20 May 2020

A Parcel of Old Maids

Princesses Charlotte, Augusta and Elizabeth
By Thomas Gainsborough in the Royal Collection via Wikimedia Commons
There are two things that everyone "knows" about King George III: he lost the Colonies and he went mad. While neither of these are exactly true, there are other things about him that I find fascinating. (Learn more on the official British Monarchy site.) Chief of these is that, when he was lucid, he was absolutely mad about his wife, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. A byproduct of that devotion was a very large brood of children: 15 in total, with 13 surviving into adulthood during an age when even royal children had a high mortality rate. Six of those children were girls. George and Charlotte were extremely engaged parents, especially for royalty--playing with them in the floor, encouraging to farm little plots of land, taking them on family walks, etc. They adored their children, but the King was especially besotted by his little girls. Unlike nearly every other king you've ever heard of, he actually hoped that his wives' pregnancies would yield little girls. They were provided with a good education from a very young age and even encouraged to participate in athletic activities with their brothers, in addition to the usual ladylike pursuits of music, dancing, art and deportment. 

Wishing to form a more domestic image for the Royal Family over the scandalous and divisive nature of the generations preceding, George and Charlotte failed spectacularly. Their affection for their youngsters was a bit too smothering. They tried to manage every aspect of their offspring's lives. While the King and Queen were fabulously unsuccessful in keeping their rascally sons under control, they were able to exert much more authority over their daughters. So much so, that one of their nieces called them "a parcel of old maids." Forced to be companions to their mother and denied lives of their own, they even referred to themselves as a nunnery. Bored and lonely, the princesses longed for independence.

Despite the nearly confined nature of their lives, many of these princesses managed to find adventure and make some mischief of their own. Meet the daughters of King George III:

Charlotte Princess Royal
By William Beechey in the Royal Collection
via Wikimedia Commons
Charlotte, Princess Royal (1766-1828)

The fourth child and oldest daughter was named Charlotte after her mother. Known as Princess Royal from her infancy, she was not actually granted this traditional title of the firstborn daughter until she was in her early 20s. From the beginning, Charlotte was a favored child. Considered rather bright, she was given tutors when she was still a toddler. However, she was not a particularly pretty child and she struggled to overcome a stammer. She was, however, conscious of her position as Princess Royal, which made her a bit more pompous than the other girls. She was also the only daughter that King George III allowed to marry, but even this decision was quite delayed. In an era when princesses frequently married before they were 20, Charlotte married at age 30. Her husband, 12 years her senior, was the widowed Hereditary Prince Frederick of Wurttemberg. He succeeded his father as Duke a few months later and was raised to King of Wurttemberg by Napoleon in 1806 in recognition of the troops he had provided to Britain's most dangerous enemy. This made Charlotte the first Queen of the tiny kingdom, a monarchy that would be swept away just over a century later in the first World War. King Frederick eventually flipped sides in the Napoleonic wars and was supporting Britain when he passed away in 1816. Charlotte got pregnant quickly after her wedding but her infant was stillborn. This was her only child. However, she did serve as stepmother to Frederick's children by his first wife, who were aged 12 to 16 at the time of her wedding. Charlotte remained in Wurttemberg after Frederick's death, never returning to Britain until 1827, when her health caused her to seek treatment back home. She suffered greatly from dropsy, which today we would call edema. Not necessarily a disease itself, edema is fluid retention or swelling that can be caused by a number of illnesses of the heart, kidney or liver. (Some women will also develop edema temporarily during menstruation or pregnancy.) She returned to Wurttemberg after surgery, but died there a year later at the age of 62.

Princess Augusta
By Thomas Gainsborough in the Royal Collection
via Wikimedia Commons
Princess Augusta (1768-1840)
The sixth born child and second daughter, Princess Augusta was born just two years after her older sister. (Brother Edward, the future father of Queen Victoria, was between them.) Augusta was named after her father's mother, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, who was better known as the Dowager Princess of Wales since her husband Frederick Prince of Wales died in 1751 before acceding the throne. Young Princess Augusta was thought prettier than her older sister, but she was shy and, like her older sister, stammered. She was well-educated along with her sisters, and was particularly devoted to her coin collection. Usually docile, she could also have a terrible temper. Potential royal marriages might have been possible. Her cousin, the future Danish King Frederick VI. would have married her, but George III was bitter over the way Frederick's mother, who was George's baby sister had been treated in that country.  (Read my post, A Scandalous Royal Marriage.) A Swedish prince was also declined, so Augusta made due with someone who was accessible: one of her father's equerries, Army officer Sir Brent Spencer. They kept their relationship secret, though Augusta did seek permission to marry him from her brother George once he had become the Regent for their ailing father. It is not known whether they officially married, but they remained a couple until his death in 1828. She survived another 12 years, passing away at 71.

Princess Elizabeth
By Thomas Gainsborough in the Royal Collection 
via Wikimedia Commons
Princess Elizabeth (1770-1840)
A year and a half younger than Augusta, Elizabeth rounded out the tightly knit trio of older sisters. She was named for her maternal grandmother Elizabeth of Saxe-Hildburghausen, who had passed away nine years earlier. Young Elizabeth was the most joyful and optimistic of the cloistered girls. She enjoyed the farm work imposed by their parents and was also a good artist, often creating works to benefit her charities. Endowed with a good sense of humor and down-to-earth attitude, she may have been their mother's favorite daughter. Elizabeth is thought to have had secret romantic relationships with men of the court, one of which may have resulted in the birth of a daughter. A royal marriage for her with the Duke of Orleans was declined, allegedly due to his Catholicism, but more likely just because her mother did not want to be parted from her. Nonetheless, once her brother George had taken control as Prince Regent, a suitable marriage was accepted over Queen Charlotte's objections. Shortly before her 47th birthday, Elizabeth married Prince Frederick of Hesse-Homburg, who was just a year older, and she went to live with him in Germany, where she greatly enjoyed the less formal atmosphere, especially after he succeeded as the Landgrave and she could control the court. In Germany, she devoted herself to a school she founded for the children of working mothers. Her husband died 11 years into their marriage and was succeeded by his brother. Elizabeth remained in Germany for the rest of her life, dying at age 69 just a few months before her older sister Augusta's death.

