Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Windsor Diaries 1940-1945

I am looking forward to this book, the Windsor Diaries 1940-45, by Alathea Fitzalan Howard.  During the second world war, Alathea, who was several months younger than Queen Elizabeth II, lived with her grandfather at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park.  She would have her academic lessons at Cumberland Lodge but would join Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret for drawing and dancing lessons at Windsor Castle.

The Hon. Alathea Gwendoline Alys Mary Fitzalan-Howard was the elder daughter of Henry FitzAlan-Howard, 2nd Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent.  She was a great-granddaughter of the 14th Duke of Norfolk.   Her marriage to the Hon Edward Frederick Ward was childless. 

Her papers, including her diaries, were inherited by her niece-in-law, Lady Isabella Naylor-Leyland.

The book will be published on Oct 8 by Hodder & Stoughton.  The book does not have a US publisher. 


Monday, April 27, 2020

A Few Years before the Catastrophe by Sofia Ivanova Tyutcheva

This book is a bit slim (52 pages) but Sofia Ivanova Tyutcheva's memoirs, A Few Years Before the Catastrophe, offers a glimpse into court life when 1896,  Sofia was appointed as a Maid of Honor to the young Empress Alexandra.  Eleven years later, she became a governess to the four grand duchesses, a position she held until 1912. 

Sofia was informed of her dismissal by Alexandra's Mistress of the Robes.  It was due to the "mutual misunderstanding, the raising of children is impossible, and it would be better for her to leave."

But her discomfiture may have more to do with her "negative attitude" toward Anna Vyrubova, Alexandra's confidante, and Rasputin.

Unfortunately, for historians and biographers,  Sofia's memoir offers few details about her feelings as she did not put her thoughts on paper until 1945.

When Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna married Prince Wilhelm of Sweden in 1908,  Grand Duchess Helen Vladimirovna and her husband, Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark, attended the wedding with their two young daughters, Princess Olga and Princess Elisabeth.

At tea, five-year-old Elisabeth sat next to Alexis.  The Greek princess spoke Greek and English, but Alexis spoke only Russian.  Alexis would scream into Elisabeth's ear, thinking she would understand him.  Sofia offered to translate,  Alexis said: "Elizabeth, I love you."  Elizabeth responded: "I also love little Alexis."

Sofia's time at Court included the Imperial visit to England and Darmstadt and the assassination of Prime Minister Stolypin in 1911.

After leaving court, she returned to her family home in Muranovo, where she remained for the rest of her life.  She died in 1957.

The text was translated by George Hawkins, who lives in New Zealand and is fluent in Russian

It is an informative and recollective read.  I think the text itself, probably a direct translation, needed a bit of tidying up, to make the text more readable.  One particular glaring error (due to the translation) is when Hawkins describes Maria Pavlovna as Greek Queen Alexandra.  Grand Duke Paul married Princess Alexandra of Greece and Denmark, not the queen of  Greece.  Alexandra was the daughter of King George I and Queen Olga of the Hellenes.

I would also recommend redoing the layout of the book, especially for the photos and their captions.  The book is available in a print edition ( $12.00)and Kindle. 

The book is a quick read and brings a new voice to courtiers who served Nicholas II and his family.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner

On the face of it,  Anne, Lady Glenconner's life is a mixture of fantasy, fairy tales, and tragedy.   The reality, however, was far more painful as Anne's poignant memoir, Lady in Waiting My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown (Hachette: $28.00)

The eldest of three daughters of the 5th Earl of Leicester, Lady Anne Coke was born in 1931. She grew up at Holkham, the family estate in Norfolk, only a few miles from Sandringham.  Princess Margaret was a lifelong friend as she and her older sister, the future Queen Elizabeth, were often guests of Lady Anne and her younger sister, Lady Carey.  The royal connections meant that Leicesters moved in the highest echelons of society.

She was one of the Queen's Maids of Honour at the 1953 Coronation.  After her debutante season, the focus was on marriage,  not a university and a career.  She had a short-lived engagement with Viscount Althorp -- broken off by his family because of alleged madness in Lady Anne's ancestry -- Lady Anne became engaged to the Hon. Colin Tennant, heir to the 2nd Baron Glenconner, a wealthy Scottish landowner.   Anne was 22 years old when she met Colin, while she was sitting at the bar at the Ritz Hotel, as both were guests at a deb party.

