Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Coburgs of Europe by Arturo Beeche

The Coburgs certainly knew how to network and create strong marital alliances that would essentially create a strong bond among European dynasts.  It is unlikely that Duke Franz Friedrich of Saxe-Coburg-Saafeld (1750-1806) ever envisioned that his progeny, his descendants would sit on thrones throughout Europe.

The story begins with Franz Friedrich's second marriage to Countess Augusta zu Reuss-Ebersdorf.  They were the parents of nine children, seven of whom would make strong dynastic alliances.

At the time, Princess Juliane's marriage to Grand Duke Konstantin of Russia was considered to be a brilliant match, an arrangement between the daughter of a minor German duke and a member of the Russian Imperial family.  Although her own marriage was unhappy,  Juliane's position as a Grand Duchess afforded her own siblings a step up and a step out of tiny Coburg.

Juliane's marriage opened the door for her siblings, especially youngest brother, Prince Leopold, a charming, handsome man, who served in the Russian Imperial Army, fighting against Napoleon.  It was in London where he met Princess Charlotte of Wales, only child of the Prince Regent, eldest son of King George III.  Charlotte was the most eligible princess in Europe, as she was second in line to the throne. 

Many assumed Charlotte would marry Willem of Orange, but she decided she didn't want such a marriage, and rebelled against it.  She and Willem were guests at a reception at a London hotel for the visiting Emperor Alexander I of Russia, when she met one of his aide de camps.  The young man helped the Princess and her lady-in-waiting into their carriage.  Charlotte had seen the young man at several parties in honor of Emperor, and wondered why he had not presented himself to her.  All of the other princes had done.  Leopold apologized and introduced himself:  it was love at first sight.

It would not be easy for the young Princess Charlotte to convince her father and others that the penniless (but ambitious) Prince Leopold of Coburg was suitable.  She won the battle, and the marriage took place in May 1816.  

The young couple were popular.  Leopold, the youngest child of minor Duke, was now the husband of a future Queen Consort.  That was the plan.  But in November 1818,  Princess Charlotte died in childbirth.  Her son was stillborn.

The Coburgs were on the verge of dynastic greatness with Leopold's marriage.  Now he was a widower, left alone to his own devices.   He would prove to be the consummate networker.   Less than a year after the death of his wife,  Prince Leopold encouraged a marriage between his sister, Victoire, the widow of the Prince of Leiningen, and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III.  

The marriage between Victoire and Edward took place in May 1818.  A year later, on May 24,  at Kensington Palace, the Duchess of Kent gave birth to a daughter, Alexandrina Victoria, perhaps the most important player in the Coburg dynasty.  (Of course, I am biased toward Victoria and her descendants, but that's another story.)

Nearly three months after Victoria's birth,  Duchess Luise of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the young wife of Duke Ernst I, Victoire and Leopold's brother, gave birth to a second son, Albert.     Fast forward to February 1840, and Queen Victoria marries her first cousin, a dynastic (and a true love match) carefully engineered by dear Uncle Leopold, who had managed to secure a throne of his own, as the first King of the newly independent Belgium.

You must read Art Beeche's  The Coburgs of Europe: the Rise and Fall of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's European Family, a book that will truly become one of the definitive sources on Coburg dynasty.

The Coburgs were not confined to Great Britain and Belgium.   Leopold's eldest brother, Ernst I, inherited the duchy, which was inherited by his eldest son, Ernst II, who died without legitimate issue.  An arrangement was made to have the succession devolve on Victoria and Albert's second son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, When his only son, young Affie, died, the next in line, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, and his son, Prince Arthur, renounced their rights in favor of the young Duke of Albany, Charles Edward, who succeeded his uncle Alfred in 1900.   His grandson, Prince Andreas of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, is the present head of the family.

Another brother, Prince Ferdinand, made a financially advantageous with a Hungarian noblewoman, Antoinette Kohary, an heiress.  Antoinette was Roman Catholic, thus leading to a Roman Catholic branch of the family, a branch that included Portugal and Bulgaria.   The eldest son, Ferdinand, married Queen Maria II of Portugal, sharing the throne, until her death in 1853.  The second son, Prince August, married the very formidable Princess Clementine of Orleans, a woman as cunning and ambitious as Uncle Leopold.   Her eldest son, Philipp, a most foul man, married Leopold's granddaughter, Princess Louise of Belgians, but Clementine's energies were largely expended on her youngest son, the effeminate Ferdinand, elected king of the Bulgarians.  

There also would be marriages with Braganzas, Hohenzollerns and Saxons, but of course the most successful marriage in spreading the Coburg genes was the marriage between Victoria and Albert. 

