Thursday, May 9, 2019

Tudors to Windsors British Royal Portraits

I spent Thanksgiving with my friend Susan and her husband and their cats in Austin, Texas.  I had a lovely time seeing the sites in Austin.  The main reason for the trip was to see the Tudors to Windsors British Royal Portraits exhibit at the Museum of the Fine Arts in Houston.

Most of the portraits, paintings, photographs, and artwork are from Britain's National Portrait Gallery.

I have visited the NPG on numerous occasions and most of the portraits were familiar to me .. several modern ones were new to me, so it was a delight to see them.

A late addition to the exhibition was an ink-jet photograph of the newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

The eponymous catalog was written by historian David Cannadine.  

It was a fabulous exhibit.  I am glad I got to see many of these portraits again as I know I won't have a chance when I am in London in June.  I will visit the NPG but the portraits won't be there as the exhibit is now in Australia at the Bendigo Art Gallery at Bendigo, Victoria.

The exhibit runs through July 14, 2019, after which everything is carefully packed up and returned to the National Portrait Gallery.

Not everyone gets to travel to London and see these portraits.  The catalog includes every portrait from the exhibit with historical commentary.  Full color. 240 pages.   This book should be kept on the cocktail table in the living room.  You never know when you want to peruse a portrait of Queen Anne.

Historic Homes in the USA

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I love visiting the United Kingdom to visit stately homes and palaces.  Here in the US, we also have historic stately homes and several palaces as well.

Agecroft Hall in Richmond, Virginia, is a special favorite, as it is Tudor home that was torn down in England, and the house was rebuilt on the banks of the James River.

Agecroft Hall is a true gem.

Winterthur, a DuPont Mansion in Delaware, and the Gilded Age Mansions in Newport, Rhode Island,  were on my bucket list, but now crossed off.

I visited Winterhur and Longwood Gardens last July and I spent a long weekend in Newport in March.  I recommend visiting both.   I understand summer in Newport is super-crowded.  However, all of the homes are open.

When I went in mid-March, only three of the houses were open.  Thankfully, the three houses are the Elms, Marble House and, the granddaddy of all, the Breakers.  Yowsa.

So much to see and do.  I tried to get past the guard to see the exterior of Rough Point, once the home of Nancy Leeds (and later Doris Duke.)

The guide books are excellent Winterhur and the Newport Mansions.

One of the current exhibits at Winterthur is "Costuming the Crown," costumes from the Netflix series, The Crown.

The Breakers was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt.  Marble House was owned by William K. Vanderbilt and his wife, Alva.  Their daughter, Consuelo, was the best known of all the dollar princesses.  She married the Duke of Marlborough.

So what is now at the top of my bucket list?   Biltmore, the largest home in the USA, which is located in Asheville, North Carolina.  Biltmore is still owned by descendants of George Vanderbilt.

A Romanovs Roundup

Greg King and Penny Wilson have churned another good book on the Romanovs.  This latest success is titled Romanovs Adrift 1913-1919.  The time period refers to the final years of the Romanov Dynasty -- from the tercentenary of the Romanov reign in 1913 through the first world war, the revolution, the murders of Nicholas II and his family and numerous to the survivors in exile.

The authors focus on 80 members of the Imperial family, Nicholas II and his family, the six Grand Ducal branches, the Oldenburgs, Leuchtenberg, Mecklenburgs and five Grand Duchesses who married into foreign royal families.

The book has 10 chapters, which allows the authors to focus individually on each family group, offering honest and historical portrayals of the Romanov family, but do not expect new information.  The authors have made use of a lot of sources.

The afterward, A Russian Exile: the Romanovs in the Urals and Siberia, was written by Katrina Warne, based on her visits to the area.  

Romanovs Adrift offers readers insight into the lives of the different branches of the Romanov family.  It is an easy read, written in the popular historian style, less scholarly, but chock full of information.    

The bibliography is a great source to delve further into the lives of many of the varied personalities of the Romanov dynasty.

