brother George.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Royal Portrait: Danish Princesses

A lovely portrait of Queen Ingrid of Denmark and her daughters, Princess Benedikte, Princess Anne-Marie, and Princess Margrethe.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Remembering Ella

Today marks the 94th anniversary of the murder of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth. I can still remember that time, ten years ago, when I saw a photo of her for the first time while I was doing some research about the imperial family. I was immediately charmed by the thoughtful expression of her eyes and her exquisite profile. After staring at her photo, I read the story of her life, and it certainly made a profound impression on me. From that moment on, Ella has become my inspiration.

I always think of Ella as the personification of beauty: the beauty that gives pleasure to the sight, and the beauty that goes beyond what our eyes can see. She was the beauty that embodies the good in our world, and also the beauty that lightens humanity's dark side.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Forgotten Romance

I am very pleased to welcome author Christina Croft on this blog. Today, she is gracing us with her wonderful guest post about a love story that is both beautiful and tragic.

Among the great royal romances of history there are many beautiful and often tragic stories but one story is seldom mentioned, despite the fact that it could be seen as partially responsible for a war which changed the face of Europe – and, indeed, the whole world – forever.

Most people are aware that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew and heir of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary, sparked the First World War, but very little else is ever written about this fascinating man or what led him to Sarajevo on the day that the fatal shot was fired.

While writing my ‘Shattered Crowns’ trilogy, which follows the royalties of Europe from 1913 to The Treaty of Versailles, it became clear that if the Archduke had lived to become Emperor the whole course of history would have been very different. He was a man of progressive ideas, who realised the necessity of change within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which comprised many different ethnic groups several of which were becoming increasingly unhappy with being ruled from Vienna. As a young man, Franz Ferdinand travelled widely and took the opportunity of studying different types of government, eventually reaching the conclusion that the Empire could be governed along the lines of the United States’ federal system, whereby the different groups would have a measure of autonomy and the role of the emperor would be similar to that of a president. He was equally eager to create friendly ties with Austria’s powerful neighbour, Russia, and only days before his death he met with Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany to discuss a plan to ensure peace throughout Europe.

Unfortunately for Franz Ferdinand, his ideas were not generally well-received in the Habsburg Court, and to make matter worse, he had committed the terrible crime of falling in love with a woman who was deemed beneath him – Sophie Chotek, lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Teschen. Hearing of their romance, Emperor Franz Josef pointed out that as heir to the throne, the Archduke had a duty to marry a woman of royal blood in order to preserve the purity of the dynasty, and he adamantly declared that Franz Ferdinand would never be allowed to marry Sophie. In spite of strong opposition not only from the Emperor but also from other members of the family, Franz Ferdinand refused to abandon her, even declaring that he would renounce his title and the throne in order to be with her. Eventually, the Emperor gave way and agreed to let them marry but, on the morning of his wedding, the Archduke was forced to appear before the entire Court and ministers to sign a pledge stating that Sophie would never be crowned Empress, and any children born of their marriage would not be included in the succession. This was only the beginning of the humiliation that would be heaped on the former lady-in-waiting. Refused permission to appear with her husband on any formal occasions, she was not even allowed to sit at his table during official dinners and was forced to enter the room behind the youngest royal princesses. If Sophie arranged a ball, royal and aristocratic ladies would purposely arrange a similar event on the same evening to ensure that Sophie received no guests; and, on top of this, she was subject to constant mockery and sneering. For Franz Ferdinand, who adored his wife and who was also known for his short temper, this kind of behaviour was appalling and often led to outbursts of anger. During his legendary rages only Sophie’s gentle presence was able to soothe him and, with so little as a whisper, she calmed and comforted him.

