Monday, February 24, 2020

Maria Romanov Third Daughter of the Last Tsar Diaries and Letters 1908-1918

Grand Duchess Maria Nicolaievna of Russia, was the third daughter of Russian emperor Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra of Hesse and By Rhine.  She was known as Mashka, an emphatic, strong-willed, and very devoted to her family.  It was customary, indeed obligatory, for Marie and her siblings to keep diaries.   As Marie destroyed most of her diaries and other papers in 1918, only three diaries (1912, 1913 and 1916) have survived.

These diaries have been translated into English for the first time by Helen Azar and George Hawkins.

The authors have also included letters from other family members, including Empress Alexandra, to Marie.

Even as a small child, Marie's correspondence with her mother often focused on the latter's health.   Marie often asked her mother about her heart and her head.

Marie's diaries are similar to Olga and Tatiana's diaries, which were also edited by Helen Azar.  The topics are often similar: going to church,  lessons, meals and spending time with family and friends.   Contrary to the views of other biographers,  the young Grand Duchesses did have contact with cousins from both sides of their families.  As devout members of the Russian Orthodox church, Marie and her family spent a lot of time attending services.  Food poisoning was a good excuse to get out of church as Maria noted on May 14,1912.
"I had food poisoning and didn't go to church.  Had breakfast at 5 with Papa..."   Inquiring minds want to know: did Maria eat something bad when she had breakfast with her father?

Maria Romanov Third Daughter of the Last Tsar Diaries and Letters 1908-1918 (Westholme) can only give a glimpse of the young Grand Duchess's life largely due to the limited scope of materials.   This is not a criticism.   So much was understandably destroyed, so we should appreciate what is available.

It is a joy that Helen Azar and George Hawkins, both of whom are fluent in Russian, have translated these letters and diaries.

Maria's diaries do not give us her pain and fear in those final months of life.  This is not a surprise as these diaries were never meant to be read by historians and those with a general interest in the Romanovs more than 100 years later.

We can only assume what was behind the words.  In January 1918, when the family was held at Tobolsk, Maria wrote to a friend that she was sitting by a window, celebrating the sunshine and that the "frost isn't heavy."  In another letter, she writes about the "masses of cockroaches."

After Maria arrived with her parents at Ekaterinburg in May 1918, she wrote to her younger sister, Anastasia, that "we have not unpacked everything because we were told that we would be moved to another place." 

For Maria and her sisters and younger brother,  there must have been great fear as well as the loss of security, as she writes about the guards changing every three hours, and hoping that her letter to a family member was sent.

Maria's correspondence ends in May 1918.  The final two months of Maria's life (and the lives of her parents, siblings, and servants) are in the words of others including those who took part in the murders. 

Westholme has also published two of Helen's earlier books: The Diary of Olga Romanov  Royal Witness of the Revolution and Tatiana Romanov: Daughter of the Last Tsar, Diaries and Letters, 1913-1918).  The latter title was co-written by Nicholas Nicholson.

The authors have been able to open the curtain, at least a little bit, into Maria's young life, providing readers with a little insight into Maria's personality and her relationship with her family.  She was certainly devoted to her darling Papa.  Her voice is not complete because most of her diaries and correspondence were destroyed.   A muted voice is better than no voice at all.

Helen and George succeed in bringing Maria's "gentle character" to life.

I look forward to further collaborations from them.

 Helen has found a niche market but I know she can move up a few notches as a Romanov historian, especially as she is a native Russian speaker.  It is not easy to move out of the comfort zone, but far more people (not just the usual roundup of armchair Romanov fans) want to learn more about the Grand Duchesses.  This means writing more articles for more publications or giving lectures, for example.

This also means working with professional editors and translators.

That said,  Maria Romanov Third Daughter of the Last Tsar, Diaries and Letters 1908-1918) will become a well-thumbed standard reference for a genuine impression of Nicholas II's third daughter.

The book is illustrated with photographs from GARF, Russia's state archives.

I read the manuscript before it was published, helping the authors with identifications of persons named in the diaries and letters and historical events.

Friday, February 21, 2020

New books from Romania

I was in Romania in January as a guest of HM Margareta, Custodian of the Throne, and HRH Prince Radu, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Her Majesty's first visit to Romania.

I did a bit sightseeing as well as buy a few books at the Humanitas bookstore on Calea Victoriei, a few blocks from my hotel.  The shop has an excellent section of books on the Romanian Royal family.  I wish I had room in my suitcase for more books, but I was looking for three books in particular, and then added one more to the pile.

All of the books are in Romanian.  All are illustrated.  None of the books will be translated into English.