Romanovs Adrift was published by  Illustrated -- make that well-illustrated with photographs from the Eurohistory collection.

Another Romanov book that should whet your appetite is Imperial Crimea: Estates, Enchantments & The Last of the Romanovs.   In the 1980s and 1990s, Greg King published Atlantis Magazine, a royal history magazine that focused largely on the Romanovs, the Hesse and By Rhine family and other royal houses.  

The magazine's Crimean issue was Atlantis' most popular.  Greg received numerous request for copies of the Crimean issue.  This is not a surprise as the four-volume series is regarded as the most comprehensive source for information on the Imperial Family and their lives in the Crimea.   Nearly all of the branches of the family had holiday homes in the Crimea, due to the temperate climate.

It was in the Crimea that the surviving members of the Imperial family gathered after escaping from St. Petersburg.  It was where the Dowager Empress and other members of the family were rescued in early 1919.

Imperial Crimea includes essays by noted Romanov scholars Coryne Hall, Greg King, Penny Wilson, and Sue Woolmans.

The book runs nearly 800 pages and is available in a trade paperback edition through Amazon.  

Helen Rappaport's The Race to Save the Romanovs was published in June 2018.  Although I have a few quibbles about silly mistakes,  I must say that Helen honed in on her research.  She delved into archives in the UK, the US, Spain, and Russia, honing in on untapped resources.  The request for British help did not end with the Government turning down the Provisional Government's recommendation for the British to send a ship to bring the Imperial Family to the UK.  

The end of the story does not change, but Helen brought new insight and research into the diverse reports of plans for a rescue that never came to fruition.

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Daughters of the Winter Queen by Nancy Gladstone

I expect most people will not know who was the Winter Queen.  Princess Elizabeth was the daughter of James I, who married Friedrich Heinrich, Count Palatine of the Rhine.   A marriage with the King of England's daughter was seen as a strong alliance that would have brought James' support for the count's position as heir to Bohemia.

James' duplicitous actions was a  betrayal for the new king and queen. Their reign lasted for one winter, hence, the name, as they fled into exile in the Netherlands and Europe was plunged into the Thirty Years War.  Elizabeth and Friedrich had 13 children,  nine of whom survived childhood.

Nancy Goldstone is the author of Daughters of the Winter Queen. 

The focus of this amazing biography is Elizabeth and her four surviving daughters, Elizabeth, Louise Hollandine,  Henrietta and Sophia, who was the 12th of the 13 children.

Elizabeth was widowed at an early age.  Money was a major problem although there was some support from the Dutch and German relatives.  The primary desire was to regain the Palatinate for her eldest son, but Elizabeth was also determined to find good husbands for her daughters.  This proved to be a difficult task, especially after Elizabeth's brother, Charles I, lost his throne (and then his head) and the royal family fled to France and the Netherlands. 

Charles I's daughter, Mary, was married to William II, Prince of Orange.

Elizabeth's four daughters were all well-educated, prepared for marriage, devout Protestants, standard-bearers to fight Catholicism.  Finding husbands proved far more difficult.  The financial situation, living in exile,  as well as politics, all of which affected Elizabeth's hopes for her daughters.

The ties to her Stuart family remained strong as several sons, including Prince Rupert joined their first cousin, Charles II's battle to regain his throne. The Stuart Restoration was finally achieved in 1660.

The eldest daughter Princess Elizabeth formed friendships with Rene Descartes and William Penn.  As the years went by and no prince came forward,  Elizabeth, a devout, open-minded Calvinist who became an Abbess of a Lutheran abbey. Louise Hollandine was a gifted artist, a woman of great faith, who, much to her mother's dismay, converted to Catholicism.  She quickly moved up the ranks at  Maubuisson, to become the abbess.  This accelerated promotion was due to her brother, Edward's marriage to Anne de Gonzaga, a member of a prominent Catholic family.  The Winter Queen turned against Edward when he converted as well.

