Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Princess Olga A Wild & Barefoot Romanov

A Wild and Barefoot Romanov is the title of Princess Olga Romanov's memoirs.  Olga, who was born 1950, is the only child of  Prince Andrew Alexandrovich of Russia and his Finnish-Scottish second wife Nadine McDougall.  Prince Andrew was the second child and eldest son of Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna and Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovitch.    Xenia was Emperor Nicholas II's sister, which meant that Andrew was the Emperor's nephew, and a first cousin to Nicholas' children.

Andrew's world of great wealth and servants came to an end with the Russian Revolution, the end of the monarchy that led to the  murders of Nicholas and his family and other members of the Romanov family, and exile for those who survived, having fled first to their estates in the Crimea, and finally, leaving Russia in the spring of 1919.

Andrew and his father left Russia four months before the rest of the Crimean-based family.  They were accompanied by Andrew's first wife,  Elisabetta Sasso-Ruffo, a previously married half-Italian-half Russian woman, who was ten years his senior, and pregnant with their first child,  when they married in November 1918.

King George V offered his cousin, Grand Duchess Xenia, grace and favor homes at Windsor and Hampton court.  Andrew and his first wife and their three children lived with Xenia.

One would assume that the British royal family would embrace Xenia's family, which included her seven children.  Her only daughter, Irina, was already married to Felix Yusopov, one of Rasputin's murderers, and, in exile, settled in France.  The family affection ended with Xenia, as her sons had to find their own ways in the world.  Most of Xenia's descendants live in the United States, France and Australia.

Andrew had no inheritance, and no recognizable job skills.  After the death of his first wife in 1940 from cancer,  Andrew married again, just two years later to Nadine McDougall,   Nadine had some money and a family home, Provender, in Kent, which suited Andrew well.

In a word, Nadine was an insufferable snob.  She married a grandson of Alexander III, a real Prince of Russia, who had no income, and no title that he could technically pass to his wife and family.  Both of his marriages were morganatic and in violation of the Pauline laws.   No matter,  Socially,  Nadine and Olga were princesses .. so let's leave it that.   It also should be noted that Olga states that her father was HIH (His Imperial Highness) and head of the Orthodox church.  Andrew was a Prince of Russia, and styled as His Highness.  Grand Dukes and Grand Duchesses were HIH.   Nor was Prince Andrew the head of the Orthodox church.

Olga was born in 1950. It is suffice to say that Nadine was not a hands on mum.  She had delusions of grandeur that would effect Olga's life.   Same pram as the Queen had for her young children.  Only Malvern water.  No tap water.  Nannies, nurses .... a rather presumptuous life for a family of three in Kent, living in a historic house.

While Andrew pottered around Provender, opening fetes and cooking,  Nadine was determined that her only child would marry into a well connected and wealthy family.  No need for a proper education if the only goal was to find a husband.

I feel a bit sorry for Olga.  Limited education, no real job skills, an adoring father who could not stand up to his socially ambitious wife.  Nadine apparently did not have good financial advisers, and when, things got really bad, Nadine got Olga to turn over to her Olga's trust fund.  One word:  naive.  Olga was very naive.  She willingly sign the papers, allowing her mother to take her money ... and never paid her back.

Olga married Thomas Mathew in 1975, settling into a home in Scotland, where Olga raised four children,  The three eldest children survive.

It was at Provender where Olga felt most at home.  In the final years of her mother's life, it became impossible to maintain the historic home.  Leaky roof, no electricity... the house was literally falling down.   Olga would find her metier with Provender's restoration and salvation.  The house is now open to the public, and Olga exploits, in the most of positive of ways, her Romanov connections, although many of her father's possessions, including family correspondence, was sold to pay for the restoration.

While  A Wild and Barefoot Romanov provides an intimate  look at Olga's life and upbringing, the book flops when it comes to facts.  Several times, Olga reminds us that women cannot inherit the throne in Russia.  This is untrue. The Fundamental Laws make it clear that all eligible males have rights before all eligible females.  Olga is correct when she says she has no rights.  This is due to the fact that her father's marriage to her mother was morganatic.  Nadine was not a member of a reigning or a royal house as required by the Fundamental Laws.