Their descendants would sit on the thrones of the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Romania and Yugoslavia.   These are the families we know a lot about,  but the Coburg destiny was not confined to Victoria and Albert's descendants.   The Belgians offer diversity and sadness, especially the life stories of the daughters of Leopold II.   His children, especially his elder daughters, suffered emotional abuse at his hands.  Neither Princess Louise nor Princess Stephanie were prepared for marriage, and neither could sustain successful marriages.  Leopold did  not consider Prince Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the son of Prince August and Princess Clementine (daughter of  Louis Philippe) as a suitable spouse for his eldest daughter.

The family ties were close.  Clementine's older sister, Louise, was the second wife of Leopold I of the Belgians, widower of Princess Charlotte of Wales.  Prince August was the son of Prince Ferdinand and Princess Antonia Kohary, thus making him one of the Kohary heirs.  August and Leopold II were first cousins.     Clementine was determined to secure an advantageous match for her eldest son, and pushed him toward Louise. 

Leopold thought Louise was too young to marry her cousin, but eventually, he gave permission, and the couple were married.  Clementine considered it a great coup to have her son marry the King of Belgium's daughter.   It was  not a happy marriage.  Louise was willful and independent (and largely ignorant about sex) and Philipp was a brute.  The marriage largely collapsed after the birth of the couple's two children, Leopold and Dorothea.  

On paper, Stephanie's marriage was grand.  She married Archduke Rudolf, only son of Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth of Austria.  Stephanie was ill-prepared for her new position and marriage.  It was not a love match.  Rudolf infected his wife with a venereal disease, which rendered the young archduchess infertile after the birth of their only child, Elisabeth.   Rudolf ended his life in a murder-suicide pact with his mistress at Mayerling in 1889.

Art Beeche moves effortlessly among the different branches as he weaves the stories into gripping yet historic tales of real people caught up in a genetic tsunami. 

Perhaps because I know a lot about Victoria's line, I was more interested in the other branches, especially the Kohary branch: the descendants of Prince Ferdinand and Princess Antonia.   The Coburg -Kohary line was perhaps the wealthiest of all the branches, although the fortune and many of the palatial residences were lost to bad economics, national socialism, and communism, especially the residences in Hungary.

The Kohary inheritance passed to Prince Philipp's middle brother, Prince Ludwig August, who married Princess Leopoldine of Brazil.  (The youngest brother, Ferdinand, became King of Bulgaria.  King Simeon is his grandson.)  Ludwig August married Archduchess Carolina of Austria, a member of the Tuscan branch of the family.  The family fortune eventually devolved from Prince Philipp to his nephew, Prince Philipp Josias, as the latter became the "universal heir to the inalienable estates protected by the Coburg and Kohary Fideikommis."   Prince Philipp's own estate was divided between Prince Philipp-Josias and his cousin, Prince Kyril of Bulgaria,

Family and legal disputes led to the financial devastation of Kohary Coburgs.  Czechoslovakia ended the practice of Fideikommis in 1924.  This action led to a further breakup of the family's Czech properties and more law suits  Prince Philipp's daughter, Princess Dorothea, the widow of Prince Ernst Gunther of Schleswig-Holstein, filed suit to gain a share of the fortune, thus creating another level of family discourse, 

The family lost money and lost property,  marriages ended in divorce,  but the saddest story for me was the tragic deaths of Prince Rainer (Philipp Josias's older brother) and their sister, Princess Marie Karoline.   Prince Rainer and his wife remained in Budapest during the second world war.  In 1945,  Rainer was arrested by the Communists, imprisoned, and never seen again.  The family assumes that Rainer was executed by the Communists. He was declared dead in 1961.

Rainer's sister, Marie Karoline, who was mentally handicapped, was gassed by the Nazis in the early years of the second world war.

Philipp-Josias's son, Prince Philipp-August, remains committed to rebuilding the family's Austrian estates.

King Leopold, Queen Victoria and Princess Clementine were the quintessential networkers,  using not always tacit negotiation skills to effect ways to further the scope of Coburg power.

Friedrich Franz, Duke of Saxe-Coburg, died in 1806, nearly a decade before his youngest son, Leopold's marriage to Princess Charlotte of Wales.   Although the marriage ended with Charlotte's death in childbirth, Leopold remained at the forefront, ensuring that his niece and nephew marry, thus establishing a new Coburg dynasty in Britain.

The Coburgs of Europe is an amazingly well-researched book.  Take a look at the impressive bibliography in the back of the book.  Art Beeche took his time to make sure he didn't miss a source.  If I had a few quibbles ... okay I have a few quibbles .. it would be to ask why the many quotes used in the text were not cited with footnotes.  This certainly would enhanced the book's scholarly achievement.  Historians, writers, biographers and others would be able to refer a quote to the original source, such as a memoir, biography, newspaper articles, etc.