Henrietta Maria, who was named for Charles I's wife, did find a husband, Sigismund Rákóczi, brother of the Prince of Transylvania.  Only five months after marriage,  Henrietta Marie, at the age of 25.

It was Sophia who did marry well.  Her husband was Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, the first elector of Hanover.

After the Restoration, the Winter Queen returned to England to live.  She died in 1665.  Charles II did not have any legitimate issue so when he died the throne passed to his brother, James II, who had two daughters by his first wife.  His elder daughter, Mary, was married to her first cousin, William III, Prince of Orange.  Her younger sister,  Anne, was married to George of Denmark.  James II converted to Catholicism, thus setting up a battle between the king and Parliament.  He and his second wife, and their infant son fled to France.  Parliament offered the throne to Mary and her husband, William.  As their marriage was childless,  Mary's younger sister, Anne, was the heir.

The Winter Queen's children were never far from the throne.  Her son, Rupert, created Duke of Cumberland, by Charles II, was seen as a possible dynast, but he died in 1682.   Charles' daughter, Charlotte, converted to Catholicism when she married as his second wife, Philippe, Duke of Orléans. (His first wife was Charles II's sister, Henriette).   Edward's line was not eligible as they were Catholics.

So this brings us to the 12th child and youngest daughter,  Sophia, Electress of Hanover.  William III died in 1702 and was succeeded by his sister-in-law, Anne.  She had given birth to 16 children, none of whom survived, leaving a succession crisis.   The Catholic descendants of Charles II's youngest sister, Henriette Anne, were ineligible for the succession.  This meant going back one generation to the Protestant descendants of Elizabeth, the Winter Queen.

In 1701, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement, which established Sophia and her Protestant descendants as the heir to the thrones of England and Scotland.  Six years later, an Act of Union created the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Although acutely aware of her family's destiny, Sophia maintained relations with British government officials although Queen Anne was not keen on the Hanoverian succession.

Sophia died in June 1714, several months before Queen Anne.  The succession passed to Sophia's son, Georg Ludwig (King George I), the grandson of the Winter Queen.

This is one of the best royal biographies that I have read in a long time. It is a serious, well-researched and eminently readable book.  I have read several biographies on the Winter Queen and the Electress Sophia but none of them are as good as Daughters of the Winter Queen.  

The Princesses Elizabeth, Louise Hollandine, Henrietta Maria and Sophia were all erudite, all blue-stockings, all of whom would have excelled as consorts.  Three of the four princesses remained faithful to their Protestant faith.  When Sophia visited Louise at her abbey in France,  she was not receptive to Louise Hollandine's overt discussion that was aimed at having Sophia convert to the Roman Catholic faith.

There was nothing Louise Hollandine could do to persuade her sister to abjure her faith and join the Catholic church.

Sophia had her eyes on a bigger prize.

Gladstone skillfully allows a portrayal of five women, a mother, and her daughters, the granddaughter and great-granddaughters of Mary, Queen of Scots, offering a study of marriage, politics, the arts, and religion.  I could not put this book down.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The best books about Prince Philip

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Now that Prince Philip is the longest living descendant of Queen Victoria,  it is a good time to recommend a few biographies of Philip - the ones that I think are the best.

Tim Heald's  Philip: Portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh is perhaps the closest to an official biography that will be published in Prince Philip's lifetime.   The early life of Prince Philip was eloquently portrayed in Philip Eades's Prince Philip: The Turbulent Early Life and Basil Boothroyd's Prince Philip An Informal Biography, which included conversations with the Queen's consort.  Boothroyd's book was published in 1971.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Coming out in soon : Ira: The Life and Times of a Princess

I am looking forward to this book,  Ira: The Life and Times of a Princess, an authorized biography by Nicholas Foulkes. I look forward to reading and reviewing it after the book is published the UK in mid-June.  The US publication date is mid-June  It is now available for pre-order.

HarperCollins is publishing the book in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

HSH Princess Virginia Carolina Theresa Pancrazia Galdina of Fürstenberg was born in 1940, one of three children of Princess Tassilo of Fürstenberg and Clara Agnelli, daughter of Eduardo Agneli, an Italian businessman.