Avoiding Vienna as often as possible, the couple were very happy together and the birth of each of their three children – who in later life remembered their kindness – brought them immense joy, but Franz Ferdinand was also aware that he had many enemies and, in the months prior to his murder, stated several times that he suspected he was about to be killed. In early 1914 he received an invitation to inspect the troops in Bosnia the following June. Bosnia, which had been annexed by Austria in 1908, was a disputed territory and reputedly filled with anti-Austrian insurgents. The visit was not without risks and, to make matters worse, the date selected for the visit was a Serbian National Holiday. Realising the dangers, Franz Ferdinand might well have declined the offer but for the fact that the invitation was also extended to his beloved Sophie. The 28th June 1914 was their fourteenth wedding anniversary, and for the first time they would appear together at an official public engagement. Now, at last, Franz Ferdinand had the opportunity to ride through the streets of Sarajevo with his beloved wife, receiving the respect she deserved. The town turned out to welcome them; pictures of both Sophie and Franz Ferdinand appeared in the windows and several photographs and film footage of the occasion show the couple walking side by side and occasionally Franz Ferdinand reaches for his wife’s hand. Everything was going perfectly until an anarchist hurled an explosive towards the motorcade. Fortunately, so it seemed, the royal couple were unharmed but, as Franz Ferdinand angrily protested about the incident and Sophie softly calmed him, it was decided to abandon the rest of the plans for the day. They agreed to make one more visit to the hospital to visit those who had been wounded in the explosion and, as they drove through the streets, Gavrilo Princip stepped out from the pavement and fired point blank at both of them. Sophie slumped to the floor of the car and Franz Ferdinand murmured, “Sophie, little Sophie, you must live for the children....” but both had been killed.

It was, perhaps, fitting that they should die together since, no less than the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, they loved each other so deeply, and were it not for the terrible events which followed their murder, theirs would surely have been recorded as one of history’s most beautiful romances.

The ‘Shattered Crowns’ trilogy of novels in based on actual historical events and follows their story and the subsequent effects on the royalties of Europe throughout the war. The first two books of the trilogy: The Scapegoats (1913-1914) and The Sacrifice (1914-1917) are available in Kindle and paperback format. The third book ‘The Betrayal’ is coming soon.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Beethoven and the Empress of Russia

In 1814, during the Congress of Vienna, Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the many composers who produced music to entertain the many heads of state and diplomats of Europe. Among these array of sovereigns and ministers, Beethoven was introduced to the Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna of Russia, wife of Tsar Alexander I. His interview with the gentle Empress Elizabeth deeply affected him, and he conversed with her in his customary frank, open way, completely setting aside all etiquette. The Empress immediately took a keen interest to the composer, and a friendship soon sprang up between them. Beethoven frequently met the Empress during the countless balls and receptions held at the palace of the Russian ambassador, and she gave the composer much attention whenever she met him. Apparently, these meetings left a deep impression on him, and he constantly referred to the Empress's affability and courtesy towards him.

During the time of the Congress of Vienna, Beethoven was heavily in debt. A friend of Beethoven tried to convince him to compose a Polonaise for piano and dedicate it to Empress Elizabeth. He assumed that if she liked the composition, she might pay generously, therefore, solving Beethoven's problems with money. Unfortunately, at that time, Beethoven had been having emotional problems, and grumbled that he disliked writing polonaise. Eventually, his friend succeeded in convincing him, and Beethoven wrote Polonaise in C Major, Op. 89. To make the dedication official and public, he first had to obtain formal consent in order to name the dedicatee on the title page of the first edition. He asked an acquaintance to obtain this consent through the Empress's lord chamberlain, who had accompanied her to the Congress, and formulated a few sentences of address. Beethoven was granted an audience to present the piece to the Empress, and as expected, she enjoyed the composition very much. Beethoven received 50 ducats for the composition, a substantial amount at that time. The Empress also gave him another 100 ducats for the Violin Sonatas Op. 30 he dedicated to the Russian Emperor a few years before, for which he had previously received nothing. These were Beethoven's only dedications that resulted in payment.

The dedication reads: "Polonaise for Piano-Forte composed and
and dedicated to Her Imperial Majesty Elisabetha Alexeiewna,
Empress of Russia, by Louis van Beethoven.

On January 25, 1815, the Empress Elizabeth celebrated her 36th birthday in Vienna. It was a grand celebration, and she wished to see Beethoven play the piano in public. However, Beethoven knew at that time that he was no longer a skillful piano player as before, but he did not want to refuse the Empress's request. With the Empress's encouragement, Beethoven played his favorite composition, "Adelaide". This was to be his last public performance as a pianist.

