Monday, May 25, 2015

Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury

Deborah Cadbury certainly mined a lot of sources while researching Princes at War (Public Affairs: $28.99) a largely excellent book about the British royal family during the second world war.

The book opens with the abdication of Edward VIII and the accession of his younger brother, the stuttering and untested George VI.  It ends with George VI's death in 1952.

The British Royal Family did not escape the from the demands of the second world war.  The former Edward VIII,  now the Duke of Windsor, and his American wife, Wallis Warfield Simpson, were not to be trusted as both were Nazi sympathizers, as official British and American documents have shown.

The Duke of Kent, married to the attractive Princess Marina of Greece, was on active duty during the war, and killed in a plane accident, less than a month after the birth of their third child, Prince Michael.

Shortly before the war, the Duke of Gloucester was named as Governor General, but his acceptance was put on hold until after the war.  He provided important support to his brother, who sent him to war zones in the British Empire.

The true burden of the war was felt by George and his family, as the bombs rained down on London. The king proved an effective monarch, able to advise and discuss with his ministers, including Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Cadbury is to be commended for concentrating on a specific historical period within the confines of British royal history.  This was a difficult period for the United Kingdom - and for the monarchy as the King and other members of the royal family grappled with personal feelings and public demeanor.    The king's two daughters,  Elizabeth, heiress presumptive, and Margaret, spent most of the war at Windsor Castle, protected and safe from the war.  It was Elizabeth, as she approached womanhood, who managed to carve out her own war role as a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

As German troops marched through Europe, invading, and taking control of most of Western Europe, several sovereigns and their families fled, and ended up at Buckingham Palace, including Queen Wilhelmina of Netherlands.   England became the safe haven for European royals and governments in exile.

I was impressed with the depth of Cadbury's research that led to a largely well-written and effective book.

 But I was saddened by the lack of attention to details about the royal family and their relatives.

Page 60:  impossible for the Duke of Kent and his brothers to have relatives on the throne in Hungary as Hungary was a part of the dual Empire with Austria, and the connection to the Habsburgs was light.  The Austro-Hungary monarchy ceased to exist in 1917.

Page 61:  Princes Philipp and Christoph were members of the Princely family of Hesse-Cassel.  Empress Alexandra was not the "most famous descendant" of this family.  She was a member of the Grand Ducal Family of Hesse and By Rhine.

Page 178:  Prince Paul was one of three Regents for King (not Prince) Peter of Yugoslavia, who was approaching his majority.  On this page, Cadbury described Peter as Paul's nephew.  Peter was the son of King Alexander who was Paul's first cousin.  Cadbury does get it right on page 190, when she described King Peter as the son of Paul's cousin.

Page 208:  It  would have been impossible for Queen Elizabeth  "preparing for her usual Sunday routine" on December 7, 1941, when she heard the news of the Japanese attack on the wireless.  The attack was not announced on the radio on the US East Coast until nearly 3 p.m., which means the king and queen would not have learned about it until that evening, as London is five hours ahead of the U.S. coast..

Page 249:  It would have been difficult to strip Prince Philipp (by then the Landgrave of Hesse) of his titles because he did not have a legal title.  In 1919, the new republic of Germany passed a law, abolishing all titles, but allowed the former royals to use their titles as surnames.  Thus, in law,  Philipp was not a royal highness, and prince but Philipp Prinz von Hessen. (Socially, titles were still used.)

Page 250:  I am not sure I would describe Mafalda as Philipp's beloved wife.  This marriage was largely an arrangement that was beneficial to husband and wife.  Philipp was bi-sexual, and his homosexual relations continued after the marriage.  After the wedding and honeymoon, Mafalda preferred to spend more time with her family in Italy than in Germany.

Page 266:  King Michael (not Prince) of Romania.  His mother, Helen, was known as Sitta (for sisters) and not Zitta.  Paul of Yugoslavia may have become depressed over events in Yugoslavia, but it must be noted that he, although a regent for the minor King Peter, did not himself have dynastic rights.

279:  Kaiser Wilhelm's eldest son was Wilhelm (not Friedrich Wilhelm).  He was styled as Crown Prince Wilhelm.  One sentence on this page is totally confusing.  "Their destination was Schloss Friedrichhof, a magnificent castle in Kronberg once owned by the George VI's aunt, Princess Victoria, which had passed to the Hesse family."

Huh.  Schloss Friedrichshof was owned by Empress Friedrich, widow of Friedrich III of Germany (parents of Kaiser Wilhelm II).  Empress Friedrich was a British princess by birth, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria.  She was George VI's great aunt.   Empress Friedrich left Friedrichshof to her youngest daughter, Margarete, who married Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, Landgrave of Hesse (and the parents of Philipp and Christoph).

279:  Cadbury jumps the gun by stated that the Princes of Hanover were related by marriage to the Danish, Greek and Spanish thrones.   Prince Ernst August of Hanover (1914), head of the family, was the grandson of Princess Thyra of Denmark, and the son of the last Duke of Brunswick and Princess Viktoria Luise of Prussia (the Kaiser's only daughter.)   Thyra's brother was King George I of the Hellenes.  

Ernst August was not related by marriage to these families. He was related by blood.  His sister, Frederika, married King Paul I of the Hellenes, a grandson of King George I, and their daughter, Sofia, married the future King Juan Carlos of Spain.   This marriage did not take place until 1962, some years after the second world war.

288:  Although the Red Army played a major role in liberating Belgrade,  Stalin removed his troops from Yugoslavia in 1944.  It was Tito's government that appropriated royal properties and possessions.

These mistakes can be easily corrected in a  new edition (or when the paperback is published.)  

Although I found these errors to be irritating, the average reader probably won't.  What is more important is the scope of Cadbury's impeccable research, which focuses on the lives of the British royals and their roles in the second world war.   The Duke and Duchess of Windsor do not come off well,  but this does not  come as a surprise as there is a growing body of historical documentation about their treacherous behavior.

The abdication was an emotional and political upheaval that put the monarchy into question.  King George VI and his family emerged from the dark days of the second world war, stronger, and more popular, and this is made clear by Cadbury's proficient text.

Britain was lucky to have George VI as their king during the war.

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