The Princess has always been called Ira.   Her paternal grandparents were Prince Karl Emil of Fürstenberg and Countess Mária Matild Georgina Festetics de Tolna, a member of a Hungarian noble family.  Maria's mother was Lady  Mary Victoria Douglas-Hamilton, whose first marriage to Prince Albert of Monaco, son of Charles III, ended in divorce, They had one son,  Louis II, Prince of Monaco.

Lady Mary was the daughter of William,11th Duke of Hamilton and Princess Marie of Baden.  Her marriage to Prince Albert was annulled before he succeeded to the Monegasque throne.

After the death of Princess Grace,  Princess Ira was often the companion of Prince Rainier, who was her second cousin as Lady Mary was their great-grandmother.  Rainier was the grandson of Prince Louis II and Ira was the granddaughter of Countess Maria.

 Ira's brother, Prince Egon, was married to the designer Diane von Fürstenberg.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

available for Pre-order Maria Romanov: Third Daughter of the Last Tsar, Diaries and Letters, 1908–1918 by Helen Azar

Helen Azar's latest book is now available for pre-order:  Maria Romanov: Third Daughter of the Last Tsar, Diaries and Letters, 1908–1918

From Amazon "In the twilight of the nineteenth century, a third daughter was born to Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna—known to her family and friends simply as “Mashka”—grew into an empathetic, down-to-earth girl, unaffected by her imperial status. Often overshadowed by her two older sisters, Olga and Tatiana, and later, her brother Alexei and younger sister Anastasia, Maria ultimately proved to have a uniquely strong and solid personality. In Maria Romanov: Third Daughter of the Last Tsar, Diaries and Letters, 1908–1918, by translator and researcher Helen Azar with George Hawkins, Mashka’s voice is heard again through her intimate writings, presented for the first time in English. The Grand Duchess was much more than a pretty princess wearing white dresses in hundreds of faded sepia photographs; Maria’s surviving diaries and letters offer a fascinating insight into the private life of a loving family—from festivals and faith, to Rasputin and the coming Revolution; it is clear why this middle child ultimately became a pillar of strength and hope for them all. Maria’s gentle character belied her incredible courage, which emerged in the darkest hours of her brief life. “The incarnation of modesty elevated by suffering,” as Maria was described during the last weeks of her life, she was able to maintain her kindness and optimism, even in the midst of violence and degradation. On a stuffy summer night in 1918, only a few weeks after her nineteenth birthday, Maria was murdered along with the rest of her family in a cellar of a house chosen for this “special purpose.” Two sets of charred remains, confirmed to be Maria’s and her brother Alexei’s, were not discovered until almost ninety years later, separately from those of the other victims of the massacre. As the authors relate, it is still unknown if these remains will ever be allowed to be laid to rest."


Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Romanovs Adrift by Greg King and Penny Wilson

Am looking forward to reading Greg King and Penny Wilson's new book,  The Romanovs Adrift, which was just published by

And yes, there is now advertising here on Royal Book News and Royal Musings.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Buckingham Palace The Interiors by Ashley Hicks

As Ashley Hicks celebrates the birth of his second son, Horatio,  let the rest of us celebrate, cheer, or gaze in awe of the fabulous photos of Buckingham Palace in Ashley's latest book, Buckingham Palace The Interiors (Rizzoli: $55.00)

Hicks, the son of the late interior designer David Hicks and Lady Pamela Mountbatten, certainly has the connections to take his camera inside Buckingham Palace.   His mother is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh's first cousin, so it is not a surprise that the Duke is Ashley's godfather.

This book has stunning visuals, superb photography of the Palace's rooms and art objects.   A no.ted interior designer in his own right,  Hicks focuses on the history of the Palace's interior design and artworks - from paintings to sculpture.

The photos are superb with detailed close-ups of objets d'art, painting, tapestries,  as well as full views of many of the palace's staterooms.

