Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Books by and about the Princely Family of Pless

Today is the 85th anniversary of the engagement of Princess Ileana of Roumania and Count Alexander "Lexel" of Hochberg.  It was a short engagement, and the wedding called off, after Marie took her daughter to Egypt, telling her that Lexel was gay.

Lexel's mother was the British-born Princess Daisy of Pless (Mary Theresa Cornwallis-West.)

Here is a selection of books about Daisy and her family. There is a book about Lexel, entitled The Three of Us by Laurence James Ludovici, published by Marjay Books.  I have a copy in my personal library, but the book does not appear on Amazon.  Give addall.com a try.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna

Charles Bainbridge, manager of the London branch of the House of Faberge, described Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna as "the most outstanding and amazing lady in Europe."

This is a high compliment for a Russian grand duchess by marriage, the wife of Grand Duke Vladimir, brother of Alexander III.

Marie was the daughter of Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and his first wife.  She was well-educated and astute, even to the point of breaking off an engagement with George, Prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt after learning he had a drinking problem. 

Not long after this breakup, Marie was introduced to Grand Duke Vladimir.  There was a mutual attraction between them.  Negotiations began to arrange a marriage between the young people.

Grand Duke described his future wife as having a "rich character that can develop well."

Russian historians Galina Korneva and Tatiana Cheboksarova have brought to life Marie's rich character in Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna (Eurohistory.com), the first real biography of this fascinating woman.  (The book was published first in Russian before being translated into English.)

Galina and Tatiana have made excellent use of the volumes of personal documents and correspondence that allow them to offer readers an unbiased, informative portrayal of a formidable woman.

Marie was a devout Lutheran, and she was not required to convert to the Orthodox church because her husband was neither the Emperor nor the heir.  She converted in 1908, when it became apparent that Tsarevitch Alexis was ill, and Nicholas II's only brother, Grand Duke Michael, who had no interest in an equal marriage or statesmanship.  This meant that there was a distinct possibility that Marie's eldest son, Kirill, could become heir to the throne.

Marie and Vladimir were the parents of five children, Alexander, who died at age 18 months, Kirill, Boris, Andrey and Helen (Elena).  The authors include chapters on each of the four children.  At first, Marie was not supportive of Kirill's relationship with his first cousin,  Victoria Melita, a divorced woman.  But she came around when she realize that this was a love match.

With their unsuitable women, illegitimate children, and roué lifestyles, Boris and Andrey were more of disappointment to their parents, and the youngest child, Grand Duchess Elena, was a headstrong woman, who thwarted her mother's ambitious plans for a grand marriage, perhaps a throne.  She had a brief engagement with Prince Max of Baden, but soon fell in love with Prince Nicholas of Greece, a younger son of King George I of the Hellenes and Grand Duchess Olga Constantinova of Russia.   Nicholas' two sisters, Alexandra, and Marie, both married back into the Russian Imperial Family.

Vladimir and Marie presided over the most influential court in St. Petersburg.  They were rich, very rich, supported numerous charities, were patron of the arts.  Marie was a social animal, popular, respected in society.  Her position as the first lady of society solidified when her nephew, Nicholas II, married the socially gauche Alix of Hesse and By Rhine. 

It was Marie, in Coburg for the wedding of Alix's brother, Ernie, who convinced Alix to convert to Orthodoxy (The Fundamental laws required the wives of the heir and emperor to be Orthodox.)    Alix was not blest with social acumen, and could not compete with her mother-in-law, the Dowager Empress, who oozed charm, or with Marie Pavlovna, acknowledged as the socially brilliant leader of society.

The relationship between the two families began to deteriorate with Kirill's marriage to Victoria Melita.  Nicholas's reaction and Vladimir's response, followed by Kirill's exile, lead to a schism between the two families, a breach that never healed.   Marie was caught in the middle, she loved her son, but could not bring herself to love Ducky.

Marie, known as Miechen to her family, was an inveterate traveler, and she had a well-known passion for jewels.  She had an impressive, nay, stunning collection of jewels, worth millions.

The final chapters focused on Marie's final years, the first world war, arrest, the secret rescue of many of her jewels by Albert Stopford, eventually escaping in March 1920 on board an Italian ship.  She used some of her surviving jewels to pay for the journey.

Grand Duchess Marie's final years were spent in France, where she died on September 1920.

The final chapter of this excellent book brings the story up-to-date with information on Miechen's children and their families.

Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna fills a much-needed void in Imperial Russian literature. Much of what we know about Marie comes from others.  Now, thanks to the intrepid Galina and Tatiana, we hear Marie's own voice.  She was a wonderfully complex woman, truly imperial.  She lived a grandiose life, but she and Grand Duke Vladimir used their immense wealth  not only to build palaces, add to her jewels coffers, but also to help the less fortunate.