One weird little thing: on page 293. Mr. Beeche writes that Princess Kalina was the only "one of King Simeon's children convert to Catholicism."  This is incorrect.   King Simeon II married Dona Margarita Gomez-Acebo y Cejuela, a Spanish noblewoman.  Queen Margarita is Roman Catholic.  It was decided at the time of the marriage that their first son would be baptized into the Orthodox faith.  Their three younger sons and only daughter were all baptized and raised as Roman Catholics.  Is it possible that Kalina converted to the Orthodox faith.  She was married according to the rites of the Roman Catholic church.  The marriage was also blessed by the Orthodox church.  Kalina's son, Simeon, born in Bulgaria, was baptized in the Orthodox church.

A word of caution.  You will find it takes time to read this book. (This is not necessarily a bad thing.)  There is so much information .. and the photographs!  Did I mention the photographs.  Hundreds of photographs, many of which will be seen for the first time in this book.

The Coburgs of Europe oozes with the history and personality of kings and dukes and queens and princesses.  There are two chapters shouting out the accomplishments of about a dozen Coburg women, including Queen Victoria's mother,  Victoire.  (Good thing she listened to her younger brother about that second marriage.)

The book is also visually stunning.  I won't be surprised if this book remains on coffee tables for some time to come, so you can pick it up and savor it again and again.  The Coburgs of Europe is a masterpiece, a true masterpiece, born out of a loving devotion to history.

Who needs social media when the Coburgs networked rather nicely without it!

A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography

Opening February 4, 2014 at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography. The exhibit runs through June 8. Los Angeles is a bit too far to pop over to see the exhibit.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Anne Portrait of the Queen by HRH Prince Radu of Romania

It is a good thing when I say that there is a proliferation of books about the Romanian royal family published in Romania.  Books about King Michael and his family can be found in bookstores throughout the country,  This is a good thing.

Prince Radu, the husband of Crown Princess Margarita, is the author of several very books on the royal house.  His most recent book is Anne Portrait of the Queen/Ana Portretul Reginei (Curtea Veche: 41 Leis), which was published to commemorate Queen Anne's 90th birthday last September.

The text is in English and in Romanian, which allows the book to be marketed outside Romania, thus reaching a wider audience.

Prince Radu is correct when he writes that the "text of this book should make room for the photographs to take their rightful place."

Queen Anne was born at Paris on September 18, 1923, one of four children (and only daughter) of Prince Rene of Bourbon-Parma and Princess Margrethe of Denmark.  In November 1947, she took the train from Paris to London to visit her parents, who were guests at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth.  It was in London where she met King Michael, a guest at the wedding.  Much to the dismay of the new communist overlords in Romania,  the young and popular king returned to Bucharest, determined to save his throne, and marry Princess Anne.   The Communists would have nothing of a royal romance (they knew the reaction among the Romanian people would have been positive, something the Communists would not approve).

The Russians had already decided that the King must go, and the monarchy abolished.  Wedding or no wedding, Michael was forced to abdicate on December 30, 1947.  Two weeks after Michael arrived in Lausanne, he was reunited with Princess Anne.  They were married in June 1948.

I cannot imagine the pain that King Michael suffered in the early weeks after the loss of his throne.   Queen Anne has been his soul mate, his support, and his confident for more 65 years.

Anne Portrait of the Queen features black and white and color photos of Queen from childhood to the present.  Many of these photographs were published for the first time, including a selection of wedding photographs, and private family photos from the 1950s and 1960s with the King and Queen's five children.

I only wish bookstores, such as Hoogstraten, would take the initiative and stock Anne Portrait of the Queen and other royal books published in Romania.  Trust me, there is a market for these titles.  A small market, but a market nonetheless.

I want to thank Crown Princess Margarita and Prince Radu for sending me this wonderful book.

King Peter II of Yugoslavia A King's Heritage The Memoirs

When I arrived at Belgrade's airport in May, I was greeted by several members of Crown Prince Alexander's staff.  I was considered a VIP guest at the State Funeral for King Peter II, Queen Alexandra, Queen Marie and Prince Andrej, which I considered a great honor.

Every guest greeted at the airport was handed a bag containing the official schedule (which changed several times), the VIP pass, and a copy of King Peter II's memoirs, A King's Heritage, which was first published in the 1950s.    This was the first Serbian edition, published to commemorate the State Funeral.

This special edition -- limited to 3000 copies -- is a coffee table sized book in English and Serbian.  The copies given to the guests were signed by Crown Prince Alexander.