Princess Mary
By William Beechey in the Royal Collection
via Wikimedia Commons
Princess Mary (1776-1857)

Three boys were born between Princess Elizabeth and Princess Mary. With a gap of six years between them, Mary became the eldest of the younger trio of princesses. Mary may have been the prettiest of all the sisters. As a teenager, she fell in love with Prince Frederick of Orange, who was exiled in England. King George III used the fact that her three older sisters were still unmarried as an excuse to deny the match. When the prince died a few years later, however, Mary was permitted to officially mourn him. For decades, she and her sisters were stifled -- it was she who declared that they spent their time "vegetating." She finally got her bid for freedom after her father's illness led to a permanent regency. Her brother George the Prince Regent approved her marriage to their cousin, Prince William Duke of Gloucester. Bride and groom were both 40 years old and they produced no offspring. Nevertheless, Mary had achieved freedom from her mother's control and, unlike her married sisters, she was able to stay in Britain. The Duke of Gloucester died in 1834 and she lived on until 1857. A particular favorite of her niece Queen Victoria, Mary was photographed with Victoria and two of Victoria's teenage children. She has the distinction of being the only one of George III's children to be photographed. She also was the last surviving and longest lived of his children, dying at age 81.

Princess Sophia
By William Beechey in the Royal Collection
via Wikimedia Commons
Princess Sophia (1777-1848)
A year and a half younger than Mary, Sophia was their parents' twelfth child. Pretty and delightful though occasionally moody, Sophia found her life with her sisters "deadly dull", writing to their eldest brother, that their pleas for his help were so constant that she wondered why he did not "vote for putting us in a sack and drowning us in the Thames." Sophia has been more plagued by rumors than any of her sisters. One bit of unproven gossip alleges that she was raped by or had an incestuous affair with her extremely unpopular and scandalous brother Ernest Augustus, who later became King of Hanover. (He is the evil Uncle Cumberland in the Victoria television series.) A more likely fact-based rumor is attached to her romance (and perhaps secret marriage) to royal equerry and Army officer Thomas Garth, who was 33 years older than her. Their romance is said to have led to the birth of a son, also called Thomas Garth, who was raised by the Garth family. Historians are divided to this day whether Sophia ever had a child and, if so, whether the father was her brother or Garth. Sophia's child or not, the younger Thomas later attempted to blackmail the royal family over his origins, but failed. Never marrying, Sophia went to live at Kensington Palace after her mother's death. A year later, her niece Victoria was born and became her neighbor. This also placed Sophia in close proximity to Victoria's mother the Duchess of Kent. Like the Duchess, Sophia allowed Kent's comptroller to manager her financial affairs. Despite alleged misconduct with Sophia's money, Conroy may have been the one who thwarted young Thomas Garth's blackmail attempt. Like her father, Sophia grew blind and confused as she aged. Her sister Mary was with her when she died at age 71 at Kensington. Conroy's mismanagement -- or thievery -- had left her with no money in the end. 

Princess Amelia
From the Royal Collection via Wikimedia Commons
Princess Amelia (1783-1810)
Born three years after Queen Charlotte wrote "I would be happy if I knew this [pregnancy] would be the last time", Amelia was the fifteenth and final child born to King George III. Less than a year before Amelia arrived, their two youngest sons had died. Four-year-old Octavius and nearly two-year-old Alfred died after being inoculated against small pox; the older children survived their inoculations. With the early deaths of her nearest siblings, she was very much the baby of the family: six years younger than Princess Sophia and 21 years younger than their oldest brother George. In fact, three of her siblings were named her godparents. She was amiable but shared the tempestuous nature common in the family. Nicknamed Emily by her father, Amelia is widely believed to have been his favorite child. Amelia, however, had less opportunity to be attached to her father as she was only five years old when he first started having serious bouts of illness. Her own poor health also led to separation from the family as she was sent to the seaside for periods of recovery. During one of these convalescences, 18-year-old Amelia fell in love with a young equerry, Charles Fitzroy. Though she was not allowed to marry him, she said that she considered herself married to him. Several years later, she survived a bout of measles, but her health never really recovered and her sister Mary was assigned to nurse her. At age 27, she contracted a bacterial infection called St. Anthony's fire. In an age before antibiotics, this was a death sentence despite the numerous doctors her father sent to her. The family was devastated by her death, especially Princess Mary and the King himself, who fell into another bout of "madness" from which he never again returned to lucidity. In his delusions, George III would imagine that his Emily was healthy and living in Germany. In her will, Amelia left everything to Charles Fitzroy but the family prevented him from receiving any of it. 

Princess Mary, Princess Sophia
and Princess Amelia

By John Singleton Copley in the Royal Collection via Wikimedia Commons

For more about the Daughters of King George III:
"A parcel of old maids" on History of Royal Women
The Strangest Family on The Guardian

Books about the Daughters of King George III:

16 May 2020

The Popular Crown Princess

By Caspar Ritter via Wikimedia Commons
Crown Princess Cecilie was nothing if not practical. All of her life, she had faced trials and heartbreak with equanimity. She had survived war and revolution. Even when her husband was forced to leave his country and was later denied the Imperial German throne for which he had been born, Cecilie remained steadfast. She stayed in the home that had been built for her, the enormous Cecilenhof in Potsdam near Berlin and she adapted as needed, sending her sons to ordinary schools. She was the daughter of a Russian grand duchess and the daughter-in-law of the last German Kaiser, but none of that mattered in 1945 as Russia's Red Army battled its way through eastern Germany toward Berlin. These were the revolutionaries who had assassinated three of her Romanov uncles and innumerable cousins. Cecilie knew it was finally time to leave her home. Perhaps she took one wistful glance back as the car whisked her away, remembering those too-brief years when her children had played in Cecilienhof's six courtyards.

The youngest child of the German Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaievna, Cecilie was born into a peripatetic existence. As her father's subjects insisted, she had been born in Mecklenburg after her older brother and sister were born abroad. Nevertheless, the family continued to spend most of their time in southern Europe, where the climate better suited her father's asthmatic lungs, and Russia, where they indulged in the imperial splendor that would be swept away.