The breach between Miechen's family and Nicholas and Alexandra only exacerbated the political tensions that led to the Russian revolution and the fall of the Imperial family.  Marie was politically aware, and the acknowledged leader of St. Petersburg's society. 

One of Alexandra's failures was to embrace Miechen's social power and ability to shine.   Unfortunately, the shy, socially-inept Empress could never compete with Miechen.    Alix was the empress.  Miechen was a true star.

Memo to Galina and Tatiana:  how about a book of Marie's letters?  Please?

Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna is a book to be treasured, not merely for the research and insight into Miechen's life, but also for the impressive array of photographs that dazzle throughout the book.

I do have a few caveats,  The translation, at times, is a bit stilted.  I also think it is imperative that Eurohistory hire professional proofreaders and editors as there are far too many typos and other issues.


Monday, January 12, 2015

William Mead Lalor + 2014

LALOR - William M., 87 of Huntington, on December 2, 2014.Veteran of Korean Conflict 1950-1952. Teacher of History for 35 years at East Meadow SD. Author of 3 books on European Royalty. Devoted father to William H. (Angela) and Ann Pearson (Paul). Cherished grandfather to Eric, William, Sara, Catherine and Joseph. Visitation Thursday 2-4 & 7-9 PM at M.A. Connell Funeral Home, 934 New York Ave., Huntington Station. Funeral Mass Friday 10:45 AM at St. Patrick's Church, Huntington

William was a lovely man (met him several times), whose collection of royal photographs made his books ever so special.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich Supreme Commander of the Russian Army

Oh, joy! A truly scholarly book that is a masterpiece, a keeper.  Paul Robinson's Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich (Northern University Press: $44.95) is less about the Russian Imperial family and more about a Grand Duke, whose was one of the most important military figures of the early 20th century.
He served as Supreme Commander of the Russian Army from 1914 to 1915, and again, in 1917.  Nikolai was hardly a hands on commander, as he

Nicholas was trusted by Nicholas II, but when Russia fell into the grip of revolution, he put Russia before his loyalty to the Tsar.

This is a true scholarly biography, as Robinson, a professor at the University of Ottawa, has made use of an amazing material, including telegrams between Grand Duke Nicholas and Nicholas II during the war and many other private papers found in Russia and elsewhere.

The Grand Duke was not the typical Romanov.  He preferred the company of commoners to making a grand marriage until he fell in love with Princess Anastasia of Montenegro, the wife of Duke Georg of Leuchtenberg.  She got a divorce, and they were able to marry after Nicholas II gave his approval, although the marriage was not popular with other members of the Imperial family, including the Dowager Empress.

Nicholas dabbled in spiritualism.  He and his wife, Stana, and her sister, Militsa, the wife of Nikolai's brother, Grand Duke Peter, were the ones to introduce Rasputin to the Empress Alexandra.  It was an introduction that Grand Duke Nicholas would later regret.

This detailed biography will appeal more to military historians rather than students of Romanov history, although this book should be included in royal collections because the book does include good information on Nikolai and the family dynamics between he and his wife and with Nicholas and Alexandra.

The focus remains on Nikolai's military career, his determination to make the Russian army successful, and on the military campaigns during the first world war before it all ended in a revolutionary heap.  But he was not a hands on commander, preferring the corporate train and good food to spending time with the recruits.  After relinquishing his position as the Supreme commander in 1917,  Nikolai, ever loyal to Russia, signed an oath of allegiance to the new Provisional government.  He also ordered his brother, his nephews, and others in his entourage to do the same.

He telegraphed Prince Lvov: "Today I took the oath of loyalty to the fatherland and to the new state order.  I will fulfill my duty to the end, as my conscience and the obligations I have accepted order."

The fall of the Provisional Government put Nikolai and other surviving Romanovs in danger, as they gathered in the Crimea.  In early 1920, Grand Duke Nikolai left Russia forever, joining the Dowager Empress and other family members on board.  As his sister-in-law was the Queen consort off Italy,  Nikolai, his brother and their wives were given permission to live in Italy.

Robinson does get one thing wrong.  Kirill had succession rights from birth.  The fundamental laws make it clear that that the empress and the wife of the heir have to be Orthodox at the time of their marriage.  Marie did not convert until the early 1900s, as it was possible that succession could eventually pass to Kirill and his descendants.  This was due to Alexis' hemophilia and Michael's intransigence in not seeking an eligible wife.  Princess Tatiana Constantinova renounced her rights to the throne when she married, and her mother remained Lutheran. 

Most will read this book for the military history, especially in view of the centenary of the first world war.  I liked gleaning the book for insight into Nikolai, his relationship with his family, especially his wife, and how he chose to deal with Nicholas II, putting his loyalty with Russia before the emperor.

The final chapters, which focus on Nikolai's life in exile, offer further details on the political machinations that went on in the émigré community after the civil war. 

Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevitch is a groundbreaking biography, and the first one about Nikolai to be published in English. 

 This is scholarly biography at its finest and deepest.