Friday, February 20, 2015

A Royal Experiment by Janice Hadlow

I looked forward to reading A Royal Experiment The Private Life of George III by Janice Hadlow.   This is the first major biography on George III since 1972 when John Brooke's George III was published.

The underlying themes of this excellent biography are the influences that formed George's life and personality.  He succeeded to the throne at the age of 22, following the death of his grandfather.  George III's life had a moral purpose.  He wanted to be a king admired by his people, and he wanted a successful and happy family life.

Familiar with his own family's dysfunction, George III wanted to create a new family life for his children.  His marriage to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was loving and successful.

Charlotte was something of a blue stocking, who enjoyed the company of well-educated, well-informed women.   She gave birth to 13 children, thus creating a large royal family that could have become the standard of morality.

But it would come all crashing down as political (loss of American colonies) and ill-health brought great strains into George and Charlotte's family lives.  It was not until 1969 when two psychiatrists linked porphyria to George III.  But more recent research appears to undermine Macalpine and Hunter's theories.  Re-examining some of the earliest medical information from George III's own doctors,  there have been new medical journal reports that George may have suffered from a "bi-polar disorder with recurrent manic episodes" that occurred during periods of "extreme stress" in the king's life. 

At first, family life was harmonious but the dysfunction that had run rampant in earlier generations reappeared with George's children. The organized, functional life that George and Charlotte were eager to maintain soon fell apart as their surviving children grew up.

The king was a domestic tyrant.  It was easy for his sons to rebel (and rebel they did with drink, unsuitable women, illegitimate children).  But George III would never have acknowledged, as Haddow wrote, that he had "deliberately thwarted his daughters' happiness."  The princesses were eager for marriage, for families of their own, but George III made little effort to secure the proper alliances.

I found the lives of George's daughters (Charlotte, Augusta, Elizabeth, Mary, Sophia and Amelia) to be sad, poignant and bittersweet.   Charlotte was the second wife of  the Hereditary Prince of Wurttemberg, and Elizabeth and Mary would find husbands late in life, to Prince Friedrich of Hesse-Homburg and Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, respectively.  There would love affairs and attachments for Augusta, Sophia and the frail Amelia, who was so much in love with General Charles Fitzroy.  Sophia gave birth to an illegitimate son, by her lover, Major General Thomas Garth.

The royal experiment to maintain a private, harmonious life failed on so many levels, compounded by the king's illness and the ever changing politics in late 18th century Britain, leaving a fractured and dysfunctional family.

Janice Hadlow, a BBC staffer, has brought George and Charlotte to the forefront by giving them a new focus.  Americans tends to see George in a different light, the mad king who was responsible for all those crazy laws that led to the Declaration on Independence.  (Actually, Parliament passed the restrictive laws, not the King.)

George III's life was hampered by illness.  But when he married and started a family, he was determined to have a different family life that he had witnessed.   His failure lead to a difficult relationship with his eldest son, George, and the further breakdown of family relationships.  He would never know about the deaths of his wife nor his granddaughter, Charlotte, in childbirth, nor of the birth of a granddaughter, Victoria, in May 1819.

Princess Charlotte of Wales, heiress presumptive, got it right when she said "No family was ever composed of such odd people."

This is a powerful biography-cum-history book that offers new insight and perspective into George's life.  One can only wonder how his life, public and private, would have been different if he had not become ill or if his determination to create a more family oriented royal family had succeeded.  (George was certainly perspicacious in this matter, but it would take a few more generations for his views to take hold.)

I have a new appreciation for Queen Charlotte, sympathy for George, and empathy and sadness for the king's daughters.

A Royal Experiment was published by Henry Holt ($40.00.)

This is Janice Hadlow's first book.  Janice, welcome to the world of royal biography.  It is safe to say you have hit a home run with this book.   This is one of those well-researched books that most writers can only dream about. 

I look forward with anticipation to Janice Hadlow's next book.

[George III and Charlotte were supports of Sir Edward Jenner's vaccination against smallpox and made sure their children were vaccinated.]

