Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Dynasty by Christina Oxenberg

Christina Oxenberg visited Serbia for the first time in 2014.  This visit offered a profound change in her life that would lead to an inspired introduction to her own heritage - half American, half royal.

Christina is the younger daughter of the late Howard Oxenberg and Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, herself the daughter of the late Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and Princess Olga of Greece and Denmark.

While her older sister, Catherine, focused on an acting career,  Christina became a writer and published several books, including Taxi and Royal Blue.   Now living in Key West, Florida,  she has taken her wanderlust to a new dimension in her latest book, Dynasty (Quartet Books: £20.00), a delightful tale, combined with the history of the Karageorgevich family and Christina's own life.

Prince Paul was the only child of Prince Arsene Karageoregivich and Countess Aurora Demidova, a Russian heiress.  Prince Paul inherited his mother's fortune, including property in Italy.   Arsene and Aurora's marriage soon collapsed and both parents largely abandoned their son and Paul was raised by the future King Peter I of Serbia, the father of Alexander III.

Arsene and his male-line descendants, however, do not have dynastic rights, according to the house law, established in the early 1930s.

Paul studied in Britain,  became friends with members of the British royal family and aristocracy.  He was a noted art collector and he was pro-British.  He married a Greek princess, Olga, whose younger sister, Marina married the Duke of Kent, thus furthering the ties between the two royal houses.

In Serbia,  Alexander married Princess Marie (Mignon) of Romania, the second daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, a British princess by birth.  Paul's life changed inexorably in 1934 when Alexander was assassinated during a state visit to Marseilles.  Alexander had prepared for the possibility that he could die before his eldest son, Peter, reached his majority, and, in his will, named Paul as one of three regents for Peter.

This is not a straightforward history of the Serbian royal house.  Christina Oxenberg is taking readers through her journey as she learns about her family's history, embracing it with such delight.

At times, Christina repeats herself -- telling the same story in separate chapters -- and also leaves us hanging with a reference to Queen Marie's relationship with her eldest son without further elaboration.

I love that Christina quotes from her grandmother Princess Olga's diaries. [Christina, have you thought of editing your grandmother's diaries for publication?]

Paul's Regency ended abruptly when Peter, approaching his majority, took control.  Within days the Germans marched in Yugoslavia and the royal family went into exile. In 1945,  Marshal Tito ended the monarchy.    The British government turned on Paul. He spent the war under house arrest in Kenya and South Africa.   It took a lot of persuading for the British government to allow Olga to come to England to spend time with Marina after the death of the Duke of Kent in an air crash in 1942.

Thanks to the valiant fight of Christina's mother, Princess Elizabeth,   Prince Paul's good name was restored.

I wish Christina had included footnotes for the many names in her book.  I know who Lady Zia Werhner was, but will the average reader.  The publisher should have made sure that the book was indexed allowing researchers to go straight back to a reference without having to spend time turning pages to find what the reference.

There are a few silly mistakes including saying Queen Marie was born in Bucharest.  She was born in Gotha, where her mother, then Crown Princess Marie of Romania, was staying as she had been a naughty girl and King Carol had banished her from the court.

That said,  Dynasty is fascinating and an enjoyable read.  I have been to Serbia three times as the guest of Crown Prince Alexander, who was very helpful to Christina as she embraced her own Serbian heritage.  I appreciate Christina's inquisitive nature to learn more about Serbia, a stunningly beautiful country, and embrace her family's role as members of the royal family.  She has no better advocate than her mother, Princess Elizabeth, who was the first to return to live in the country, and now lives in her parents' villa, which was returned to her several years ago.  Elizabeth worked tirelessly for years to bring out the truth about her father, fighting to open British government records. 

It suffices to say that Winston Churchill and others were rather open about smearing Paul's good name.  Elizabeth succeeded in making this public and proving the British were wrong.

You will enjoy Christina's delightful journey, infused with history and family stories.  May I recommend that readers continue your own journey to learn more about the Serbian royal family. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Royalty Digest quarterly - yes you must subscribe

RDQ 1/2018 is being printed as we speak. This is a particularly fascinating issue, which you don't want to miss (so, please check the status of your subscription) Apart from Charlotte Zeepvat's family album, NORWAY this time, there is also an article about the Viceroys of Norwayd 1814-1891 by Trond Norén Isaksen.;Marlene A. Eilers Koenig writes about Grand Duke Kirill of Russia, while Elizabeth Jane Timms tells the story of Princess Alix of Hesse's visit to Harrogate, prior to her wedding to the Tsar of Russia. Infanta Beatriz of Spain - the elder daughter of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Ena - is the subject of an initiated biography by Datiu F. Salvia Ocaña and in the series "Little-Known Royals", Princess Dagmar (Jr) of Denmark is portrayed by Coryne Hall. Finally, and regrettably, we have to say goodbye to John Wimble's and David Horbury's magnificent series of Romanian Royal letters.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Darling Queen Dear old Bones

You have heard me complain ... many times ... about the lack of books on foreign royals in English.  I am talking about books published in languages other in English - and not translated into English.