Two years later, Beethoven wrote another composition, this time a more dramatic piece, 7th Symphony, Op. 92, and again, he dedicated it to the Empress Elizabeth. We will never know exactly what prompted him to produce a more dramatic and powerful piece as compared to his earlier dedication, but I'd like to think that the piece perfectly mirrors Elizabeth's character: her unhappiness and seclusion during those times, as well as her resilience, dignity and forbearance in face of difficulty. She must have liked this composition a lot.

Polonaise in Piano, Op. 89.
7th Symphony, Op. 92.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dolce Paola

Queen Paola of Belgium, consort of King Albert II of Belgium was born as Paola Margherita Giuseppina Maria Consiglia Ruffo di Calabria, the youngest child of Prince Fulco Ruffo di Calabria (an aviator during World War I) and Countess Luisa Maria Gazelli di Rossana e di Sebastiano.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Queen Over the Water

Mary Beatrice of Modena,
Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Mary Beatrice of Modena is the only Italian ever to become Queen of England. During her tenure as queen, she was unpopular with the people because of her being a Catholic in a staunchly Protestant country. The people never forgave her for her religion, and although she was a lesser-known figure in history, she was one of those queens whose character was one of the best. She was known as "the Queen over the water" because of her being exiled in France after the Glorious Revolution.

She was born on 25 September 1658 in Modena, a small duchy lying in fertile plain south of the Alps. Her father, the Duke of Modena, died in the prime of his life when Mary was only two. Her mother Laura ruled as a regent for Mary's two-year-old brother, Francesco. Strictly brought up by their imposing mother, they were given a stern religious and moral education. Mary learned how to speak and write in Italian, French, English, and Latin. She was a constant travelling companion of her mother, and became a frequent visitor in Paris, where she became a favorite of King Louis XIV. However, court life held little charm for the deeply religious and reflective Mary. She was sent to a convent for Carmelite nuns to finish her education, and by the time she was nine, Mary conceived an idea to become a nun. That was her ultimate goal in life, and throughout her lifetime, she would remain a devout and pious Roman Catholic. Her future, however, lay elsewhere.

In England, James, Duke of York, the younger brother of Charles II, had been a widow for two years. His wife, Anne Hyde, had died of breast cancer, leaving him with two adolescent daughters, Mary and Anne. Left to himself, James would have probably remained a widower or married another non-royal English lady, but he was now heir to the throne. His brother, Charles II, had no legitimate child to succeed him, and so Charles persuaded James to stop making a fool of himself and marry a suitable princess.

"The good and pious Queen of England... She
kept nothing to herself, and gave all she
had to the poor..."
Envoys were sent throughout Europe, but there was a specific agreement that James's future bride must be beautiful in order to placate him to an arranged marriage, and also to prevent the temptation of extramarital affairs. He also wanted a Catholic bride because he was a Catholic himself, although a secret one. When the Earl of Petersborough arrived in Modena and saw the Mary Beatrice, he was enchanted. The fourteen-year-old Mary was beautiful, tall and well-shaped, with a dazzling fair complexion in perfect contrast to her jet-black hair and lustrous dark eyes. When she was told of the Earl's mission, she vehemently protested against the marriage. She told him that she had vowed to become a nun. And although Mary was exceptionally well-educated, she had a very sheltered life that she did not know where England was and had never heard of the Duke of York. When she learnt that he was 40 years old, she screamed and wept for two days, and entreated that her youngest aunt might marry him instead. The marriage negotiations were conducted with much difficulty, with Mary being adamant, until the Pope finally intervened and sent a letter written in Latin to Mary, 'commanding' her to marry the Duke of York. She finally acquiesced, and the marriage agreement was signed. She was married by proxy - a Catholic ceremony - in Modena, and then set off  for England, accompanied by her mother. James met them at Dover and there Mary and James had a second wedding, but this time a Protestant one. He was delighted with his very young and beautiful wife. But Mary had a different opinion. She was shocked by his ugly features, and for weeks, she cried every time she saw him. But James was very kind towards her, and with time, she gradually soften and finally accepted her husband.