She also gets it wrong about George V and the purported offer of asylum in the spring 1917.  If the Provisional Government had not vacillated in its response to the British offer,  Lord Stamfordham would not have had the opportunity to meet with different government officials to make it clear that Nicholas was not welcome.  Kenneth Rose was the first to write about this in his biography of King George V.

Olga writes that her father did not ask Queen Elizabeth (consort of George VI) for permission to marry Nadine ... he didn't need the Queen Consort's permission to wed.  Tosh.  I also doubt that this decision led to tension with Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother.)  More tosh.

In September 1968,  Olga and her mother were in a Scottish hotel to attend the Oban Ball, where it "was announced that Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, had died."   Marina died on August 27, 1968.

I wish the book was better edited.  There were times when I wanted to reach for a red pencil.  It also would help readers if the editor had insisted on source verification (footnotes for some statements) and included an index.

The book includes several dozen family photos, many of which have not been seen before, as the photos are private family photos.

The penultimate chapter, "Lost Heritage," includes the 1924 correspondence between Dowager Empress Marie (Olga's great grandmother) and Grand Duke Kirill, who defended his decision to claim the throne, even though Marie never accepted that her sons and grandchildren were dead.   Her daughters perpetuated the fiction,  never taking the opportunity to tell their mother that Nicholas and Michael were dead. 

Olga's floundering life was given purpose with the restoration and she has made the most of it. 

A Wild and Barefoot Romanov is a fun read, but one does come away with a sense that Olga's life would have been very different if her father knew how to stand up to her snobby, snooty mother.

Noted royal biographer Coryne Hall provided assistance to Princess Olga.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

What Manner of Man is This by Sir Orville Turnquest

I am of two minds about What Manner of Man is This?, a new book that examines the Duke of Windsor's role as Governor General of the Bahamas. The idea of the book is very book because it is the first to focus on the five years (1940-1945), when, according to author, Sir Orville Turnquest, QC, "the native black population was completely subjugated under white minority rule."

None of the former King Edward VIII's biographers have devoted extensive detail for a time period when the British government, after getting the pro-Nazi Duke and Duchess of Windsor out of France, and fobbed off on the Bahamians as their Governor General. 

Certainly, in the eyes of the Duke, and especially his duchess, the Bahamas was not a choice location.  Both would have preferred to spend the war in the United States.   It was a lot easier to keep an eye on the former King if he were put into a position where he could not cause a lot of trouble.

So much for that idea.

The Bahamas became an independent nation in 1973.   Sir Orville served as the country's fifth Governor General (1995-2001) and is one of the country's most successful and respected lawyers.

I enjoyed the parts of the book that were on topic - the Duke of Windsor and the events that shaped Bahamas' growing desire for self-determination -- but the author would veer off topic at times -- offering a history of the Bahamas or his role in some event.   This  made the book disjointed at times.  Perhaps the book would have had a few less pages if the author and publisher had not padded the text.  It took the author forty seven pages to get to the Duke's arrival in the Bahamas.

Sir Orville is at his best when he focuses on the former King's role in Bahamian politics and economics.    The Duke of Windsor was awful at his job.  He never took the time to understand the needs of the Bahamanian citizens, most of whom were black, and largely underrepresented in the government,  This was not an understatement.   At times, the former king would his show his disdain for the black residents.  He certainly made his views clears in correspondence and correspondence.

The issues that faced the duke were largely economical.  After Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry into the second world war, the Bahamas saw their tourism industry collapse.  The United States, however, saw the Bahamas as a good place to build several military bases.  This would mean more jobs for local residents, but the American workers were paid more than the black residents.   This inequality would lead to worker dissatisfaction and worker riots.

But Sir Orville  does answer his own question:  What Manner of Man is This?   Well, not a very good one.  The Duke was poorly advised, and, to use a modern expression, the Duke did not have a clue to the reality of the Bahamas.   Sir Orville is right:  the Duke of Windsor was weak.  He was prejudiced. He was racist and he was disloyal. 

It takes time to get to the answer.   If you are able to wade through the chaff, you will find the wheat to be very interesting.