It was a difficult marriage.  Yes, Lord Glenconner was extremely wealthy, and, some would say eccentric, but he also had mental issues that flared even before the marriage.  He often lost his temper and Anne learned after the wedding that he had suffered two nervous breakdowns before his marriage.

After one outburst, Anne went home to her mother, who showed no sympathy or support, telling her daughter to return to her husband.

Anne and Colin had five children:  Charles, Henry, Christopher, and the twins Amy and May.  It was Lord Glenconner who bought Mustique.  His money, ideas, and his connections made Mustique the must place to visit for the very rich.  Coliwedding gift to Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon was a parcel of land on Mustique.   Some years later, Margaret had a house built on the land.

Anne and the princess remained close friends until Margaret's death  Anne was also a trusted lady in waiting for more than 30 years.

Life in a gilded cage is not always enjoyable.   The Glenconners were married for 54 difficult years.   Their eldest son, Charlie, suffered from mental health issues and died from a drug overdose.  Henry was gay and died from AIDS.  Christopher was in a coma for several months after a motorcycle accident and endured years of physical therapy.  Colin was unfaithful throughout the marriage.  He was also nonchalant when he told Anne that he had a son (and grandchildren) who was born before their marriage.

This was a true friendship between Anne and Margaret.   Anne often "provided sanctuary" for Margaret at her home in Norfolk,  Glen (the Glenconner estate in Scotland), and Mustique.  In return,  the Glenconners often stayed at Balmoral or Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park (the Queen Mother's home).

This memoir is entertaining and bittersweet. One cannot imagine the pain of losing one son to drugs and another to AIDs.   Colin eventually got bored with Mustique and moved to St. Lucia.  Anne was spending more time in England in her cottage near Holkham.  Her father had recommended she buy the house at the time of her marriage.  The house was a bolthole, a retreat, especially after Colin's death from a heart attack in St Lucia.   Anne arrived in St. Lucia for the funeral and the reading of the Will.    Only seven months earlier, Colin had made out a new will.  He left everything to his assistant,  Kent Adonis.

Anne was flummoxed,  She wrote: "A marriage filled with Colin throwing as many tantrums as he threw parties....This last attention-seeking gift.  It was a terrible humiliation."
Charlie's son, Cody, had succeeded Colin as Lord Glenconner.  He and his mother disputed Colin's will.  After seven years, the final court decision handed half of Colin's estate to his grandson. 

As Anne returned to her farmhouse, she tried to understand why her husband would pull such a stunt.  She was left feeling betrayed for her children and for herself.   Now in her late 80s,  Anne is surrounded by her surviving children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  She still travels to Mustique to visit friends.  She acknowledges that the pain of losing children never goes away, but she prefers to dwell on the future and hopes to live to100.

Lady in Waiting is one of the best memoirs that I have read in some time.  Anne provides an honest, emotional, and yes, extraordinary,  accounting of her world - one of privilege and wealth, but also a life filled with sadness and tragedy. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Colouring the Royals by Sarah Williams

I know a lot of adults enjoy coloring books.  Sarah Williams, an American royal fashion blogger (with a major interest in the Swedish royal family, has published her first book,  Colouring the Royals, which is available on Amazon.   I must add that the coloring book is available only on the US Amazon and not the international sites, including the United Kingdom.

 Sarah runs the Royals and I blog.   http://theroyalsandi.com/

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Anne Topham - Governess to Princess Victoria Luise

Anne Topham, who was born in Derbyshire in 1864, served as governess to Princess Victoria Luise of Prussia from 1902 until 1909, leaving the German court after the Princess was confirmed that October.  She returned to England to live, although she was invited to attend the Princess's wedding in May 1913 to Prince Ernst August of Hanover.

 She wrote three books about her time in Germany:  Memories of the Kaiser's Court, Memories of the Fatherland, and Chronicles of the Prussian Court.

Anne Topham died in 1927.