Monday, August 12, 2013

A Wedding Portrait

Wedding of Edward, Prince of Wales and
Princess Alexandra of Denmark, by
William Powell Frith, 1878.
From the BBC website.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert begun their search for a bride for Edward, Prince of Wales in 1858. They believe that an early marriage to "Bertie" would settle their 'difficult' son. But the bride should not be a Roman Catholic and preferable, a German. So they enlisted the help of their daughter, Victoria, Princess Royal, recently married to the heir of the Prussian throne to draw up a list of eligible princesses in Europe.

Alexandra was only 13 at that time, and being a Danish, she was not their first choice. Queen Victoria also did not like the princess's family - she thought them to be "flighty". However, Alexandra was exceedingly beautiful, charming and devout. Vicky was very delighted of her, writing to the Queen that "Alix" was "a sweet creature", and after further reports about Alexandra's good looks and general demeanor, the Queen became convince that she was "a pearl not to be lost" and the perfect bride for the Prince.

The Princess Royal arranged the meeting between the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra at Speyer in 1861. Bertie thought Alexandra "charming and pretty", but it took a year (after his affair with an actress) before he proposed to her on their second meeting which took place at the Palace of Laeken in Belgium. She accepted, to the clear delight of the Prince: "I really don't know whether I am on my head or my heels," he told the Queen.

The wedding was supposed to take place in London in the summer of 1863, but the Prince did not wish to wait that long. The Queen was against a May wedding, considering it an unlucky month to get married. April was reserved for the birth of the Queen's grandchild, and so they settled on March. The Prince of Wales and Alexandra were married on March 10, 1863 at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. The groom was resplendent in his general's uniform and the Garter robes, while the bride was lovely in her satin and Honiton lace dress decorated with garlands.

The Queen, still in deepest mourning after the death of Prince Albert did not want a public wedding and female guests could only wear secondary mourning colors like grey, lilac or mauve. Few days after the wedding, the couple set out for their honeymoon at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

Throughout her life in Britain, Alexandra was a popular and well-loved consort. Her popularity did so much to also increase the monarchy's popularity and she gave shine and glamour to the gloomy atmosphere that pervaded the court since Prince Albert's death.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Rose of the World: Rosamund Clifford

One of the most enigmatic royal mistresses in English history was Rosamund Clifford, the favorite and long-time mistress of King Henry II of England. But she has always been surrounded in mystery, and her life and relationship with the king and his jealous wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, has always been the stuff of legends.

Fair Rosamund painted by Herbert Sydney

Often called "the Fair Rosamund" or "the Rose of the World", Rosamund Clifford was famed for being both very beautiful and desirable. She was born sometime in 1150, one of the six children of a marcher lord named Walter de Clifford and his wife Margaret de Tosny. The family resided at the Clifford Castle in Herefordshire, England, and it was here on a visit that King Henry met the teenage Rosamund for the first time. From there, a passionate affair began between England's king and the beautiful Rosamund.

King Henry II of England possessed an energetic and fiery nature. He was also described to be very good-looking and to have possessed a piercing glance. He was an intimidating and formidable warrior-king, a trait necessary for a King of England at that time. He was married to the equally beautiful and formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, Europe's wealthiest heiress. But their marriage was turbulent. When Henry met Rosamund, she was a breath of fresh air for the rambunctious king. She was gentle, pliant, and feminine, the complete opposite of the passionate and dynamic Eleanor.

It was said that Rosamund was the great love of Henry's life. Their affair started around the time when Queen Eleanor was pregnant with her last child, and as a result, Rosamund earned the Queen's hatred. Henry installed Rosamund at the Woodstock Palace and she lived quietly there while he was away in his continental possessions.

Although little is known about Rosamund, she was frequently mentioned in works about Eleanor. Nevertheless, there were countless stories and legends concerning her. There was a story that Henry constructed a labyrinth surrounding Woodstock Palace to protect his mistress from the wrath of his jealous wife. Another tale, which was certainly untrue, was that Queen Eleanor poisoned Rosamund.

Fair Rosamund and Queen Eleanor
by Frank Cadogan Cowper, 1920.
Henry's affair with Rosamund became public knowledge in 1174. It ended when she entered to a nunnery at Godstow in 1176. She died there in the same year and was believed to be also buried there. Her tomb was carefully maintained by the Clifford family and became a popular local shrine until 1191. After Henry's death, the Bishop of Lincoln, calling Rosamund a harlot, ordered her remains to be removed from the church and be buried outside. Her tomb was moved to the cemetery by the nuns' chapter house where it could be visited until it was destroyed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII of England in the 16th century. The Latin inscriptions were still partly legible in 1599 and it read: "Let them adore ... and we pray that rest be given to you, Rosamund." It was followed by an epitaph, also in Latin: "Here in the tomb lies the rose of the world, not a pure rose; she who used to smell sweet, still smells - but not sweet."

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Empress Maria Ludovica of Austria

Queen Louise of Prussia was not the only female sovereign to intensely dislike Napoleon Bonaparte. The Empress Maria Ludovica of Austria was also one of his sworn enemies. She had enough political influence to encourage her husband and Austria to go to war against France.

Maria Ludovica of Austria-Este,
Empress of Austria.

The beautiful and gentle Empress was the third wife of Emperor Franz I of Austria. Born on December 14, 1784 in Monza, Italy, she was the youngest daughter Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (a son of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria) and Maria Beatrice d'Este. Having brought up in a strict atmosphere, Maria Ludovica received a good education. She inherited her parents' talent for organizing and appreciation for the arts.
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