A memoir or an autobiography is often difficult to judge because the writer may have a point of view that does not always match the truth or the reality of their life, the lives around them - and historical events. Some memoirs are whitewashes, where the writer has real issues with reality. Others are padded with nonsense and self-importance. And a few are just awful that you wonder why the book was even written due to the obvious state of the author's lack of real clarity.
And then there is the rare memoir that actually is honest and refreshing. This is the case with HH Prince Andreas of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha's I did it my way.
Prince Andreas was born in 1943 at his mother's family home, Schloss Casel during the second world war. The schloss was in rural Germany, away from Berlin and bombing by the Allies. He was the only child of Prince Friedrich Josias of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Countess Victoria of Solms-Baruth. The bride and groom were first cousins, a marriage encouraged by both families. Friedrich Josias was the youngest son of Carl Eduard, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a British prince and a grandson of Queen Victoria. He was also an active and vocal supporter of National Socialism.
As the youngest son, Friedrich Josias was never meant to be the heir and the head of the household. His eldest brother, Johann Leopold, was disinherited after making a morganatic marriage. The second son, Prince Hubertus, was killed during the second world war, a few months after Andreas's birth, leaving Friedrich Josias as his father's heir.
It was a difficult time for Andreas's parents. Victoria had doubts about the marriage even before the ceremony took place. The end of the war left the Saxe-Coburg family - and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in tatters. Victoria and Friedrich Josias were divorced. Carl Eduard arrested, Coburg separated from Gotha (in East Germany), and the family finances shaken. Andreas' father was ill-equipped to handle the inevitable in a post-war Germany. Andreas described his father as an escapist, unwilling or unable to be a good husband and father and dealing with a father who was detained by the Americans. Friedrich Josias' elder sister, Princess Sibylla, tried to help her brother with employment in Sweden, Following the death of Sibylla's husband, Hereditary Prince Gustaf Adolf, in a plane crash in January 1947, Friedrich Josias could have provided more of an emotional support to his widowed sister and her five children, the youngest of whom was 10 months old. Instead, he fell in love with the children's nanny, Denise von Muralt.
Friedrich Josias' employer arranged for him to transfer to the shipping company's San Francisco. He was accompanied by Denise, who had quit her job. They married in San Francisco, where they lived for several years, before returning to Germany, and then to South America, where Friedrich Josias and Denise and their three children lived for more than decade.
Andreas was living with his mother and her family, when Victoria met and fell in love with an American soldier, Captain Richard "Dick" Whitten. They were married in November 1947, and ten months later, Victoria gave birth to a daughter, Victoria Astrid,
By the time Andreas was 6 years old, he was fluent in German and English, the latter would come in handy on several levels as his stepfather was not fluent in German. In 1948, Dick received his relocation papers to return to the United States with his new family, eventually settling down in New Orleans.
Thus, the little German prince, second in line to the Coburg succession, was raised as an all-American boy, attending American schools, and largely forgetting his German. Dick's job led him to positions in other parts of the United States, including Washington, D.C. Growing up in the South, the young Andreas observed the injustices toward people of color. He was also an Army brat, due to his stepfather's military positions.
In 1954, Duke Carl Eduard died, and was succeeded as head of the house by Friedrich Josias, but Carl Eduard's formidable wife, Duchess Viktoria Adelheid, and Herr Voights, the family financial advisor, would not turn over the Coburg Family Foundation to Friedrich Josias, who was deeply disappointed by their actions.
Andreas' mother was acutely aware of her son's destiny, and she encourage him to maintain a relationship with his father. Neither she nor Dick would never speak badly about Friedrich Josias in front of his son. In the mid-1950s, he was sent to Argentina to spend time with his father, and to get to know his stepmother and half-siblings. Andreas was raised with strong "moral foundations," and was unable to compromise his views in order to gain his father's approval. This became evident in 1961, when he traveled to Argentina to visit his father, only to learn that Denise was leaving Friedrich Josias, and returning to Switzerland with their three children. That same day, Friedrich Josias' new "prized possession," Katrin Bremme, 20 years his junior, moved in. Katrin also accompanied Friedrich Josias and Andreas when they sailed from Argentina to Brussels as Andreas was planning to spend time in Europe, meeting his Swedish cousins, getting to his his paternal grandmother in Coburg, and visiting his great uncle, Duke Friedrich of Schleswig-Holstein, brother of both his grandmothers.