Monday, February 16, 2015

New Romanov book coming out this week by Helen Azar: Maria and Anastasia: The Youngest Romanov Grand Duchesses In Their Own Words:

Helen Azar's newest book,  Maria and Anastasia: The Youngest Romanov Grand Duchesses In Their Own Words: Letters, Diaries, Postcards. (The Russian Imperial Family: In Their Own Words) (Volume 2)    will be published on February 17, available through Amazon.


From Amazon's blurb: 
"They were the two youngest daughters of the world's most powerful man - Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia. Known to their family and friends as "The Little Pair", Grand Duchesses Maria and Anastasia were born into opulence, but led modest lifestyles. They were two normal young women growing up in extraordinary circumstances, ultimately getting caught in the middle of frightening political events that would take their teenage lives. Until this volume, the two girls did not have a chance to tell the story of the last four years of their lives during the first world war and the revolution, - in their very own words."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Balcicul Reginei Maria by Diana Mandache

Romanian historian and biographer Diana Mandache needs a bigger audience because she offers her readers true insight into Romanian royal history.  She has one problem: most of her books are in Romanian.

On one hand, books in Romanian on the royal family is a very good thing because Romanians can read and learn the truth about their royal family's history.  But the Romanian-language books are also a limitation because many people interested in royal history in general, and the Romanian royal family in particular, cannot read the growing number of royal books being published in Romania.

I have a selection of Romanian-language books on the royal family (ones with lots of photos), and it is nice to see so many previously unseen photographs in these books.

Balcic was also a place that Princess Ileana and her husband, Archduke Anton of Austria, could bring their growing family to see their grandmother and revel in a bucket and spade holiday.

Diana Mandache's most recent book, Balcicul Reginei Maria (Curtea Veche) focuses on Queen Marie of Romania's summer palace at Balchik on the Black Sea.   The area caught the attention of Marie in 1921.   Her palace, always her favorite spot, was constructed between 1927-1936.  It was a comforting oasis, where Marie and her family and guests could rest and relax.

The selling point, at least for me, is the number of photographs, most of which were provided by the Romanian National Archives.  Amazing photographs of Marie, her sisters, Sandra and Victoria, and her daughter, Ileana and her husband and their young children.  One of the sweetest photos shows young King Peter, fresh out of the water, wrapped in a robe and towel, perhaps a little embarrassed to have his photo taken.

On another level, Balcic also offered a respite to young Peter and his mother.  In 1934, Peter's father, King Alexander I, was assassinated during a state visit to Marseilles.  Peter was only 11 years old when he succeeded to the Yugoslav throne.There are also superb photos of Marie's grandsons, the child kings, Michael and Peter.

There are also photos of Balcic's interiors and exteriors as well.  The text -- I can figure out bits and pieces -- is a history of Marie and her love for this palace.  She created a garden that honored the religions of the world. After her death in July 1938, Marie's heart was placed in a jar and buried at Balcic.   In 1940,  Balcic and the surrounding area was returned by treaty to Bulgaria, and arrangements were made to return Marie's heart to Romania.

One can understand Marie's fondness for Balcic, hundreds of miles from Bucharest, and the growing familial and political tensions.  After her eldest son, Carol, returned to Bucharest, as King,  Marie found peace and contentment in amid the gardens and temperate climate.

I cannot say enough good things about this book.  Diana Mandache is an excellent writer and historian.  She is fluent in English, and has written several English-language books, so there are no reasons that this book cannot be translated into an English-language book. (Yes, I am thinking of Ted Rosvall or Art Beeche, and I know both read this blog.)

You can order Balcicul Reginei Maria straight from the publisher, Curtea Veche.   The price is 50 Lei.  The postage was a further 53 Lei.  Total: 103.18 Lei.  So what did this cost me in dollars?  $26.00 for the book and airmail postage.   Definitely worth it.   The publisher's site is in Romanian but it is easy to navigate.  It is also safe to use credit cards.  

[update: the book has been reduced by 15% to 42.50 Leis ... a real bargain for a lovely book]

The publisher has available more than a dozen books on the Romanian royal family, and none are expensive, thanks to the exchange rate.