The text has not changed, but Crown Prince Alexander dug into his family's photo albums, allowing the text to be complemented by far more photos of the King from his birth to his final years.  Many of the photos were published for the first time in this superb book.

Peter's life was fraught with sadness and turmoil.  He was only nine years old, at boarding school in England, when his father was assassinated in Marseilles.   A young fatherless boy was thrust into the role of King.  He reigned in name only, protected by a Regency headed by his father's first cousin, Prince Paul.

The 1930s were a difficult time for Balkan monarchs, especially children sovereigns.  Alexander I had established a dictatorship, which continued during the regency.  The Germans were at Yugoslavia's borders, further creating political instability within the country.  Only weeks after Peter abolished the Regency and took control,  the entire royal family was forced to flee as the Germans moved toward Belgrade,

King Peter II watched from the sidelines, forbidden by the Allies to go back and fight for his country, as Yugoslavia fell under the sway of the communists and Tito.

Peter married Princess Alexandra of Greece in 1944.  Their only son, Alexander, was born in London in July 1945.    The marriage was not a success, as  Peter and Alexandra went their separate ways.  Both wrote competing memoirs.  I see A King's Heritage and For a King's Love, as the same story, seen from different eyes and different experiences.

King Peter II died in Denver, Colorado, in 1970.  He was buried in a Serbian Orthodox cemetery in Illinois, until the spring of 2013, when his remains were brought home.

This is a lavish, well-produced book, which was displayed prominently at one of Belgrade's bookstores, on Prince Michael street, in May.

A King's Heritage is available from Dutch bookseller, Hoogstraten,   The price of the book is 59.50 Euros.  It also can be ordered from the publisher, Evro-Giunti.  Unfortunately, the site is only in Serbian.

Magical Memories by Arthur Edwards

Some years ago -- the late 1980s -- I was included in the British press pool for the visit of the Princess of Wales' visit to New York City.  Among Diana's stops was a visit to FAO Schwarz to take part in the opening of a display of British toys. 
@ Marlene Eilers Koenig

After it was all over, the British photographers decided to go for drink at a local bar.  They invited me to come along.   One of the photographers was the very nice Arthur Edwards, who picked up the tab for my drink.   Arthur Edwards, MBE, is a very nice man.   He is also a great photographer.

Arthur's career as a royal snapper began in 1977, and soon moved to the front row as one of the A-list, as the Sun's royal photographer.

He has been front row and center, present for weddings, births,  tours, and day-to-day duties by members of the British royal family.  His work is on display in Arthur Edward's Magical Memories  The Greatest Royal Photographs of All Time (Metro:  19.99), a nearly 300 page tome.   An earlier edition was published in 2011, following the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  

The book's editor has wisely separated the photographs into 15 different chapters:  My All-Time Favourites, Princess Diana, Charles and Diana, Prince William, Prince Henry, The Queen, Prince Philip, Tender Moments, The Queen Mother, Camilla, Charles and Camilla, You Don't Often See That!, Prince Charles, William and Kate and Arthur and the Royals.

Arthur's favorites are not centered on the late Diana, Princess of Wales.   He offers comments for all of his photographs.  On one particular photograph of Diana and the Queen, he writes:  "A lot has been said about Diana and the Queen not hitting it off,  The Queen, I think, felt Diana was too popular among the public and Diana thought of her mother-in-law as too set in her ways."  

[Personally, I think Camilla has a far better relationship with the Queen: they do have a lot more in common.]

Arthur allows to relive and remember watching William and Harry grow up, from adorable little princes, loved and adored by both their parents, to adults.  William is married and the father of a young son.  Prince Harry has proved his mettle as a soldier, serving twice in Afghanistan.

I really enjoyed the photographs of Camilla and Charles and Camilla.  One can see the love between them.  Charles is a much a happier man now, and it shows in his face and demeanor.  Camilla takes a good picture, and she has settled rather nicely into her royal duties, even refusing to cancel engagement after she broke her leg while skiing.

My favorite photo is on page 196 showing the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, at ease with each other, smiling, sharing a joke, in Saudi Arabia.  

Magical Memories is one of those books to keep on display on your cocktail table, to open and look at from time to time, and be reminded of the history and continuity of the British royal house.

And thanks, again, for the drink Arthur.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Diary of Olga Romanov by Helen Azar

Grand Duchess Olga Nicolaievna of Russia was 23 years old when she died in July 1918, murdered along with the rest of her immediate family at the hands of the Bolsheviks.