Cecilie faced her first personal tragedy at the tender age of 13 in the beautiful city of Cannes on the French Riviera. Her father, Friedrich Francis, was found lying at the foot of wall outside of the family's home. Had his deteriorating health caused him to become dizzy and to fall over? Or, as the quickly published rumors would have it, did the despairing 46-year-old fling himself to his death? The family hastened back to Mecklenburg, where her 15-year-old brother was now the ruling Grand Duke, but they didn't stay rooted there. A year later, her older sister Alexandrine married the future King Christian IX of Denmark and moved to Copenhagen. Their mother, only 36 when she was widowed, found entertainment elsewhere, gambling and dancing in Monte Carlo and elsewhere. Five years after her husband's death, Anastasia retreated to Villa Wenden, one of the properties she had inherited from him, with a severe case of chicken pox. As it turns out, the Grand Duchess wasn't poxy, she was pregnant. Her son by her private secretary was born there. Named Alexis Louis, he was raised by his mother, and later her son-in-law, the Danish king officially granted him the surname de Wenden after the place of his birth.

Despite the scandalous nature of her mother's open secret, young Cecilie's reputation appears to have been unharmed. She was still considered a worthy bridal candidate for Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany when he met the 17-year-old dark-eyed beauty at her brother's wedding in 1904. A year later, Cecilie and her mother were welcomed to Berlin with great fanfare for Germany's wedding of the century. Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife Empress Augusta Viktoria were eager for their rascally oldest son to marry, hoping, perhaps that it would settle him down. It did not. So, while the New York Times speculated that Cecilie was not just his arranged bride but his true sweetheart, the teenager entered into a loveless marriage with a blackguard and braggart who took pleasure in boasting to her of his extramarital escapades.

Nevertheless, sensible and bright, Cecilie quickly adapted to her role as Crown Princess and won the love of her new family and the people, if not of her husband. Within 10 years, she had produced four healthy sons and was expecting her fifth baby. Although the country was embroiled in the Great War, she was secure. She continued her role of establishing and leading various charitable works, especially those linked to education for girls. Of course, like all royal women in war time, she also looked in on hospitals and talked with wounded men. At home, construction of Cecilienhof was nearing completion.

From left to right: Prince William, Prince Hubertus, Crown Princess Cecilie, Crown Prince William, Prince Frederick and Prince Louis Ferdinand. Front row: Princess Alexandrine and Princess Cecilie By Wilhelm Niederastroth via Wikimedia Commons
The Crown Princess was at home in Berlin at the Kronprinsenpalais when she felt the first pangs of her labor. It wasn't long until, at last, she held her very first daughter in her arms. As she stared into the baby girl's eyes, the war probably seemed very far away. She named the baby Princess Alexandrine after her sister. But, it wasn't long before something started to bother her. There was something different about her eyes. Did she seem a bit less active than her brothers? Was her face a little too flat? As those first months passed, it became clear that Alexandrine was indeed different from her siblings. She had Down syndrome. While other royal babies with health issues were sheltered or even hidden from the public, Cecilie and Wilhelm agreed that would not be the fate of their little blonde beauty. While Britain's epileptic Prince John was moved into his own home separate from his family during World War I, his cousin Alexandrine stayed at home in the loving embrace of her parents and siblings, including little sister Princess Cecilie, who was born two years later. Like all of the imperial children, her photos appeared on postcards and she was present for public events. Later, they even sent her to a school especially for girls with special needs. (Read my post about her daughters Alexandrine and Cecilie.)

Just a year after little Cecilie's birth, Germany was clearly losing the war and a Revolution erupted. Crown Princess Cecilie's father-in-law and her husband abdicated and fled to The Netherlands in November 1918. At first, Cecilie sought to flee what might happen living so close to Berlin -- the Russian Revolution had already murdered her uncle Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich while two other uncles and many cousins were being held by the Bolsheviks; all of them would be dead within the next year. She took the children to her mother-in-law Empress Augusta Victoria (read my post about her), but she was devoted to her husband Kaiser Wilhelm and soon made arrangements to join him in exile. After a bit, it became clear that the German Revolution would not be as bloody as the one in Russia. Also, as one of the most popular members of the Imperial Family, Cecilie was secure back home at Cecilienhof, where she sent her sons to ordinary schools.

Soon, a punitive peace agreement was reached and Germany struggled under financial reparations and economic catastrophe. Cecilie stayed in Germany, raising her children alone, while the new government deprived the family of property and income. Crown Prince Wilhelm was eventually allowed to return in 1923, and a financial settlement was finally reached which restored some property and income to the family. Cecilienhof, however, was taken by the state. Due largely to her popularity, Cecilie was granted to right to live there for her lifetime. She and the Crown Prince rarely lived in the same home at the same time, alternating mostly between Cecilienhof and Castle Oels.

Princess Alexandrine, Crown
Princess Cecilie and Princess Cecilie
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-2003-1014-505 via Wikimedia Commons

The extended family struggled with finding its role during the period between the two World Wars, with the Emperor and the Crown Prince both awaiting a call to return to the throne. Initially, the rise of Hitler gave them hope, mostly because Hitler led them to believe what they wanted to believe. With a new war looming, Cecilie's sons were soon in harms way. When the war started in 1939, the four princes were aged 28 to 33, prime ages for military service. The youngest, Prince Frederick, was studying in England at Cambridge. Within months he was interned as a prisoner of war in Britain before being sent to different camps in Canada. (After the war, he married Lady Brigid Guinness and was naturalized as a British citizen.) Meanwhile, 29-year-old Prince Hubertus was among the German troops that invaded Poland and launched the war. Second-born Prince Louis Ferdinand was working in the aviation industry, never having served in the military unlike most German princes from every generation. Even with the war, Hitler prevented him from joining the services. Hitler did allow the oldest son Prince Wilhelm to serve. Six years earlier, Wilhelm had renounced his succession rights in order to marry a woman of lower status, so it was Louis Ferdinand, not he, who was considered the next heir to the defunct throne that the Fuhrer was still dangling in front of the family.

