Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book of the Year: Dearest Missy

I read a lot of royal books, naturally.  Some are good, some are terrific, and there are always a few duds. 

And then there is the book that rises right to the top, a book that soars above all the other titles, a book that richly deserves the title: best book of the year.

That book is Dearest Missy, a compilation of the letters of Marie Alexandrovna, Grand Duchess of Russia, Duchess of Edinburgh, and of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and of her daughter, Marie, Crown Princess of Romania (1879-1900.)

The letters were edited by Diana Mandache, a Bucharest-based expert on Romanian royal history.  The letters are held at Romania's National Archives, where Diana was given full access to the material.

The nearly 500 pages covers the period from 1879 thorough 1900.   If this book sells well,  Diana (and Rosvall Royal Books) will be able to publish the second volume.

The correspondence offers the reader an insight into the relationship between the proud Russian-born mother and her eldest daughter, married at seventeen, to Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, a man she barely knew. 

Marie, known as Missy, had a limited education, despite being a British princess.  She was headstrong, naive, and knew little of the world when she was married off at age seventeen to a man she barely knew.

Crown Princess Marie's first years in Romania were difficult due to the tension-fraught relationship with der Onkel, King Carol I.   Missy's mother was often called upon to act as a mediator between the headstrong Missy and her husband's uncle.

The letters also offer a perspective into Missy's relationship with her sister, Victoria Melita, known as Ducky.  The two were very close, often shared confidences, regarding their own marital problems.  

Ducky's marriage to her first cousin, Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and By Rhine, was also a frequent topic between Missy and her mother,  especially as the marriage disintegrated so quickly.    In a letter to Missy on January 19, 1898,  Duchess Marie wrote:  "Ducky writes seldom and says very little, I am not at all happy about her, though Ernie writes that they are intensely happy now!  I don't see it at all in her letters.  He is a curious man one cannot get hold of him in any way he seems always pleased and in the best spirits."

Marie also acknowledged that her son-in-law was  not interested in sex with women.  It is unlikely that Marie or Missy would have ever thought that their private letters would be published and read by the general public.  Think of this book as a bit of royal eavesdropping.  Mama knew how to dispense the advice -- and the family news with alacrity.

Mother and daughter provide family news to each other,  Missy was anxious to move into her new home, Cotroceni Palace, with her husband and her growing her family, and away from the cruelty of King Carol I.

Missy's older brother, Prince Alfred, was also a topic of contention. 

"I am very unhappy about Alfred, he seems completely done up morally and physically looks like an old man.  I never saw him  in such a state before, he hardly utters, feels weak and depressed and I feel ashamed of him..." Marie wrote to Missy on September 7, 1898.

Marie was troubled by young Affie's behavior, his mistresses, his gambling, his illnesses (syphilis), under arrest in Berlin.  In the fall of 1898,  young Affie visited his sister in Bucharest, making it virtually impossible for him to have met a teenage girl, Mabel Fitzgerald, who lived in Ireland, and married her.  In early December 1898, Marie wrote "our despair at the moment is Alfred....it is naturally also the effect of his nasty illness, which has attacked the brain..." 

One month later, young Affie was dead, a suicide.   Affie's tragic death was soon followed a new scandal for Missy.  Her children's nanny, Miss Winter,  had spied on Missy, and told everyone about Missy's affair's affair with a Romanian officer, Zizi Cantacuzino. 

One again, Marie intervened on behalf of her daughter against Ferdinand who was supported by King Carol.  She suggested that Missy leave the country permanently with her son.  "You ought to insist upon taking the boy with you and leave the country altogether, renouncing, if possible  completely in his name the Romanian succession."   The Duchess also had a "fierce correspondence" with Ferdinand and King Carol,  and pushed for Missy to give birth in Coburg.  

Ferdinand took some of the blame for his wife's affair.  Both he and Missy believed that her child was his, and they both wanted a reconciliation.    The Duchess also chastised Miss Winter "But your sin, the sin of a person in charge of young souls is ten times greater, than the fault of a young woman who may repent it her whole life and keep her position amongst her relations as solid and friendly as before? ... My daughter has greatly sinned, and I have no excuses for her, but  I have no words of blame strong enough for those who are payed  to spy upon her, to denounce her daily and hourly and who spread the scandal around the world."

Diana Mandache has done a wonderful job in editing the book with footnotes and translations of French and German words.  Marie and Missy wrote to each other in English,  but often added a French or German word when an English world would  not do.  She has done an amazing job, and deserves all the fulsome praise she has received so far. 

Dearest Missy will be a great success.  Many copies will be sold, and Diana will be able to complete the second volume. 
Duchess Marie may not have been the perfect daughter-in-law for Queen Victoria, but she certainly went to bat more often for her children.

Dearest Missy was published by Rosvall Royal Books.    Ted's books are available from Van Hoogstraten in the Hague and Majesty Magazine.  No bookstore in North America carries Ted's books, which is why I am distributing his books through Amazon.

This is a must have. a superb read, an entry into the very personal lives of Crown Princess Marie and her family -- and, yes, mother and daughter do talk about (gasp!)  sex!

(Diana, when you have finished the second volume, could you do a book of letters between Missy and Ducky?)

1 comment:

  1. I am reading this book now, and its fantastic! The book really helps define the relationship between maria and queen victoria and other members of the english royal family (ie: duchess of connaught). This is one of the most insightful royal books in a long time. I cant wait until the second volume. I applaud rosvall books for publishing this wonderful book. I agree about a book of letters between missy and ducky! What a read that would be!