The first five years of Mary's married life were the happiest she had ever known. As the new Duchess of York, she tried her innocent best to adjust to King Charles II's licentious court, and in response, the King showed great kindness to her. She also gained the friendship of Queen Catherine, but tried to be civil to the King's numerous mistresses. She was a kind and loving stepmother to Mary and Anne. Only a few years older than them, she was introduced to them by James with the words: “I have brought you a new play-fellow.” The elder one, Mary, responded well and would maintain a close and warm relationship with her stepmother, but Anne disliked her stepmother. Mary also became deeply attached to her husband, and was a loyal and supportive wife to him. His infidelities greatly offended her, however, and Charles II once said that "She is much better than my brother deserves."

"Her mien was the noblest, the most majestic
and imposing in the world, but it was also
sweet and modest."
James's marriage to a Catholic princess caused great alarm to the English people. From the moment she arrived to Britain, she was viewed with suspicion. Mary was branded as "the Pope's daughter", and it was feared that she would help restore Catholicism in the country. After five years of blissful marriage, religious controversies were now overshadowing her life. Protestant statesmen wanted to remove James from the succession and the Popish Plot of 1648 heighten anti-Catholic feelings. Amidst this controversies, Charles II sent James and Mary to live in Edinburgh. However, they were called back to London when the news arrived that Charles II had died. James ascended to the throne as King James II and Mary of Modena became Queen. They were crowned in Westminster Abbey in April 1685.

As a Catholic Queen, Mary did her best to reassure her husband's mostly-Protestant subject that she bore no ill will towards their religion or culture. It deeply hurt her that she could not win the hearts of her people, but this was nothing compared to another controversy that she would be subjected to. Mary had already given birth to five children, all had died in their infancy, when she became pregnant once again. This time, she delivered a healthy baby boy James, who would be known to posterity as "The Old Pretender". Now there was a rumor regarding baby James's birth. It was said that he was not actually the son of the King and Queen but that he was a changeling, smuggled into the Queen's bed with a warming-pan. People readily believed the rumors, but when witnesses denied them, James was accepted as the heir apparent.

James's birth imposed another problem to Parliament. Since the prince's parents were staunch Catholics, it surely means that he would be reared in the same faith. James and Mary's relationship with Princesses Mary and Anne soon deteriorated, and members of the Parliament and Church leaders secretly sent an invitation to the Protestant Princess Mary and her husband, William, Prince of Orange (also a Protestant), to accept the crown and lead an invasion to England in order to dethrone James and Mary. This invasion was henceforth known as the "Glorious Revolution".

Without the support of the army, the King would not stand a chance against William, and so he and Mary escaped to France. With the king away from England, he was now considered deposed, and William and Mary were crowned as the new monarchs. James and Mary lost their status and title as King and Queen of Britain.

"She was the model of what a queen should be,
and she bore her misfortunes heroically."
-Demertius C. Boulger
The exiled couple and their infant son went to live in Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye where they were very much provided for by King Louis XIV of France and were to set up a court in exile. The French people loved and continued to honor Mary. She was admired for her intelligence, wit, amiability, gentle manners, and generosity. Her husband, however, was disliked.

The rest of Mary's life was spent in protecting and trying to make her son the rightful King of Great Britain. However, he would always remain as a pretender to the throne and living out his days as an exile. James II died in 1701, but Mary continued to give her money in support to the Jacobite cause. When Louis XIV died, her financial support was brought to a halt, and she lived out the rest of her life in sadness and poverty. She died from cancer in 1718, seventeen years after her husband, and and she was buried in the Convent of Visitation.

It is fascinating to think how religious bigotry could dramatically alter the fate of a country, and turn its people against their rulers. Mary's unyielding Catholic faith practically prevented her son from gaining the throne, and caused her and her husband's downfall. It was a personal tragedy; for someone who conducted herself with much dignity throughout her life and was widely considered a "saint", it was a poignant end.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Current European Queens

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom

Queen Margrethe of Denmark

Queen Sonja of Norway

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands

Queen Paola of Belgium

Queen Silvia of Sweden

Queen Anne-Marie of Greece

Queen Sophia of Spain

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