Soon, young Wilhelm's fate would change to the war for the rest of the family. During the invasion of France in May 1940, he was gravely injured and died within a few days. The fake monarchist Adolph Hitler allowed his body to be returned to Germany and to be buried in family mausoleum. When tens of thousands of mourners showed up, Hitler got nervous. He realized that the family still retained extensive popularity, which could become a threat to his Reich. From that summer on, all members of the former German ruling houses, not just the Imperial Family, were barred from military service. This at least meant that Cecilie would lose no more children to the war.

Nearly five years later, as the German war effort once again fell into disaster, Cecilie had to worry more about the approaching liberators, for it was the Soviet Army that was advancing into Berlin. These were the same people who had slaughtered dozens for her maternal relatives at the end of the last war. The 59-year-old Crown Princess fled south to Bavaria to Bad Kissingen, a sanatorium run by her now deceased father-in-law's former doctor. She stayed there for seven years, with her children and her husband visiting occasionally. Her youngest daughter married an American and moved to Texas in 1949. Then, Prince Hubertus died from an attack of appendicitis in 1950. A year later, she attended her husband's funeral back at Castle Hohenzollern.

In 1952, Cecilie moved to an apartment in Stuttgart, but she traveled for family occasions, like the christenings of her growing brood of grandchildren. In May 1954, she returned to Bavaria for a visit to Bad Kissingen and passed away there. Her body was taken to Castle Hohenzollern to be buried next to the husband who had so rarely been at her side.

More about Crown Princess Cecilie
Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, German Crown Princess on Unofficial Royalty
Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin - The Last Crown Princess of Germany on History of Royal Women
Crown Princess Cecilie of Prussia on The Royal Watcher
Crown Princess Cecilie's Faberge Tiara on The Court Jeweller
Duchess Cecilie has arrived in Berlin on Royal Musings
The Princess & Her Palace on The Esoteric Curiosa
The Prussian Meander Tiara on The Court Jeweller
The Prussian Meander Tiara on The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor
See Two Rare Faberge Tiaras on Town and Country

01 May 2020

Worst Royal Romances

Some royal love stories are greatly treasured. Antony and Cleopatra. Victoria and Albert. Others are remembered down the centuries for far less romantic reasons. I recently asked my Twitter followers to choose the worst royal couples from among four of Britain's most notorious: King Edward II and Isabella of France, King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, King George IV and Caroline of Brunswick, and Charles Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. I expected that the recency of the War of the Waleses would put them well ahead of the pack, but my followers were more discerning and historically minded than I foretold. Apologies, dear friends. Here is their ranking from best of the worst to worst of the worst.

#4 Edward & Isabella
Isabella of France, Queen of England
From the Psalter of Isabella of France via Wikimedia Commons
It's been nearly 700 years since the storied death of King Edward II. The sheer length of time (and perhaps less familiarity) may have contributed to Edward and Isabella making the list as best of the awful royal marriages with only 6.1% of participants choosing them, but I should remind you that many contemporary sources and later historians placed the blame for his possibly gruesome murder squarely on his estranged wife. Or perhaps, the more recent scholarship calling all of those historical accusations and suppositions into question led many of you to think this case is not so clear. What is clear, however, is that Isabella and probable lover Roger Mortimer led the rebellion against Edward and deposed him, placing themselves at the head of the nation in the stead of her young son, the new King Edward III. These kinds of things don't usually happen in happy marriages.

As with most royal and noble marriages of the day, their coupling had been arranged when they were both children. The wedding final took place early in his reign, when he was in his early 20s and she was just 12. They were both attractive people and cracks did not appear in the relationship for quite some time -- and the political tensions of the day certainly contributed. Chief among these were Edward's questionable leadership skills. He quickly racked up a string of military failures (especially when compared to his renowned father Edward I, known as the Hammer of the Scots) and he invested too much authority, power and privilege in his favorites (who were perhaps also his lovers). The rebellion against him included many high lords and his younger half-brothers as well as his wife. Edward II died under mysterious circumstances within a year of being deposed.

Although most believe he was murdered under someone's orders, some scholarship now contends he died less violently but no less awfully of starvation or illness during his imprisonment. Isabella lost her control of the country within a few short years when her son Edward III asserted his authority, executed Mortimer and assumed his own throne. Isabella lived another 18 years. Initially held under house arrest and suffering from a nervous breakdown or other mental illness, she eventually regained her freedom though never again any position of power.

Books about Isabella

#3 Charles & Diana
Diana Princess of Wales
by Nick Parfjonov via Wikimedia Commons
Only a fifth of participants (20.1%) of participants selected the most recent disastrous royal coupling as the worst. With hindsight, we have been able to see that the rosy, storybook romance we readily believed in 1981 was never true. Charles Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer were mismatched from the beginning. Insecure and introspective, pining for a lost love, mourning for his assassinated great-uncle and desperate to do the right thing, the sporty and intellectual 32-year-old Charles was ill-prepared for life with his much younger bride. Diana was barely 19 when they began seeing each other and they had only been with each other, usually not alone, on about a dozen occasions before he proposed.

Shy and loving, Diana was scarred by her parents' brutal divorce and clearly imagined that Charles was her Prince Charming despite very, very few interests in common. As Diana's need for affection and attention overwhelmed the ill-equipped Charles, he sought comfort from that lost love, Camilla Parker-Bowles. Diana, in turn, found her comfort with a series of willing (and sometimes) men. No doubt fueled by the public's complete adoration for Diana versus the man who had previously been their focus, the couple's anger and resentment for each other spilled out into painful public interviews and secretly sourced biographies designed to tell each one's "true story" while damaging the other. Finally, as the War of the Waleses began to cause potentially serious harm to the Monarchy, The Queen herself requested their divorce. Once it had been completed, Diana seemed set on a new life of her own direction while it was unclear how long it would take for Charles's reputation to recover. Her tragic death after weeks of pursuit by the paparazzi pushed that clock back even further.

The ghost of Diana hung over Charles for many years as he finished raising their two young sons alone and finally married that previously lost love, Camilla Parker-Bowles. It remains today as their sons and daughters-in-law are subjected to speculation about what Diana would have or wouldn't have wanted and as Charles's second wife uses his secondary title as Duchess of Cornwall instead of Princess of Wales, a title that will remain closely associated with Diana in the public's mind until it is assumed by their eldest son's wife some day.