The Queen gave her permission for this book and the Prince of Wales wrote the foreward.  He wrote that is exactly fifty years since the publication of John Harris, Geoffrey de Bellaigue and Oliver Millar's "magisterial tome."  Charles adds that he was "delighted that Ashley Hicks has now brought his informed perspective and creativity to respond to these rooms, marvellously captured in atmospheric photography, and supplemented by a fresh history of the Palace."

The photos evoke the imposing, stately history that fills Buckingham Palace from its origins from the Queen's House to Buckingham Palace, the residence of Britain's sovereigns from George IV to Elizabeth II.

Hicks wrote the informative and descriptive text, as well as taking the photographs.

Buckingham Palace The Interiors is fabulous .. a great book that you will want on your cocktail table to pick up every few days and marvel at Hicks' resplendent photography.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Carolina of Orange Nassau by Moniek Bloks

Sometimes the best things come in little packages -- or in the case of Princess Carolina of Orange-Nassau -- the best things are under 100 pages.

Carolina of Orange-Nassau (Chronos Books) is Dutch historian Moniek Bloks' first book.  She does not disappoint.

Princess Carolina (1743-1787) was the eldest surviving child of Willem IV, Prince of Orange and Anne, Princess Royal, who was the eldest daughter of King George II

Pregnancy was difficult for Princess Anne, as she had several unsuccessful pregnancies before giving birth to Carolina, named for her maternal grandmother, Queen Caroline.  The succession laws for the seven united stadtholders in the Netherlands, headed by Carolina's father, was made hereditary for the house of Orange.  Female succession was also approved, thus Carolina remained in line for the succession, even after Anne gave birth to a son, Willem, in 1748.

Carolina's descendants remain in line to the Dutch throne until 1922 when the Netherlands government promulgated a new constitution.

A marriage was arranged with Prince Carl Christian of Nassau-Weilburg, a German prince.  The early years of the marriage were spent in the Netherlands as Carolina's position as in the succession remained important when her brother was a minor and unmarried.

Bloks offers her readers diligent research with access in the Dutch royal archives (with the permission of King Willem-Alexander), where Carolina's papers are located.  Unfortunately,  the collection of Carolina's letters is not complete, as Bloks acknowledged.

Carolina was very much a bluestocking, well-educated and well-read,  She was also a connoisseur of music. She met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when he was nine years old. The Princess of Weilburg had heard about the child prodigy and wanted to meet him.  When her younger brother, Willem, attained his majority at age 18, Carolina asked Mozart to compose music in honor of the occasion.

In 1778,  Mozart came to the Weilburg court, which Carolina considered a "crowning moment" for her husband's principality.

The Princess of Nassau-Weilburg was only 44 years old when she died after a brief illness.

Moniek Bloks packs a lot into a little book, which is an informative study of an exceptional woman who never forgot that she was Dutch.

Carolina of Orange-Nassau is available in a paperback edition.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Princess by Jane Dismore

When I first heard about Jane Dismore's Princess (The Early Life of Queen Elizabeth II) I hoped it would complement Philip Eade's Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life.  The Eade biographical was a masterful study that provided a lot of new and comprehensive information about the young Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark.

 Dismore's book is well-researched with plenty of endnotes and an excellent bibliography.  She certainly did her homework with a conscientious and precise culling of facts from diverse sources.

I was pleased to see that Dismore corresponded with Lady Butter (Myra Werhner) as I want to see more biographers and historians acknowledge that Philip and Elizabeth grew up other together, were in the same small social circle that included Myra and her siblings, Georgina and Alex.

At times,  Princess is a compelling read, although  I found Dismore's writing style a bit dismal. The premise is good: focusing on Elizabeth's early life before she succeeded to the throne, but I would have preferred a book where I did not have to force myself to finish reading it.

It is a good read, well-researched, but not in the same league as Philip Eade's superb book on Prince Philip's early years.

The book has been published in the United States by Lyons Press: $26.95