Sunday, January 21, 2018

Twilight of Empire by Greg King and Penny Wilson

I am clapping my hands in approbation of Greg King and Penny Wilson's masterful study Twilight of Empire (St. Martin's Press: $27.99).   Why?   Well, the authors have carefully and meticulously -- and indeed judiciously -- taken apart, examined (and re-examined) the events that led to Mayerling, where Archduke Rudolf, heir apparent to Austro-Hungarian throne, and his mistress, the young Marie Vetsera.

Mayerling has inspired biographers, historians, filmmakers and others, leading to a myriad of accounts - some accurate and some not.  Rumors lead to whispers which lead to more rumors.

King and Wilson take their time in presenting the denouement.  Archduke Rudolf was the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth.  It is suffice to say that Rudolf's childhood was tarnished by parental indifference, bad tutors, and far too many opportunities to fall down the rabbit hole.  A marriage was arranged with Princess Stephanie of Belgium, daughter of King Leopold II.  Stephanie's sister,  Louise, was married to Prince Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was one of Rudolf's closest friends.

Politics also plays a role in the final chapter as Rudolf, whose liberal leanings and concern for Hungary led to conflict with his father, who preferred a more iron hand.  Unfortunately, for Rudolf, he suffered from far too many ailments, physical and mental, and he was wreaked by so many health issues.   He contracted gonorrhea, which he transmitted to his wife, rendering her sterile.

The couple had one daughter, Elisabeth, but no son.  Rudolf and Stephanie were ill-matched and she was unable to provide emotional support to her husband.  Her in-laws considered her useless as well.

Rudolf had many lovers, but the most infamous is, of course, Marie Vetsera, a teenager girl from a minor noble family.  She and her mother were ambitious, to say the least.  Marie lived in a fantasy world, believing that Rudolf would marry her.

Twilight of Empire is divided into four sections.  The first section sets the scene: events leading up to January 28, 1889.  In the second section, the authors provide a "straightforward account of the tragedy" and the immediate aftermath.  The third section focuses on the conspiracy theories that have plagued historians and biographies for more than 100 years.  In the final section, the authors provide the context and set the tone for the facts of what happened in the wee hours of January 30.

The authors have given readers a compelling and well-grounded study that shines a light (not always a new light) on the Mayerling.   This is not one story or one fact, but many stories that have multi-levels, and King and Wilson have stripped away each level with careful examination, before putting the levels back again, this time arranged in a fluid yet precise manner.

There are some facts we will never know ... unless Count Taafe's files are found -- but King and Wilson have written a compelling book that will stand for some time as the standard for the events that led to Mayerling,  the events at Mayerling and the aftermath.

Twilight of Empire is a compelling read.  Take the time to read it, to digest all that the authors have provided.   When you have put the book down after the first turning the final page, you will understand, appreciate and respect the work of true historians.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

80th wedding anniversary of King Paul and Queen Frederika of the Hellenes -

On January 9, 1938 in Athens,  Crown Prince Paul of the Hellenes married Princess Friederike of Hanover.

Here is a selection of memoirs and biographies about Queen Frederica and King Paul.  Unfortunately, copies of Pavlos No Ordinary King by Nikos Politos are not available.  Only 1000 copies were printed.  I have number 233.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy

This will be a great resource.  James Pope-Hennessy's Queen Mary is (to quote a friend) the "gold standard for royal biographies.  The Quest for Queen Mary will be published in February by Zuleika.  The price is £20.00.

From the publisher's website:

Queen Mary, the widow of George V, and grandmother of the Queen, died at Marlborough House on 24 March 1953, a few months before the Coronation. She was eighty-five years old.

Unusually for a Queen consort, an official biography was commissioned. The last similar such exercise was the life of the Prince Consort, commissioned by Queen Victoria. The task was entrusted to James Pope-Hennessy.

 Pope-Hennessy embarked on his three year quest for Queen Mary. It was to take him to many royal courts and to the lunch and tea tables of retired courtiers and Ladies-in-Waiting. He had access to a great number of private documents. He was shown royal residences both in England and in Europe. Part of the time he lived at the Gasthaus zu Scharfen Eck, Hagnau, Bodensee, in Germany, where the cost of living was cheaper and he was able to write quietly. As he went along, he kept notes of what he saw.

Pope-Hennessy had not intended the notes of his royal interviews to be published for fifty years (i.e. until 2009). He described them as follows: “To supplement the manuscript and printed sources I kept a private and confidential file recording in considerable detail the conversations I had both with Queen Mary’s immediate descendants, related German, Danish and Norwegian royalty and with surviving members of the Court of King George V and Queen Mary. None of these interviews have been published, nor could they be until a lapse of fifty years. They are strictly confidential and form, I believe, a not uninteresting study of royal psycholology as it was and as it largely remains today."

In THE QUEST FOR QUEEN MARY Hugo Vickers introduces the figures that Pope- Hennessy interviewed, and adds footnotes to place certain figures and events in context.

The book is now available from as well as from the publisher. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Hoogstraten bookstore in The Hague will close in February

 On 1 February, Booksellers van Hoogstraten will close down the shop on Noordeinde, The Hague after more than 136 years. However, we will continue our webshop for all the beautiful Royal history books and continue participating in the Royal Gathering conferences. Our online selection is just as good as in the shop!