There is a simple reason for this:  the market is not large -- not a  massive amount of readers - and good translations are expensive.  

Imagine my delight with the news of the publication of the correspondence of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and her governess Miss Saxton Winter: Darling Queen Dear Old Bones.

The book was published by Amsterdam University Press and edited by Emerentia van Heuven-van Nes.  Vivien Collingwood did the translation.

Saxton Elizabeth Winter was 30 years old when she was appointed as the governess in January 1886 to Princess Wilhelmina, heiress to the throne.  

The correspondence began in 1886 and continued until November 10, 1935, when Wilhelmina, addressing her letter to "My dear old Friend."   Saxon Winter was in England living with her sister in Saffron Walden.   

The queen offered news of her family, visitors and winter sports, ending her letter "with a hug ever your true old friend."   It was the last letter she wrote to her former governess,  Saxon Winter died at the age of 78  on January 29, 1936.

Wilhelmina's first letters to her governess where while Saxton was on holiday visiting her family in England,   The young princess always wrote in English.

Saxon Winter was a stabilizing influence on Wilhelmina, who succeeded to the throne in 1890 at the age of 10.   She remained with Wilhelmina until the latter turned 16 years old.   The book includes a lovely letter from Wilhelmina's paternal aunt, Sophie, Princess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach.  

She wrote: "Let me tell you my deep sense of gratitude for all you did in the true interest of my niece."   

After Winter's dismissal,  Wilhelmina wrote long, loving letters to her former governess with news about her trips to her family in Germany and elsewhere.

[One of Wilhelmina's first cousins was Princess Alice of Albany, as their mothers were sisters.]

Queen Emma served as regent until Wilhelmina's 18th birthday in August 1898.  Saxon Winter was preparing to accept a new position as governess to Prince Carol and Princess Elisabetha of Romania.  [This new position was not satisfying for Saxon Winter, who did not get along with the children's mother, Crown Princess Marie, who blamed the governess for spreading gossip about her.]

When Wilhelmina became engaged to Duke Heinrich of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1900, she wrote to Miss Winter:  "Oh Darling, you cannot even faintly imagine how franticly (sic) happy I am and how much joy, and sunshine  has come upon my path."

With the exception of two letters,  there are no copies of correspondence between Wilhelmina between 1903 and 1921, which means we miss Wilhelmina's miscarriages and, finally, in 1909, the birth of Princess Juliana, the queen's only child, and the growing problems in her marriage.

Saxton Winter continued to correspond with Queen Emma, who often filled her about Wilhelmina in with more detailed correspondence.

Wilhelmina's relationship with her governess was based on friendship and love. Miss Winter offered unconditional support even after she left the Netherlands.  Her support provided the confidence that the lonely Wilhelmina needed.  An only child, a monarch at age 10, raised by a formidable, strict mother, who at times, was overwhelmed by the combination of duties as regent and mother, Wilhelmina learned from her governess the importance of duty in her life, a responsibility and dedication that she passed to her daughter, Queen Juliana, and granddaughter, Queen Beatrix.

Darling Queen Dear old Bones is an important book in the scholarly study of the Dutch monarchy.  There are so few books in English about the monarchy ... we need to cherish and applaud the decision to publish this book in an English-language edition as the correspondence was in English.  A Dutch language translation was published several years ago.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The five best royal biographies

according to historian Frank Proschaska


Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy tops my list.  I loved Lady Longford's biography of Queen Victoria, but Cecil Woodham's Smith's first volume of a planned two volume biography of Queen Victoria, is pure perfection.   Woodham-Smith died before completing the second volume.  The first volume ends with Albert's death.

I also think Hugo Vickers' biography of the Queen Mother surpasses Shawcross' work.  In fact, the two biographies complement each other.


Monday, February 19, 2018

New Romanov Books

If you want to write confidently and assuredly about the Romanovs, it helps to be proficient in Russian.  Seriously.  The primary sources are in Russian so it makes sense to be able to read and write the language.

Two of the modern Romanov historians are Margarita Nelipa and Helen Azar, both of whom are of Russian heritage.  Nelipa's parents were Russian-born World War II refugees who settled in Australia in 1948.  Azar was born Odessa in Ukraine.  In the 1970s, her family emigrated to the United States.  She now lives in New South Wales.

Margarita Nelipa has written a corker of a book, Killing Rasputin The Murder that Ended the Russian Empire (Wildblue Press), which takes a long and exhaustive look at the events and evidence that lead to Gregorii Rasputin's murder in December 1916.

What makes this book an excellent read is the Nelipa's gift to tell a story and peel away every layer of the story from Rasputin's early life, his introduction to the imperial family and the mesmerizing power that he had over Empress Alexandra.   It suffices to say that enraged and angered not only other members of the Imperial family, who believed that Rasputin was a dangerous influence but also politicians and religious leaders.

Nicholas II's response to the calls for action led to acts that further exacerbated his family, who were largely united in their determination to marginalize Alexandra and try to keep Nicholas on the throne.