Books about Diana

#2 George & Caroline
Caroline of Brunswick, Queen of the UK
from the National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia Commons
Just a few more participants (22.6%) selected George Prince of Wales (the future King George IV) and his bride Caroline of Brunswick as worst royal couple, placing them just ahead of the their later counterparts, Charles and Diana. George, who had earned the despair of his father King George III and the nickname Prinny, was a laughingstock of late 18th Century British society. Of course, everyone still wanted the good time prince at their party even while the burgeoning press mocked him for his expanding waistline, supercilious fashion sense, overextending gambling debts, and habit of buying and lavishly refurbishing homes.

His romantic escapades were no less notable. Like future Princes of Wales, he dabbled with actresses and enjoyed long-term relationships with married women before finally stabilizing his home life and outrageous behavior (a bit) thanks to the love of his beloved wife. Oh, I don't mean Caroline. I mean his first wife the widowed Maria Fitzherbert, who only agreed to marry him (secretly) after he threatened suicide. Maria's Catholicism made it impossible for George to seek his father's consent to marry her; all of which made their marriage illegal. It wasn't long, however, before the attractions of gambling tables and massive spending lured Prinny back to his old ways. Without any knowledge of the little wife, George III and Parliament offered the prince a way out of his financial struggles: marry a princess and they would not only pay his debts but also increase his income. Young George agreed and, ever the romantic, he looked forward to meeting Caroline, who was his father's niece.

Caroline's arrival in England, however, did not go well. George showed up unexpectedly only to discover that she was not as attractive as he'd expected and, he said, she smelled. He demanded a drink and withdrew. As for Caroline, after asking whether or not he was actually the prince, declared that he was both fat and unattractive. George was flat-out drunk at the wedding and wedding night was no more successful than their first meeting. He passed out (surprise) but later declared that she was clearly not a virgin. The couple lived together barely long enough to conceive the requisite child, which happened within days. Their daughter Princess Charlotte of Wales was born nine months later. The couple was already living separately -- Caroline fleeing the imposed presence of his married mistress Lady Jersey. While both the Prince and Princess of Wales embarked upon ever more outrageous behavior and affairs, their daughter lived in her own household, occasionally visiting with one or the other of her parents, with her grandparents the King and Queen (when the King was well), or with her unmarried aunts, the daughters of George III. Caroline, when she was permitted to see Charlotte, was supervised by the child's caregivers. Eventually, Caroline took in several foster children and traveled often to the Continent, where she paraded her wild fashion sense and raucous behavior, gaining an ever lower reputation, while her estranged husband was eventually named Prince Regent in place of his ailing father.

When their daughter was 10, George attempted to divorce Caroline, launching the "Delicate Investigation" into her alleged, but ultimately unproven, infidelity. He remained as unpopular ever, especially as Charlotte grew into womanhood and became the most popular member of the family. The young princess made a love match with Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, against her father's wishes. Within 19 months, however, Charlotte died shortly after giving birth to a stillborn son. Caroline was still abroad. In fact, she was even abroad the next year, when her husband finally became King George IV. She rushed back to claim her crown, but George actually barred her from the coronation. Caroline died in England the next year at age 53 but her body was returned to Brunswick.. George never remarried. He died nine years after her. He was survived by Maria Fitzherbert and succeeded by his younger brother King William IV.

Books about Caroline

#1 Henry & Anne
Anne Boleyn, Queen of England
From National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia Commons
The majority (52.1%) of participants voted for King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. With six choose from, I had to decide for myself which represented the "worst" of Henry's marriages. Ultimately I settled on Anne Boleyn because it was a relationship born of true passion that ended with such violence. It was also a relationship that helped change the course of religion in England and ultimately led to the spread of Protestantism to the United States, Canada, and Australia, where it remains the dominant faith. When Henry met Anne, he had been married to Catherine of Aragon for nearly 20 years. The two had been a loving couple but the continual tragedy of lost pregnancies, still births and dead infants had taken a toll. For a time, it seemed Henry accepted their only surviving child, Princess Mary, as his potential heir. But the era did not readily embrace female rulers. As only the second king of the Tudor dynasty, Henry became worried about his legacy and Catherine aged beyond childbearing.

Enter the worldly and flirtatious Anne Boleyn, the one woman who refused his advances. She would not yield without a wedding. Henry, convinced that the luscious young lady would bear him many sons, decided to divorce Catherine, expecting his usually meek wife (and their teenage daughter) to retire quietly from court. Devoutly Catholic Catherine stood her ground. Her marriage was valid and divorce was sinful. She had the Pope on her side -- perhaps because the Pope was in the custody of her nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor. Anne stood her ground too: no crown, no bed chamber. The stalemate drew on for several years until finally the king was convinced the he, not the Pope, had authority over the English Church. He could declare his marriage invalid and declare his daughter a bastard and marry Anne and keep all the money and treasures of the English church. To be clear, Henry remained Catholic and was opposed to the Reformation. In fact, he nearly executed his sixth wife when she was accused of promoting Protestantism. However, his break with Rome made it easier for the Reformers to take control after his death. But, I'm getting ahead of himself.

Once it became clear that Henry was going to get his divorce, Anne yielded. She was pregnant when they finally married. Despite their greatest hopes, the baby was a girl, Princess Elizabeth. Anne conceived another child. She also conceived an imperious manner. Her teasing and tantrums that had seemed so attractive started to irritate the son-less king, who was growing more irascible as he aged. When Anne miscarried a son, Henry began to think this marriage was likewise cursed by God. She quickly conceived a third time, but Henry was already casting his eye elsewhere. His affections turned to the quiet and docile Jane Seymour, whose sweetness stood in marked contrast to Anne's sharpness. In January 1536, just three years after Henry and Anne's wedding, Catherine died. That same month, Anne became enraged upon seeing Henry and Jane together. When he was seriously injured in a tournament, the overly stressed queen could bear no more. Within days, she had miscarried another boy. Within weeks, numerous charges of adultery and even incest (most of which are now believed to have been untrue) were brought against her. For a queen, these kinds of actions were not just crimes against her husband, but crimes against the Crown. In short, she was found guilty of treason and sentenced to beheading. Henry, claiming she had used sorcery to lure him into a false marriage, bastardized their daughter and quickly married Jane, his first "true" wife.

