Archive for June 2018

Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking, by Deborah Cadbury

June 5, 2018

Upon a great adventure he was bond,
That greatest Gloriana to him gave,
That greatest Glorious Queene of Faerie lond,
To winne him worship, and her grace to have,
Which of all earthly things he most did crave.
The Faerie Queene, I, i, 19-23

Rather than telling the story of Victoria and Albert’s nine children, the author makes this book about some of their forty-two grandchildren. From the author’s surname and surveying the latest streaming offerings, one might expect a confection of costumery and crowns. There is some of that. But the Prologue begins with a bang–the assassination by bomb of Czar Alexander II, father and grandfather of two men who would marry into Victoria’s family. The queen’s ambition to spread her influence throughout Europe and encourage a peaceful civilization through inevitable whiggery was blown apart by revolutions and the weak or misdirected character of her own offspring.

Some of these stories are familiar. Prince Albert Victor (“Eddy”) was the oldest son of the future Edward VII and so expected to be a future king, but his frail health and indecision caused concern in the family and the British government. Decades later, he was even rumored to have been the real Jack the Ripper. In any event, Eddy died before marrying Princess Mary (“May”) of Teck. May then settled on his brother Prince George, who became George V, and so became Queen Mary after all. Princess Alexandra (“Alix”) of Hesse married Nicholas of Russia and was doomed with him to deposition and a firing squad.

Less well known is the fate of Princess Elisabeth of Hesse, or “Ella,” sister of Alexandra, who married Grand Duke Sergei of Russia, uncle of Nicholas II. In 1905, Sergei was blown to bits outside the gates of the Kremlin. Ella heard the noise and ran to the scene: “A slight figure in a blue dress stained with blood, she ‘rummaged around in the snow, which for a long while afterwards continued to give up small bones and bits of cartilage, pieces of body and splinters from the carriage’ . . . . Sergei’s rings were on his severed hand and now she carefully removed them. All that ran through her mind, she told her sister, Victoria, was that she must ‘hurry, hurry’ since Sergei ‘hates blood and mess.'” The widowed Grand Duchess turned to her adopted Orthodox faith, founding a religious order. She had an opportunity to escape the revolution but swore that “she would never leave her convent, or Russia, of her own free will.” The Communists pulled her out and dragged her to a forest with other Romanovs. A blow from a rifle butt and a shove into a 60-foot mine shaft should have finished her off quickly. One of her religious sisters was pushed in after her. The killers heard voices and so threw down a grenade, and then another. The story is that hymns were heard from below, but then it got quiet. The Russian Orthodox now call her “New-Martyr Elizabeth.”

The last grandchild to see Queen Victoria was the most disappointing of all–Wilhelm II, who had dashed the hopes of his parents, Frederick III and Princess Victoria or “Vicky,” for a liberal Germany that would ally with England. Wilhelm from the beginning was “violent,” “arrogant,” and “destructive.” Yet on hearing about his grandmother’s last illness, he insisted on being by her side. Whether she knew that her least favorite grandchild was there is not really clear, though he held her as she passed away. “The emperor is very kind,” she said.

Breaking news of March 16, 1917

Breaking news of March 16, 1917

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