It was Fritz Holstein who believed that Andreas would be tied to the Coburg property, and with a sage-like view, suggested that "success in management of one's land was only possible when the owner felt one with his property." This was sound advice, and Andreas would never forget it, when he took over the Coburg estate.
Andreas returned to New Orleans and enrolled at Louisiana State University. He was not a good student, was more interested in GIRLS than his studies, and after one semester, he decided to re-examine his life. He spent the summer in Coburg with his grandmother, and he soon came to a decision: developing the link between his heritage and his land. It was only after he returned to the United States that the decision became imperative. It was the draft notice that would send him to Vietnam that led to Andreas making the decision to renounce his American citizenship, although he made it clear in his renouncement that he was not anti-American. He was choosing his German heritage.
In Germany, he joined the German military, knowing that he would not be sent to fight in any war. He also began the first steps that would eventually lead to a further disintegration in his relationship with his father, who was obsessed with Katja. No one in the family liked her. Andreas' Aunt Bylla (Sibylla) hated her for what she did to Denise. She was also an issue at Friedrich Josias's employer, the Johnson Shipping company, in Hamburg. Andreas' father and stepmother eventually moved to Schloss Greinberg, the family home in Grein, Austria, where Andreas, now the head of the family business, made sure they did not lack for anything.
Although Andreas' grandmother, Duchess Viktoria Adelheid had hoped that he would marry equally, she understood that this might not be possible as Andreas did not know German aristocrats. He met and fell in love with a German commoner, Carin Dabelstein, a marriage that received approval from both his father and grandmother.
There are few similarities between Prince Andreas and his paternal grandfather, Carl Eduard. Andreas offers no defense for Carl Eduard's decision to embrace National Socialism. But the grandfather and grandson do share one thing: both had to adapt to a new life, a new world, a new language. Carl Eduard, who was known as Charlie, was a young British prince, who became the heir to Coburg after his first cousin, the Hereditary Prince Alfred, died, and the next male in line, the Duke of Connaught (and his son) chose to renounce in favor of Charlie, the Duke of Albany.
Charlie, then a young boy at Eton, had to leave and move to Berlin with his mother. The Duchess of Albany lamented that she had been raising a British prince, now she had to turn him into a good German.
Unfortunately, Grandfather Coburg became a bad German, as his actions and beliefs would have serious consequences for himself, his family and his property. It would be his grandson, Andreas, who would rebuild the family fortune, who would regain family properties in Gotha, and turn over to his elder son, Hubertus, a healthy, well-established estate.
Andreas, the titular Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, also repaired and renewed family relationships with siblings, cousins and other royal families, thus re-establishing the Coburg dynasty ... and, of course, it doesn't hurt that your first cousin is the King of Sweden. Several years, Prince Andreas received an invitation to Buckingham Palace. He was accompanied by his son and daughter-in-law, and met the Prince of Wales who introduced them as his German cousins. It was the first visit to Buckingham Palace by the head of the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha since 1936.
I did it my way is one of the best memoirs that I have ever read. This is an honest, real and refreshing book, as Andreas has lived a life full of pathos, emotions and love. Unlike his father and grandfather, Andreas has been successful in accepting and taking on his legacy.
The book is well-illustrated, largely with photos from Prince Andreas' own family albums.
Although Andreas did it his own way, he does take his readers on an exceptional journey through his own family tree -- we get to know his awesome mother, his dedicated stepfather, as well as his Solms-Baruth grandparents and other family members. Prince Andreas has lived a successful life. He has a happy, contented marriage, three children, two grandchildren, and a thriving estate ... the family business is now run by Hereditary Prince Hubertus.
I did it my way... the Memoirs of HH Prince Andreas of Saxe-Coburg was published by Eurohistory.com and is available from Amazon and Amazon.co.uk. The Dutch bookstore, Hoogstraten, is also stocking book.
It is suffice to say that I really enjoyed this book ... and I recommend it without any reservations.