The validity of his third marriage was proven to him when Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, who would live long enough to survive Henry, but died before adulthood. After Jane died from childbed fever, he married and divorced the German Anne of Cleves, then married Anne Boleyn's cousin Catherine Howard and had her beheaded when she actually did commit adultery, and then married Catherine Parr, the wife who cleverly escaped being charged with Protestant tendency and managed to keep her crown until Henry's death at the age of 55.

Books about Anne Boleyn (including some fiction)

22 January 2020

From Child Bride to King's Mother

By Meynnart Wewyck via Wikimedia Commons
Twelve-year-old Margaret Beaufort had the weight of a dynasty on her shoulders. The Lancastrian side of the Plantagenet family tree was stripped and bare compared to their Yorkist rivals. Half a century earlier, the first Lancastrian king Henry IV had deposed his cousin and taken the throne. Now, Henry's grandson, the weak and mentally ill Henry VI reigned with no royal brothers to support him and only one toddler son, Prince Edward, as heir. His hated French wife Marguerite of Anjou wielded too much authority. His Welsh half-brothers, the Tudor sons of his mother's second but nonroyal marriage, and a scattering of Beauforts were all that remained. Within just of few generations, the 12 children of John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster had produced only a handful of living descendants.

And, those Beauforts had a questionable history. John of Gaunt's four Beaufort children were all born to his longtime mistress Katherine Swynford. They were all considered illegitimate until he married her after the death of his second wife. By the time they were legitimated, they were already adults. It was through them that young Margaret descended. She was a girl, but the only child of the most senior Beaufort line and therefore, some would argue, second in line after baby Prince Edward.

At least that's probably what the King's half-brother Edmund Tudor had in mind when he decided to marry the little girl. He might one day be King by right of his wife should anything unfortunate happen to his royal half-brother and nephew.

Margaret's father the John Beaufort 1st Duke of Somerset died when she was a toddler. Initially, Margaret remained in the physical custody of her mother, who had several other children from an earlier marriage. However, the wardship of great heirs and heiresses was the purview of the King, who awarded Margaret to William de la Pole 1st Duke of Suffolk, who soon married the tiny girl to his son John. After William's death, that marriage was annulled and King Henry VI awarded wardship of Margaret to his half-brothers Edmund and Jasper Tudor. The Tudor brothers were the sons of the King's mother Catherine of Valois, who had married Welsh knight Sir Owen Tudor after the death of King Henry V left her a young widow.

Henry VI intended for Margaret to marry Edmund, whom he had created 1st Earl of Richmond. Once her first marriage had been annulled there was no reason to wait long for her second nuptials. The bride was 12. The groom was 24. The outbreak of the first incursions of the Wars of the Roses, including the capture of King Henry by Richard of York, perhaps led to an overly hasted consummation. Despite the wedding, such a young girl would normally have been left untouched for a couple of years, but Edmund appears to have been in a hurry. And, Margaret appears to have been quite fertile. She conceived within a few months, but Edmund soon left her to fight for his royal half-brother.

The King quickly deposed York, but Edmund was unsuccessful in putting down the Yorkist forces in Wales. He was captured and imprisoned. He died there of bubonic plague two days after his first wedding anniversary. Three months later, 13-year-old Margaret gave birth to Henry Tudor 2nd Earl of Richmond. The birth was a difficult one and she never conceived again. She and the child were then left under the protection of Jasper Tudor as the King continued to struggle with the Yorks (and with his mental health).

When Margaret married Sir Henry Stafford, her son was left in the care of the Tudors in Wales. Though she managed to glide rather smoothly through the tempestuous ups and downs of the Wars of the Roses, serving in both Yorkists and Lancastrian courts, her son soon became a clear threat. With the death first of Edward Prince of Wales and of King Henry VI, most people saw young Henry Tudor as the rightful claimant to a throne being held by York cousins. The young man fled to the continent for safety. Despite the distance, Margaret remained in constant contact and seems to have spent much of her energy to ensure that her son could one day return and claim the heritage that he had inherited through her. She was clever and crafty, maintaining a loyal outward appearances at all time. Her third husband died fighting for the Yorks before she was 30. Within a year, she married Thomas Stanley, the Lord High Constable, and earned a place in the court of the Yorkist Queen Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV.

After King Edward's death and the disappearance of this two sons, the Princes in the Tower, apparently at the hands of their uncle who had usurped the throne as King Richard III, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort hatched a plan: Henry Tudor would return to England, defeat Richard and marry Elizabeth's oldest daughter, Elizabeth of York.

When their plan was successful in 1485, Margaret took a place of honor as the mother of the new King Henry VII. As he and his bride grew their family, Margaret did not always remain at court, but she did remain a strong influence on her son, who never forgot that she had constantly laid the groundwork for his triumph. He even granted her full legal independence from her husband. Very few women at the time ever had control over their own property and lives. When he died in 1509, he left his mother as his chief executor and it was she who planned the coronation of her teenage grandson King Henry VIII.

Margaret's son had been the driving focus of her life since she was 13 years old. With his death, she perhaps felt that her work had been completed. She survived him by only two months.


08 January 2020

Family First: Augusta Victoria

Augusta Victoria with her son,
Prince Augustus Wilhelm
via Wikimedia Commons
"You will go to hell," the Empress told her wayward sister-in-law.

"It is my own decision," Princess Sophie replied. "It has nothing to do with you."

Empress Augusta Victoria of Germany was outraged. How dare this child defy not just her, but God himself and even the Kaiser? Kaiser Wilhelm II had discouraged his younger sister from marrying the heir the Greek throne, but had relented when Sophie agreed not to convert to Greek Orthodoxy. Just a year later, however, the 20-year-old new mother had changed her mind. Now she was being subjected to the wrath of Wilhelm.

