Thursday, September 20, 2018

Roundup of royal titles

It has been a crazy summer.  Got a lot of reading done, but found little time to sit down and write a few reviews.  Some of my readers know that I am a huge (yes, obsessive) fan of the Washington Nationals.  I am a devoted, passionate baseball fan.

I have a half season plan (40 games) but usually attend about 50 or so home games .. and now starting,  the final homestand.  Seven games.  I will be at them all.  No post-season for the Nats. 

In May I went to England for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.  A roundup of books about Harry and Meghan and the wedding will be the topic of another post.   I also spent a long weekend in July at Winterthur in Delaware and Longwood Gardens just over the border in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. 

Both are former DuPont estates.  Both are well worth visiting.

I very much enjoyed The American Princess The Many Lives of Allene Tew (Amazon Crossing: $24.95) by Dutch historian Annejet van der Zijl.  The American translation was done by Michele Hutchinson.

Allene Tew (1872-1955) was born into a pioneering family in Jamestown, New York, but her father never found the same financial success that his siblings and other relatives achieved.   Allene lived on the cusp of the desire to achieve more for herself.  Surely, a good marriage would get her out of Jamestown ...and that happened, but not the way Allene planned.  She met Tod Hostetter, a scion of a wealthy Pittsburgh family ... but they had sex before the wedding ... an unplanned pregnancy ... and a shotgun wedding.

Allene was not the bride that Tod's parents would have wanted for their son. Despite's Tod's wealth, they were  social pariahs until Tod decided to start his own yacht club near Newport, Rhode Island, thus offering competition to the Vanderbilts' club.

 The couple had three children before Tod's untimely death in 1902, leaving Allene a wealthy woman.   She would marry four more times.  Two of the marriages ended in divorce,  one -- her great love Anson Burchard -- left her even wealthier, and the last two marriages were to nobleman:  German prince Heinrich XXXIII Reuss, a widower, and the last a Polish count Pavel Kotzebue.

(Heinrich's first wife was Princess Viktoria Margarete of Prussia, a niece of Empress Auguste Viktoria, who had died a few years earlier, living her husband with two young children.)

Blessed with a brilliant financial acumen and good advisers, Allene's wealth increased and survived the Great Depression.  She faced tragedy head-on.  Her second child, Verna, died at age 2 while her eldest and youngest children, Greta and Teddy, both died in 1918, the former, who was pregnant with twins, succumbed to the Spanish flu, while the latter was killed in action in the waning days of world war I.

It was her friendship with Princess Armgard of Lippe-Biesterfeld that led to Allene and her husband, Pavel,  offering their assistance and support in bringing together Armgard's son, Prince Bernhard, and Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, heir to the Dutch throne.   Allene also became friends with Queen Wilhelmina.   Allene and Pavel attended Juliana's wedding.  Juliana asked Allene to be one of the godmothers to her first child, Princess Beatrix.

The American Princess is a competent and well-researched biography, heavy on the facts.  I was intrigued by Allene as I knew little about her.  Van der Zijl is a methodical researcher and writer, but what is missing from this book is Allene's own voice.

I do not know if Allene left diaries or correspondence, apart from the few letters quoted in this book.  More of Allene's own words would certainly enhance the quality of the book,  as well as more photographs.  But neither quibble diminishes that this is a good book.  It is nice to see a biographer select a subject that few people know about.

 Penny Junor's biography of the Duchess of Cornwall, The Duchess  (Harper: $28.99)  is a very good read. Yes, this is a favorable toward Camilla kind of  biography, but Junor does not stint on the criticism and issues Charles and Camilla faced, alone and together.

Junor offers an honest appraisal of Diana, as well - a fair portrait, not one that paints Diana in a necessarily bad light.

I found The Duchess to be a fair and honest biography, strong on facts, not innuendo, and the best biography so far on Camilla.  We are decades away from a 600-page biography, replete with footnotes and citations, on the Duchess of Cornwall.

I would not describe this book as explosive, however, despite what the British cover states.


Looking for a meaty royal history?  I suggest picking up a copy of Sarah Gristwood's Game of Queens  (One World). The subtitle is The Women who made the Sixteenth Century.  Royal women used their positions in power struggles that led to real power - from Isabella of Castille and Anne de Beajeu to Anne Boleyn, culminating with her daughter, Elizabeth I and the impressive, but lesser known Jeanne d'Albret, whose role in the Protestant Reformation has been largely forgotten.

Sarah Gristwood is a serious historian.  Game of Queens ticks all the boxes.  Well-written, well-researched and ... a study of amazing women, whose stories were told with compassion and insight by one of the best historians writing today. 

Bravo to the scholarship!

Another roundup to appear toward the end of next week ...well, that is the plan.

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