Two of the books are by Diana Mandache, who has made Romanian royal history her life's work.

Mignon Principesa Romaniei, Regina Iugoslaviei (Curtea Veche) is a fabulous book of photographs of Princess Marie (1899-1961), the third daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, who in 1922 married King Alexander of Yugoslavia.

So many previously unpublished photos of Mignon, including a rather sweet photo of Mignon with her older sister, Elisabeta, and their first cousin, Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, taken at Heiligenberg in 1901.  The photographs are what make this book perfect for non-Romanian readers. 

We can experience Mignon's life from her birth in Gotha to her death in England through photographs.   After her husband was assassinated in Marseilles in 1934,  Queen Marie spent most of the rest of her life in England.

Diana is also the author of Bijuteriile Reginei Maria (Corint), a richly illustrated study of Queen Marie's jewels.  Royal jewelry enthusiasts will appreciate this book because of the photographs and the detailed sketches of rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and tiaras.   Queen Marie preferred bold jewels, exquisite pieces of jewelry, rather than subtle, simple pieces preferred by other royal women.

Several pieces in Marie's collection came from her mother, Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia.

Crăciunul regal (Royal Christmas) was published in 2013 but remains in print.   This book, which was written by then Princess Margareta and Prince Radu, focuses on Romanian royal Christmas from Carol I and Elisabeth through King Michael and his family, in Romania, England, Switzerland, Italy and finally, back in Romania.   The Christmas holidays are spent at Săvârșin, in Arad county, which King Michael had purchased in the mid-1940s and confiscated after he was forced into exile.  The property was restored to the king in 2000 and is now owned by his daughter, Margareta.

Don't be put off by the Romanian text.  I'm not.  The photos are wonderful. Old Christmas cards and photographs of members of the royal family celebrating the Christmas holidays.  Many of the photographs used in the book are from King Michael and Queen Anne's family albums.

 The title translates to Helen, a portrait of the Queen Mother. This book celebrates Queen Helen, the Queen Mother's life in photographs.

Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark was born in 1896, the third child and first daughter of King Constantine I of the Hellenes and Princess Sophie of Prussia.

In May 1921, she married her second cousin,  Crown Prince Carol of Romania, whose mother, Marie, was Queen Sophie's first cousin. Both were granddaughters of Queen Victoria.

Helen gave birth to the couple's only child, Michael, in October 1921.

The couple separated shortly afterward as Carol abandoned his family and his country for his mistress, Elena Lupescu, in Paris.  He renounced his rights to the throne in 1925.

King Ferdinand died two years later and was succeeded by his young grandson, King Michael, who reigned with a regency.   Eventually, in 1930, a political situation ensued and the government brought Carol back from exile and proclaimed him king.  Michael was demoted to Crown Prince.

The marriage was dissolved by divorce in 1928.

Queen Helen had been her son's custodial parent until Carol's return.  He made life very difficult for Helen and she was forced to live outside the country and had limited contact with her son.  It was only after Carol was forced to abdicate in 1940 that Helen was able to return to the country where her son was once again king.  She was proclaimed the Queen Mother.

Mother and son were devoted to each other and both had to remain strong throughout the war and the encroaching Communist influence.  On December 30, 1947,  Michael was forced to abdicate.  The entire Romanian royal family went into exile.

Queen Helen died in 1983, only 6 years before the fall of Communism.  Her remains were brought from Switzerland and interred in the Curtea des Arges in 2019.

This 87-page book offers us a superb study of Helen's life in photographs from childhood through the final years of her life.  Most of the photos are from the family's albums.  My favorite photo is the one of Helen, as a bride, beaming with happiness, Queen Marie standing by her side.

The total cost of all four books was just over $55.00, and all four went into my suitcase.

Two books commemorating  Margareta's 30th anniversary were published in January.

Sandra Gătejeanu Gheorghe's book, Margareta. Trei decenii ale Coroanei: 1990-2020, has also been published by Curtea de Veche.  An English language translation is scheduled for publication in the next few months.  This book commemorates HM Margareta's first 30 years of accomplishments in Romania.

Lumea Majestății Sale. Jubileul Custodelui Coroanei Române, which has a forward by the Prince of Wales, was written by Alexandru Muraru and Daniel Șandru.  Corint is the publisher.

None of the sites are in English.  You can use the right click on your mouse for translations.  I have ordered several books from Curtea Veche.  Postage will be added.  There are several currency converters that you can use to convert the Romanian Lei to your currency.  Books are not expensive.

You can also contact the publishers and the bookstore for ordering opportunities.