But not directly. Wilhelm had sent his wife, Augusta Victoria, who was eight months pregnant with their sixth child. Fully expecting Sophie to bend to the Kaiser's will, the Empress was shocked by her defiance. Soon, the situation was out of control. Everyone was angry and the Empress, in particular, was distressed.

A few weeks later when her baby was born prematurely, the Kaiser blamed Sophie. Baby Prince Joachim was sick and weak, especially compared to his five sturdy older brothers. The fact that he also suffered epileptic fits also was clearly due to the trauma of that argument.

Augusta Victoria recovered however and gave birth to her seventh and final child less than two years later. Little Princess Victoria Louise was the darling of the Kaiser's eye and a favorite of all of her brothers. Having established a secure line of succession with all of those boys, the family deserved a reward with their beautiful little girl. Augusta Victoria had done her duty well. Not only had she given the Kaiser six sons, but she absolutely worshipped him. More than anyone in his life, she believed he was exceptional and she did all she could to serve him. Unfortunately, her cloying affection was met with little more than kind regard.

Augusta Victoria and Wilhelm
Image by FredrikT via Wikimedia Commons
Born a Princess of Schleswig-Holstein, Augusta Victoria despised all things English. To this end, she encouraged Wilhelm in his ill-treatment of his English mother Victoria, who was the eldest child of his beloved grandmother, Queen Victoria. Whenever possible, she steered him toward anti-British views and decisions. Queen Victoria, who adored her first-born grandson, could still see his shortcomings. When he inherited the throne at age 29, Queen Victoria fretted that the couple were "two so unfit" for their new roles as Emperor and Empress of Germany. Augusta Victoria traveling to England whenever possible. She even tried to prevent her husband from attending his grandmother's funeral.

Augusta Victoria was also a ferociously protective mother, which could sometimes put her at odds with her highly disciplined and cold husband. When she could, she intervened as gently as possible. For instance, when he would command the young boys to accompany him on his strenuous morning horse rides, she would sometimes persuade him to take her instead. It was she instead of them who returned exhausted. She was particularly watchful over Joachim, whose physical difficulties caused him to  struggle to run and play as hard as his siblings and older cousins.

Surprisingly, Augusta Victoria allowed the children to have an English governess. She later published a book about her experience. She found some questionable qualities among the good qualities of most of the children. The oldest, 13-year-old Crown Prince Wilhelm, was "tyrannical" with his siblings but affectionate and clever. As for Joachim, her assessment found him a "weak, frightened little cry-baby."

Members of the extended German Imperial Family, 1900.
via Wikimedia Commons 
As her children grew and married, Augusta Victoria relished the role of grandmother, still remaining fiercely protective. The grandchildren were top of mind toward the end of the first World War. With the Emperor away from Berlin, she was left alone at home recovering from a stroke and heart attack in a nation on the verge of revolution. Across the city, her daughter-in-law Crown Princess Cecilie was still at home at with her young children. It was young Prince Louis Ferdinand's eleventh birthday when things started to look very dark for the family. The Empress called Cecilie and asked her to bring the grandchildren to her at Neues Palais where they would be safer. They mustered up a little party for Louis Ferdinand. While they celebrated, the telephone call came: the Kaiser had abdicated. His future, the family's future, was uncertain.

Wilhelm II fled to Holland. Augusta Victoria had to choose: stay in Germany and use her popularity to try to save the monarchy for her son or go to Holland to be with her husband. For her, the choice was easy. She chose Wilhelm. Sick and aging quickly, she was still as devoted to him as ever. Ever conscious of the murders of their Romanov cousins so recently in Russia, she tried to persuade the Crown Princess to come with her and bring the children to safety in Holland. Ever strong, Cecilie declared that she did not want her children raised in exile and the revolutionaries could kill them in their own home.

The soldiers sent to protect Augusta Victoria at Neues Palais could not guarantee her safety. She fled to her son Eitel Frederick not long before an angry mob burst into her home stealing antiques, furniture and even clothing. Her new stronghold was raided by drunken sailors, eventually finding her and interrogating her. She bravely faced them down and they eventually left her. Exhausted and suffering heart pains, she was comforted only by the presence of her family: three sons and their wives, and even the defiant Crown Princess and grandchildren had gathered together for safety. As soon as possible, she was driven by Cecilie to take the train out of Germany for the last time. The soldiers who accompanied on her journey dressed in plainclothes to hide their important mission from revolutionaries.

Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons
As the reunited husband and wife began to build a new life in exile, their large and growing family were frequent visitors, but Augusta Victoria was increasingly weak. A lift was installed for her so that she did not have to climb the stairs. She attempted to recreate the beautiful gardens she left behind. Lovely though they were, they were never like the ones at home.

Meanwhile, her family was falling apart. The Crown Prince and Princess were separated, their marriage over in all but name. Prince Eitel Friedrich and his wife were also separated and he was alcoholic. Prince Augustus William and his wife divorced. Prince Adalbert, Princess Victoria Louise and Prince Oscar were all doing well, but youngest son Prince Joachim was more troubling than ever. Addicted to gambling and physically abusive of his wife, he still won custody of his son in the divorce. (A child belonged to its father in those days.) After the Kaiser barred him from their home, Augusta Victoria suffered another heart attack. Five days later, Joachim committed suicide.

Within a few months of losing her Joachim, Augusta Victoria died in exile at the age of 62.

01 January 2020

An Uncrowned Spanish Queen

Image by Mutari of a bust by R. Cuello
via Wikimedia Commons
Maria de las Mercedes. Mary, Virgin of Mercy. The Holy Mother who spreads her cloak to shelter and protect others. How could she have received such an ironic name when she could not even protect her family, her own children from that evil dictator, who seemed to delight in bringing misery into their lives. It was her older sister Maria de los Dolores, who was named for Our Lady of Sorrows, and yet more sorrow fell to her. It was her younger sister Maria de la Esperanza, who was named for Our Lady of Hope, but hope could there be for Maria de las Mercedes and her husband Juan in exile in Portugal, their sons Juan Carlos and Alfonso at the beckoned call of General Francisco Franco at military school in Spain.