Two more quibbles:  No photographs and no index.  One would assume that newspapers and archives in the Bahamas would have good selection of photographs of the Duke of Windsor and other seasoned characters (Harry Oakes, for examples) during this time period.  Photographs from local sources would further enhanced this book.

The book was published by a Nassau, Bahamas, based publisher, Grant's Town Press. 


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Castelul Bran by Diana Mandache

I wish the Romanian publisher Curtea Veche would see the wisdom of a  bilingual text for Diana Mandache's excellent books.  She is a well-known Romanian royal historian, who is known outside Romania, and,she is fluent in  English.

Curtea Veche would be able to market her books outside of Romania -- and they would sell more copies.  More money for the publisher and more royalties for Diana.

Castelul Bran (Castle Bran) is her latest book.  Diana has access to the Romanian archives and she makes brilliant use of Queen Marie's papers -- and the the majority of the photos in the book are previously unpublished.

In 1920, the citizens of Brasov, Romania, offered  Bran to Queen Marie, and she accepted the offer.  The Castle, also known as Dracula's castle, soon became Marie's favorite residence.  She often spent weeks at a time at  Bran.  It was also a favorite residence of her youngest daughter, Princess Ileana, who was married to Archduke Anton of Austria.   Ileana inherited the castle after her mother's death in 1938.   She and her family moved from Austria to Bran, where they lived until the Communists forced them into exile.

The castle was eventually returned to three of Ileana's children, Archduke Dominic, Archduchess Maria Magdalene and Archduchess Elisabeth.  The castle is now open to the public.

Most of the photographs are of Queen Marie,  The story of Bran is also about how she saw Bran as peaceful, and her guests were close friends,  Princess Ileana, and two of Marie's sisters, Victoria Melita (Ducky)  and Beatrice.    My favorite photo shows Queen Marie talking with her nephew, Grand Duke Wladimir, who is playing with a dog, and looking out of open windows are Ducky, her younger daughter, Kira, and Princess Ileana.

The photos are worth the price of the book.  216 pages.  Photos (sometimes  more than one) on nearly every page.

The price of the book is 49 Lei.  This is about $13.00 A real bargain.  Yes, you can order from the publisher.   I think I paid $25.00 including postage.  The site is in Romanian.  You can use your credit cards.  Your browser should have a built in translator.   I have never had a problem ordering from the publisher.


Diana's books on  Cotroceni and Balcicul remain in print.



Twilight of Empire: The Tragedy at Mayerling and the End of the Habsburgs


Mark your calendars,  Greg King and Penny Wilson's latest collaboration, Twilight of Empire, will published in the USA  by St. Martin's Press.   The UK pub date is December 13.  Same publisher.

Please use these links to order the books.  

News from Greg King and Penny Wilson

Many of you know that I write books with my friend, Greg King. We have a good few under our belts at this point - but there have always been those subjects that we really, really, REALLY want to write about - but which won't sell to a publisher who - naturally - has to keep an eye on the bottom line. But now, thanks to Amazon's self-publishing facility, we can move ahead on those subjects - and hopefully on many others.

So, I'd like to introduce you to King and Wilson Books. Our first offering will be published in the first few days of December. It's probably the most comprehensive account in English of the Romanov Family and their history in the Crimea - from the first days of casual visits to Alupka to the first estate at Oreanda to the last desperate days of Empire when twenty members of the Romanov Family - the Dowager Empress, her daughter and grandchildren, and the Nicholaievichi Grand Dukes and their families - accompanied by twenty-five ladies and gentlemen and thirty-six servants, left Russia for the last time on board a British battleship, watching Yalta and the shores of their beloved Russia fade into the past.

This book is called "Imperial Crimea: Estates, Enchantment and the Last of the Romanovs." It is written by me, Greg, Sue Woolmans and Coryne Hall. For more details on the book, or to comment, please visit our Facebook page - and we hope you'll "like" us while you're there!


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Crown -- Coming soon on DVD

The first series of The Crown, produced by Netflix, will be released on DVD in November.   If you use these links to purchase,  I make a few pennies per sale .. it adds up.  Thanks.