In the end, it was all nought.  Rasputin was murdered, a death -- one of the factors -- that would bring about the end of 300 years of the Romanov dynasty.

Nelipa is a  former medical scientist.  She uses her expertise and knowledge to break down and rebuild the evidence and the facts concerning Rasputin and the who was who in the who was involved in the planning, the death, and the aftermath.

Killing Rasputin offers readers an opportunity to rethink and reexamine the myths and the legends that rose up after Rasputin's death.  This is not a biography of Rasputin, but a literary forensic exercise that answers some questions but brings forth new questions, as well.


Helen Azar is the author-cum-editor of 1913 Diary of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna (Create Space).  The third of the four daughters of Nicholas II,  Maria, who celebrated her 14th birthday in June 1913,  wrote as a teenager with no real historical perspective.

The diary is in itself a historical record, but if you are looking for Maria's thoughts on her parents, her siblings, even her views of the world around her, you won't find it here in her 1913 diary.

Maria had lessons,  she had tea with her family. She went to church.  She prayed.  Breakfast on the couch with her mother.  Lessons.  Sledding in the winter.  Swimming in the summer.

I wish Azar had provided more detailed footnotes, which, I feel, would have fleshed out the diary, with more background information about the names mentioned by Maria.  I would have culled information from other biographies, diaries, newspapers account on the events of the day. 

We don't get to know what Maria ate at breakfast or what she talked about at dinner with Anastasia and Alexei.  The diary is more I did this or did that. I went here with Papa or had tea with Aunt Olga.  But what is missing from this diary is emotion.  We do know that the Nicholas' children led a largely regimented life, but Maria does not let us know how she felt about herself, her family or even the celebrations of the 300th anniversary.

This is not the fault of the editor, but of the Grand Duchess herself.  We read the entries, but we never get to meet Maria.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Twilight of Empire by Greg King and Penny Wilson

I am clapping my hands in approbation of Greg King and Penny Wilson's masterful study Twilight of Empire (St. Martin's Press: $27.99).   Why?   Well, the authors have carefully and meticulously -- and indeed judiciously -- taken apart, examined (and re-examined) the events that led to Mayerling, where Archduke Rudolf, heir apparent to Austro-Hungarian throne, and his mistress, the young Marie Vetsera.

Mayerling has inspired biographers, historians, filmmakers and others, leading to a myriad of accounts - some accurate and some not.  Rumors lead to whispers which lead to more rumors.

King and Wilson take their time in presenting the denouement.  Archduke Rudolf was the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth.  It is suffice to say that Rudolf's childhood was tarnished by parental indifference, bad tutors, and far too many opportunities to fall down the rabbit hole.  A marriage was arranged with Princess Stephanie of Belgium, daughter of King Leopold II.  Stephanie's sister,  Louise, was married to Prince Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was one of Rudolf's closest friends.

Politics also plays a role in the final chapter as Rudolf, whose liberal leanings and concern for Hungary led to conflict with his father, who preferred a more iron hand.  Unfortunately, for Rudolf, he suffered from far too many ailments, physical and mental, and he was wreaked by so many health issues.   He contracted gonorrhea, which he transmitted to his wife, rendering her sterile.

The couple had one daughter, Elisabeth, but no son.  Rudolf and Stephanie were ill-matched and she was unable to provide emotional support to her husband.  Her in-laws considered her useless as well.

Rudolf had many lovers, but the most infamous is, of course, Marie Vetsera, a teenager girl from a minor noble family.  She and her mother were ambitious, to say the least.  Marie lived in a fantasy world, believing that Rudolf would marry her.

Twilight of Empire is divided into four sections.  The first section sets the scene: events leading up to January 28, 1889.  In the second section, the authors provide a "straightforward account of the tragedy" and the immediate aftermath.  The third section focuses on the conspiracy theories that have plagued historians and biographies for more than 100 years.  In the final section, the authors provide the context and set the tone for the facts of what happened in the wee hours of January 30.

The authors have given readers a compelling and well-grounded study that shines a light (not always a new light) on the Mayerling.   This is not one story or one fact, but many stories that have multi-levels, and King and Wilson have stripped away each level with careful examination, before putting the levels back again, this time arranged in a fluid yet precise manner.

There are some facts we will never know ... unless Count Taafe's files are found -- but King and Wilson have written a compelling book that will stand for some time as the standard for the events that led to Mayerling,  the events at Mayerling and the aftermath.

Twilight of Empire is a compelling read.  Take the time to read it, to digest all that the authors have provided.   When you have put the book down after the first turning the final page, you will understand, appreciate and respect the work of true historians.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

80th wedding anniversary of King Paul and Queen Frederika of the Hellenes -

On January 9, 1938 in Athens,  Crown Prince Paul of the Hellenes married Princess Friederike of Hanover.

Here is a selection of memoirs and biographies about Queen Frederica and King Paul.  Unfortunately, copies of Pavlos No Ordinary King by Nikos Politos are not available.  Only 1000 copies were printed.  I have number 233.