At least they were safe again at home with the family to celebrate Holy Week. But, as always, only with Franco's permission. It was he who would decide whether Juan and Maria de las Mercedes could ever return and take up their rightful positions and King and Queen of Spain, but he seemed to prefer to string them along, offering glimmers of hope that also cut like a knife, like providing an education for the boys. They deserved to be educated in Spain, of course, but how difficult to have them far away while their father continued to be disrespected.

Juan Carlos was 18 now, just a breath away from adulthood. Alfonso was 14, still just a boy, lively and full of adventure. Their sister Pilar would be 20 soon, an age for a royal girl to start thinking seriously about marriage, but what would become of 16-year-old Margarita, whose blindness would almost certainly limit her options? With Easter just days away, however, it was a time to think about rebirth, renewal and hope. A moment for faith and miracles.

The family had attended the Maundy Thursday service together, marking Christ's last Passover supper with his disciples, the moment where he instituted the Holy Eucharist that the Spanish royals faithfully consumed after praying for their sins.

At home later that evening, the two boys were alone together admiring a gun that Franco had gifted to Alfonso. Suddenly, a shot rang out. Juan Carlos watched in horror as a bullet tore through his brother's familiar face.

Embed from Getty Images

The official statement said that Alfonso had been cleaning the gun when it accidentally fired. Others close to the family told different stories. It was Juan Carlos who held the gun. Juan Carlos who did not know it was loaded. Juan Carlos who pulled the trigger that changed his family forever.

How does a mother bury her child? How had the hope of the Easter Vigil turned into the funeral of her baby?

Maria de las Mercedes world had always slipped precariously from one ignoble state to another, but nothing could match the tragedy of Alfonso. A descendant of both the Sicilian and Spanish branches of the royal Bourbon dynasty that had ruled France before the French Revolution as well as of the Orleans dynasty that ruled France for a time after that cataclysm, Maria de las Mercedes had been caught up in her countries' 20th century cataclysms. Her father Don Carlos had renounced his claims to the throne of Two Sicilies in order to marry the heiress to the Spanish throne, another Maria de las Mercedes, who held the heir's title as Princess of Asturias. When she died at just age 24, Don Carlos remained in Spain but remarried the young French Princess Louise of Orleans, who agreed to give the name of his first wife to their second daughter. He served with distinction in the Spanish Army, but at a time when the Spanish monarchy was losing its footing. Throughout the 1920s, Carlos's former brother-in-law King Alfonso XIII faced a lengthy war that led to alternating military dictatorships and republics. The King was forced to step down. Carlos' family left their beloved home in Seville for their first home in exile in Cannes and then in Paris.

For Maria de las Mercedes, who was in her early 20s, the shift must have been destabilizing but still exciting. In Paris, she even got to study at the Louvre. And, she was still able to attend all of the grand royal events of her extended family. When she was 24, she traveled to Rome to attend the wedding of King Alfonso's daughter, Infanta Beatriz. As so often happened at royal weddings, a royal romance was sparked that January in the Eternal City. Maria de las Mercedes encountered Beatriz's brother, Infante Juan, who was now heir to the nonexistent Spanish throne, following his two older brothers' renunciations of their rights. They had doubtlessly met numerous times before, but now, Juan was a dashing a figure preparing to take his officer's exams for the British Royal Navy.

Ten months later, royal wedding bells rang again in Rome, this time for Juan and Maria de las Mercedes. Nine months after that, Infanta Pilar was born in Cannes, soon followed by Juan Carlos, Margarita and baby Alfonso. By their sixth anniversary, they were the parents of four. Their nomadic life bouncing between France and Italy was ended by World War II. They took their young children to Switzerland to live in the peace of the neutral nation, but Juan's eye was always on the Spanish throne.

Embed from Getty Images

Spain was now under the thumb of Franco, the dictator who seized power in 1939 following the Spanish Civil War. Juan had attempted to fight in that war but was arrested and sent back to France before he could cross the border. In 1941, he showed his defiance by taking on the title Count of Barcelona, but he had no means to return from exile nor to remove Franco. A few years later, however, Franco did something odd: he proclaimed Spain a monarchy. This did nothing to clarify Juan's position. In fact, Franco often seemed to thwart rather than support the return of the rightful monarch. Instead, he began grooming Juan's sons. By then, the family had moved to Portugal.

Following that tragic Easter of 1956, things escalated quickly. Grief-stricken, 18-year-old Juan Carlos returned to Spain and to Franco's influence in order to finish his education and begin his military training. The distance between father and son grew to a great chasm in 1969 when Franco named Juan Carlos his heir and gave him the title Prince of Spain. Only Maria de las Mercedes could be their intermediary, a suitable though heartrending task for a princess named for the Mother of Mercy. As Juan Carlos was integrated into Franco's plans, the family remained strained.

By then, Juan Carlos had a wife and young children of his own. When Franco finally died in 1975, he assumed the dictator's mantle but Franco's grooming had not truly taken root. Within a few years, the young king had altered Spain into a constitutional monarchy. Maria de las Mercedes and Juan were finally able to return home, where they could enjoy their grandchildren. But, Juan was in no hurry to surrender to his rights. It took him two years to renounce his claims to the throne that his son was transforming. When Juan passed away in 1993, his son had him buried with all of the pomp and rites of the crown he never wore.

Unfortunately, Maria de las Mercedes' return to Spain was marred by personal pain and injury. In her 70s, she suffered a couple of accidents resulting in a broken hip and then a broken leg that ultimately forced her to spend her last years in a wheelchair. Nevertheless, she celebrated every new grandchild and great-grandchild and family wedding. Now a true matriarch, her family flocked to her whenever they could, often spending their holidays together on the Spanish island of Lanzarote.

As they gathered to celebrate the new year there in 2000, sadness once again visited a joyous family. The Italian princess who had been born two days before Christmas in 1910 suffered a heart attack and passed away on the second day of new millennium. Maria de las Mercedes had spent much of her life in transition, had suffered a mother's greatest pain, and she had never worn the crown her husband intended for her, but she had earned the many mercies afforded to a great-grandmother at the head of a numerous family.

Twenty years later, her three surviving children are in their 80s while her grandson Felipe sits on the Spanish throne. The future of the dynasty, so precarious through much her life, seems well-secured.

Embed from Getty Images