Olga was the eldest of five children of Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra. She was at the age where marriage would become a serious topic, especially as she was one of the most eligible young royal women.  Crown Prince Carol of Roumania was one of the more prominent suitors, but a meeting between the two families ended without an engagement.

Unfortunately for historians, Grand Duchess Olga did not confine her feelings about Carol to her diary because, according to Helen Azar, diaries "were not in any way intended or pouring out their souls, but rather to keep track of daily events."

This tracking of "daily events" features prominently in The Diary of Olga Romanov (Westholme Publishing: $26.00).   This may become a disappointment to readers who want more -- such as Olga's views on the early days of the war and the coming revolution.  She and her siblings lived a largely but not completely sheltered life.

 Olga began keeping a diary in 1905.  Her final entry was  made on March 15, 1917, shortly after her father's abdication.

The book is subtitled Royal Witness to the Russian Revolution, which is rather misleading as Olga confides little to her diaries about the political situation that led to her father's downfall. 

The common themes in these entries are the weather, going to religious services,  games, breakfast, dinner with family members, and her mother, Empress Alexandra's poor health.  The diaries entries are complemented by correspondence between Olga and her father, and excerpts from the memoirs of Kerensky, V.I. Chebatareva, a young nurse who worked as the same infirmary as Grand Duchess Olga  and Ana Vyrubova, Empress Alexandra's close friend. 

Olga and her younger sister, Tatiana, served as volunteer nurses in the early years of the war, where they witnesses the true horrors of war. There were unrequited romances with soldiers, and the distress of the news of that "Father Grigori was murdered, most likely by [Grand Duke] Dimitri." 

It is evident from Olga's entries and letters that she had a very close relationship with her father, and she was aware of the difficulties of her father's  role as Commander-in-Chief.  But she (as the rest of the family) was caught completely off-guard by the revolution and the end of the monarchy.  Her diary abruptly ends on March 15, 1917, the day of her father's abdication.  She ends her final entry with "Lili Dehn arrived here and is still in the Red Room."  Helen allows the rest of Olga's story to be told through others, including entries from Nicholas II's diaries.

I found this to be a clever stroke.  Olga chose to end the diary (we don't know why) but Ms.Azar believes Olga may have suffered from depression due to the collapse of the empire.  It was a clever stroke to flesh out Olga's own words with the words with of friends and family, and politicians such as Kerensky.   One can only imagine the fear and trauma that the family felt in the final months of their lives in Ekaterinburg.

The Diary of Olga Romanov is a truly special book, and Helen Azar should be commended for taking on such a worthwhile project.  For decades, historians and biographers had to be content with secondary and tertiary sources.  Now, as the Russian archives are open to historians, we can hear the voices of the Romanovs through their own words,

Helen Azar,  a librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia,  specializes in  Romanov history.    She offers a concise albeit slightly flawed biography of Olga's life.  She repeats the canard that the succession to the throne was based on Salic law, established by Paul because he hated his late mother, Empress Catherine.

The succession to the Russian throne was Semi-Salic, not Salic law, which meant that all the eligible males in the Imperial family were ahead of the distaff Romanovs.  This is made clear in Article 30 of the Fundamental laws. "When the last make issue of the Emperor's son's is extinct, succession remains in the same branch, but in the female issue of the last reigning Emperor, as being nearest to the throne, and therein it follows the same order, with preference to a male over a female person; but the female person from whom this right directly proceeds never loses this right."

Articles 30-35 refer to female succession  Article 39 states "An emperor or empress succeeding to the Throne, at their succession and at their appointment, solemnly to observe the aforesaid laws on the succession to the throne."

Although  no legislation was ever promulgated, there were reports in the Anglo-American newspapers about Nicholas II's possible plans to amend the succession.  Canadian royal historian Carolyn Harris elaborated on this topic in her article, The Succession Prospects of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaievna (1895-1918), published in Canadian Slavonic Papers (March-June 2012.)

At least two members of the Imperial family,  Princess Tatiana Constantinova and Princess Irina Alexandrovna renounced their rights to the throne at the time of their marriages.  The present head of the Imperial Family, Grand Duchess Maria became heir to her father, Grand Duke Wladimir, only after the death of Prince Vassily in 1989, as Prince Vassily was the last eligible male Romanov after Grand Duke Wladimir.  

I understand a second edition will have corrections to the few errors in the text.  I hope this oversight regarding the succession can also be changed.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

John Röhl's final volume on Wilhelm II due out in late February

The final volume of John Röhl's acclaimed biography of Wilhelm II will be published by Cambridge University Press on February 28. This book is titled Wilhelm II: Into the Abyss of War and Exile: 1900-1941.  I am looking forward to reading this book, which will surely complement and enhance the first three volumes.